The CollegeHumor D&D Web Series Went There
Dimension 20: Fantasy High is a Dungeons & Dragons series that CollegeHumor (a comedy site) made for their subscription-only service DropoutTV. Set in the same vein as The Adventure Zone and Critical Roll, the series had CollegeHumor cast members play D&D characters who are high schoolers in the setting of a 1980s-esque town called Elmville.
Funny, with endearingly introspective characters, the series was good, but nothing truly set it apart from the many other D&D podcasts currently taking the Internet by storm. It was only when we met Biz Glitterdew ? a nerdy NPC in the school?s AV Club ? that everything in the series changed for me. Biz is an ?incel?: an extremely misogynistic man who believes their self-enforced celibacy is caused by their persecution by society.
The way that the characters treated him and other incels throughout the first season reflected an honest, and sometimes brutal, conversation about the nature of gender, male entitlement, and violence in nerd culture.
If you?ve never played D&D before, one of most fun aspects of the game is creating a character to play within this fictional world. The playable characters in Fantasy High (of which there are six), are not only tropes of D&D archetypes, but of masculinity and feminity as well. The characters are as follows:
There is Fabian Seascaster (Lou Wilson), the fighter, who wants nothing more than to be on the school football team. His father, former pirate Bill Seacaster, is rich from his days of plunder, and so enshrined in toxic masculinity that he advises his son to pick a fight at school with an alpha on his first day.
Second, there is Kristen Applebees (Ally Beardsley), the human cleric, whose parents are fundamentalists for a corn God religion. Kristen is closeted, and her parents are so pious and traditional that they worry about sending her to the secular Aguefort Adventuring Academy.
There is Gorgug Thistlespring (Zac Oyama), the shy barbarian, that lives with his adopted gnomish parents. He lives in a house that is too small for him. Gorgug just likes keeping to himself, and, in a subtle jab towards the idea of alphadom, ends up being the person Fabian gets into a fight with.
Fourthly, there is Adaine Abernant (Siobhan Thompson), the elven magician, who lives with her emotionally distant parents, and her ultra-competitive sister. She is ?the nerdy one? of the group. Adaine is rich and is begrudgingly attending Aguefort after a string of panic attacks got her kicked out of her other, fancier school.
Next, there is Riz Gurgak (Brian Murphy), the nerdy goblin rogue, who wants to be a detective just like his mom. He has a savior?s complex where he wants to find his missing babysitter Penny LuckStone, and he spends his days obsessively going over the details of the case.
Lastly, there is Fig Faeth (Emily Axford), a rebellious bard, who recently learned that she is a half demon. She is upset with her mother (the ?you?re not my real mom? trope) and desperately wants to discover who her real father is, a classic Mamma Mia! twist.
In a traditional story, we know how these character arcs would end. Fabian confronts and makes amends with his father. Kristen comes out and finds peace with her religion and/or parents. Gorgug finds his voice. Adaine confronts her parents and learns to control her panic attacks. Riz finds Penny heroically. Fig learns that she doesn?t need to know who her biological father is, and everyone discovers the courage to defeat the big, bad.
Fantasy High takes these expectations and burns them to the fucking ground. The show never lets you forget how much it detests these tropes, even if tenderly so. As the principal of their adventuring academy, Arthur Aguefort, fondly reminds us in the very first episode:
?A hero is someone?with the might of will to go to strange lands and enact violence on things there.?
– Arthur Aguefort
?There is nothing romantic about your roguish, masculine fantasies,? this show screams again and again, ?and to all those nerds out there watching this show who disagree, you are indeed, the worst.?
Nowhere is this point more apparent than with the show?s resident incel Biz.
We first meet Biz in episode three, After the Afterlife. Player Character Riz Gurgak has come to the AV club to learn more about a new, and seemingly invasive crystal surveillance system that the school has set up in the wake of several deaths (note ? in this universe crystals pretty much do the same things as computers).
Riz instantly connects with Biz, even swapping business cards, and getting a ?good feeling? from him. If this show just had male cast members in it, we, as the audience, might even grow to love Biz as the team?s dorky and lovable tech support. But because there are females characters (and players), our impression of him is quickly, and rightfully, shattered.
In episode five, The Pixie and the Palimpsest, the entire gang meets Biz (women and included) to find out why a girl is trapped inside a crystal, and it goes badly for him. He flirts with Adaine in the misogynistic way men have done for comedic effect since the dawn of media. ?My Lady? he says while bowing creepily. ??by birthright you as a high elf and me as a pixie would be??
?No? Siobhan?s character Adaine says automatically, beginning one of the most fascinating conversations about inceldom this year. Throughout this conversation, Biz regurgitates many of the sexist talking points that men trumpet out in response to being rejected by women.
