Mainstream finally believes fantasy fans
Joffrey Baratheon (played by Jack Gleeson) in HBO's "Game of Thrones."
March 30th, 2012
01:32 PM ET

Mainstream finally believes fantasy fans

When you think of a stereotypical fantasy fan, what image comes to mind for you? A white male, overweight, long hair (possibly braided)?

Is he running through a wooded area, battle axe in hand, participating in a live-action role playing game? Or maybe you see him sitting around a table, a can of Mountain Dew in one hand and a 20-sided die in the other, playing Dungeons & Dragons with a group of friends?

Twenty-five years ago you may not have been far off the mark, but fantasy fans no longer fit into exaggerated stereotypes so easily. Over the last decade, fantasy has moved past the outermost fringe of pop-culture. Today's fantasy fan isn't betrayed by their looks.

And after this weekend, you may be hard pressed to find someone who isn't a fan of some form of epic fantasy.

Season two of HBO’s epic fantasy drama "Game of Thrones," the television adaptation of George RR Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire book series, debuts this Sunday. Watching along with the die-hard fans that helped make the book series popular will be a hoard of new, not-necessarily-nerdy fans. Poised to become a crossover hit before the first episode even aired, the show was buoyed by passionate fans of the books who evangelized this particular epic to non-believers for years.

That dedication is finally paying off.

“I’ve been trying for years to get a half a dozen friends to read the books. Once the show caught on, I got them watching and it got them to read it. I love it," says Stephen Dabundo, a 26-year-old lifelong fantasy geek from Atlantic City, New Jersey, who has only now been able to share this part of his life with certain friends.

“One of the best things about being a fantasy fan is trying to share this thing you love with other people. That was what the TV show did. That was the best part of it.”

Ian Bogost, a professor of digital media at Georgia Tech, says that the resurgence of epic fantasy in the mainstream began over a decade ago with the "Lord of the Rings" film trilogy.

“Probably Peter Jackson is to blame. This is all really about Peter Jackson,” Bogost said. The hugely successful "Lord of the Rings" movies not only taught untrained viewers how to watch epic fantasy on the big screen, but it also proved to Hollywood that fantasy could be a viable mass market genre, he said.

“The 'Lord of the Rings' films are 10 years old at this point and they were incredibly lucrative. That’s what it takes, an investment that shows that the private sector will go and watch these," Bogost said.

Crossover fantasy adaptations, like "Game of Thrones," "Lord of the Rings," and the "Harry Potter" series, act as gateway drugs to fantasy fan culture. There are many people who are unlikely to check out a fantasy novel from their local library, but may be willing to tune in to HBO on a Sunday night for the new show all of their friends talking about.

"People said 'that seemed silly to me, but I watched "Lord of the Rings" and it was good. Now I’m open to watching something else,’ ” Bogost said.

But New York Times bestselling fantasy author Brandon Sanderson warns that not just any fantasy adaptation will do. Diehard fans can smell a slapped together adaptation a mile away.

They've seen too many bad fantasy films to shell out their cash just because there’s a dragon on the movie poster, he said. “Bad fantasy movies are going to do just as poorly as bad movies of any genre. If it’s a great film it will do well, if it’s not it won’t.”

Sanderson cites 2006’s "Eragon" as an example of a highly-anticipated fantasy adaptation that failed to find an audience. Although "Eragon" made $75 million at the domestic box office, it never went on to start the film franchise producers were hoping for. “I think that they (Hollywood) don’t like to look at the execution, they only look at the genre," Sanderson said. "Execution matters.”

Television audiences prove Sanderson right. According to the Nielsen ratings, "Game of Thrones" debuted to 2.2 million viewers. Critical acclaim and word of mouth helped the show grow its audience to 3.04 million for the season finale. Peter Dinklage won the Emmy for Best Supporting Actor for his portrayal of fan-favorite character, Tyrion Lannister.

Anticipation for the premiere of season two has been steadily building for the past nine months, as more and more people hear about the series from friends and family.

Much of the mainstream acceptance of fantasy has a lot to do with the way the Internet has allowed fans to connect with each other. Long-time fans of "A Song of Ice and Fire" are excited about the new life the show is bringing into the community. New fans have taken to the internet to connect with each other and bounce theories off of the more experienced fantasy readers.

Steve Drew, a 42-year-old corporate executive, has been a fantasy fan his whole life and up until now has kept relatively quiet about it. Lately, Drew has been making up for lost time by being active with the online fantasy community. “The mainstream acceptance of popular fantasy culture has allowed me to become more openly vocal about the genre – and to help lead the development of the Reddit Fantasy community,” he said.

