AV Club recently re-shared a recommended viewing of the cult classic sitcom, Community– 10 episodes they felt best represented the series. Community is a top five all time comedy series for me, and I’m not surprised that one of my favorite episodes, Advanced Dungeons and Dragons (s2e14), made the list. I’m not overstating that this episode was the spark that lit a fire of desire to try Dungeons & Dragons. I write the occasional fantasy adventure, I do improv and love the challenge of playing a character and thinking on my feet- it surprised most of my friends I wasn’t intrigued in the game sooner, and that I only started playing as recently as this past summer with a group I join weekly via Google Hangouts.
There’s been speculation about the resurgence of board and table top gaming in recent years- what is the cultural ecosystem that’s breathed new life into it? NBC discussed it in 2016, Harmon’s Community episode tapped into the magic of it to great effect back in 2011. While one could say that Dungeons & Dragons is easy comedy material, the truth is that Harmon & Co. doesn’t go for any easy laughs in the script (in fact, Harmon had to crusade against the network to get the episode aired). What’s incredible watching Community’s take on the role playing game is that it actually respects the game and people who play it, so much so that the person who refuses to bite and play nice is the villain of the episode.
Ultimately, Community’s masterstroke for the episode and as a series overall is that Harmon tapped into an existential diaspora of our post-boomer, capitalism-disillusioned generation that disgraced power lawyer Jeff Winger was thrust among in the show: we’re looking for connections and trying to find meaning through them rather than our paychecks, job titles, or stuff. Whether it’s in games of paintball, or the periods of collective imagination shared in a D&D session, these are our refuges in a period where technology has made us all so impossibly connected yet distant.
Thus, Harmon’s take on the game does not go for any of the cliches: there are no eye rolling gags about people who play the game being virgins, or taking the game seriously making someone less than another. It’s Annie who succeeds in character at a key point in the adventure by committing to her character (it’s a secret wish of mine for an uncut version of Annie’s speech since they play music over it). Pierce isn’t the villain just from boorishness, he’s the villain because he throws his weight around to push people away and belittle. At the end of the episode, the game turns a person away from considering suicide.
The show would revisit Dungeons and Dragons later to lesser effect, but with the same core message: these experiences that get us to put down our phones help bring us together in each of our own ways. Whether it’s Dungeons & Dragons, Ticket to Ride, or trivia nights at a pub- if our phones and the internet can do any good for us it’s in helping us find our way to these experiences that make us put the things down and truly connect for even just an hour.