Media and Communication Ph.D. Dissertations


Dungeons & Dragons & Figurations: A D&D Player's Place within a Sea of Media Objects

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)


Media and Communication

First Advisor

Joshua Atkinson (Committee Chair)

Second Advisor

Vivian Miller (Committee Member)

Third Advisor

Radhika Gajjala (Committee Member)

Fourth Advisor

Laura Lengel (Committee Member)


This dissertation looks to study the potential impacts and influences of media use and consumption on how individuals play Dungeons & Dragons (D&D), a popular tabletop role-playing game. Now enjoying its 7th consecutive year of record profits, D&D has grown alongside a wave of D&D media, with the traditional board game taking on new digital forms that alter how players can now interact with the hobby. Utilizing media theories such as figurations, Medium Theory, the Magic Circle, and the concept of media worlds, this paper looks at both the media objects being consumed and what influences they left with their user. Interpretive focus groups were used to collect testimony from groups that played D&D together, examining individual impacts and how groups as a whole negotiated their media use while playing. When looking at media consumed, it appears that the most common Uses by participants included Entertainment, gathering Information, or finding Tools to use during gameplay. Overall, Tool media were the most frequently utilized, although the physical distancing required by COVID-19 was cited as a factor in this widespread use. Demonstrated by the Engagement-Consumption-Impacts model, the major influences discovered were increases in the user’s Game Knowledge and a decrease in the level of Rules-Adhesion, or how strictly the written rules of the game were enforced. Other findings included participants changing the style in which they played D&D, basing changes off the habits of players they watched online or strategies found to become “better” players. This study also suggests further implications of the theories used. In particular, the study of the “alpha media object,” media capable of impacting the user, the other media objects surrounding it, and even the figuration model as a whole, leaves several questions for future scholars to examine. In this study, that alpha media object was the podcast Critical Role (2015), a show so popular that it has begun to impact not just players, but the game of Dungeons & Dragons itself; the larger implications of the alpha media object, however, can be extended to the study of any media ecosystem or user.