Mark Hulmes on D&D's Popularity and Streaming

 Todd Kenreck:  I spoke with Mark Hulmes about why D&D is so popular right now. Why does it connect with people? And also about how he got into livestreaming his own D&D games.

Todd Kenreck:  Why do you think this is all becoming so much more popular right now? And I know that's a very complex question, because there's a lot of different gears that have caused D&D to have such a massive resurgence, but what do you think is some of the key stuff?

Mark Hulmes: Yeah, I think the reason that D&D's seen such a resurgence, it is a complex question, but I think that there's a really kind of human, simple answer to it really, and it's the idea that people want to feel connected to stuff, and I think D&D and RPGs as a whole is a hobby that is about connection. It's you and your friends, most of the time physically together, or at least in a virtual environment where you're speaking to each other. You know, there's no video game and things like that in the way, and you are just telling stories together. You're connecting. You're sharing events. You're sharing trauma in the encounters and the battles that your characters have to have. You're sharing in the success, the victories, and the accomplishments of leveling up, and beating villains, and getting treasure.

Mark Hulmes: And whether those things are happening in the real world or in the fictional world, they bring us together. You know, they form bonds and they make us feel like closer friends. And I think that that, now that people can watch that happening ... Before, it was kind of hidden away. You know, now that people can see that on streams, or hear it in podcasts, or whatever that happens to be, people can see that that's a thing that they can do, and I think that a lot of people want to have that relationship. They want to have that.

Mark Hulmes: And then you also have the people that just watch the other games, and they want to feel that intimacy with the cast and the characters. You know, they fall in love with these characters, and they want to hear more about these tales and these stories. It's what we love as storytelling and what we love as humans in stories, you know? It's the characters. I think that that's a big part of it.

Mark Hulmes: So I started DMing for streaming and YouTube, it would have been now about three years ago, so I would have done it about three years ago as part of a charity livestream for The Yogscast. They do a big thing every December, where they raise tons of money, and they do like a whole month of streaming, and I was a new member of the company, and I was a new community manager, and they needed some people to help fill in some time. And I said, "Well, I used to run D&D, and I run a game for some of the guys here. Why don't I do like a live RPG session?" It was a different system, but we ran that and people seemed to really enjoy it, and people seemed to think that I was kind of funny, I guess, and it kind of did well enough.

Mark Hulmes: And then they asked me to continue doing it, and to do a show as part of a regular streaming thing that they were going to run throughout the year. You know, they hadn't done anything like it before, and I knew about Crit Role. I knew Matt, and I was a big fan of Crit Role, so I was like, "Yeah, I'd love to. That sounds great." We got a bunch of people together. Only one of the players was somebody who'd played D&D before. He was one of my other players in an off-stream game. Then everybody else was brand new to it, so we started streaming, and yeah, then it just became this thing now, that I do, and it's just grown and grown and grown. That was the first time I started really doing.

Mark Hulmes: Everybody was learning live on camera. Most of them were brand-new players. They'd never played before, and it was a lot of fun. I love new players. There's a couple of things. So I love new players because I often find that they really come up with creative solutions to things. New players will try different things, because they don't know how the game works. They don't look at an attack action and go like, "Well, the most optimal thing for me to do is to do this, this, and this," or, "This is the best spell for me to cast in this situation." They play, and they go, "Can I do this? Can I do that?" And I love that stuff.

Mark Hulmes: So that was really fun, seeing them develop that. I actually have a thing of I bought all of the new players' first set of dice, so like I give them their first set of dice, and I normally buy the first Player's Handbook and say, "Okay, this is yours now. You know, these are your tools. Welcome to the game," and yeah, it was fun. We definitely made mistakes, like you know, you start off streaming, and you're dealing with the tech side of things, like you're having to learn how that works, and what looks good, and what doesn't look good, and at the same time, the players are trying to learn the game. They're trying to learn what they can get away with, what they can say, how they do things.

Mark Hulmes: But it was a pretty positive experience I think. Like, everybody kind of really bonded together, and it was just a fun game, and eventually, the idea of streaming kind of falls away, and you just play the game, and then you have fun, and it just becomes teaching your mates how to play this thing that you love.

 

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