Friday, September 18, 2015

Dungeons, Dungeons, and More Dungeons! -- When TV Shows Have Roleplaying Centric Episodes

As I mentioned in my post about how I discovered Dungeons and Dragons, before I actually played I didn't know exactly what it contained. All I knew about it was some throwaway jokes from the Simpsons and how it was the go-to hobby of stereotypically geeky characters. However, this was before the rise of Geek Chic.

Love it or hate it, Big Bang Theory is really indicative of this

Yes, we live in an age in which geeks/nerds are no longer the outcasts but are now mostly accepted in the circle with the popular kids. Now, people who would not previously been associated with the sub-culture subscribe to I Fucking Love Science on Facebook, follow George Takei, and may even *GASP* casually video game. Roleplaying is still pretty niche, though. It is cool to like Sci-Fi, regular science, and gaming (politics of THAT aside) but the average person still backs away slowly at the mention of Dungeons and Dragons.

That still does not stop the fact that it has almost become vogue of geeky TV shows to devote full episodes to one of the geekiest of hobbies. And it is not because I love D&D and roleplaying that I love these episodes. I love these episodes because there is a lot of thought put into them on what it means to be a roleplayer. And also what it means to be a geek.

All the episodes I'll talk about below have quite a few things in common. For one, the lessons of each episode is about finding a place you belong or bonding with a person who looks passed your quirks to see you. Another is also a lesson in empathy. That is one thing I absolutely love about roleplaying is you do learn a bit of empathy. You can choose to walk in someone else's shoes and explore modern day problems thinly disguised in worlds of dragons, spaceships, and elves. There was a study done illustrating how roleplaying is a great way to learn how to empathize. And that is the reason I want to talk about these episodes and how a lot of love was put into them -- both to show what is constructive about roleplaying games and for the hobby themselves.

Spoilers below.

1. Freaks and Geeks

Man, they look so YOUNG

 To start with, let's go back to the magical year of 1999. People feared Y2K, I was a junior/senior in High School, and Geek Chic didn't quite exist yet. This may be part of the problem why this Diamond in the Rough of a show didn't live to see a second season. It now lives on Netflix with a sizable cult-following. You should watch it.

For those who are unfamiliar with the show, it takes place in 1980 and follows a brother and sister who are outcasts at their school. The sister, Lindsey, is identified as a freak and her little brother, Sam, is a huge geek (into Star Wars, Dungeons and Dragons, the whole shebang). The show follows each sibling as they work through their respective cliques. They rarely interact with each other and there is little cross-over until the last episode of the season called "Discos and Dragons."


One of the plots of the episode involves Daniel, played by James Franco, all bummed out that if he fails a test, he'll be held back. So he pulls a fire alarm to prevent taking the test and gets punished by working with the Audio Visual Club (Sam's clique). Up until this point, Daniel is having something of an existential crisis -- feeling his friends drift away and school ending. Sam and his friends accept him and invite him to play Dungeons and Dragons. Daniel does so although he is side-eyeing them and rolling his eyes.

Now to fight North Korea

Daniel makes a dwarf named Carlos and they're off. At first, Daniel is confused and just a little lost but slowly, he gets more and more into it. Then by the end, he's playing Carlos with ease. As the adventure ends, Daniel admits he had a lot of fun and asked if they could play again next week. He's a different Daniel. Through the whole show, Daniel plays this James Dean schtick and he was beginning to realize that was just an act. With Sam's geeks, he found he could let loose and be silly. And he also found he really liked the Audio Visual stuff too. Before, he would have looked at it and thought, "No, I'm too cool for that." Now, a "freak" felt more at home with the "geeks".

The overall lesson is don't knock it until you try it and like what you like. You never know -- you could find a loyal group of friends who you can be yourself around.

Just remember -- make the DM happy

2. Community

Community is a TV show that follows the misadventures of a Spanish Study Group at a Community College. It is one of my favorite shows. The first 2 seasons are just pure gold. However, my favorite episode is one entitled "Advanced Dungeons and Dragons".

The episode starts off paying homage to Lord of the Rings, setting up the reason why the study group is getting together to play a good ole game of D&D. Basically, there is a guy in their class named Fat Neil who seemed to be showing signs he wanted to kill himself so our heroes decide to run a D&D game for him to show he is loved and wanted.

In the process, they didn't invite old man Pierce because he is not exactly sensitive. Pierce finds out and feels slighted. So he shows up using obscure rules and sabotages the adventure Abed had put together for everyone.

Together, everyone else plot to take down down Pierce to defend Fat Neil in the neutral good way that motivated them to get together in the first place.

I absolutely love this episode. Not only does it have some of the best one-liners in the series,

A deadly attack... especially if it contains a bag of books

 there is so much that is heart-breaking... and yet there is such a lining of hope around it at the same time. As Pierce taunts Fat Neil, turning Neil's character of Ducain into Fat Neil, everyone else jumps to Neil's defense. And with their support Neil is able to take the high road. It is -- in D&D terms -- a wrestling between the chaotic evil Pierce with the neutral good nature of the group.
As I mentioned in my introduction, this episode was about empathy. As Jeff says, "This game is silly" but he feels bad enough that he indirectly gave Neil his horrible nickname that he still tries to work his way through the game, even getting all indignant about getting a pegasus to catch Pierce. All to help Neil.

