American Culture Studies Ph.D. Dissertations


Dungeons & Discourse: Intersectional Identities in Dungeons & Dragons

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)


American Culture Studies

First Advisor

Timothy Messer-Kruse (Advisor)

Second Advisor

Paul Morris (Other)

Third Advisor

Esther Clinton (Committee Member)

Fourth Advisor

Jeremy Wallach (Committee Member)


Dungeons & Dragons (D&D) has been a pervasive force in American culture for over forty years, and while it has frequently been examined as both social practice and cultural text, rarely have both the texts and the praxis of D&D been studied with a focus on how race and gender interact within the game. This research looks at how race and gender intersect (or more often, contrast) within the text and practice of D&D.

This study culls data from a wide variety of sources. It includes literary analyses of important source material for the game, such as the work of J.R.R. Tolkien and Robert E. Howard, describing the way these authors influenced the way the game understands and uses race. It also examines later works that both influence and have been influenced by Dungeons & Dragons. This includes texts like Steven Erikson’s Malazan Book of the Fallen, a fantasy epic that began as a Dungeons & Dragons campaign. In addition to textual analyses, this study includes data and observations taken from interviewing players and observing numerous sessions of D&D. These interviews and observations are essential, as they provide information on how people talk, act, and think around the gaming table, and how players engage critically with concepts of race and gender in and out of the game. The ethnographic work in this study also provides critical information on the characteristics of D&D gaming groups as social units, and how the social qualities of those groups impact the messages imparted during play.

The basic conclusion of this study is that knowing that someone plays D&D means very little, while understanding how and why they play D&D is highly informative. While both D&D’s origin as a game and its literary basis are marked by a predominance of white male voices, there is a surprising amount of flexibility in the stories that players can tell. While there is no guarantee that players will use their narrative freedom to tell morally uplifting stories (and they often do not) a great deal can be learned from understanding why people enjoy specific tropes and concepts.