The Reddit.com sub-Reddit /r/fantasy, which Drew started five years ago and now co-moderates, has grown from 6,500 dedicated fantasy readers to over 12,400 in just the last six months.

A lot of these subscribers are what Drew likes to call “second generation” fans. Fans who respect the work of the genre, but don’t consume fantasy content exclusively. “'Game of Thrones' is an excellent example of a bridge between the casual fantasy fan and the more purist fantasy world. I believe that this cycle will continue to lead more fans into the genre to discover other exceptional authors,” Drew said.

The success of "Game of Thrones" is the validation many long-suffering fans yearn for - that they weren’t wrong in spending their time and mental energy in other worlds, just ahead of the curve.

As cultural opinions about fantasy have changed over time, those who once thought all fantasy fans were a bunch of weirdos are now realizing just how wrong that line of thinking was. Sanderson, in particular, is excited about the direction the genre is going.

“I feel that there is something special going on here that can help prove that fantasy is not a one trick pony.”

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soundoff (56 Responses)
  1. Renee

    I don't feel like the majority opinion of fantasy is much different. It's true that some people are finally giving fantasy credit for being an excellent genre, but they're getting on the wagon during a time when people are realizing that mainstream is 'uncool'. Being someone who has valued the fantasy genre her whole life, I feel like now that fantasy is awesome, people just don't care because 'everyone thinks it's awesome'.

    November 4, 2012 at 6:27 pm |
  2. Kat

    I picture a teen or tween that read a lot of books.

    April 13, 2012 at 9:56 pm |
  3. GloriainFla

    I have a 25-yr old daughter named Arwen, so I have never tried to keep my love of SciFi & Fantasy a secret. I just wish there were more and better-made interpretations of my best-loved series. Have you ever seen the piece of crap the ScyFy Channel made out of the Riverworld Series? And we need to see Larry Niven's Ringworld or Footfall produced somewhere, to visualize those incredibly complex universes. I'm just say'in.......

    April 10, 2012 at 3:23 pm |
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    April 7, 2012 at 9:56 pm |
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  6. jj

    Would like to see more and better fantasy and sci fi on basic cable for those of us who choose not to get HBO. The SyFy Channel just plays endless reruns of Ghost Hunters. And TNT, please air Falling Skies earlier in the evening.

    April 3, 2012 at 5:49 pm |
  7. Orayelle

    The comment about Eragon hit right-on. I was a big fan of that book when the movie came out, and was bitterly disappointed with what was such a horrible rendition of it. Following the book is the key.
    I have to put a word in about Brandon Sanderson too––I would LOVE to see his works hit the big-screen! They're all amazing!

    April 2, 2012 at 5:55 pm |
    • mikeloux

      There's a video game based on Mistborn in the works, with Brandon's blessing (and collaboration; he's going to be writing the story). Not quite a movie, but it's a start. And there have been rumblings about movies based on his work for a while now. Not sure if there is any basis in fact, but here's hoping...

      April 2, 2012 at 7:32 pm |
    • JC

      Eragon is a terrible book regardless of genre. But in its fantasy nature, it deals in all the cliches, stock characterizations, and worst elements in the genre – in other words, it's EXACTLY the kind of book that is why people make fun of fantasy lovers. The movie is godawful but the book is just as bad and poorly written. An achievement for a 17-year-old writer? For sure. An achievement as a legitimate piece of writing? Not even close.

      I say this as someone who read a large degree of fantasy for much of my life and still has a lot of love for it – enough certainly to be embarrassed by the Terry Goodkinds and Christopher Paolinis of the genre.

      April 5, 2012 at 10:07 pm |
  8. SciChick

    I am a big sci-fi/fantasy fan and always have been. I am also a moderately attractive, in shape female, my husband claims he is a lucky guy. Stereotypes always have a little truth, but sometimes it is only a very little bit.

    As for Game of Thrones, the writing (of the book) is great, but it is just so depressing! I loved the first 2 books, but when I got to the end of book 3, I just got annoyed with the author. Seriously, is it illegal for good things to happen to ANYONE in his universe?!

    April 2, 2012 at 3:59 pm |
    • mikeloux

      Haven't read the main series, but I did enjoy the first two Hedge Knight novellas. Surprisingly, good things do actually happen to the protagonist. Of course, bad things ALSO happen, but hey, it's a start...

