The mainstreaming of the popular roleplaying game Dungeons & Dragons has significantly changed how people address and understand the game. It’s become a spectator sport and a way for some gamers to earn their living. D&D gameplay and its symbolism have become a significant plot point in geek-oriented TV shows like Stranger Things and The Big Bang Theory. It’s the subject of copious scientific studies and papers, and hundreds of long-running live-play podcasts.
It’s a steadily growing business, and an effective promotional gimmick for businesses. And it’s also increasingly an educational tool. More and more teachers are publishing guides on how to use D&D both in the classroom, and as an after-school activity that promotes social growth, problem-solving, and communication.
In a recent comic at the cartoonist outlet The Nib, illustrator and author Phil McAndrew dives into D&D‘s educational aspects by interviewing teachers who are running the game for their students. Dungeons & Dragons‘ usefulness as a social activity has been covered before, but McAndrew’s comic delves into some particularly telling revelations about how specific teachers are using it — to let kids try out adult decision-making with community consequences, to promote interest in reading and writing, to explore personal and political problems in a safe fantasy space.
The entire comic is well worth reading, but I also spoke to McAndrew about how he researched it and what went into planning and assembling these interviews, and the resulting comic.
This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.
What got you started on this comic?
In the very beginning of the comic, I mention briefly that I was hanging out with a friend a few years ago, and he said he was helping a teacher friend of his run a D&D campaign after school, with his students.
I thought that was really cool, and I kept it in my head for a while. Over the last three or four years, I kept hearing about teachers who were also doing this, encountering the idea in a few places. And I had it in my mind that I should maybe do a comic about it.
When I started doing some non-fiction stuff last year for The Nib, after mostly focusing on humor throughout my cartooning career, it just seemed like a good idea, having a good outlet for it.
Did you talk to any of the kids involved, or observe any D&D sessions in schools?
I really wanted to, and planned to, but the timing stunk, because I was writing it just as the school year was ending. I have a friend who lives in the same city as me, who is one of these teachers I talked to for the comic, and he said, “Yeah, come sit in.” And then on the day I was going to hang out during their afterschool D&D club, he texted me and said, “I guess they’re not doing it today, and this was going to be the last one for the year.” So I just missed out, which was too bad.
I’ve role-played with kids, and run games for kids, and attention span is often a problem with younger players. Did any of your interviewees address how they deal with Dungeons & Dragons being such a rules-intensive game?
Two of the teachers I talked to are mostly dealing with high-school kids, so for them, it may be a little easier.
But Rich, the first teacher I encountered who was doing this, was running games for middle-school or maybe even younger kids. I imagine their sessions don’t run super-long. I think they probably top out at about an hour.
Are you aware of what kind of institutional support they’re getting?
Has there been any pushback, any of the old-school attitude that Dungeons & Dragons is unhealthy, or some kind of cult gateway?
That was something I was really curious about, too! All of the teachers I talked to, I asked about that. They all said they hadn’t really run into any resistance at all.
In fact, some of them said the administrators of their schools were pretty excited about it, and thought it was really cool. Dor some, it was also an unofficial thing, an afterschool club, or during lunchtime. So it didn’t sound like there were any major hurdles.
One or two of them were getting active support from the school, but for the most part, it was just something the schools are allowing to happen.
You talk to all your teacher interviewees about their own D&D characters, and they all have these elaborate personal fantasies around them. Why was that an important part of the story for you?
That started just for my own curiosity, as a good way to maybe start an interview. I’d ask, “Can you tell me a little about your own experiences with D&D?” And they all wanted to talk about their characters that they’d played.
It just seemed like a fun detail. Some of what they described was so interesting and funny that I was just like, “I’ve got to keep this in the comic, even though it’s not hugely important.” I think it did add some flavor to the comic.
As you said, non-fiction comics are a new step for you. How are you approaching stories like this?
This was just something I was curious about, and that I thought was really cool, hearing about this happening in schools.
I just approached it with curiosity.
I just go and try to talk to people, and let them do as much of the talking as I can.
