I love D&D—that’s why I’ve played for over 20 years. I hear many people saying D&D is nerdy, weird, or only for geeks.
Is D&D nerdy?
D&D is considered nerdy because it involves intellectual stimulation, strategic thinking, pretending you are a fantasy character, and can involve miniature figures. D&D is associated with fringe subcultures, such as cosplay and live roleplaying games. D&D is currently growing in popularity.
In this article, I’ll cover everything you need to know about the nerdiness of D&D.
Is D&D Nerdy? (12 Good Reasons)
While I don’t see “nerdy” as a negative term—it’s quite cool these days—there are many reasons D&D is nerdy.
Here are 12 good reasons.
D&D Originated From Nerdy Domains
D&D was invented in 1974 by Ernest Gary Gygax and David Arneson.
It’s no secret that D&D swirled out of Science Fiction and Fantasy, two genres clearly connected to the nerd subculture. This attracted an initial audience well-versed in the genres, also considered nerds at the time.
D&D Fits the Criteria of Nerdy Things
D&D is a table-top role-playing game, or RPG.
It requires players to imagine themselves as fantasy characters such as elves or dwarves.
Dungeons and Dragons is based around building up statistics and abilities for these characters and then using those statistics and abilities to defeat fantasy monsters such as orcs, dragons, or beholders.
D&D Is Strategic
D&D is a strategy game: players use their imagination and intelligence to defeat monsters and solve puzzles.
Players roll dice to determine the outcomes of each encounter.
It is a game like chess: it requires you to use mental dexterity but doesn’t require any physical activity or coordination.
D&D Involves the Imagination
D&D is based on pure imagination and has no basis in the real world.
Some have criticized D&D as being immature or nerdy because it requires immersive imagination and shared storytelling.
The same is true for reading—another activity many people consider nerdy.
D&D is even more closely related to the old “choose your own adventure” books.
While the Dungeon Master (DM) facilitates an overall storyline, the team of player characters makes a constant series of decisions that affect the storyline.
D&D Is a Fringe Subculture
Although D&D has exploded in popularity over the years, it still mostly exists on the outskirts of mainstream culture.
The advent of Critical Role on Twitch and YouTube is bringing D&D into the mainstream.
Yet, D&D is still a subculture with its own network of celebrities, fandoms, and jargon.
In fact, one of the best ways to see if D&D is nerdy is to watch a video of people actually playing the game:
D&D Was Associated With Evil
People who think D&D is nerdy often confuse the game with cults or witchcraft.
You might not remember it, but in the late 1980s and 1990s, Dungeons and Dragons came under attack as a form of satanism.
Most people now realize that this is far from the reality of D&D.
I remember a few suspicious friends of mine watching me play D&D and saying, “Oh, that’s all it is?” Exactly. It’s a fun, cooperative game for friends.
It’s like they expected dark cloaks, virgin sacrifices, or strange rituals.
D&D Is Similar to Gaming
Like gaming, D&D provides a framework for teamwork, cooperation, and shared missions.
Players often have to work together to solve problems, progress through a D&D adventure, and defeat enemies. This directly relates to gaming. At the risk of sounding repetitive, gaming is also a subculture that is largely viewed as nerdy.
D&D Is Not Physical
One of the reasons D&D is considered nerdy is because there is no physical element. D&D is not a sport like football, basketball, or soccer.
Therefore, some people see D&D as a game for non-athletes.
A completely high school point of view is to separate people into groups such as jocks, loners, troubled kids, and geeks. This is the world of my youth.
In this very simplistic categorization, D&D would probably fall among the geeks.
Much like debate, chess, or even theater.
I certainly agree that D&D is not a physical activity or sport. D&D relies more on intelligence, creativity, social skills, and acting.
If those things are nerdy, then I guess D&D is nerdy.
D&D Is Confused With Cosplay
A common misconception is that D&D is the same as cosplay.
There is an overlap, where people who enjoy Dungeons and Dragons also might enjoy cosplay. The opposite is also sometimes true.
However, not everyone who plays Dungeons & Dragons is a cosplayer who attends conventions and dresses up as their favorite fantasy characters.
