“Why Hollywood Is Interested in a 50-Year-Old Game: Dungeons & Dragons”

Dungeons & Dragons, a role-playing game that first hit shelves almost 50 years ago, continues to be played by enthusiasts worldwide in kitchens, living rooms, and gaming clubs.

Its sustained popularity is one reason why it is the subject of Hollywood’s latest blockbuster adaptation. Approximately 50 million people have used their imagination and rolled dice to embark on D&D adventures since the game’s inception.

In recent years, the game has garnered new followers, as social media, pop culture references, and the pandemic have encouraged people to give it a try.

Hollywood has increasingly relied on existing intellectual property, such as Sonic the Hedgehog, Transformers, and Middle Earth, to entice audiences to the cinema, and this new silver screen adaptation of D&D is no exception.

The team behind Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves insists that they aren’t leveraging the game’s history to make a quick buck, but rather are seeking to honor its lasting legacy.

In a world dominated by Fortnite and TikTok, it might come as a surprise that Dungeons & Dragons, a game that hasn’t evolved significantly in almost half a century and depends on players’ imaginations to thrive, is still popular.

However, D&D could be more widespread now than ever before. If you’ve never experienced a D&D session, it’s a role-playing game in which you take on a character’s persona, such as a wizard, thief, or barbarian, in a fantasy environment.

Typically, a Dungeon Master orchestrates a story full of unexpected twists and turns. It’s optional to dress up in character or use table-top models, but it’s necessary to roll dice frequently to determine what happens in your story.

The Oxventure YouTube channel, with thousands of subscribers, exemplifies how the game has sustained its relevance in the digital age. Channels like this have gained traction, drawing millions of views worldwide.

According to Jane Douglas, one of the founders of Oxventure, the success of play for adults is one reason why D&D continues to captivate audiences.

“One of the most important things about tabletop role-playing games is that they’re make-believe. Playing pretend for grown-ups is not something you get to do an awful lot as an adult.

“It is something that you have to leave behind as a kid and then, with Dungeons & Dragons, I realised actually I can keep doing this. I can play make-believe and tell stories with friends in an entirely new way.”

It’s a theme that was echoed by Mike Channel, another of Oxventure’s founders, saying it’s a “social experience all about working together and collaborating. I think it’s important to as an adult to try and flex your imagination a little bit”.

In addition to being actors, the cast also serves as creators of video game content. They first played Dungeons & Dragons on YouTube as a one-time event. However, it quickly became clear that there was a market for additional content from the group.

Douglas says: “We love to tell stories and we’re also nerds! I can say that in a loving way. We love rules. We love video games also and they owe a great debt to Dungeons & Dragons, which is the foundation for so much of what we play on our consoles.”

According to another co-founder of Oxventure, Andy Farrant, the game’s traditional stereotypes have been challenged in recent times, resulting in a wider range of people trying it out.

Role-playing games like Dungeons & Dragons have often been perceived as exclusive clubs for boys, with players confined to dimly-lit rooms surrounded by complicated rule books.

Farrant says: “One of the barriers to entry for Dungeons & Dragons is that not a lot of people actually know what it is, unless they’ve played it. I think the TV show Stranger Things has been a big influence.

“It showed lots of people what Dungeons & Dragons was, and I think that changed a lot of people’s perceptions of it.”

Ellen Rose, who also works for the channel, says familiarity is a reason it has found such a big audience all these years after it was first created, “because it’s dwarves, elves and rangers and all that sort of stuff. People are familiar with it, which makes it an easier entry point to role-playing games”.

They’re not the only ones taking advantage of the continued popularity of the game. For example, the YouTube channel Critical Role, of which Dungeons & Dragons is a key part, has nearly two million subscribers.

Michelle Rodriguez, who plays Holga in the movie, is adamant this adaptation is not simply trying to cash in on a well-established brand.

She told us that the first questions she asked when she was approached about the film were: “Are you going to mess this up? Do you care? Are you just after money? Are you trying to make a genre movie based on 50 years of free advertising?

“So my first emotion is fear. Then when I read the scripts, it all went away, the writers are actual fans and they care.”

Chris Pine plays the thief Edgin in the film and says that he got into the role-playing game by watching his nephew play.

“The idea that we have to please all the fans is ridiculous and impossible. I think it comes down to the story and if you don’t go into a film and feel something, you’ve screwed up whether or not you’ve paid attention to all the rules or not – is it a good story? Do you laugh do you cry?

“This intellectual property is so vast and everyone who’s ever played the game has a sense of ownership over it, because they’ve all got their unique stories. It’s impossible to keep them all happy but the film captures the spirit of what it is like to play, and that’s the best compliment we could have.”

Rege-Jean Page, best known for his role in the first series of Netflix hit Bridgerton, plays a deadpan Paladin.

He adds: “This gives you permission to walk into a room and let your imagination go, remind yourself what the light is inside that you fight through the rest of the world for. That sounds cheesy but it is exactly what this movie is peddling!”

Dungeons & Dragons, invented by American Gary Gygax in 1975, remains largely unchanged despite advancements in gaming technology. The game was introduced to the UK in the same year when Sir Ian Livingstone, Steve Jackson, and John Peake played it for the first time, eventually importing it and establishing Games Workshop as a retail shop.

Sir Ian says: “We became immediately obsessed with the game and ordered six copies because that’s all the money we had in the world. Off the back of that order Gary Gygax gave us a three-year exclusive distribution agreement for the whole of Europe.

“He, like us, was operating out of a flat at the time, so it was kind of us all role-playing as businessmen, while also role-playing in the game!

“Dungeons & Dragons was a milestone in gaming history, it opened up your imagination like no game had ever done before, and I don’t think any game ever will.”

Despite his instant love of the game back in 1975, Sir Ian says he is still a little surprised that it has gone on to have the lasting impact that it has, laughing: “Geeks have become chic.

“But we all enjoy stories, we all enjoy worlds of wonder, so why can’t we as adults enjoy them? If we can enact part of it as if we were actually there, what’s not to like?”