      April 2, 2012 at 7:33 pm |
  9. Drowlord

    I used to love fantasy and science fiction. I still do, really, but... I largely backed out of it when I realized that I just didn't like most fantasy and sci fi fans. I haven't kept my interest quiet because I was afraid of what other people would think... I kept it all hush-hush so that I wouldn't attract the (ab)normal fans out there. It's definitely nice to see healthy, successful people with tolerable hygiene among modern fantasy-lovers.

    April 2, 2012 at 2:40 pm |
    • Shallow

      I completely understand. I'm thinking of no longer watching Myth Busters because my friends think it's for nerds. The opinions of other is more important than my own, so I just go along with the group so I can be cool.

      April 6, 2012 at 11:57 am |
      • Oh no!

        Wouldn't want any weird people with glasses liking you. What if it gets out!

        Like Shallow said, if you just follow what everyone else it doing then you'll be fine. Hopefully you'll only meet "normal" people.

        April 20, 2012 at 3:05 pm |
  10. Canada: America's Hat

    It's trendy to like fantasy! So now, when you talk about it – you don't feel like you're being shunned!

    That's what I got out of the article.

    April 2, 2012 at 11:48 am |
  11. Mike

    I love that D&D is the epitome of nerd stereotype. If only they knew about the other hundreds of rpgs out there, their little heads just might explode!

    April 2, 2012 at 10:33 am |
    • Travis

      To most people, any game that involves a 20-sided die is D&D, regardless of what the game is actually.

      April 2, 2012 at 7:00 pm |
      • phred

        Fair enough. But in the modern era, the majority of RPG's don't use a d20.

        April 5, 2012 at 5:48 pm |
      • Devin

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        September 12, 2012 at 9:19 am |
  12. GreenWoman

    "The success of "Game of Thrones" is the validation many long-suffering fans yearn for – that they weren’t wrong in spending their time and mental energy in other worlds, just ahead of the curve."

    So, those of us who love fantasy were just wasting our time reading it until now, when we're finally "validated" by mainstream television viewers accepting "Game of Thrones"? What a condescending thing to say about fantasy and those who read it. The entire article was condescending, in fact, but the statement quoted is truly contemptuous. Fantasy readers and writers enjoy a genre that has been quite valid for generations without the acceptance of mainstream television, and will no doubt continue to be regardless of the mainstream's view of the genre or its fans.

    April 2, 2012 at 10:11 am |
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  13. daves

    Haven't gotten into the Game of Thrones books yet, but it's nice to see that fantasy stereotypes are dying off and Hollywood is improving their adaptations of the genre. Sanderson was right about Eragon–what a terrible craphouse of a movie.

    April 2, 2012 at 9:27 am |
  14. AWaB

    Hey, wait, I didn't always have long hair when I was tossing the 20-sided dice (yes, plural form of die)! I certainly wasn't fat. I did have some acne and usually didn't have a gf, though. I did read all of the Martin books as they came out. I thought they were pretty good. No Robert Jordan or Glen Cook, though.

    April 2, 2012 at 7:11 am |
    • jbrockwe76

      Are you kidding?? No Robert Jordan "Wheel of Time?" For goodness sakes why?!?! I can't begin to tell you how much you are missing out on!!

      April 2, 2012 at 8:27 am |
      • Tim Sharpe

        It's a little ironic that in this thread about reading you completely missed the point of AWaB's comment. No offense intended, it's just makes me chuckle. AWaB was saying that he liked Martin less well than Jordan and Cook ie, Jordan and Cook are better.

        April 2, 2012 at 8:33 am |
    • B

      I loved Jordan until I got to book 9 or so of WoT and finally realized the series really wasn't going anywhere and he was churning out 600-1000 page books where there were virtually no progress in the plot. I think I gave up afer book 10 figuring he would die before it was even close to being finished...and I was right. I think someone else may have finally wrapped up the series, but by that point I didn't really care and probably won't bother reading it.

      April 18, 2012 at 2:48 am |
      • Tasar

        I suppose that by epnxorilg things beyond the world I knew, I was also epnxorilg the world I lived in. Because all fantasy, no matter what world it is set in, is also a comment on our own world. That's part of the excitement of reading fantasy, at least for me. It can examine our world through a unique lens.

        September 15, 2012 at 1:16 am |
  15. JLS639

    "The hugely successful "Lord of the Rings" movies not only taught untrained viewers how to watch epic fantasy on the big screen, but it also proved to Hollywood that fantasy could be a viable mass market genre"

    Successfully marketed fantasy movies and shows predating LOTR: Conan the Barbarian, WIllow, Excalibur, Xena: Warrior Princess, Hercules: The Legendary Journeys, and others I cannot think of off the top of my head. You may also count pseudo-historical fantasy with a little sorcery like Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, or magic horror/comedy like Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

    This is nonsense. Maybe the younger crowd doesn't know about successful pre-LOTR fantasy, but it has happened plenty of times.