Then as Pierce is a horrible person, everyone uses pity as their arsenal against Grandpa the Flatulent's ego. They pitied the fact that Pierce went to so much effort to make another human feel so horrible about himself. And then, as the icing of the cake, after the game ended, Neil invites Pierce to play next time as if to say that Pierce feeling left out for not being invited was valid. It illustrates that maybe even the biggest asshole has valid grievances.

Good Night... and good luck

 3. IT Crowd

The IT Crowd is another of my favorite shows. It follows the denizens of the IT Department at some corporation; made up of two socially awkward nerds and their boss--who knows nothing about computers and makes up for this by being socially savvy for all three of them. It is kind of a British Big Bang Theory but I feel in a way that is unfair. I almost wrote an entry on why I feel IT Crowd is better in Big Bang Theory (mostly having to do with the characters doing bad things always involves karma biting them in the butt while things mostly work out for the BBT dudes) but I felt like it came out all wrong so scrapped it.

The episode in question is called "Jen the Fredo". This episode has three subplots coming together to form one. In one, Roy breaks up with his girlfriend and spends the episode moping. In another, Jen becomes head of entertainment for visiting business partners and finds herself challenged by the first delegation she has to deal with.  No matter what she does, she can't seem to please them. And finally, Moss is planning a Dungeons and Dragons game.

Oh Moss, it's like my life

Now, for those who don't know, Moss is pretty much a cloudcuckoolander. He seems to be out to lunch, super quirky, and extremely socially awkward. However, he has these moments of insight that really sometimes tie together the heart of the show. And this episode is no different. Seeing Jen and Roy's problem, Moss offers to run the D&D game for the visiting business partners and Roy.

D&D -- a game for intrigued businessmen!

Anyways, the businessmen get super into it. And then Moss places an ex of Roy's character in the game. Roy uses this as to vent his feelings about the break up to Moss in one of the most hilarious moments -- yet strangely touching -- parts of the show.

Their bromance knows no boundaries.

It leads back to my original point about empathy. There is something almost asbergery about Moss at times and he's not especially emotional so the fact that he manages to help his two best friends in such a round about way ties into my original thesis.

You are a good friend, Moss

4. Gravity Falls

 I feel like if I could use a TV show to best describe my personality, it would be Gravity Falls -- it is funny, heartwarming, a little campy, imaginative, and a little unsettling. Honestly, I've been plugging this show left and right to all my friends of late. There is a lot going on here and it is highly imaginative but at the same time playing homage to shows I grew up on (mainly the X-Files and the Simpsons).

Gravity Falls is about a set of twins named Dipper and Mabel who are sent to spend the summer with their Great Uncle (Grunkle) Stan in Gravity Falls, Oregon. When Dipper discovers a book detailing the odd goings on in the town -- everything from gnomes to shapeshifting monsters to bizarre Douglas Adams meets Lovecraft trickster inter-dimensional monsters (I'm looking at you Bill) -- he realizes there is some sort of hidden conspiracy involving the town and his family. Also, it's funny.

Below is a huge spoiler for season 2 so stop reading now unless you welcome the spoilings.

If you complain about spoilers!
The episode involving Dungeons and Dragons is an episode in season 2 called "Dungeons, Dungeons, and More Dungeons". In this episode Dipper gets the latest edition of Dungeons, Dungeons, and More Dungeons and is trying to look for someone to play with. He approaches Mabel who seems into it when she sees unicorns and elves but blanks out as soon as Dipper explains the fine points of the game. He asks Grunkle Stan, who laughs in his face.

Dipper then finds a fan in an unlikely spot -- Grunkle Stan's twin brother Ford  AKA the Author who Dipper wanted to try to get to know anyway. The two bond over the complex game and quickly take over the house with graph paper annoying Stan and Mabel who want to watch the season finale of ducktective.

Ford and Dipper go into the basement and Ford shows a dice he got in his dimension hopping adventures. It is an impossible dice that if you roll you can destroy the universe or... roll an 8.

At this point, the dice is accidentally rolled as Stan and Mabel come in and the game D&D&D comes to life. Dipper and Ford are kidnapped by the villain of the game and Stan and Mabel have to go after them.

Eventually Stan and Mabel meet up with the villain who turns Dipper and Ford into characters on a board and Stan and Mabel are to play them. Dipper and Ford say that the game is heavily on chance (appealing to Stan's love of gambling) and imagination (appealing to Mabel). Using their strengths, our heroes win the day.

In the process, Mabel and Stan learn as to why the geeky things Ford and Dipper are into appeal to them and they reach a new understanding.

Anyways! These were just my thoughts on Roleplaying-centric episodes of my favorite shows. Two entries this week! I'm on a roll.

No comments:

Post a Comment