Stranger Things and DnD – I Wish I Was a Nerd in High School

Stranger Things and DnD: How many people has this hit Netflix show prompted to learn to play Dungeons & Dragons?

At least one. Me.

The Start of My Strangeness

I am pretty f-ing strange. I am a 59-year-old married mother of three living in the middle of redneck America. I am semi-retired. I should be knitting, or baking or doing something “normal.” But I’m playing, running and writing about D&D all the time.

I blame Stranger Things for this abnormality. When COVID hit in the spring of 2020, my family was desperate for something to do inside, as a group. Monopoly was not cutting it. We needed something we could really get into – because it was looking like COVID was going to be around for awhile.

My family in April of 2020. Prince Zuko (the dog) is a little concerned – as his people are starting to yell loudly at each other and throw tiny green houses.


Stranger Things and DnD

I had recently stumbled across Stranger Things on Netflix. I loved it (of course). It was a serious trip down memory lane. Thus, in April of 2020, after a particularly violent game of Monopoly, I said to my family “we should learn to play D&D.”

The rest is history. I have taken off on the D&D highway with no signs of turning back. I just wish I had gotten a much earlier start.

Stranger Things and DnD
I dated “Steve” (left) in high school. His name was actually Bobby Little. His hair was darker, but other than that it was the same guy.
Image by Carla Bumstead/Netflix.

Early 80s – Stranger Things and DnD

The first season of Stranger Things takes place in 1983. I graduated high school in 1981 – so it was close enough to give me a serious case of nostalgia. They got it so right. The teenage social dynamic of the early 80s was pretty much exactly as they show it.

Every character was someone I could relate to.

Steve? My high school boyfriend. Max was Julie – a dear friend to this day. And I went to the junior high prom with Dustin.

This is me in the late 1970s. I’m going to the junior prom. My date is Dustin from Stranger Things (aka Jeff Bowman).
Top image courtesy of me and bottom image courtesy of me and Netflix.

I knew the heroes of Stranger Things when I was in junior and senior high. The show nails it when it comes to dorks (and nerds, etc.).

The Dorks

The group of heroes in Stranger Things are nerds. They also answer to geek or freak. Back then, we had another word – dork. Now that I think about it, the word dork might have come before the word nerd. I don’t remember exactly. It was a long time ago. But back in junior and senior high, I definitely would have called anyone who played a fantasy role-playing game with dice a dork.

Not Me

I was not a dork, geek, nerd or freak. I am ashamed to say, I was one of the popular kids. I was high school valedictorian. My boyfriend and I were chosen “class couple” our senior year. I wasn’t a cheerleader, or anything truly horrible like that, but I was bad enough.

I had no idea what a D20 was back when I was in high school in the early 1980s. I was such a loser.
Image by Carla Bumstead/Netflix

What a loser I was. I had no clue anything like D&D was going on anywhere, especially in my hometown of Lansing, Michigan.

Lansing? Wait … is that near East Lansing? Wasn’t that where Dallas Egbert went missing and started the whole ‘Satanic Panic’ thing?

Yes it was. I remember hearing about it and thinking “wow, pretending to be a wizard in the tunnels under MSU sounds really fun.” But that’s as far as it went.

Clueless – Stranger Things and DnD

I was born and raised in a hot bed of D&D activity and I didn’t even know it.

Shit. Imagine the fun I could have had?

When I saw the first episode of Stranger Things Season 4 – with the Hellfire Club going up against a super BBEG – I felt jealous. Jealous of all the grognards out there who did get a chance to experience the real-deal thrill of playing in person at that time.

Scary Time

I have talked to enough people who have been playing D&D since the early days to know that, back then, you did not openly declare yourself. There was too big of a risk of being labeled as some kind of satanic creep. You had to keep your dungeon delving on the low down. Low profile in public, rabid gaming in the basement.

The “Satanic Panic” that occurred in the 1980s directly affected D&D fans for many years.
Image by Carla Bumstead/Netflix

But as I mentioned above, I was not part of any of that. I came to the demon-worshiping party very late in the game. I learned to play only two years ago and have never actually played in-person. I don’t know the thrill of seeing that D20 roll down the table, with my adventuring buddies all freaking out as the dice finally stops on the sweet number 20.

Damn. I wish I had been a nerd back in high school.

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