“Are you a gamer. This question is a lot like when dogs…well, sniff one another.” (Author and game designer Sean Patrick Fannon. The Fantasy Role Playing Gamer’s Bible. 1996).
Hello, my name is Mike Goodman, and I spent way too much time as a kid playing this:
When I was a teenager, and other kids were joining sports teams or clubs, I was rolling oddly shaped dice, drawing hundreds of detailed maps of dungeons, castles, kingdoms, and populating them with monsters ranging from goblins to dragons to otyughs.
My kingdoms were filled with evil dukes vying for power against meglomaniacal wizards and, adventurers seeking fame, glory, and mounds and mounds of treasure.
From my teenage years to today, the role-playing game hobby has been pastime, academic pursuit, form of artistic expression, means of employment, and means of socializing and discovering friends. I never stopped playing, and I play more now than I ever did as a teenager. My friends and I get together to play role-playing games like Dungeons and Dragons, or other games based on Tolkien, or swashbuckling adventures, or old pulp adventure and horror literature from the 20’s. While our kids play computer games or hang out, we’re rolling dice and telling stories.
I’m researching the #dnd hashtag. It’s commonly used by official Dungeons & Dragons Twitter, administered by Wizards of the Coast, LLC (@Wizards_DnD). The hashtag is used by game companies announcing new products or soliciting customers, players describing incidents from their own games, and by individuals calling gamers’ attention to items or news of interest. It is often used in conjunction with the #gaming and #rpg hashtags, as well as hashtags relating to specific other games lines (#numenera, #13thage, #arsmagica). It is so ubiquitous that role-playing game companies that produce fantasy games similar to D&D use the #dnd hashtag to identify their products (@trolllordgames is one example).
It’s a hashtag that brings geek culture together. It connects the thread between celebrities like Chris Hardwick and Wil Wheaton with author Noble Smith, who admits to buying a Heart’s album Little Queen because he was reminded of D&D by the cover.
Want to share any old dungeon delving stories of your own? Connect with me on Twitter: @mikewgoodman
Update 20 December 2013
Below is a presentation I did for our class, discussing my findings. Enjoy.
Update 22 December 2013
In other social media platforms, I’ve seen cabals of gamers associated by favoring a particular game, or by location, or by personal association. With Twitter’s emphasis on quick communication with short messages to wider ranges of people, would something as intimate as a gaming group or as widely varied as a game fan-base be represented and served adequately? By investigating the #DnD tag, I investigated the largest group of gamers interacting about what is arguably the largest and most popular tabletop hobby-game, Dungeons and Dragons.
The tag, like the fandom it represents, crosses intertextual boundaries, serving news and professional information, advertisement, entertainment, and interpersonal sharing. I organized the posts based on how the author was relating to their DnD experience. To approach the data without prejudice or expectation, as appropriate to grounded theory, I looked at how each message directed me. I found that the tweets were either selling me something, directly sharing news to me, or used as a venue to share aspects of gamer-life with me.
The semantics of the hashtag interested me, as well. The constraints of Twitter make the choice of this hashtag as three letters more obvious than trying to use an ampersand on Twitter. It also makes sense phonetically. Say it with me, “D – N -D.” “Dee un dee.” Identifying a gaming hashtag that way seems to disconnect it from the specific brand of the game, and makes it familiar, comfortable. How many of us associate gaming with the first role-playing game we ever encountered? #DnD immediately felt like it represented gaming, not just the Dungeons and Dragons brand.
Before I could delve into researching the gaming community, I had to separate the wheat from the chaff. I had to identify what #dnd tags didn’t represent gaming. Honestly…someone could have told me that #dnd meant, “do not disturb” before I started. That may have changed how I researched gaming communities. Discovering that, though, created an additional layer of confusion. Some posts said something along the line of, “Going to go geek out! #dnd!” Was that intended to tell people that the poster was about to be engaged in geeky fun and was not to be disturbed? Were they announcing that they were going to go play D&D? Both?
I divided my findings into posts related to sharing news or advertising, posts that shared personal experiences and excited utterances, and discussions. Impersonal posts advertising or sharing news were the most plentiful, representing upwards of 33% of total data. The fewest messages involved interpersonal discussion or personal sharing of gaming experiences or rules discussions. What little re-shares there were involved sharing news, so I included them in the “sharing” category.
The first communications I observed were the advertisements from companies. Gaming requires a certain buy-in of books and accessories, so its likely that there would be a market for product. There is also something of a collector culture among many hobbyists; some take pride in accumulating rare rulebooks, large collections of dice, varied collections of miniature figures, etc. Using the tag seems to be an effective way of finding one’s market.
Product advertisements weren’t the only kind of advertising I found. People try to drive traffic to their favorite blogs, newsfeeds, and other sorts of gaming information. I lumped those people driving traffic into my code for advertising. As a matter of fact, if someone was trying to direct traffic to a blog for the sake of sharing information he thought would be valuable to a large portion of the community (instead of sharing, for example, his own blog posts about interesting events or something trivial), I also identified that communication with a code I set aside for sharing news.
