As much as I love watching actual play shows (and I do, I really do), I love scripted shows related to D&D and roleplaying even more. There are a number of excellent series to be found on YouTube, all inspired by roleplaying games. Most are fantasy based, with characters existing in a campaign world of some kind. They vary from straight ahead narrative to shattering the fourth wall at every opportunity, with many stops in between. My favourite ones, however, are dramas/comedies about gamers and gaming culture. I find it interesting to see how folks inside our hobby write about folks in our hobby, because that insider knowledge usually results in rich characterization and exciting stories.
So here are three series you can find on YouTube right now, each taking a different look at gamers and gaming culture. Two of them are finished their run, the third is ongoing in its second season. If these appeal to you, YouTube will reveal several other options to you. But these three are my current favourites.
Gold – If you enjoy watching sports dramas, this is your series. Imagine a world in which tabletop gaming is not only well-regarded, but celebrated as a competitive sport. I know, it’s hard for me too. But Gold explores the lives of the players on the USA’s silver medal D&D team, as they prepare for the next world competition. Very much in the style of Friday Night Lights and Eastbound & Down, Gold presents a cast of characters tormented by their fame as the second best D&D group in the world, under pressure to take the top of the podium. The perils of waning fame, the dangers of gaming addiction, the crushing pressure on unreasonable expectations from fans and family, Gold examines these and more, layered into a world of RPG sport. The series is seven years old, and sadly anticipated further seasons did not happen. But what is there is still excellent and surprisingly relevant to our current streaming culture. If you needed to scratch an itch existing in the cross-section between One Tree Hill and the school D&D club, this is the show for you.
And while you’re there, check out the other series set in the same universe as Gold, Night of the Zombie King. Think The Big Chill for gaming culture.
The Gamers: Hands of Fate – I like just about everything Zombie Orpheus Entertainment puts out, but The Gamers: Hands of Fate is the one I rewatch on a regular basis. I admit to having a weakness for trashy romantic comedies, and this is as close as ZOE has come, combining elements of that style with gamer culture. The series follows Cass (Brian Lewis) as he sets out to win a collectible card game world championship… and a date with Natalie (Trin Miller), one of the game’s top players. But this romcom trope is shot through with important messages about the negative side of gamer culture, especially the treatment of women in our hobby. It also explores the tensions that exist in the fanbase of a competitive narrative game; do you play to win or play to drive the story forward? With the last third of the film filmed at the 2012 Gen Con, the series is very much steeped in gamer culture. If you’ve watched any of the other Gamers series, you’ll recognize and enjoy many of the actors here. If you’re in the mood for a feel good romcom flavoured heavily with gamer, The Gamers: Hands of Fate is your bowl of chowder.
Experience Points – I discovered this show very recently, and I’m so glad I did! I didn’t realize how much I wanted a drama/comedy series about a session of D&D until I stumbled across Experience Points. Season One, already complete on YouTube, follows a group of players through a single session as a new player joins the group. Flashbacks to previous sessions give us insight into the trials the players have faced that brought them to this evening and the unexpected revelations their characters encounter. Much in the same way the dialogue in The West Wing represents the conversations we wish politicians were actually having, the scripting of Experience Points presents an ideal of the way we wish our sessions would go; no crosstalk, no one interrupts the DM, and every character conversation is amazingly free of ‘ums’ and ‘ers’. The series also gives us a subtle look at the lives of the players outside of their gaming group.
Set after the events of Season One, Season Two is currently running on YouTube.The character of the DM, Allen, is the only regular returning character. While the first season looked at an established gaming group and campaign, the second season instead focuses on the challenges Allen faces in trying to start a new campaign with a new group of players. Besides an interesting new cast of characters (both in the script and in the game), I love the contrast between the first and second season groups. Any DM who has started a new campaign with strangers will feel very at home this season. This season also features one of my favourite actual play performers, Aliza Pearl, who I’ve enjoyed in Shield of Tomorrow and Callisto 6 on Geek & Sundry. Because the series is current, I hold out hope for future episodes beyond Season Two. I can also say that I would be excited to play in the campaign world presented in both seasons, and I hope some campaign info might find its way to print.
That’s it from me. Are you watching any D&D-related dramas or comedies on YouTube? What do you recommend? Tell us in the comments below. And if you check any of these series out, come back and tell me what you think.