Friday, September 2, 2011

Open Friday: Beyond D&D

A constant refrain of this blog is that D&D's days as a pop cultural force are long gone, its position usurped by by other entertainments. Despite that, D&D's influence lingers -- so much so, in fact, that one regularly encounters examples of ideas, concepts, and terminology that originated in Dungeons & Dragons even today. For example, just the other day I came across a depiction of an ebon-skinned, white-haired elf whose creator called it a "drow," even though it had nothing to do with the iconic evil demihumans created by Gary Gygax. Indeed, it's quite possible that the image's creator had never played D&D and simply knew that dark elves are called "drow," much in the way he also knows that bestial humanoids are called "orcs" without having read The Lord of the Rings.

So, for today's topic: what's the strangest example you've seen of D&D's pervasive pop cultural influence beyond our little hobby? I'm not talking about specific references to D&D in pop culture, like an episode of a TV show or a movie where some of the characters actually play the game or talk about it. What I'm interested in are times when you've seen or heard something in pop culture that is clearly derived from D&D but is presented without its original D&D context, like calling a generic dark elf a "drow."

I'll be very curious to see what people have to offer.

41 comments:

  1. Gaining experience to gain levels in games utterly unrelated to D&D, that probably have zero overlap in audiences.

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  2. I recently read a tweet where someone referred to failing at something as "rolled a natural 1", but they were probably a gamer so I'm not quite sure if it fits the criteria or not.

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  3. In Napoleon Dynamite, the titular character's obsession with the "liger" and his drawings of said beast always struck me as D&D-inspired monster creation. His doodles reminded me of a manticore.

    I don't think there were any direct references to D&D in Napoleon Dynamite, so I think I am safe.

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  4. The first thing that comes to my mind is an example of what Zzarchov cites. I have an iOS game in which you raise and breed frogs. In doing so, you earn experience points and levels.

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  5. A competitor to the Sidewinder missle is one called the Magic.

    Magic Missle. I don't believe there is any overt or known history tracing its naming to D&D, but it absolutely has to be influenced by the trope. I can't imagine that it got through the missle marketing department without someone going..."hey, wait a minute..."

    Here's some picture of the real live Magic Missle.

    http://www.globalsecurity.org/military/world/europe/magic-pics.htm

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  6. While hardly recent, Lords Of The Underground (a 90's hip hop band) had a track called Sleep For Dinner where the rapper complains that his stomach was growling "like a dungeon dragon".

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  7. The notion that orcs are bestial humanoids, which other than in a strictly figurative sense, does not originate with Tolkien, but with the "pig-faced" Sutherland orc?

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  8. The obvious one is every MUD/MUSH/MMORPG has D&D somewhere in it's DNA.

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  9. This is an easy one, but the cartoon Adventure Time is basically one endless D&D reference. The most recent episode had 8 schools of magic and a cantrip as plot elements.

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  10. If it counts: the Adventure Time cartoon on CN has lots of allusions to D&D (and possibly Gamma World) without specific mentions of the game. Characters explore dungeons, encounter unmistakably D&D monsters (a gelatinous cube, a Trapper!), one of the characters casts a spell that's probably derived from D&D...The creator is a gamer, so there.

    I sometimes think that the whole concept of "Health" or "Hit Points" as found in many many (video)games even today is derived from D&D.

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  11. Scroll down to the section marked "OH REALLY".

    http://mimismartypants.com/2010/12/29/champagne/

    Those things do seem to be making the rounds....

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  12. Oh right, some people above mentioned Adventure Time! Yeah, there are a lot of obviously D&D-inspired themes, plots, characters, and events in that cartoon. It's a bit out there for my kids, who are a bit young for it, but on the few occasions I've taken a look at it (or commercials for it), I definitely saw a lot of indirect references/homages/etc.