I thought it was interesting, so I wanted to spread it around, and get people thinking about it — especially teachers and parents.
On one hand, New York City is a natural fit for these scooter companies, which have been valued at as high as £2 billion in recent months. New York is a city with a booming public transit system that millions take every day, but it’s also filled with gaps. A recent report showed that 24 percent of the city’s subway stations — many located in the Bronx, Brooklyn, and Queens — were inaccessible to many of the city’s residents.
Scooter companies are salivating over the prospects, and sources tell The Verge that conversations between company representatives, lobbyists, and elected officials at the state and city level are already taking place. Scooters will need to navigate a labyrinth of regulatory and infrastructure challenges if they hope to ever gain a foothold.
That’s where scooters come in. New York would be a “tremendous scooter city because you’ve got a pretty good public transit infrastructure, but you still have a ton of gaps, particularly in the outer boroughs,” Kazimirov said.
In many cities where shared scooters have already taken hold, they act like an extension to connect with public transit hubs and fill in the gaps where they fall short. They could easily do the same in New York City, which is pretty flat overall, making for easy scooting around.
Its residents have a lot to gain by using these vehicles, according to Joseph Cutrufo, a spokesperson for the transit advocacy group Transportation Alternatives.
New York is the third most congested city in the world. This is, in part, due to curbside games of Tetris between the thousands of vehicles driving through the streets, battling against those that are double or triple parked throughout the city. This congestion is an environmental blight as well as a drag on commuters’ schedules, and it costs the city billions of dollars annually.
“It’s a borderline untenable system,” Cutrufo said, speaking of the city’s transportation network. “But, you know, we’ve grown used to it.
And though maybe we’re a little fatigued by it, we just accept the status quo as it is.”
In many ways, the city is designed for cars and only cars. As Cutrufo pointed out, the city’s dedicated almost every foot of curbside space to long-term parking — a lot of it free or low-cost. Part of this is undoubtedly due to the city’s zoning laws, which have requirements baked in that obligate the creation of curbside parking spaces for each new building.
And without curbs or designated parking, the dockless scooter system, for all of its benefits, falls apart. Scooters would get dumped onto sidewalks and block pedestrian traffic, he said.
This is happening right now in other cities where electric scooters have gained a foothold. In San Francisco, for example, scooters have been parked in the middle of sidewalks, left to lounge atop trash cans, and tossed into the bay.
Scooter users have also been caught behaving badly in other cities. Now, regulators are reacting the way San Francisco’s local government did: banning the scooters until a permitting process is in place.
“When you introduce dockless bike share, or dockless scooter share but don’t include a place for them to park, you’re kind of doing it on the cheap, politically,” Cutrufo said. “You’re saying, ‘Look at all these bikes and scooters. Look at us doing alternative transportation.’ But you’re just trying to shoehorn them into a car-focused system.
That’s not really sustainable.”
In the past few months, scooter companies have successfully grown their business nationwide. Some cities, like Milwaukee, have opted to put new regulations in place, rather than fight the impending scooter onslaught. Other cities, like Nashville, Denver, and Minneapolis, stood by helplessly as hundreds of scooters were dropped onto their streets.
It’s a messy system, but also entirely legal.
Because scooter-sharing programs are still very new, cities have been caught flatfooted. Nashville officials threatened to take action against the scooter companies when enough citizens complained of sidewalk obstructions or, in some cases, were critically injured.
The scooters in these smaller cities endured because transportation and mobility concerns tend to take the back burner to economic, education, and housing issues, says Jordan Levine, a spokesperson for electric bike service Ofo. A situation like this would never happen in New York.
For all of its faults, he said, New York City’s Department of Transportation is one of the largest and most sophisticated in the world, and New York state is perfectly clear about which electric vehicles are legal (or illegal) to ride in the city.
In the state’s eyes, the electric boost means scooters are motor vehicles, meaning they must be registered the same way someone would register a motorcycle or a moped. But there’s no process in place to register an electric scooter, leaving them in regulatory purgatory. A visit to the New York state’s DMV website reveals that “motorized scooters” can’t be ridden anywhere in the state.