    April 2, 2012 at 1:14 am |
    • mikeloux

      Yes, but until Return of the King took home the Best Picture Oscar, Hollywood considered most of those movies fluff, and not a serious game changer.

      April 2, 2012 at 7:30 pm |
  16. goblinmoon

    Actually what I find interesting is that yes I agree with this article, but another side to it is that it still only focuses on males. As an older female fan of the genre I've seen the proportion of male to female shift and move in favor of female preponderance to male. It doesn't change though that most of the heroes are still male. I would like to think things like 'Game of Thrones' and Hunger Games show that that is starting to change to. I hope it is. I'm really tired of waiting for the 'damsel in distress' to step up to the plate and really save herself.

    March 31, 2012 at 9:43 pm |
    • Hawk

      The demographics are certainly changing – and I am glad! I know of many couples that game together and, in fact, met my wife via gaming.

      April 1, 2012 at 3:22 pm |
      • JuaHawaii

        LOL – I met my boyfriend gaming – we've been playing Lord of the Rings Online now for over a year. You'd be surprised how many couples there are out there playing online (MMOPRG) games together. It's definitely NOT just for males anymore.

        April 2, 2012 at 6:02 pm |
      • Gustavo

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        September 12, 2012 at 3:45 pm |
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    March 31, 2012 at 7:07 pm |
    • Brian

      Wow... You just might be broken.

      March 31, 2012 at 8:06 pm |
    • Hawk

      Someone needs more tinfoil....

      April 1, 2012 at 3:17 pm |
      • smalltownkafka

        I think this is WAY beyond tinfoil.

        April 1, 2012 at 4:37 pm |
    • cosprons

      You seed some serius psychological attention; you are wacked out of your freaking mind.

      April 2, 2012 at 4:28 pm |
      • Jun

        You never have to worry about not being able to get hold of the basics of a Final Fantasy game bescaue they all come with detailed manuals and in-game tutorials for the important bits. Anything you still have trouble with can be sorted out by people on sites such as gamefaqs.com where there are plenty of player-made resources to help.I'm not sure whether Final Fantasy XIII is the best game in the series for you to start with though. While every game in the series has a different battle system, Final Fantasy XIII seems to be the most far-removed from the other installments. Also, the game is very linear for quite a long time. I have got as far as disc 2 and have not yet felt free at any point. All of the FF games are linear at the beginning while you get your bearings, and of course while the major events that trigger the journey begin to unfold, but FFXIII is the most linear so far in my opinion. It is however a visually stunning game.If you're not of the opinion that any game without cutting edge graphics isn't worth your time, then perhaps an older game would be a better start. I would recommend Final Fantasy IX as a starting point as it has a great combat and character development system. The game has an interesting storyline and some absolutely beautiful painted backgrounds. Final Fantasy IX was the last FF released on the PSone and the last text-based one.If you don't want to be reading text then try Final Fantasy X which was the first Final Fantasy to feature voice-acting. As this one was made for the PS2 the graphics are also significantly more advanced than its predecessor. This installment features some of my absolute favourite cutscenes, beginning with an explosive action FMV with a great song to go with it, and also some incredibly beautiful and sorrowful sequences later on.Final Fantasy XII, the last one made for the PS2, is also a possibility but for some reason a great number of fans of the series never really took to this game. Although I've never made it to the end, I've enjoyed this game well enough to disagree with these people.Final Fantasy VIII is a lot more serious and greyer than the other games and while it is still a great game it might not be the most visually impressive for you to begin with.Final Fantasy VII is a real fan-favourite bescaue it was the first Final Fantasy game made in 3D but I never really took to it. I got almost to the end but by the time I was approaching the final showdown I'd grown fairly frustrated with the storyline so never took the time to finish it. The materia system is a clever way of customising your characters for battle and the limit breaks are impressive but the storyline often seems quite scattered. Also be aware that while the cutscenes aren't too shabby considering the game was using brand new technology, for the most part you will be controlling characters which look a lot like lego people.I would discount FFX-2 bescaue it was the first game in the series to continue the story of a previous installment, and I would discount FFXI bescaue it is an online game which comes with a number of fees.I hope that I've helped you and that you decide to give this brilliant series a try. I've grown up playing these games and they're such an important part of my gaming life that whenever anyone mentions gaming I automatically think of them first.

