Seems a little odd that brands (D&D and MTG) built on escapist fantasy would circle back around high school, doesn’t it?
When I look up on Twitter the people who create such things, one of the thoughts that doesn’t pop into my mind is, “This looks like a person who was happy and socially successful in high school.” Besides the nerd brands, we have a vast swath of similar Harry Potter fans who are in their 30s, yet still write fan fiction about a wizard high school.
What I’ve realized from interacting with these sections of millennial fandom is that the escapist feeling they pursue is not so much escape from this world and its limitations per se, but an escape to a life that is somehow better and (most importantly) more meaningful than their own. Thus, the return to high school is about experiencing an alternate memory, one in which the high school experience was all they were promised it would be by shows like Saved by the Bell and Beverly Hills 90210, or even (perhaps more so), Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
This is a reality in which they are special, they are well-liked, and they are doing important things that give their life purpose and meaning. This is almost the exact inverse of what high school actually is for 90% of normal people, including the popular jocks. Real high school is a prison experience, where you are merely a single interchangeable member of an infinite line of grey-goo nobodies who are immediately forgotten (even by your friends) and almost everything you do while in school has no purpose or point beyond getting a grade so you can eventually be released from your captivity.
Harry Potter, to that end, is a perfect escape. The grey-goo of Harry can easily be exchanged in one’s personal fantasies for the grey-goo of the self. It makes sense that D&D and Magic would want to get in on that game and tap that fandom. I mean, just look at the prom picture they use:
It’s a bunch of weirdos in same-sex relationships (I think, but really I shouldn’t assume their genders) – the fantasy, I suppose, is that they are all smiling at the prom.
I notice that these types of people seem to be stuck in high school mentally long after leaving, perhaps because it was such an underwhelming or straight-up negative experience for them, or maybe it is because they feel that in the real world they can right the wrongs they suffered in school. Gamma males (and their female equivalents) will persist into adulthood looking at life as if they are still in prison, viewing everyone as an evil jock oppressor and themselves as suffering undeservedly for being “special.” They didn’t like being grey-goo, and, ironically, grey-goo is how they view everyone else. Maybe that is why modern D&D has such a “party of freaks” paradigm – the fandom wants that to complete their escape by making the characters an allegory for how they feel about themselves.
Keep in mind I have no problem with escapism since I am no jailor. These people long for an escape like anyone, but they wish for a different destination, perhaps, than those of us who have no desire to re-imagine high school as anything other than what it was – a prison.
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In addition to your observations, this obsession, I feel, is somewhat an escapism to childhood. These adults are having difficulty coping with the burden of actually taking care of oneself and depending on yourself for survival. So they wish to be in a time where the real burdens of life are solved (food, shelter, etc.). Taking this fantasy they shape it to also include the glamorous side of romance, finding connections, etc. Where their current lives are devoid of such connection. Personally, I do not understand, given I have a good career and family my wife and I have built. I really do pity them. On the other hand I am growing tired of how many fantasy books I check out at the book store and find that it’s another fantasy HS/college story. My own rambling comment aside, keep up the good work David!
Yeah that’s a good point. That might be a big part of HS/college nostalgia – the feeling that you didn’t have to worry about the particulars of survival.
In fact, I think that’s really the “feeling” of the 90s and early oughts – that there was always tomorrow, nothing is really pressing today.
Interesting to point out the escapism trope of an alternate school experience (really blown up by Harry Potter) which, as Isaac commented, is pervasive in modern fantasy. You hit the nail on the head when you said it related to finding meaning/importance in a system devoid of both. Over two decades after Harry Potter’s publication I think we may finally be able to recognize the circumstances which led to its black swan revolution more completely. The book has a nearly blank MC onto which the reader can project themselves, taken from a world of victimhood to a caring, active, and fun world in which meaningful conflict abounds and you (Harry) are wildly famous and important! It is nearly a direct parallel to the situations of so many in the modern first world. Harry Potter is a direct medication to the sickness of modern society. The only true healing salve is an informed people making conscious efforts to be more healthy and traditionally virtuous as communities. Step 1: Convert the normies.
I saw this coming the first time I read the first page of “The Feminine Mystique”. Feminism is basically an ideology about avoiding responsibility and going into technology-enabled arrested development. When you are a child you have no responsibility but also no disposable money. The corporate Satanic oligarchy running things sees the pre-family young adult as the ideal consumer and thus works to convert all people into that mode. When you have disposable income and an ignorant “I will live forever” mindset, that is what they want to tap into, and it has lead to a culture wide state of arrested development. Abortion and other anti reproductive technologies enable to delay of having a family until never and “sacrifice” of not having children enables perpetual consumption with a childlike disregard for any personal, or social responsibilities. The State will step in where God and mother/father once did.
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