I'm a senior in a US high school, so people's opinions are still very important to me. At my school, the board game club consists of like five people, and in the rest of the school, everyone thinks the game is for people who have never been in social interaction. I'm not socially awkward at all, and I don't know how to answer someone saying it's stupid or nerdy. Why do others think it's nerdy, and how can I convince them it's a good game?
Concerning the "coolness" don't bother defending yourself or D&D because you don't have to... everybody has their own interests and hobbies.
But besides that I know several girls who play D&D, the thing is they didn't start until college or right after college and that's a bit of a thing with "nerdy stuff" - teens don't always appreciate it (yet) and often don't try it because they are afraid to look uncool. When they get older and more mature they stop caring what others think and try more stuff to see what they like. I am currently teaching college students. Several of them play D&D and nobody cares because the ones that don't play D&D still has something else that makes them weird/nerdy and everybody is fine with it.
Give it time and just remember: you got nothing to prove, only to enjoy :)
Seeing you edited your question, try tackling the individual aspects of the game. I for example don't play D&D but I am a gamer and a hobby writer. The reason I got any knowledge at all is because a friend asked me to write campaigns for her D&D group. A writer, or somebody that likes to read, might get drawn in by the story aspect; a guy who likes to gamble a little might get drawn in by the 'luck of the dice' effect the game has. D&D is rather broad and can encompass several other hobbies within it.
Why do people think it's nerdy? Because it is often shown in media as something only stereotypical nerdy/weird people like to do. Think about people like Screech from Saved by the Bell or Chang from Community). It's sadly just a false stereotype created over the years.
Are you sure you want to defend it?
I am well past my teen years, but I started playing D&D in middle school and played during high school. Most of the other students didn't understand. Some were curious about it, some mocked it. While I tried "defending" the hobby to people that mocked it, I never changed the mind of anyone that started with a closed mind. In my experience, the best response to people that start by mocking the hobby is just to point out that different people have different tastes and you enjoy this. Then move on and enjoy your hobby.
Dealing with the curious or if you must defend it.
Now, if someone is merely curious rather than mocking it is a different situation. The best, short explanation that I have ever come up with is "It is like a combination of chess and writing a story." That of course doesn't really capture it, but no really short description does. To address one of your later matters, the fact that is a reasonable description also goes a long way to explain why some people see it as "nerdy". (As a side note, I learned about probabilities and calculating odds long before it was discussed in school because it mattered for AD&D strategies...)
You can also say, "It's a wargame that also deals with what happens in between the battles." How accurate that is today depends on the group you are playing with, but that is a decent synopsis of how D&D evolved from the earlier "Chainmail" system and a good description of how many groups play the game.
And of course if someone is curious, rather than mocking, you can always invite them to come play a session with you.
Addressing the nerdy aspect
I was quintessentially "nerdy" in high school. I wound up getting a degree in theoretical math after leaving high school. I rarely found it worthwhile to try to worry about whether something was nerdy or not when I was in high school and looking back I wish I'd worried about it even less. In short, I wouldn't bother addressing that with your classmates.
But, if you must address it, its far easier to do now then when I was in high school. Remember that Vin Diesel, a star of numerous action movies, has stated publicly that he plays D&D. So has Joe Manganiello, a star of movies including Magic Mike. It even gets a mention on his wikipedia page. Fantasy has also entered the mainstream a bit more now than when I was in high school. The Lord of The Rings movies did quite well in theaters (though the original books predate D&D and in fact provided inspiration for D&D). There is also a new Dungeons and Dragons Movie in the works right now. (Yes, I know there is already a Dungeons and Dragons movie in existence. I didn't hate it, but a lot of people did and even I'm not singing its praises...so probably best not to bring that one up.)
First off, I get where you’re coming from and I hope things improve for you. I’ve been playing TTRPGs since 5th grade, and in high school many people had a variety of comments on it, ranging from “that’s cool” to “ugh, nerd”. Most comments from people who don’t know me are of the second type.
This is a common response to TTRPGs, because of the stereotypes about gamers in the media. RPGs are used as a shorthand for nerdiness, social awkwardness, and other things that differentiate the players from others. Although these stereotypes are true for some rpg players, for just as many rpg players, they are not true.
My middle school’s RPG club was 5 people, including me, too (in a school of about 300 kids), and my high school RPG club was only 12 people, including me, in a school of about 1100 students. I’ve gotten a lot of teasing from other people, especially because I exemplified many of these stereotypes to some extent. I have a hard time relating to other kids, my grades are good, and I’m not exactly popular outside of my friend group.
