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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