Pop culture in games

Aka, Being Geeky is cool now!

I think it’s safe to say that we’re all geeks here (in our own way).
Or at least, our society is now more accepting of all that is geeky.
With the rise of the internet and with people like Felicia Day, Will Wheaton, Adam Savage, Christopher Perkins or groups like ‘Penny Arcade’ appealing to a broad audience, ‘being Geek’ (or the term ‘Geek’) is now seen in a more positive light.
Hell, its become so mainstream now that people have tried distilling it into a television format (Looking at you, Big Bang Theory….). Even the typical hot girl on the internet would now openly cling to her identity as a geek. Something that the wizards and warlocks of old (70’s-90’s) could only dream of.
(I doubt Gary Gygax would have as many fan girls as George R.R. Martin.)

Geeks today…..You MAD bro? Martin beyond the wall. The real ‘Tyrion’.

So we’ve talked a bit about geeks in pop culture.
But what about pop culture for geeks?

Anyone can spout Sheldon quotes but only a more wizened geek can (and will) give you that obscure Monty Python reference or quote Legend of Zelda, Akira, Princess Bride, Undertale, Doctor Who, Blade runner or insider D&D joke.


This will happen at your table as well and depending on your group, A LOT!
The references wont just be Out of character (OOC) jokes (depending on the situation in the game) but can also influence your players actions in character (IC). An age old classic is ‘I cast Magic missile at the darkness!‘. Which in most cases (depending on how adamant your player is in getting the joke across and how harsh you are as a GM) will cost him a spell.

I have heard mixed views from several GM’s on this. Some simply hate the entire pop culture aspect in their serious games. They see these references as being meta, breaking the immersion or holding up the game with pointless chatter.  Other GM’s thrive off of pop culture to add to their games, to invite players to feel more relaxed and crack jokes and even go as far as to commit an entire story arc to one or more references. I openly admit to have included at least one or two references as part of a story arc, since my group enjoys the subtle nod towards our “collective geekness”.

A player may also have stat out a joke character, which to them was fun and innocent enough. Until the group becomes aware of the joke and it loses all relevance, resulting in a loss of interest to play the character anymore. You can only take so many Popeye jokes in 1 game and that really awkward spinach buff they managed to work out results in the PC losing out to others of their level, for example. This usually happens in the first game…..and tends to lose the group a lot of time for the player to roll up another PC and just gets annoying, really quick…..

How would you deal with this?
In my opinion, all you can do is talk to your group if a certain activity is bothering you or that you feel is holding up the game. In this case, cracking too many jokes, not paying attention to the game, taking the piss out of your game by making a joke character, etc.
But in all honesty, your players are there to have fun, just as much as you.
Aside from making a joke character, I would advise you to just let your players have fun. (Especially since you’ve had your chance before the campaign started to talk to your group about how they saw the game and how they would enjoy it.)
Just revel in all of your combined geeky glory and have fun.

Keep in mind that if a joke doesn’t come over well or just isn’t funny, the player who made it will know by the awkward silence and stares and will typically tone it down for a while. If they don’t see the social cue and it becomes a bother, talk to them in between breaks or even games. Don’t embarrass your player in front of the group as it will damage your groups cohesion. This is especially true for the more emotionally sensitive or insecure members of your group.

Happy gaming!














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