Has Dungeons & Dragons Replaced Poker As TV's Favorite Game?

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Television characters love to play games. Audiences have seen characters play everything from chess to tag.

Two games, in particular, are very popular to base an episode or subplot around -- poker and Dungeons & Dragons.

Team Z D & D

Although it is based on even older games, poker as we know it has been around since the 19th century -- hence its enduring association with saloons. So when television became a thing, poker had already been popular for quite a while.

Early on television shows incorporated poker into the daily lives of its characters. Both I Love Lucy and The Honeymooners had episodes revolving around poker games. Maverick and The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet made poker a recurring focus.

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Even when TV shows took us far away from apartments and homes to more far-away locations like M*A*S*H 4077 in Korea or the furthest reaches of outer space while aboard spaceship Enterprise, poker would regularly find a way to TV.

Poker on the Enterprise

Various shows: Supernatural, Cheers, Friends, The Office, Pushing Daisies, 30 Rock, Dynasty (2017), Sanford and Son, and Married with Children had all had episodes featuring poker, and no doubt there are many more shows which have also had poker featured too.

Dean Bets Its All - Supernatural

Each show puts its own twist on the subject matter, but poker isn't the only game to be found in TV land.

Dungeons & Dragons came into existence during the 1970s. Unlike with poker, TV shows weren't rushing to make episodes about D&D right away. While there were plenty of references to D&D and occasionally a game of it was shown, D&D didn't become more commonly featured on TV until the 2000s.

Geeks & Dragons

Freaks and Geeks Season 1 Episode 18, "Discos and Dragons," (incidentally the series finale) had Daniel forced to join the AV Club, which led to him being invited to play D&D and discovering how much he liked the game.

D&D interrupted date night on "Bored of the Rings," The Sarah Silverman Program Season 2 Episode 1. Even the Scoobies took time to play D&D in the series finale of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. 

Giles plays D&D - Buffy the Vampire Slayer

This trend of creating D&D themed TV episodes has only increased during the 2010s. The IT Crowd Series 4 Episode 1, "Jen the Fredo," is widely regarded as one of the best onscreen depictions of D&D.  

Community Season 2 Episode 14 "Advanced Dungeons & Dragons"  was a big hit among critics and fans alike. Its success and creator Dan Harmon's love for the game gave rise to a second D&D themed episode, Community Season 5 Episode 10, "Advanced Advanced Dungeons & Dragons."

D&D makes Troy happy - Community

Throughout its run, The Big Bang Theory has done multiple episodes based around its characters playing D&D. One such episode even doubled as a holiday episode. On The Big Bang Theory Season 6 Episode 11, "The Santa Simulation," Leonard DM'd a campaign for the others where the goal was to save Santa Claus.

Now TV shows aren't just writing episodes about characters getting drawn into playing D&D (with many taking to the game with a level of enthusiasm that surprises even themselves) but also about D&D crossing over into the real world and having a tangible effect on their reality.

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The characters of Stranger Things no longer have to roleplay about facing down Demogorgon(s) and mind flayers. Now those otherworldly creatures are overrunning their hometown of Hawkins, Indiana (and in some cases their bodies), and it's up to our heroes to stop them.  

Life-size Demogorgon

In other words, it would be fair to describe Stranger Things as a (not so) stealth D&D campaign.

Over on Riverdale, this season's central mystery has been about the D&D Expy, Gryphons & Gargoyles.

Finding G&G - Riverdale

In Riverdale this game is so addicting, so powerful, it causes seizures, makes people willing to kill themselves to prove themselves worthy to the malevolent figure known as the Gargoyle King, and turns entire towns into No Man's Land.

Quarantine - Riverdale

Essentially it's a story about what if all those who created the "moral panic" over D&D during the 1980s were correct.   

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Why is D&D showing up more and more on TV shows? TV is often a reflection of reality, and D&D has had a huge resurgence over the past several years. Not only has it become more mainstream, but D&D is being used as an educational and therapeutic tool.

Also, we are now in an era where televisions creators and writers, even if they aren't all avid fans like Dan Harmon, grew up with it. 

Mike gets a phone call

Those creators and writers are recognizing D&D can make for compelling televisions for the same reasons that others recognized about poker. Both are social games that can create a lot of drama and tension. Watching characters play can reveal a lot about their personalities, and sometimes fabulous outfits are involved.

Fallon Bets It All - Dynasty

So with more shows devoting episodes to D&D, does this mean it's more popular than poker? Yeah, I wouldn't bet on that. Poker is still incredibly popular, and TV shows are still and will undoubtedly continue to generate episodes about poker games, just don't be surprised if more TV shows join in on creating D&D episodes of their own. 

Excelsior  - Community

Now it's over to you, fellow TV Fanatics. Share what your favorite poker and/or D&D themed episodes are and whether you think D&D is more popular on TV than poker below.  


Becca Newton is a staff writer for TV Fanatic.

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