Identity Negotiation and Resistance in Dungeons & Dragons Liveshow Critical Role
Over the last two decades, Dungeons & Dragons, a tabletop roleplaying game (TTRPG), transformed from a niche subculture to a mainstream aspect of popular culture. Tabletop gamers now utilize new media to create “actual play” experiences, in which a group of people play TTRPGs for an audience. In traditional tabletop, Dennis Waskul and Matt Lust propose that role-playing engenders three unique roles within one person, that of the person, the player, and the persona. In this thesis, I propose that actual play TTRPGs necessitate the addition of a fourth role: the performer. Because of the nature of live television and theatre, both the actors and the audience experience the effects of this fourth role, in recorded actual play and live actual play. I will explore how the division of self into four tangible roles reveals in and out of game identity negotiation. Through a case study of one of the most popular actual play shows, Critical Role, this thesis aims to uncover the ways in which a new type of media—the D&D liveshow—both performs and inspires new conceptions of personhood for players and viewers alike. My close reading and case study thus far suggest that play, the medium of D&D itself, engenders social recreation at the table, and therefore outside of the table, due to how closely the game mimics life and how the roles necessitated to play the game reflect real-life social roles. CR, and at large the new genre of the D&D liveshow, gives players, naïve and experienced, not only the permission and example, but also the opportunity, to take rules and break them.