Since its creation in 1974, the fantasy role-playing game, Dungeons & Dragons has become the go-to signifier of geek culture. Today however, the geeks have inherited the Earth as media producers, casting their formative geek pastimes into the mainstream and ushering in an era of geek chic.
Two prominent examples of geeks turned media moguls are Dan Harmon, writer and creator of NBC’s Community; and Judd Apatow, director, writer and producer of the cult series, Freaks & Geeks and just about any movie starring Seth Rogan and James Franco. Perhaps it is no coincidence that both Harmon and Apatow count Dungeons & Dragons among their influences, since the game revolves around storytelling and character development.
Harmon records a weekly podcast called Harmontown, in front of live audience in the back of a comic book store, which celebrates many aspects of nerd culture, most notably Dungeons & Dragons. During one of Harmontown’s first live tapings, Harmon happened upon Spencer, a 6’4’’ Dungeon Master in the audience, with a 20-sided die at the ready. Spencer became the first DM to join a comedy tour across the country as part of Harmon’s podcast, and is now a geek god in his own right.
“Back before I knew what Dungeons & Dragons [was] we used to just play pretend, you know? But we’d do the same basic things and then someone was like, ‘Hey, have you heard of Dungeons & Dragons?’ and we were like, ‘Wow. Let’s make this more complicated,’” Spencer recalls.
Harmon identifies these increasingly complex games of make-believe on the playground as the genesis of role-playing games.