However, I’ve learned a lot about dealing with people like this, because I’ve been teased about it. One way I’ve found works to deal with people’s opinions is to act confident. This seems hard at first, but the more you act confident, the less of a basis people will have to say that RPG players are socially awkward, since they see your confidence instead of the stereotype.
The second way I deal with people who think RPGs are nerdy is to embrace the nerdiness. If someone asks me why I like to play RPGs, I answer honestly and enthusiastically, but quickly. For instance, my middle school best friend thought playing RPGs was another of my nerdy hobbies, and asked me why I liked it. I answered “I like the storytelling aspect and the community of people I play with, and it’s fun to pretend to be someone I’m not”. That statement was honest (I said things I actually liked, not just what I thought they wanted to hear), enthusiastic (I didn’t speak in a monotone, and I let what I said and how I said it reflect my love for RPGs), and quick (it was only a sentence, even though I could have talked for hours about my hobbies). It also left room for them to be curious and to decide if they wanted to hear more (I avoided objective statements and focused on my positive experiences).
This friend asked me more questions about why I liked RPGs over the course of a few weeks, and eventually asked to sit in on one of the sessions of the rpg club. From there, they asked to join a couple sessions as a player, and by the end of 8th grade they were one of the 5 members of the RPG club.
In the end, all you can do is show people the good parts of playing RPGs and invite them into the hobby on their own time. How they react will be up to them, but you can show them that not all stereotypes are true and that it’s a hobby for everyone.
D&D requires some mental effort ...
... and as such gets a reputation for being nerdy.
You want to convince people D&D isn't stupid but first you need to understand why they might be saying that.
There are two main sticking points I find:
- Rules - you need to learn a fair bit to make it work. How your spell slots work, how much movement you have, what actions/bonus actions you can make...those are just for starters.
- Imagination - you've got to have ideas and put them out there.
The rules can seem daunting, compare it to a video game, reading a book or watching a film it is a much more involved pass-time. This often leads to people refusing to play; it's easier to say a game is stupid than it is to admit it seems too involved for you.
The rules also play into the nerdy stereotype. A stereotype which also has a negative social skill modifier.
Imagination. At some point you have to leave yourself exposed - you want your character to be great so perhaps you're trying a voice or have a really cool action but this is scary for a lot of people. Again its easier to say the idea is stupid than leave yourself, and your ideas, open to criticism.
- First off - it doesn't matter what they think, accept you may never change their minds.
- Second bear their point of view in mind - maybe to them it isn't worth it. Just as for you getting up early to run around on a cold, wet and muddy field for football practice might seem absurd. We all have hobbies.
- Show, don't tell. This is assuming you've got some close friends who don't enjoy it. Don't lay out the arguments for why they should play, just mention that great session you had - the time the barbarian leapt from the table to land axe first into the king who had been looking down on the party for months. The freedom you have in D&D is like no other game. No video game is going to be able to cope with everything you want to do, this is the coolest bit of the game, tell people about those instances.
If people show an interest offer to run a game with a few of them. Get a takeaway in, don't be too strict on the rules, and let them play with their imaginations. (The interest is key, don't push anyone to it)
Why do others think it's nerdy, and how can I convince them it's a good game?
Their intuitions may not be totally illogical. Why spend time “playing make-believe” when the real world is one’s oyster? Wouldn’t the time spent leveling up your avatar be better spent in the accumulation of social and financial capital for yourself in this life? To stray from the orthodox materialism-driven objectives of modern man is to be “nerdy.”
This may be others’ unarticulated contradication of your view. It’s probably worth your serious consideration too, as you mature to judge what is important in your life and set goals.
Of course, they are still missing out on “the secret” that you and I and the members of this board are all “in” on. Smile wisely back at them: you have something wonderful you could share with them.
“Have you ever gotten lost in a good book?” “I have a simple question for you: what’s your favorite movie?” “Think back to the last dream you had.” Any of these questions may prompt your acquaintance to momentarily transcend our material world and exist as an observer or as a character in an imaginary universe. This is a truly magical power we possess and everyone can probably agree that it is one of the most wonderful things there is. Role-playing games recognize the magic of this power and fully engage it — with friends! (It just looks silly from the outside, because you’re not inside the world — yet!)
Maybe an exchange like this will cause some people to make a connection with their intrinsic understanding of the value of immaterial transcendence, which they were just unable to articulate or see until you brought the nature of these oft-taken-for-granted experiences to the front of their minds.
I would say: "Yes it is." If you agree with them, they will be first schocked from that, because most of the high school people just searching some point where they can abuse others. So if you show you are on the exactly same side as they (even if in real you arent), they could do nothing against you.