    While I'm on the subject, there's another show on Cartoon Network called Regular Show, and there was one episode where they played a game called The Realm of Darthon that seemed pretty D&D-ish. Check it out:

    http://theregularshow.wikia.com/wiki/The_Realm_of_Darthon

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  13. I work at Adobe. We had a training program for novice Photoshop users called "Level Up". When I spoke with the marketing people behind the project about its roots, they hadn't heard of D&D but they did relate it to computer games' concept of fighting bad guys to get experience and eventually increase in level.

    So professional photography training used a basic D&D concept. :^)

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  14. I'm almost completely stumped. I agree that the long-lasting influences of the game are levels, XP, and HP.

    Wait, now that I think of it: Microsoft Windows XP -- XP abbreviation for "experience" -- is surely a legacy.

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  15. Fitocracy is a website that takes the leveling mechanics of D&D and applies them to workout programs. From one of the developers' blog:

    "Fitocracy turns fitness into a fun, addictive game to help motivate users to improve their fitness. You earn points, level up, and unlock achievements, all for tracking what you’re already doing in the gym. As you level up in Fitocracy, you get harder challenges and need to lift more/do more challenging cardio to keep leveling. Throughout the game, users can complete special quests, unlock bonus features, and compete with their friends in order to get them to the next level. "

    http://brianmwang.tumblr.com/post/2338836516/fitocracy-is-released-into-the-wild-for-the-first-time

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  16. Computer games are the wind that blows the D&D Dandylion of Culture. Cultureal references to D&D stat names, XP, GP, Armor, +#, level up, and failed saves are entering the language of the culture through exposure to video games- on which D&D is probably the single greatest influence.

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  17. As with "Law" and "Chaos," although people are pretty attached to their side of the american two-party system, they have trouble explaining what either one stands for and instead fall back on "good" and "evil." That one might pre-date D&D.

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  18. better one . . .

    One of my law professors published an article with the following sentence: “The theory of value implicit in Posner's celebration of legal authority is perfectly suited to precisely this comforting, accommodating, psychic response to the chaotic evil of internal and external nature.”

    Law, Literature, and Authority, by Robin West (83 Nw. U.L. Rev. 977, 991)

    I asked her about it, and she responded that she had never heard of “chaotic evil.”

    Is there any peculiar about that word combination? There are so many words that I first encountered through D&D.

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  19. There is this cartoon on cable called "Adventure Time" that has a ton of obviously D&D inspired type situations and things, without being obvious references to it. Dungeons as creature habitats, Very weird monsters that remind one of D&D abberations and the like.

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  20. Wait, have you heard about this show called Adventure Time? ; )

    D&D probably has much to do or more than Tolkien for spawning any number of knock-off fantasy novels. Leaving aside the swarm of directly tied in to official settings novels, I am thinking of all the books that had dwarves, elves, orcs, etc.

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  21. @booberry:

    One of my favorite Adventure Time sequences has Finn saying that he can't do something because it would be "against [his] alignment".

    Priceless.

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  22. There's a Beholder in an episode of Futurama. I'm not sure if that counts.

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  23. References to "law" and "chaos" as cosmic forces which in some way guide or inspire the actions of conscious agents antedate D&D, since D&D borrowed the concept from Moorcock, who borrowed it from Three Hearts and Three Lions.

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  24. Here in Japan, roleplaying game terminology became widespread due to the immense popularity of the console RPG. So you have people who will use the phrase "leveling up" when they mean improving a skill. And they have no idea what D&D is.

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  25. The idea of the critical hit. There are hundreds of games that use the term, everything from shooters to fighting games to good ol' RPG's.

    Also, in the old TV series Big Wolf on Campus that aired on YTV, one of the main characters was a super nerd. In this episode he is playing a role-playing game called "Serpent Quest."

    http://www.veoh.com/watch/v418391jx7X56Kq?h1=Big+Wolf+on+Campus+-++3x10+-+Very+Pale+Rider

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  26. I have met a couple of people who wouldn't play dnd and refused too learn and then when they finally admitted they didn't know what it was, it occurred to me they were the type that usually follow pop culture. So, I said "It's like world of warcraft except you can do anything you want because I will keep track of the calculations on paper."

