Director: Keven McAlester
Starring: Scott Corum, Richard Meeks, Elizabeth Reesman
Following on from my review of the fantastic, absorbing documentary on the world of professional arcade gaming, The King of Kong, I once again delve into underground geekery with The Dungeon Masters, which looks at three of the eponymous role players (commonly referred to as “DMs”) in quite possibly the most stigmatised game on the planet, ‘Dungeons & Dragons’, and its surrounding universe.
The film followers three avid gamers; Scott Corum, an aspiring author and hotel manager; Richard Meeks, who has become disillusioned with the game he once loved; and Elizabeth Reesman, an unemployed divorcee looking for love in one of the game’s lairs or lagoons. The game will need little introduction for many people; players assume a character, who they then seek to embody, right down to the character’s speech. Games can last anywhere from a couple of hours to over a decade; by now, I’m sure you’ll be beginning to see the kind of obsession that the game can foster.
Naturally, such a film will always be in danger of taking the easy route in painting its participants as the stereotypical ‘nerds’, locked in basements and endless fantasy duels, only emerging for sustenance. Thankfully, director Keven McAlester takes a much more objective standpoint, leaving society’s prejudices at the door and letting those featured speak for themselves. Rather than portraying D&D as the cause of the three subjects’ problems, it is instead shown as how the vast majority of players see it; an escape from life’s problems and downsides, be they broken relationships, failed aspirations, or unrealised potential. As Corum states, ‘I think a lot of the world is very grey, but we’re with the greatness’, and that is essentially the line towed throughout, to The Dungeon Masters’ credit.
The first half of the film is wholly interesting, covering various aspects of the culture, from the playing of the game itself, to the large conventions, and to the ‘live action role playing’, or LARPing, which essentially transposes the games into the real world. Once again, these facets of the D&D lifestyle are presented in a completely unprejudiced manner. However, during the second half, the film’s appeal wanes significantly, as it becomes less about being a DM, and more about the lives of three separate individuals who happen to be DMs, which proves problematic, as their stories don’t go far or end particularly happily. Whilst McAlester’s dedication to his three main figures is most admirable, it takes a considerable amount of the intrigue, the very reason that many people will be watching, which is a real shame.