Its no secret I’m a gamer. I’m also a skeptic of representation (or rather lack thereof) of nerd culture in media. So I didn’t know how to feel about a movie about D&D players. I’ve seen all the D&D movies. Most are hilariously bad. And the Tom Hanks classic Mazes and Monsters was specifically produced to help vilify table-top role playing games and fed the idea that nerds are freaks for decades (although that movie is hysterical, you should watch it).
D&D’s reputation has improved. Cool people are known to play D&D. Vin Diesel (and he got Judi Dench to play in a campaign on a film shoot), Robin Williams, Stephen Colbert. But nerds are still the butt of jokes, even on their own shows.
So what about this movie about people playing D&D? It opens with the people, not the game. It opens with a conversation that instantly won me over. “What are you going to read instead [of gaming books being boxed]? Wuthering Heights? Nobody reads Wuthering Heights! Except English majors and even they don’t enjoy it!” The dialogue and acting is natural and so real. The players introduce their characters to the audience, in the style of a reality tv interview. “I am a halfing. Which is a Hobbit. Except not copyrighted by the Tolkien estate. Whatever that may be.” The comedy is spot on and self-aware: “Were I to tell you all their stories we would be facing the dawn. And frankly, you would be bored to tears.” Although, boring their audience has never stopped a D&D player from telling you about a character they were excited about.
And if you are a gamer you’re going to get suspicious that the creators of the movie have been taping your gaming sessions because I know I’ve heard some of these conversations before: “I am the GM. I can have you killed.” And the characters swear like every D&D player I’ve ever met, so you’ve been warned.
The accurate representation of the gaming group dynamic is beautiful. There’s always the person who does the bad accent. There’s always the one that gender-bends. There’s always the one that just plays to make their significant other happy. The one that insists on playing a weak character for some obscure thematic reason, but doesn’t actually work with the system you’re playing and then complains that they are useless in combat and dies. And the one that speaks the relevant if annoying fantasy language.
The best part of Of Dice and Men is that the characters also real friends and human beings together. Their relationships are believable and they have real strengths and flaws. The movie shows real relationships. Real love. Real tension. Real growth of friends over time. Of Dice and Men is honest about who nerds are: just people that are passionate about what they love. There aren’t offensive stereotypes or caricatures. Its also honest about gaming and other hobbies people let consume their worlds. “Football and gaming have something in common. They’re both utterly and completely pointless. And they matter.”
The sets are simple; gaming stores and gaming tables. And the “in-game” special effects are done as if they’re on graph paper or the Big Board, which is not only a great way for an indie film to work around fighting a dragon without Weta Digital helping them out, but its also a great detail of real gaming that will make table-top gamers feel at home. And yes, they use real, published gaming books and actual miniatures.
I wasn’t expecting this movie to show such well-rounded and grounded characters, to tell such a complex story in just an hour and fifteen minutes, and I wasn’t expecting to be so moved. If you are a gamer or you know a gamer you’ve got to watch this movie.
And now let us all – gamers and non-gamers alike – come together in the Cleric of St Cuthbert’s prayer: “Bless us so we may smite thine enemy in the face.”
Of Dice and Men is screening this coming weekend at DragonCon. And you don’t want to miss out. For other screening events and more information about the film, cast, and crew check out their web site. You can also catch more news, watch the trailer, and check out swag on Twitter @DiceAndMenMovie.