There are a few reasons that I think there's been a surge of interest in Dungeons & Dragons in the last few years. The cultural icons of my generations — and I'm now in my 40s — have all become nostalgic. For example, if you look at "Stranger Things," you'll see all the movie posters that my generation had on the walls, all the games we played and even the bikes we rode (in addition to the characters playing the game).
I also think that there's been a return to analog for the young generation. Just look a the number of kids that are buying vinyl records; there's a purity to it.
And I think the game is part of a movement away from the isolation of computers and mobile devices: People want to get together on Friday night or Saturday night with their friends around a table, and be social and play a social game, rather than staring at their phone and netting zero for the next five hours.
Dungeons & Dragons is part of a movement away from the isolation of computers and mobile devices.
Growing up in the 80s, anything that didn't look like it belonged on a yacht party was considered satanic or weird. For some reason, it was socially acceptable to just completely crap on people who played Dungeons & Dragons. You could get into fights; kids would gang up on you because of it. You never wanted to say that you played that game; it just wasn't cool.
I'm glad that the stigma's been erased, and I have consciously tried to play a part in that by being open that I love the game and I have fun playing it. Because what's somebody going to do? Are they going to say, If you play Dungeons & Dragons you're going to wind up like that guy? Okay, sure. What's wrong with my life?
All my friends play. All these huge directors, comedians, actors? We all play. My trainer of the past eight years, who is a CrossFit champion — 6'2, 245 pounds of solid muscle — is the most hardcore encyclopedia of fantasy novel information you'll ever find. There's a ton of us in L.A. who all get together and play the way that we did as kids, when we were first creating character backstories and writing episodic adventure series.
There's a ton of us in L.A. who all get together and play Dungeons & Dragons the way we did as kids, when we were first creating character backstories and writing episodic adventure series.
There's two aspects to the game that really appeal to people. One is the role play aspect, which is your character background and how you play the character. (If you watch shows like "Critical Role," for instance, you're watching really expert voice actors breathe life and play those characters.) You can do anything; that's the whole point of role playing. You could play anything you want.
The other side of it — which was more akin to the Dungeons & Dragons that we grew up with — is the math and probability side of it. (Or the craps table gambling side of it, if you will.)
For me personally, I was a really math-oriented kid growing up who was also very heavily into the arts, and was an artist; Dungeons & Dragons just lights up both sides of my brain. So I've got a few characters, and I've played one of them on "Critical Role" and a web series called "Force Grey": He looks like a dragon on two legs, basically and is called a dragonborn. (For the people who play, he's a 17th-level Oathbreaker paladin, 3rd-level berserker barbarian red dragonborn of Tiamat with the Hand of Vecna.)
The fantasy genre is a big ungentrified territory in terms of sci-fi and big budget films.
I now work as a consultant for Dungeons & Dragons, which is the job that I wanted as a kid, and, as a result of that relationship, I wrote some material for their adventure module that will get released next year. Plus, the game is how I got cast in my latest movie, "Rampage": I had written a script for a Dungeons & Dragons movie when the rights were at Warner Brothers, where Brad Peyton was looking to direct another version of a movie about the game. We got on the phone to exchange notes about our separate versions, and got to talking about how much we loved the game. Then Brad mentioned that he was looking to cast a part in this other movie, and said I should consider it. So my love of Dungeons & Dragons actually led to me shooting "Rampage."
I'm still hopeful about a movie: The special effects are good enough that we can bring dragons to life, where they used to look questionable before, and the fantasy genre is a big ungentrified territory in terms of sci-fi and big budget films. "Lord of the Rings" and "Game of Thrones" already got the industry moving in that direction. Plus, so many of the directors, writers, actors and producers, we all worked our creative muscles out for the first time playing Dungeons & Dragons. I think it's definitely time.
As told to THINK editor Megan Carpentier, edited and condensed for clarity.
Joe Manganiello is an actor, producer, writer and director. He also serves on the Board of Trustees of Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh Foundation.