Every now and then, some fashion or beauty trend originally deemed tacky becomes popular after influencers or celebrities sport the look. But fashion and beauty trends aren’t the only things that can be in vogue under the right conditions. For example, when “Stranger Things” first came out, it put a spotlight on the tabletop roleplaying game Dungeons and Dragons, bringing it back into popular media for the first time in years. So, in the spirit of old trends becoming new again, don’t throw those trading cards away yet — you might catch some clout for that holographic Charizard.
Whether you’ve been a part of it or not, nerd culture has been on the rise. TV shows and movies that people once saw as cringey have made their way into the mainstream and been embraced by new audiences. But what exactly caused this sudden renaissance of nerdy media? Like most things, it can be traced to social media.
In recent years, the idea of “cringe culture” has started to fade as people are posting anything that comes mind on the internet — and we mean everything. Amidst the most outlandish stories, a post of someone gushing over their video game is a breath of fresh air.
A sort of reboot has also emerged in media, and old franchises from “Doom” to “Pokémon” are getting new installations to garner the attention of new generations. As they are released, influencers sometimes mention their anticipation or love of a new release, something that wasn’t around in the ‘80s.
With platforms like YouTube and Twitch, there are thousands of content creators who churn out videos about both old and new games. Anyone with a decent internet connection can become a fanatic of any franchise without ever having to even buy the game themself. The online exposure helps the reach of this media grow, but it’s the creators themselves who help remove the stigma.
Dianna Whaley, a self-proclaimed “Minecraft” veteran has been playing since she was eight.
“Sure, it’s not as nerdy as other games, but I watched a lot of YouTube when I was younger they looked like they were having so much fun [on Minecraft] I had to join,” said Whaley.
TikTok heartthrob Vinnie Hacker is known for his physique but also for his twitch streams where he does anything from play games with his friends to open Pokémon card packs. In a video with Nerdist, a channel dedicated entirely to nerdy media, even Vin Diesel sat down to play a game of “Dungeons and Dragons.”
Plus, people of our generation have ditched the stereotypical idea of “being cool.” Leading styles like indie and alt are all about doing whatever makes you happy. Even the bigger names in nerd culture have become cultural staples, like Avengers Infinity War and Endgame.
Talking about the movies, mainstream films, alongside TV shows, have also helped bring this culture mainstream. Let’s continue with “Dungeons and Dragons” as an example— one of the nerdiest games out there where people create their own characters and laugh, scream and cry over the outcome of colorful dice.
Sarah Dowell, a player in many D&D campaigns, said “the first exposure I had to D&D was a YouTube recommendation for a podcast. Though since I’ve started playing I notice references to it constantly in TV, movies, and even other games.”
D&D used to be looked down upon for being extremely geeky, and the church even saw it as Satanic. However, in recent years hit TV shows like “Futurama” and “Gravity Falls” have dedicated entire episodes that parody or directly reference the game. On a larger scale, shows like “Stranger Things” fully commit to the bit, featuring overt references to core villains and monsters in D&D lore throughout the show.
Another factor that has allowed for the rise of nerdy media is the cyclical nature of trends in mainstream media. Between thrifting clothes and taking polaroid pictures, it seems there is a deep appreciation for all things retro in the modern era. A lot of this goes with ditching the fancy new tech and fast-fashion retailers and embracing more analog trends. Enter board games.
In recent years, board games have gained popularity due to their accessibility, affordability and their ability to bring people together. According to a report by the NPD Group, the board game industry in the United States grew by 28 percent between 2016 and 2020, reaching a total of $1.2 billion in sales. One reason for this growth is the increasing availability of board games in big-box retailers, such as Target, making them more accessible to a wider audience. And during this time, a lot of people found themselves stuck at home with a lot of time to kill.
HOW TO START
It’s great to see this culture resurfacing, though as an outsider looking in, getting involved can seem like a daunting task. Whether it’s video games, board games or even card games, we got you covered.
Whether you’re aiming to be the next big Twitch streamer, or just want to elevate your game experience further than “Minecraft,” there’s some simple ways to get started. Obviously not everyone is ready to drop the cash on a new console or fancy gaming PC, so if you’re just wanting to test out the waters there are much cheaper options.
If you want to get into PC gaming, a great start is downloading the two game launchers “Steam” and “Epic Games.” While some games might require their own, these two have large stores where you can browse through the different popular games of various genres. Even without a computer there are a bunch of games you can play.
“Steam” is especially great for starters because of their refund policy. If you just want to test a game out and see how you like it, you can buy it on Steam and as long as you’ve played it for less than two hours, and it’s been less than two weeks since you purchased it, you can get a full refund.
With so many to choose from, finding the perfect board game for a night with your friends can get confusing. If you know what type of games your friends might be into, the process is simpler.
For the more strategic thinkers the two games “Settlers of Catan” and “Risk” that I mentioned earlier are perfect. Both are games where you are trying to expand your empire and manage your resources, while simultaneous making and breaking alliances with your friends. Though if your group is a little more… chaotic, there are still ones that are perfect. “Exploding Kittens” or “Coup” are faster paced card games that allow for quick rounds and more interactive gameplay.
Looking to tackle the behemoth that is D&D with all of its rules, and setup can seem daunting. Though it’s not as bad as you think.
“The easiest way to find a group is to ask the people you know. Finding a group doesn’t mean that everyone has to have experience with the game,” said Dowell. “The rules are important, sure, but don’t stress about them when you’re starting out. There’s not a way to ‘win’ D&D, because it’s collaboration, not competition. Focus on what is fun for you and your table, and the rest will fall into place.”
words_sal puma. design&photo_lizzie kristal.
This article was published in Distraction’s Spring 2023 print issue.