Dungeons & Dragons' Wisconsin Roots & The Evolution Of Role-Playing Games

Dec 9, 2019

Over the past few years, the game Dungeons & Dragons has enjoyed a renaissance of popularity. When it was first created in the 1970s, the game was revolutionary. Its publication is even credited with being the beginning of modern role-playing games.

What some may not know is that Dungeons & Dragons has a strong Wisconsin connection. The game was created by Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson in Lake Geneva, Wis., which still has deep ties to the role-playing community.

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Lake Effect’s Joy Powers knows this all too well. She grew up down the street from Gygax, who could often be seen playing pinochle on his porch with his wife Gail. And according to professor Thomas Malaby, this love of games is something ingrained in our culture.

"I knew I was interested in exploring what games mean to people and what we can learn about people by looking at how they play games," says Malaby.

Malaby also discusses the stereotypes of Dungeons & Dragons' players and how they don’t accurately portray the kinds of people who have been drawn to these games.

"It’s not so much that there weren’t a lot of very different people doing the things we’re interested in back then. It’s just that we see that so many of the histories, so many of the records, so many of the names, the remembered elements, seem always to be the same people or the same types of people," says Malaby.

Malaby is an anthropology professor at UW-Milwaukee whose studies focus on sociality in gameplay. He sat down with Powers to talk about the history of role-playing games and what they say about our society.