    At least one of them still plays dnd to this day.

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  28. Sorry I got nothing to add. I'm glad I'm not the only one who enjoys Adventure Time! :D

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  29. Eh, LOTR didn't invent Orcs, just popularized them a bit. Not hard to get the same basic critters after a few days in a folklore book or two.

    Ironically you can get drow by doing the opposite, reading a few lines that shows they were "dark fey" according to some scandanavian traditions, and not sticking around long enough to get the dwarf-like appearance. Probably what Gary did, actually...

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  30. The Dark Elf is in pre-D&D dictionaries described as 'elves who dwell in Caves, Forests and Sea'.

    As opposed to the Light Elf (Elves of Air and Sky).

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  31. In board and computer games 'dungeon' usually means 'underground complexes filled with monsters, treasures and traps' - and such complexes are the standard fantasy environment, when they don't really exist in anything before D&D (the Mines of Moria are, in D&D terms, more like a single location in a wilderness adventure).

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  32. Years ago, a friend's mother surprised us all when she asked him about a girl he had a crush on, "What's her charisma score?"

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  33. An interesting related link:

    http://phrontistery.info/disq6.html

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  34. Every time I see "+1" on an internet forum.

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  35. Two things spring to mind, one pop cultural, one less so:
    1. The recent movie 'Sucker Punch' is clearly influenced by Japanese console RPGs, and so ultimately D&D.
    2. There was an Svengali-like Australian Senator in the 1980s and 1990s called Graham Richardson who briefly had the nickname 'Dungeon Master' (as in an all-powerful, behind the scenes puppetmaster). RPGs were still very 'niche' in Australia when he was active so many in the media didn't understand the reference. The episode seems to have vanished into obscurity though (I can't find any info via Google) which is a shame, would be interesting to see if there were any D&D fans in the Australian Parliament!

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  36. Yesterday, I was conducting a training at my school. I asked the teachers to discuss and define the concept of instructional rigor at their tables and then report out. One table--comprised entirely of teachers too old to be likely video gamers or RPG veterans--defined instructional rigor as facilitating learning that helps kids "level up." This puzzled some of the other older teachers, requiring a definition of the term, but I think everyone under 45 immediately understood what they meant.

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  37. In the Small World: Underground board game there are, among other allusions, Drows (complete with ink-black/blueish skin & white hair) and Gelatinous Cubes (as monsters). Besides, both the Keep on the Motherland and the illustration of the Altar of Souls do seem familiar.

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  38. The phrase 'Zero Charisma' has taken on a life of its own (through the gamers in the scene in E.T) which was the first thing I thought of; I've heard it used by non-gamers on a number of occasions. Also, I've read a couple of album reviews in which the reviewer (who may or may not be a gamer) has referred to the sound of the guitars 'feeding back on themselves for double damage' which I thought was kind of cool.

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  39. At a carnival in the early '90s, I saw a haunted house ride with 6-foot-high copies of creatures from the Monster Manual painted into its scenes. In a dreadful sci-fi film called "Recon 2020" or something like that, space marines creeping through caves on an alien planet encounter a CGI beholder that they refer to as a "watcher." The notion of a dungeon as a complex underground environment filled with monsters and treasures is probably more widespread now than its origin as a shallow basement beneath a fortification. Even the presence of "A Game of Thrones" on HBO indicates a wider acceptance of fantasy as mainstream entertainment than would have been possible 30 years ago.

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  40. Also, the presence of D&D is reflected on the covers of Fantasy fiction. Think other than Gor and Conan covers what were fantasy covers before D&D - especially before Dragonlance. Elmore and D&D & TSR redefined fantasy toward realism and away from the idyllic.

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  41. I watched Disney's "Tangled" with my daughter, and thought... hmm, okay, here's the latest D&D movie. You've got thieves, fighters, assassins, clerics with their own hair as a holy symbol, paladin's mounts...

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