Of course if they ask back: "Than why are you playing with it?", you can still say: "Because for me it makes fun" and just go away. There is a plenty of people out there, who will be never be on your side. So just ignore people who always just try to be your "enemy", and find some, who shares the thinking with you, or at least he/she/it let you to tell your opinion.
In addition to what others have said, if you do choose to defend it (and really, there is a good argument to be made that much like food, you shouldn't have to defend your taste in entertainment), it will depend on who you are defending it against. As mentioned by other answers, everyone has their "kink" so to speak.
If the person you are talking to really enjoys playing video games - are they grooving on Cyberpunk 2077 now? That is based on a role playing game (the type of game that D&D is). Are they anticipating Baldur's gate 3? Actually based on D&D.
If the person you are talking to really enjoys sports, do they play in a Fantasy Football League? It's basically D&D Football.
The folks that really enjoy acting in plays or on stage are doing largely the same thing when they do improv - someone (akin to a GM) sets a scene, and they then play another character in that provided space, interacting with other players.
The people who enjoy card games such as poker are already playing odds and working with numbers and strategy.
Those are the easy ones, but the point is that D&D is collaborative story telling among other things, so if you like to write stories, if you like to act, if you like to play interactive games, if you like hanging out with friends, if you like to solve puzzles (or challenges in general), or if you like being the hero, D&D (or any RPG) has an obvious appeal.
Twenty years ago, video games were considered nerdy, if you can believe it. But famous sports celebrities came out as huge fans of playing them, and now it is mainstream. D&D is in that same place now - celebrities from all areas are avid D&D fans, and the stigma is slowly lifting. If anything, by liking and playing D&D, you are ahead of the curve here - it might be arguable if you can say that you "liked it before it was cool", but you can certainly still take pride in being an early adopter.
Ten years ago, anime and animation in general were considered nerdy (with the Simpsons and select others being the exceptions). Now how many of your peers geek out over Rick and Morty? Up until the reboots, Star Trek was considered for nerds. There was a point where Star Wars was for nerds. Or comic books and the entire Marvel Universe.
The point is, D&D is only considered nerdy (in the negative sense - many people nowadays take great pride in being "nerds") by those that are too limited by their own worldviews to try something new and different or even consider it in an objective way. You probably can't change their mind now because they aren't ready - they don't have the mental maturity to allow that something that requires some cerebral effort can be fun (or at least valid). Hopefully, they will grow up eventually and realize their mistake, but for now the best you can do is be mature enough to realize that you don't need their validation, and maybe try to (gently) point out the similarities of D&D to something else they like.
But you also just have to realize that some people aren't very imaginative - they think reading the book is dumb because they can watch the movie. If the movie is better than what they see in their mind's eye when reading the book, they probably will never get D&D. Which is a shame, because they are pretty much the ones that could most benefit from it in order to work that imagination muscle.
Well here comes yet another answer for you to contemplate bud:
To attain the level of being able to truly be genuine and not disingenuous in any manner when saying the more often than not flippantly utilised statement "I don't care what anybody thinks of me" is a journey and an optional growth path most don't ever quite achieve.
Everybody will always need to care about what their boss thinks of them, their children/parents, basically the people they are closely connected with, and also need to have a repoire for daily interaction that is not strained.
However, when you have managed to build a mental and emotional base within yourself that is grounded in truly believing and knowing that you are just a awesome human, you can then move through the people who are not worth your time with ease and not....care what they think. Why should you?
What makes you cool is unique, and all yours and possibly some of many things you have yet to learn about yourself, but at your age, you'll be aware of a few by now. Baring in mind I'm talking about objectively cool, by your ranking system.
And here is your first step, learning that Time, of all the things in life, is the most precious and powerful resource available to every single human on this planet.
We all have a finite and fatally unknown yet limited amount apportioned to us.
What you do with this is your choice and yours alone, and those who take this commodity from me unnecessarily should fear my wrath for when I say to someone "I have time for you" this to me is the single greatest and most honorable offering I can make to a fellow traveler.
So why would you wander down that path and literally waste your time generating angst and potential material for further negativity aimed in your direction from people who have already exposed themselves as singularly close minded and not prepared to open their tiny little minds by learning of new and alternate ways of living?
However perhaps you are a person who generates self worth and personal bliss by doing all they can to aid those around you. Well ok, then you need to also learn to choose your battles.
Most you will try to help in life without being asked by them to, will have no affinity to what you are offering. You can not help a person unprepared to help themselves. It will not and never does work. Ever.
Still want to convince people you do not know and who don't have the respect to learn before they belittle that DnD is flippin awesome? Oh and by the way, of course it is nerdy. It is massively nerdy. But this is what makes it cool :p
Tell them to watch The IT Crowd, Episode 1 of Season 4 https://www.imdb.com/title/tt1650327/