I first played Dungeons & Dragons in 1989 – A story about how digital has changed our world.

It’s Saturday 2nd November 2019. In London, the weather is very windy and rainy. It reminded me of the first time I travelled 8 km to play Dungeons & Dragons for the first time.

And it made me think about how much has changed in the world since then.

Single channel vs multi channel

I first learned about about Dungeons & Dragons in 1987 from the Danish TV news. At the time there was only a single Danish TV channel and the behaviour around television was different. We, as a family, would gather around the single, schedule news source.

The following day we would talk at work or at school about what we had all seen. It was a shared topic that we all had a roughly equal insight into, but it also meant we were exposed to a single viewpoint only.

For Dungeons & Dragons this sole viewpoint, was that the games was potentially dangerous.

Today with the multitude of channels if can be difficult to find a common baseline understanding of topics, but at the same time we also get different viewpoints on unfamiliar topics. The challenge is not to find different angles, but determining the level of validity.

Access to knowledge

2 years would pass before I actually tried Dungeons & Dragons. I lived in a village of 400 people. Small school. Few shops. Closed eco-system and minds.

In short: I had no access to the hobby.

The few magazines, books, dice and miniatures I could get hold of were either by mail order or by rare visits to the nearest larger city.

Our local school only went to year 7 so at the age of 15 we were moved to a new school in a bigger town and here I met a group of kids playing Dungeons & Dragons.

Today a kid in a village of 400 people, will have a very different experience and access to a similarly obscure hobby. Information, community and stockists can be found online.

A social experience vs a socially shared experience

My first game of Dungeons & Dragons was awkward. The rest of the group had played for several years and I was largely clueless, but they all helped me get up to speed.

It was an experience that stayed around the table. Not because D&D had a particularly stigma attached in Denmark, but because there wasn’t any reason to share it wider.

In 1998 I stopped playing roleplaying games and it wasn’t until 2018, 20 years later, I started playing Dungeons & Dragons again… and the changes to the hobby has been mind blowing due to the internet.

  • The obvious: Shops, community, rules, advice, tips and tricks are all easily accessible via the internet.
  • The Columbus egg: Streaming services has allowed games to become publicly accessible turning the game into a spectator sport and in some cases, sustainable businesses. In fact, Kickstarter has opened up doors for boutique gaming companies to reach enough customers for their creations to become financial successes.
  • The unexpected: D&D players now take photos during the game and publish the experience to Instagram and Facebook. Dungeons & Dragons has become a shared and a recorded experience and it comes as natural to the gamers as the game itself. For me this has been a mind-blowing discovery of how much our behaviour has changed.

My point is…

As professionals in the digital industry we operate at the forefront of the internet and we are gradually exposed to the changes happening everyday to the digital experience.

But for industries and people who are not neck deep in pixels, the share speed of change can be daunting.

For me the difference between Dungeons & Dragons in 1990s and now is literally a millennium a part and that is the experience we expose customers and end-users to. That “holy crap!” moment that is equally exciting and frightening.

It us up to our design where the ball lands. Do we inspire our customers to be better? Or do we scare them away?

Next time you introduce a new feature, flow or product ask yourself this:

How big a change is this from what the user had access to before? Is it a small step or is it a light-year jump? How do you you help them make that jump?


Fransgaard

A London based digital native who's thumb is rarely seen more than 2 inches away from the nearest 'Tweet now' button.

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