Growing up in the 80s I remember the days when playing certain games labeled you negatively as a ‘geek’, a ‘nerd’, and treated as a social deviant who was interested in something that had no future. Thankfully, we have now seen this not only proved wrong but overturned by the fact that Dungeons & Dragons, as well as other games and geek gaming culture as a whole, experience a renaissance that has seen gaming transform from a subculture into a growing sociocultural norm. The gamer no longer has to hide in the proverbially-associated dingy basement, we no longer have “no future”, and in fact, the future now seems to be ours for the taking!
In Western societies, we are seeing shifts in consumer, popular and material culture trends that have made leisure activities such as gaming an increasingly important part of everyday life and leisure. The gamers who grew up as maligned social outcasts are now becoming the cultural producers of our generation, with games, cartoon revivals, and comic books roaring into the mainstream with a vengeance. We are also beginning to think outside the box when it comes to the applications of games: online computer and video games (OCVGs) are being used as part of different types of therapy for medical conditions such as Autism and mental health conditions such as PTSD; we use them to increase hand-eye coordination thanks to the Wii wand; and stigmas about gaming being negatively associated with mental health issues are beginning to be questioned and argued against. However, as much as we have begun to recognize and explore the different uses of games, tabletop games have been largely overlooked from academic study.
I have chosen to focus my Honours degree dissertation on Critical Role because I have a position as an insider researcher, having been a member of the community since its early days. My knowledge of fandoms, RPGS (I am the longest-running female text-based RPGer in Australia, having started on mIRC in 1995 and been a GM/Worldbuilder since 1998), and geek culture combines with my academic interest in public health, equity, and representation within this research project. As both a Critter and someone who has dealt with depression, anxiety and PTSD, I felt that I could showcase the ways in which the Critter community has broken the fandom mold with its mostly positive, supportive and inclusive fanbase (all communities experience trolls and gatekeepers) and the amazing achievements the community has reached with crowdfunding charities and getting involved in community projects that give back to each other and both international and local charities (both inside and outside the United States). I see this dissertation as an opportunity to combine my experience, my knowledge, my passions and my love and appreciation of my community of Critters as well as a step towards future research and work opportunities.
If given the opportunity, I will broaden this research in a PhD thesis, where I will investigate intersections between fandoms, gaming as leisure, pop culture, representation, and health. One particular part of this PhD I am interested in is how LGBTQ+ individuals express themselves through cosplay, with particular focus given to the fact that Critical Role has created some of the first known cases of LGBTQ+ cosplayers being able to cosplay and embody cannon LGBTQ+ characters. Beyond my PhD, I hope to become a part of the professional geek culture industry at companies such as Geek & Sundry or Nerdist as a behind-the-scenes researcher/consultant/admin geek. Alternatively, I will continue in the academic research field to pursue other research topics including:
- using Dungeons & Dragons for socialization and mental health therapy
- representation of minorities such as LGBTQ+, people of colour, and people with disabilities (both visible and invisible) in media and gaming
- gaming personalities and game culture producers (primarily focusing on gamers on Twitch and/or YouTube) and their philanthropic impacts via charitable crowdfunding
It is my hope that I will be spending my future career to prove, hopefully from both within the gaming/pop-culture industry and/or through academia, that OCVGs are not the only games worthy of study and that fandoms, our identities as gamers and/or geeks, and the tabletop games we have grown up loving are just as important for our leisure, our lives, our health, and our societies at large.
Artwork ©Mikandii. Used with permission.