?Of course, girls are going to go for Johnny Spells because he has a motorcycle and is super in shape, but there?s, like, nice guys that honestly have a lot to offer??
– Biz Glitterdew
But unlike in a lot of media, Adaine never backs down. She engages honestly and bluntly with Biz, and although his character never truly absorbs her points, Biz is not the real audience here. She is talking to us:
?I think you feel like you have a lot to offer, and please take this the right way, you don?t?Are you just thinking that women should change themselves and lower their standards in order to date you??
– Adaine Abernant
The incel mythology, or more specifically, deconstructing the incel mythology, is woven deeply into the show?s tapestry. The crystal that initially prompted their visit to Biz was taken from Johnny Spells, a warlock who gets his powers from not having sex (jokingly referred to in the show as no fap). Forsaking sex for magic is an apt metaphor for a group of people that have chosen to be voluntarily celibate due to their intense hatred of women.
Inceldom is this weird, pseudo-scientific culture that groups males into biologically inferior incels and genetically superior Chads who use their good looks to steal all the literal fucks from the women around them. It?s a cult of false victimhood that robs women of all their agency, and this show does its best to make a mockery of this idea.
The vast majority of the male characters in this show are motivated by toxic masculinity. There is, of course, Fabian?s father Bill, a textbook Chad if there ever was one, who places an unhealthy amount of pressure on his son.
?Your glory is the same as my glory.?
– Bill Seacaster
Then there is the principal, Arthur Aguefort, a Dumbledore stereotype that is oblivious to the toxic aspects of adventuring.
There is the orcish school bully Ragh Barkrock, who is deeply closeted and vents his repressed urges on others.
The list goes on.
Everywhere you look males are making a mess of things, and one of the scariest examples is Biz. Throughout the first season, we learn that women are becoming trapped in crystals called palimpsests. Biz is supposed to be helping the team get these women out of these crystals, and he?s doing it at an arcade for some reason.
When the gang arrives at the arcade to check-in on him, they learn that (spoiler alert) he?s not actually helping these women at all, but instead placing them in arcade games as a sick form of wish fulfillment.
?Guys like us don?t really get a chance to be cool?it?s not fair, hot guys always get the attention?but here?s the thing, dude, we get to call the shots when there in here.?
– Biz Glitterdew
This desire is ripped straight from the headlines. One of the things incels have argued for in real life is a program that redistributes women so that men receive the sex they are ?owed? ? sometimes referred to as sexual Marxism.
While here this proposal is rightfully ridiculed and fought against, the idea that a bunch of nerdy men would use D&D to enact sexual fantasies is all too real. From Princess Leia?s slave outfit to every female armor design ever, nerdom is filled with sexual repression and violence.
What makes Fantasy High unique and refreshing, is not just that we are having this conversation, but that it gives men an example of how to respond to these all too common behaviors. Upon hearing his plan, Riz doesn?t cut Biz any slack but instead pulls out his weapon of choice, a gun, and fires.
In another example, the principal is swiftly killed off in the first episode, and, in an ironic twist of fate that surprises no one, we find out that his inability to effectively communicate leads to the release of the first season?s big, bad (a dragon named Kalvaxis).
Ragh Barkrock eventually comes out of the closet after being encouraged by Gorgug.
Fabian?s relationship with his father, the show suggests, is not salvageable, ending with Fabian driving his father?s dagger through his chest. Before dying, Bill tells his son:
?I see the way your friends look at you. You don?t command your friends fear. You command their respect. That?s a feat I could never pull off. Not at your age?You are nothing like me?.And that?s my deepest wish.?
– Bill Seacaster
If that?s not a very pointed commentary on intergenerational masculinity, I don?t know what fracking is.
The show enforces again and again that men need to stop, and occasionally help, other men. They need to be there for women, and more importantly, to believe them.
This point is brought home quite directly in the final act. The women Biz trapped in palimpsests turn out to be needed to resurrect some mythical dragon named Kalvaxis. Specifically, seven chained virgins are a vital component of this ritual, because, like all the other incel villains in this show, women are props to gain more power.
The dragon is eventually summoned, and an epic fight with our heroes commences, but once the battle ends something strange and cathartic happens. A newly resurrected principal Aguefort asks the group?s cleric Kristen to resurrect the dragon so that his victims (the formerly chained virgins) can kill him again. Because in this universe, Fantasy High reinforces gleefully, even the damseled virgins deserve some goddamn agency.
Fantasy High is far from perfect, but if it can use D&D as a tool to help at least one ?nice guy? to not be trash, well, that?s a piece of media worth having.
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