By Paco Garcia Jaen
Dedicated to my friend Jim Pinto. Because it will embarrass him to read someone considers him a friend.
Stranger Things has been a very, very, very much talked about show in all sorts of social media. The Duffer Brothers – of whom I had never heard of until now, I must admit – created a nostalgia trip so compelling we all wanted to grow our hair again, get our shoulder pads out and dig that old Casiotone MT45 while listening to Giorgio Moroder and Jean Michelle Jarre at the same time.
Yes, it does a great job of bringing the 80s back from the memory closet and make us believe it was such a wonderful era.
And the thing is that it does that so well because it showcases everything that made the 80s great. Bold shiny simple graphics to spell titles, huge walkie talkies we used to have as children, silly clothes we felt so great in until we looked at them a few minutes later and thought “oh shit”. And D&D.
I could go into the plot, but you probably know what it is all about and I don’t need to. If you truly hadn’t heard about the series yet, I would have to tell you that a few D&D players get in the middle of rather dodgy government experiments when one of their friends disappears on their way home and a strangely androgynous girl appears out of nowhere and displays some seriously juicy super powers.
Then the adults get involved and things get complicated, after all, that is what adulthood is all about. Oh, the teenagers also get involved and things also become more complicated. Because what is more complicated than going through complications like who to choose as a boyfriend while looking for this little boy without getting in the way of the adults and dodging the government, right?
Anyway. The 8 episodes tell you all about that. And then some.
You see, the thing about this series that has hit such a massive cord with a ton and a half of my friends (but not Jim) is that the D&D theme is pervasive throughout.
The introduction to the kids take place precisely around a table while they have to decide how they survive an encounter with Demogorgon. And it is perfect!
I can’t start to describe how utterly perfect that scene is. As well as the kids truly getting into the game and enjoying it, the way it is scripted brings out some truly important aspects of Roleplaying Games that pretty much only gamers understand: The roles and the relationship between the roles and our real life personalities.
It has to be said that after this scene, the references to D&D are few and far between. The miniature of Demogorgon does appear, as well as a Heroquest board, several times during the series, but they are more tools to set references pertinent to the plot than anything else. Then again they appear when the government raids the children’s home and a box of games spearheaded by Dungeon! is in it.
And yet the D&D nostalgia is there all through the series.
For me, the absolutely fantastic character of the sheriff – who starts as the usual asshole who rather do nothing than help out – and screaming neurotic and distressed mother that is Wynona Ryder, the four kids, the hyper-eighties music… all of that would have been enough to be a great show.
Ignore that it is a big predictable and some scenes don’t even need to be there. Let’s not look at some of the chronological holes. To me none of that mattered. I was hooked anyway and I think it does more things right than wrong, so it is good enough.
For me what made this show amazing is how the whole thing reflected the impact of D&D to the lives of the children. The code of honour with apologies pacts and “friends do not lie”. The fact that the cleric in the game is the one to bring supplies when venturing out in the real world. How they suffer more when the party is divided. The same sort of lateral, and not so lateral thinking applied to their situation.
People… we were that. That is how D&D and RPGs helped shape us and we didn’t even notice.
And yet the Duffer Brothers have managed to make that a part of this series so important that without it would make no sense and feel contrived. And even people who are, or have never been, gamers appreciate it even if they don’t realise.
It is one of those master strokes that made the whole thing so cohesive and so compelling. At least for me.
And of course I might be looking at that with rose tinted glasses because, hey, it was my childhood (or teenhood, in my case) and that is how I like to remember it.
And for that alone, plus the great script, great acting and the Down Below, Stranger Things will always be a great show.