        May 24, 2012 at 7:15 pm |
  18. alharron

    "sitting around a table, a can of Mountain Dew in one hand and a 20-sided die in the other, playing Dungeons & Dragons with a group of friends" – because that's entirely different from sitting around a table, a can of Mountain Dew in one hand and a packet of peanuts in the other, watching the football with a group of friends, in our crazy society.

    March 31, 2012 at 4:52 pm |
    • Hawk

      EXACTLY! I've been saying the same thing for years.

      April 1, 2012 at 3:18 pm |
    • JLS639

      There is an important difference. You can talk to people at work about the football game the next day and they will know what you are talking about and have a conversation. Popularity, not form, distinguishes the nerdy pursuits from the cool ones.

      April 2, 2012 at 1:09 am |
      • phred

        @JLS639, um, the "nerdy" pursuits ARE the cool ones. The others are just...average.

        April 5, 2012 at 5:45 pm |
    • GreenWoman

      Thank you. %-)

      April 2, 2012 at 10:33 am |
  19. Chase

    Steve Drew, a 42-year-old corporate executive, has been a fantasy fan his whole life and up until now has kept relatively quiet about it
    “The mainstream acceptance of popular fantasy culture has allowed me to become more openly vocal about the genre"

    wow thats just sad. but I guess you gotta do what it takes to become a corporate executive

    March 31, 2012 at 12:06 pm |
    • elquesogrande

      Not 'sad' unless that's you see the world. It just is.

      In this case, it was a simple lack of having many friends who are fantasy fans. More people today relate with the fantasy genre due to the popularity of LOTR, Harry Potter and Game of Thrones – which opens up more opportunities to chat about other authors and books.

      March 31, 2012 at 1:26 pm |
      • Chase

        maybe if he didn't keep quiet about it he would have had more friends that shared his interests. I'm about the same age as that guy and never felt the need to keep it a secret.

        March 31, 2012 at 2:56 pm |
  20. Tim Sharpe

    Hell yeah it's fun. I've done that very thing with Reddit's own Steve Drew while we were in undergrad. We were also known to terrorize MUD's in those days. We got Indiana University banned from dikuMUD for exploiting bugs, often with hilarious result. Who could forget the legion of oddly named first level thieves with names like PoopShovel? Or the mayhem created when we teleported a dragon into the PVP no kill newb sanctuary. It's not a DVP no kill zone after all...

    Ok, maybe you had to be there. But this fantasy stuff can be fun!

    March 31, 2012 at 2:44 am |
  21. raiel

    "sitting around a table, a can of Mountain Dew in one hand and a 20-sided die in the other, playing Dungeons & Dragons with a group of friends" doesn't sound like an exaggerated example. It sounds pretty normal and fun.

    March 31, 2012 at 12:04 am |
    • Casey

      Damn right.

      March 31, 2012 at 1:42 am |
    • Anjie

      Als he4tte ich nicht krankheitsbedingt schon genug Kopfschmerzen Ich weidf nicht, wo Square Enix (oder besesr Squaresoft nach der Fusion mit Enix) falsch abgebogen ist aber irgendwie kommt mir die Final Fantasy -Marke in letzter Zeit eh so vor, als we4re sie eine Geld gebende Kuh, die ste4ndig gemolken wird. Allein die ste4ndigen Remakes vergangener Teile stehen mir bis zum Hals. Ja, es ist toll, dass die alten Teile einmal ihren Weg als Remake nach Europa gefunden haben (vor allem fcber Final Fantasy Tactics: The War of the Lions habe ich mich gefreut). Aber brauchen wir wirklich noch Final Fantasy IV auf dem DS, wo es doch eine GBA-Fassung gibt (Stichwort: Abwe4rtskompatiblite4t)? Oder Final Fantasy I & 2 separat ffcr die PSP, wenn man doch beide auf einem Modul ffcr den GBA bekommen kann?Irgendwo muss doch mal Schluss sein. Und wenn ich mir anschaue, was Square Enix mit Final Fantasy XIII aufbauen will ( FFXIII , FF Versus XIII , FF Agito XIII ) Naja. Von mir aus kf6nnen sie ja weitere Spinn-Offs der Marke Final Fantasy Tactics oder Chocobo Tales auf den Markt werfen. Die nummerierten Spiele jedoch sollten, meiner Meinung nach, als einzelnes Spiel geplant und nicht von vornerein in etliche Spiele getrennt werden.

      October 12, 2012 at 7:39 pm |