"A Living and Breathing World...": examining participatory practices within Dungeons & Dragons

Walden, Corey Ryan
Piatti-Farnell, Lorna
Item type
Degree name
Master of Communication Studies
Journal Title
Journal ISSN
Volume Title
Auckland University of Technology

Permeated and referenced throughout popular culture, Dungeons & Dragons has become iconic as the cardinal and archetypal tabletop role­‐playing game. Participants have been drawn to D&D for over forty years, departing into imagined and collaborative fantasy worlds. This thesis is concerned with analysing current participatory practices in D&D, accounting for evolving styles of hybridised gaming and retentions of traditional tabletop play. It ventures beyond initial conceptual enquiries, developing tangible conclusions to the questions: “How important is the idea of community when playing Dungeons & Dragons?” and “What is appealing about constructing fictitious identities within the group, actualised through notions of play?” To assist in answering these questions an Internet survey was developed. Survey data is presented, analysed, and contrasted with existing role­‐playing game scholarship. Emergent findings discuss participant experiences of “entertainment”, “fantasy”, “community”, and preferred “D&D editions”. It is strongly contended that D&D transcends the superficialities associated with a “game”. Participants powerfully engage — transmuting participatory experiences into broader realms of purpose and meaning. The game facilitates the continual formation and negotiation of community and identity, demonstrating its wider socio-­cultural applicability. The ability and appeal to engage with substantial identity exploration is clearly observable within D&D practices. The game offers participants accessibility into divergent paradigms of reality. Participants’ playful explorations have a lasting effect in the “real world”. Finally, participants develop and enjoy a strong sense of community through their long-­term gaming relationships. Regardless of whether these communities are enacted in “online” or “offline” spheres, these spaces endow participants with substantial benefits — belonging, acceptance, and a shared sense of “fun”.

Dungeons & Dragons , Role-playing games , Fantasy , Game studies , Popular culture , Sociology
Publisher's version
Rights statement