The greatest amount of activity I saw was among people sharing news and information relating to the hobby. Much of the sharing wasn’t specifically directed at anyone; instead, it was announced to everyone in the community. The hashtag seemed to just be a way to identify that the information being presented was gaming-related. It was up to the reader to go any further into the meaning of the announcement. The announcements were varied, as well.
Some of them directed people to news about upcoming releases of games, or to Kickstarter pages for developers looking for funding, for example. The support of fans-turned-producers seems like implicit participation when people forwarded these links or retweeted these messages. This boosting, as Duffet described it, is the biggest type of support I observed. However, fans rarely shared links to stores or to other advertisements.
Other announcements were sharing personal experiences about games and again, they were not directed at anyone in particular. These were demonstrations of semi-private pleasures, the intimacy of a game group, made public…a certain demonstration of fan attachment, like Duffett described in his explanation of “Affect.” The poster shares the experience so other gamers can sympathize, emphasize, or commiserate.
Most retweeted messages were pieces of official news from different game companies. There’s value placed on spreading information about the hobby, especially new news about anything being released. However, I didn’t find much discussion happening about most of the news using the #DnD tag afterwards. Rather, I’d find links to articles discussing the original piece of news.
What does that say about the values of the people using the hashtag? There is an assumption that information and news is not only valuable, but valuable enough to spread quickly. Very few sources of news had back-and-forth discussions. News was broadcasted out, and shared again by a few. There were more unique messages than retweets or shares.
There was a very limited amount of rules discussion. Tabletop RPG’s are notorious for complex rules that border on the arcane. They use a particular cant that may transcend different games, but are unique to the hobby. However, very little conversation went back and forth about rules. I would have thought Twitter to be the perfect venue for the back-and-forth of question and answer, especially since game companies (especially Dungeons and Dragons’ publisher) have presences on Twitter. There were comparatively few queries to the community, as well. Again, with such an emphasis on distributing information in bulk, perhaps that limits the need (or the inclination) to ask specific questions (perhaps there are better venues, which are pointed to in other posts).
I wonder if perhaps the phenomenon I mentioned earlier, the predilection of users to broadcast statements and industry news to the whole community as opposed to individual communication, limits the desire for ask-and-answer discourse. Users want readers to know what they’re doing, not how to go about doing it.
One part of gaming culture is the desire to share what happened at the table; that was an element of the community on Twitter but, again, relatively limited. There are opportunities to share in-jokes that only gamers might appreciate, as well as opportunities to share excited utterances about products, or events that happened in-game. Again, they tend to not be directed to anyone in particular, but to the whole community (is it appropriate to say, “To anyone who would listen?”). Often they’re included with pictures from the game table, showing off minis, character sheets, or other game related artifacts. Duffett’s descriptions of how fans’ accumulations are used in a social sense can be associated here, as well. The “stuff” of the hobby is a physical representation of the storytelling tools. The dice, minis and maps are shared treasure for that moment. And the poster is sharing them with us, as well.
One thing that seemed to be shared among many of the messages was the chance to identify oneself as a gamer, when discussing other matters. The association was often casual, identifying out-of-game incidents or items with in-game concepts. This may not have been an intentional need to identify oneself as a gamer, but again, something to share among a crowd of like-minded individuals.
There were specific threads about tips for running games, or elements to throw into a game to make them interesting. I saw many from user @slyflourish, who has a website devoted to tips and tricks for D&D players. Interestingly, what few discussions I got a chance to observe, he was usually a participant (along with @angrydm), though those discussions had little to do with his content. Few other tips were contained with posts from publications, like Gygax Magazine.
Twitter isn’t the venue where aspects of the game are created, or where it is played, but it is a place where participants share about their experiences. If one were to apply Schaeffer’s model of Accumulation/Construction/and Archiving, one would direct #DnD users towards the low end of archivist and construction. We’re not seeing a remixing of previous content on this platform, but there is a display of what is important to members of the community. Sharing news, whether its about the industry or the table, is at the forefront. Users displayed scenes from their gaming tables or items representing gaming inspiration, but the work was not developed on-line.
Is this the social media described by Schaefer in Bastard Culture, one which claims users belong to a community, claim that mediated communication equals publishing, and claims that these practices are distinctive features of the web as we now know it? Overall, the #DnD community on Twitter isn’t about back-and-forth discussion, relating personal issues between individual players. Rather, it is a chance to voice appreciation, news, excited utterances, or things relating to gamers at large.
One regret I found while looking over the research was that I didn’t look into the #dndnext tag. As I was compiling my data, the first open playtest for the new edition of Dungeons and Dragons (“D&D Next”) was finishing. I’d seen some active discussion going back and forth among people using both #dndnext and #dnd. However, I never looked into the activity of just #dndnext. Some of the more in-depth rules discussion I’d read in the #dnd collection were also using the #dndnext tag. I imagine that there may have been a more robust discussion abut business, rules and upcoming releases under the #dndnext tag.
It a place of shared inspiration and shared experience. #DnD tag isn’t about the small, intimate group. Its akin to a bulletin board. If the small, intimate game group, and their communities on Google+ or LiveJournal can be likened to the small study group, then #DnD is the street-corner philosopher, crying from the top of a soapbox.