Fall is here, which means football season is here, which means fantasy football is back! How’s your team? (Just kidding: No one who’s not in your league cares.) Sadly, it also means the tired, lazy comparisons between fantasy football and Dungeons & Dragons are back. Whether it’s a meme like the one above, or that loudmouth hater at work, the cliched idea that fantasy football is “just D&D for jocks” gets bandied around constantly, despite the fact that it’s all wrong.
For people who dislike both and know little about either, it seems like a reasonable comparison. Both of them involve pages of dense statistics and inscrutable, arbitrary rankings. Both utilize an awful lot of spreadsheets for a supposedly recreational activity. And hey, they’re both “fantasy,” right?
For people who are passionate and knowledgeable about both — yes, that’s me, and possibly only me — the comparison falls flat upon even the most cursory examination. In Dungeons & Dragons, you roleplay a single character through an adventure, joined by others doing the same, all guided by a Dungeon Master who arbitrates the rules and narrates the experience. In the game, there are no real winners or losers, except that when everyone has fun, everyone wins. You certainly aren’t in direct competition with your fellow players in any but the most unusual circumstances.
Does that sound like fantasy football? No, it does not.
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If it did, you’d have people pretending to be Adrian Peterson and Peyton Manning, or maybe made-up analogs of the same, sporting names like Brick Runfast and Meyton Panning, cooperating on the same team as the Football Master led them through a championship season against the evil team from Mordor (aka the Oakland Raiders, but back when they weren’t hilariously incompetent). This is not fantasy football, although now that I think about it, it sounds like it might be pretty sweet if it was. No, fantasy football meticulously tracks the real-world abilities of athletes, translates them into an arbitrary statistical hash that bears only a passing resemblance to the actual sport, and uses the resulting scores to let hardcore sports nerds compete head to head to illustrate who knows the most about the game, and also who is the luckiest guesser about who will or will not get injured.
That’s not fantasy roleplaying. That’s historical wargaming.
There’s your real comparison — the weirdos who spend months researching the capabilities and performance of Napoleonic era artillery and cavalry, then painstakingly recreate it all on a giant tabletop battlefield with tin soldiers to show who knows more about shit that literally no one else cares about. Sure, “fantasy football is just historical wargaming for jocks” doesn’t roll off the tongue quite as easy, and no one but the hardest of the hardcore nerds even has any idea what the fuck historical wargaming is, but it does have the advantage of being, you know, remotely accurate.
So now you know, and we can finally retire the grossly inaccurate mischaracterization of two fine geeky pursuits, in favor of a slightly more accurate and much nerdier characterization. In the meantime, if you need a handy football/roleplaying comparison that does make sense, consider that video game football, especially when played in franchise mode, is basically nothing more than an elaborate, sports-themed action-RPG. Take that, Madden and Dragon Age players!