The city has faced criticism for police crackdowns on electric-powered bicycles, with advocates arguing that they disproportionately hurt the immigrant delivery workers who use them to travel faster and longer than they could on traditional pedal bikes.
One city councilmember, Rafael Espinal, criticized the city’s approach in an op-ed in the New York Daily News: “If e-bike riders follow the same laws of the road as do nonelectric-bike riders, they should have the exact same access to our streets.”
Espinal voiced support for a state bill that would include electric-assisted bicycles in the definition of “bicycle,” and thereby permit their use. Legalizing e-bikes could open the door wide enough to allow scooters through, too.
The scooter companies see opportunities — and dollar signs — in a city as large and dense as New York. A source with knowledge of the scooter companies’ plans said that they are aggressively exploring ways to change the law to allow for scooter sharing. “They’re coming,” the source said. “Whether it takes a change in city law or state law, it’s coming.”
If New York state does come around to scooters, the resulting laws might lean on the stringent side, Levine said.
Expect there to be a requirement of a driver’s license and helmet, he said. And, depending on how the DOT interprets the law, it could possibly even require a motorcycle license. These decisions will determine where scooters belong: on sidewalks, in bike lanes, or streets, Levine said.
“I think that’s what the city’s really worried about,” he said. “Are bike riders going to get upset if scooters are zipping by them in bike lanes?
Are these scooters going to be able to operate in traffic in New York City streets? Are they going to hurt pedestrians if they’re on sidewalks?”
The state Senate is starting to wrestle with these issues. State Sen. Martin Golden recently introduced “The Innovative Transportation Act of 2018,” a bill that intends to make scooters legal throughout New York.
Garld Kasser, the chief of staff for Golden, didn’t respond to four emailed attempts to nail down which other states the new framework would be based on.
It turns out that other city politicians are reticent to talk about these issues as well. Genevieve Morton, the communications director who represents councilmember Brad Lander, declined to comment on the issue, as did Jacob Tugendrajch, who represents Council Speaker Corey Johnson. Stephanie Miliano, who represents councilmember Ydanis Rodriguez, didn’t respond to multiple emails, and attempts to reach these councilmembers directly on the phone or via email were also ignored.
Until that gets squared away, the city’s eco-conscious commuters will have to make do with bikes rather than electric scooters.
In April, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced that pedal-assist electric-bikes would be allowed to operate in the city, after previously promising to crack down on the people illegally riding them and seizing hundreds of e-bikes in the process.
On July 13th, he even teamed up with the DOT to kick off a dockless bike-share pilot in the Rockaway Peninsula.
The move suggests that similar rollbacks of current e-scooter laws could one day allow these companies a foothold.
Additional reporting by Andrew J.
Sports Direct, owned by billionaire Mike Ashley, has agreed to buy struggling high street department store House of Fraser for GBP90m in cash, it was revealed this morning. House of Fraser, which employs 17,500 people and has 59 stores across the country, previously announced it had entered administration after talks between investors and creditors broke down. Later this morning, Sports Direct boss and Newcastle United owner, Mike Ashley, stepped in to buy the ailing department store.
Why did House of Fraser enter administration?
Department stores have been having a difficult time recently, with other big names such as Debenhams and Next also struggling, both reporting a large fall in profits earlier this year. Problems such as the rise of online retailers like ASOS and increasing rental costs has put added pressure on the industry. While the department store entered rescue talks with a number of different companies, these have continued to break down over the past few months.
This left the department store chain without any options but to enter administration and hope for a buyer. Enter Mike Ashley.
What happens next?
Full details of Mr Ashley’s plans for House of Fraser are yet to be announced. The billionaire has held an 11% stake in the business since 2014 and also owns almost 30% of Debenhams, its main rival.
It’s hoped that the rescue deal will save a significant number of jobs. Today, all of the existing 59 stores will remain open, including the 31 previously earmarked for closure – one of which is the flagship store on London’s Oxford Street. We’ll keep you updated when we have more information.
What are your rights when a company goes into administration?
But as House of Fraser has been bought, it will be business as usual.