Pop culture has come a long way over the past few decades. However, so has ‘nerd culture’, with actors such as Joe Manganiello going so far as to say Dungeons & Dragons has merged with pop culture. But this begs the question of how that came to be with the overwhelmingly negative stigma that used to surround the concept. And it seems the answer lies in a popular tabletop board game many have been subconsciously growing more accustomed to, Dungeons & Dragons. And this is an interesting take we get from Manganiello, as we see in a one-on-one interview with NBC News concerning the topic.
Asking the important question of how D&D had such a significant influence on pop culture, Manganiello discusses how it has led to the increased popularity of the game. He further speaks on how the game has inspired some of the most extensive fantasy/sci-fi series and films we have seen in recent years. And the actor-filmmaker believes a considerable part of this is the resurgence of dragons in media, along with the influence of popular movies and TV series. While this is certainly a fun idea, it begs the question of whether the actor is correct.
How Have Dungeons & Dragons Grown in Popularity?
According to Joe Manganiello, the number of Dungeons & Dragons players has increased tenfold in modern society, with almost 50 million people now enjoying the tabletop game. Attributing this to the concept of storytelling around a table being foreign, with many younger people constantly being on their phones, Joe briefly mentioned another considerable influence in the interview. And that lies in shows such as Stranger Things that re-introduced many things from the 80s and 90s. With the huge fanbase around the series, it should come as no surprise that it significantly impacted pop and nerd culture.
Whereas Dungeons & Dragons had previously been a forgotten concept, Mike, Will, Luke, and Dustin’s interest in the game brought a resurgence. But, of course, this eventually became irrelevant in later seasons. That is, until the introduction of Eddie Munson and the Hellfire Club, which one could argue single-handedly pulled the attention of many people back to the game. This occurred in the same way that anime quickly went from being something people frowned upon to something everyone enjoyed during the pandemic. So now, being considered a ‘nerd’ for enjoying these things is not a bad thing at all.
What Large Media Has Dungeons & Dragons Influenced?
As yet another question posed to the actor-filmmaker, Manganiello took this in stride. According to the actor, this started two decades ago with the release of J. R. R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Ring book and film series. While the books were popular, the movies were huge successes at the box office, raking in millions. The actor further continues by stating that the world Tolkien created has been influenced by the tabletop game. Another large series was Game of Thrones, which brought back the hype around dragons. The actor makes a good point here- the technology we have now means monsters and dragons will look better on screen. In turn, people will love it more.
Overall, Joe implied the game had reached far and wide, with many not realising they have been playing/watching a version of the game for years. Here, you want to be thinking about, for example, many of the most popular video games people have been playing for the last decade. Quickly we begin to realise Joe is not wrong. The games with the biggest fanbases are the ones that seem to have come from the influence of D&D. As the board game is essentially an RPG, titles such as Legend of Zelda, World of Warcraft, and even League of Legends has been modern renditions of D&D.
Is Nerd Culture More Prominent Than Pop Culture in Modern Society?
It is better to look at this through the lens of what pop culture has grown to become instead of asking whether one is bigger than the other. There are many things people enjoy now that would have been considered ‘uncool’ or even made you the target of bullies just over ten years ago. Now, with the resurgence of things such as Dungeons & Dragons, it makes more sense to say that nerd culture has been neatly incorporated into pop culture. This is prominent in media in many ways, but one must be how superhero films have impacted the modern view of what it means to be a nerd.
For example, Marvel took the world by storm with Phase 1 of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). Previously, comic book films were usually one-and-done, with many never seeing a sequel. That is until Iron Man dropped in 2008 with Robert Downey Jr. as the new face of Tony Stark. This built an empire with a foundation of comic books that saw a massive increase in people enjoying what Marvel had to offer. Easily, a huge part of nerd culture’s significance in modern society stems from the interconnected universe that The Russo brothers created.
From here, nerd culture merging into pop culture becomes more apparent, with popular actors such as Henry Cavill openly speaking on their passion for such forms of media. Of course, when a celebrity with such prominence expresses their love for all things nerd-related, many begin to feel as though it is something they can be proud of instead of feeling ashamed of their interests. We have all seen Cavill’s journey as the Man of Steel in the DCEU and then again as Geralt of Rivia in The Witcher.
Specifically with the latter series, Henry was a huge fan of Andrzej Sapkowski’s fantasy novel series of the same name. Of course, the controversy surrounding his departure from the series production primarily focuses on his displeasure with the production companies not staying true to the source material. But, again, when something like this happens to a well-liked celebrity, it impacts the overall view of anything nerd related.
Joe Manganiello brought some fantastic insight regarding the topic, and overall, the actor-filmmaker made many good points. But, at the end of the day, he is correct in saying that this popular tabletop board game has dramatically influenced pop culture. It has created a safe space for people who now unashamedly explore and express their interest in all things nerd related, and in turn, further integrating nerd culture into pop culture.
In an interview with NBC News, actor-filmmaker Joe Manganiello spoke on the topic of Dungeons & Dragons and its impact on pop culture.
He explained how it provided a road map for many of the popular series, movies, and games we engage with today, such as Lord of the Rings, Game of Thrones, Stranger Things, and even Legend of Zelda.
Ultimately, this has led to nerd culture being integrated into pop culture, and the bad stigma surrounding these concepts is falling away.
Do you agree with Joe Manganiello? Do you think Dungeons & Dragons has had a significant impact on pop culture?