On the flip side, not everyone who enjoys cosplay is into D&D.
However, because of this confusion, D&D is often associated with cosplay, one more subculture that is often labeled as nerdy.
D&D Can Involve Maps and Miniature Figures
D&D is a game of the mind.
To bring gameplay into a concrete understanding, some D&D groups use game boards and miniature D&D fantasy figures.
Typically, the game board or map presents a physical location such as a dungeon, castle, or town.
Maps allow the players to visually understand locations.
It’s easier to talk about where they want to go and where their characters stand in relation to the other players (or even non-player characters, NPCs)
Game boards, maps, and figures also serve a purpose in combat encounters.
They allow for more strategic gameplay.
Some people see this as being nerdy or even childish because the players are using models on a game board.
However, just like other tabletop role-playing games such as Pathfinder, D&D players use miniature figures to help visualize their characters in the world. This helps them understand how far away things are and the relationship between objects.
D&D Requires Learning
Modern entertainment often spoonfeeds an audience.
For example, video games come with extensive tutorials that walk you through each aspect of gameplay.
Movies hit you over the head with the plot.
To enjoy Dungeons & Dragons, you typically need to read a few books. There is a definite learning curve when it comes to playing D&D.
This means that the game is not as accessible as other entertainment options.
For this reason, some people consider it nerdy.
I’d be missing a piece of the puzzle if I didn’t admit that a select few D&D players have practiced “gatekeeping.”
For a long time, certain players didn’t want anyone not like them to play the game.
Unfortunately, this included people of color and women.
As you can imagine, this kept D&D firmly in the ranks of caucasian males, usually those who bounced around many of the nerd-labeled subcultures mentioned in this article.
Thankfully, gatekeeping D&D has almost entirely stopped.
Is Playing Dungeons & Dragons Only for Nerds?
D&D is not only for nerds. D&D is a game open and welcoming to anyone of any race, gender, creed, status, or background.
I like to think of D&D as a game for everyone.
To be sure, not everyone in the world will enjoy Dungeons and Dragons—just like not everyone enjoys any other activity or game.
However, there are no criteria or precursors for someone who plays D&D.
What Is a D&D Nerd?
There are two types of D&D nerds. One type is anyone who plays any role-playing game, such as D&D. The other type of D&D nerd is a label among people who play role-playing games.
In this context, a D&D nerd is a person who exclusively plays D&D.
He or she thinks less of other role-playing games. This type of D&D nerd is often seen as snobby.
They may even be labeled as judgmental and condescending toward other players.
However, this is not always the case.
There are plenty of D&D nerds who play other role-playing games or do not disrespect or look down on people who play other types of role-playing games.
Is Dungeons & Dragons a Nerd Sport?
Nerds often get ridiculed for not playing sports. Sometimes, people call D&D a sport for nerds.
I can see where they’re coming from, but I think this label is unfair. After all, fantasy football involves pretending to run a football team, trade players, and follow a bunch of sports stats.
I’ve even heard fantasy football called “D&D for jocks”.
I don’t see anything wrong with fantasy football and I certainly don’t judge people who enjoy playing the game.
Yet, fantasy football shares many of the same basic qualities as Dungeons & Dragons.
Therefore, if D&D is nerdy then fantasy football is probably also nerdy.
Is D&D Cool Now?
I don’t know if I would say D&D is cool, but it is definitely more accepted. Critical Role is a fabulously popular Twitch stream and YouTube channel.
Many famous people and celebrities acknowledge playing D&D.
This list includes Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, Anderson Cooper, Tim Duncan, Matt Damon, and Ben Affleck (To name a few).
I would not say that popular media has stopped portraying D&D in a negative way, but there is a more positive and neutral bent to coverage. All in all, I’d say D&D is moving mainstream.
Final Thoughts: Is D&D Nerdy?
Yes, D&D is still considered geeky or nerdy, but those terms now apply to many “cool” things.
People now call themselves “sports nerds,” “movie nerds,” and “fitness geeks.”
That is to say, the label of the D&D nerd is getting a massively overdue makeover.