I play D&D unironically...most of the time.
That is to say, when I play D&D with friends I play the game with the understanding that what I am engaging in is a ridiculous, cringe-worthy spectacle that the layman would think laughable and stupid. Even still, I thoroughly enjoy it and every nerdy aspect of it.
However, whenever I play D&D (particularly in Organized Play events) I can't help but feel a bit ashamed of what I'm doing. That playing it is a shameful display.
Let me explain:When I was really young my favourite movie of all time was Robot Jox. I'm not kidding, I adored this film, thinking it was a masterpiece. So much so that I started thumbs-up fist bumping my dad, my friends, and even strangers using the pilot's classic catch-phrase "Crash and Burn!".
Later on, I discovered films like Star Wars, Jaws, Blade Runner, Alien, etc. Still, as a little kid, I un-ironically thought Robot Jox was fantastic.
As a young man I loved Pokemon. All throughout junior high I was equally obsessed with those lovable pocket monsters and all of their paraphernalia. I also remember avidly watching the Pokemon TV show, along with its Fox Kids counterpart Digimon.
These were different, though. I was no longer a starry-eyed youngster enamored with giant robots. I was a 'teen'. I knew which things were cool and which things weren't. I understood that one needed to be dismissive of something before giving it approval. I was one of those kids who desperately wanted to be thought of as 'mature', not just by his peers, but by his mentors. Most of all, I think, I understood that anything I was watching or consuming, my parents would inevitably watch and judge.
They would see what I was watching, and judge me based on said programming. My 'maturity' would be gauged against what I was 'into'.
Say what you will, but Pokemon was the farthest thing from 'mature'.
So I felt I had to watch it, play it, and obsess over it in secret. Sure I loved it, but I also understood that it was something 'not meant for me', so my enjoyment of it could never really be outspoken. To be caught watching Pokemon, with its bright pastel world, childlike protagonists, and all of those 'cute' anthropomorphized animal monsters (about which there were multiple sing-a-long rap songs, damn those were cringe worthy, even then), was something shameful. Anytime my parents would walk into the living room while an anime character shouted "Bulbasaur, I choose you!" or "Prepare for trouble~", they would roll their eyes at me, or give me this questioning look.
This look that just seemed to say, "Really? You're watching this?"
As much as I enjoyed it, I was felt ashamed for enjoying it. A teenage boy (I forget how old...I was probably 12 or 13 or so, maybe a bit older) shouldn't be obsessed over something so juvenile (and in retrospect, Pokemon was an especially juvenile exercise).
I have similar feelings towards Dungeons & Dragons.
At its core, it is a game intended for young adults to play make-believe using a rule-set intended to make it feel more 'mature'. That's partly how I view it now, and its definitely how I viewed it back when I was first introduced to the game (I was 15 at the time, just starting high school).
Still, I adored it.
I gobbled that game up. I made every excuse I could to play it as often as I could at friend's houses (never at my house, of course). I poured over the Player's Handbook (Type III D&D), made dozens of characters with pages of back story. I even remember drawing a multi-page comic to somehow immortalize the exploits of my characters in their latest adventures fighting demons and winning the hearts of busty maidens (When you're 16 and making comics, there is little else on your mind other than busty maidens).
But anytime I was asked about it by my parents, or by anyone else 'above' me, I told them it was no big deal. That I wasn't really all that into it. It was just another stupid thing I was doing.
I understood that any time spent playing D&D, drinking pop and laughing with my friends, was time that could have been better spent. Spent on studying, or looking for a part time job, or anything else more productive than D&D. So I felt ashamed.
I was playing a 'make-believe' game instead of doing something actually important.
Lately I've been feeling a lot of this 'D&D shame'. I'm a 23 year old adult, starring down the barrel of student debt and bills. I work in film/television, so a bulk of my work is job hunting. It seems like any time spent playing D&D could be 'better spent'.
Not only that, but the shame of how ridiculous it is still exists.
Not long ago, at freelance tape operator job I'd filled, I used the office printer to print out some character sheets for use in a game the following week. One of them got left in the nearby recycle bin, where the receptionist found it.
She began calling people over, asking about it. "Who's is it?" "I dunno" "lol. Who would play this?" "Oh, it's probably Kiel's". I hadn't made a secret of me rolling dice on occasion. Rather than just come forward, explain, and shrug it off, I was embarrassed. I felt just as ashamed as I did when I was a kid caught watching Pokemon.
It's not a cool feeling.
These days, disastrous things like Robot Jox and Pokemon are fine...if they're enjoyed ironically; enjoyed in a mocking, referential way with a "so bad it's good" mentality.
I do that with D&D too, but mostly I enjoy it for everything it is: silly, ridiculous fun. For that, I still feel a little bit ashamed.
So, my non-rhetorical question for you to answer in comments is this:
Has anyone else ever felt this way about the game? Obviously D&D has always had a kind of 'illicit' history, but coming out as a card-carrying geek seems to have less and less of a stigma these days. Am I the only one who still feels this way about the game as a whole?
What say you?