Critical Role brought me to Dungeons and Dragons and to pen-and-paper back then. By chance, I stumbled across a stream on Twitch and was quickly enthralled by this new magical world that opened up to me. I was captivated by the mixture of improv theatre and dice games. But Critical Role actors, their humour and acting talent were particularly charming. But over the years I have followed Critical Role less and less. But why is that? I would like to summarise my thoughts on this in the following paragraphs.
What is Critical Role anyway?
Critical Role is a popular web show format originally launched in March 2015. The show features a group of professional voice actors playing Dungeons and Dragons every Thursday. Members of the group Ashley Johnson, Travis Willingham, Laura Bailey, Liam O’Brien, Taliesin Jaffe, Marisha Ray, and Sam Riegel, take on the roles of their DnD characters and dive into adventures led by Matthew Mercer as DungeonMaster.
The show is known for its high quality, professional roleplaying, dedicated and passionate fanbase and has been instrumental in popularising Dungeons and Dragons and the hobby of roleplaying. On Twitch, Critical Role is consistently one of the most subscribed channels. While many viewers love the show and get carried away by the creativity and emotional moments, I think there are reasons why Critical Role has become overhyped.
Why I consider Critical Role as overhyped
- Creates unrealistic expectations of Dungeons and Dragons in viewers: One of my criticisms of Critical Role is that it can create unrealistic expectations of the standard D&D game. The players in the show are all experienced actors and improvisation artists who can embody their characters masterfully. Matthew Mercer is one of the best DungeonMasters in the world and spends hours each week preparing for the sessions. Their dialogue is fluid and humorous, and they operate in impressively fleshed out role-playing worlds. This can lead viewers to think that every D&D gaming table should be similar, which is often not the case in reality. New players may be disappointed if their own role-playing experiences are not as epic and perfectly orchestrated as in Critical Role. Because what Critical Role streams is by no means the average experience at the role-playing table. After all, this is where normal people meet, not actors, and the game master rarely has the time, experience or skill of Matthew Mercer. Over time, this skewed perception has even acquired its own vocabulary: The Matthew-Mercer-Effect.
- Episodes are too long and the story doesn’t move fast enough: Another criticism of mine relates to the length of Critical Role’s episodes. The show is often streamed live or made available as video-on-demand, and each session can last up to 5 hours. This can be a hurdle for some viewers as they may not have enough time to watch the episodes in their entirety. Personally, I don’t have that much time in the week for a single show. Also, I feel that the storyline in the show often progresses slowly as the actors spend a lot of time on social interactions and character development. This is frustrating for viewers who are hoping for a fast-paced and action-packed plot. I don’t need 5-hour episodes in which nothing more happens than characters sitting together in the tavern. I wouldn’t need them in my own game either, because then my players would run away from me.
- Critical Role has become too commercialised: What originally started as a simple D&D game among friends has developed into a gigantic media empire. Critical Role has launched a variety of merchandise such as T-shirts, action figures, dice and more. It has also expanded the show in partnership with various companies, including its own TV series, books and comics. Critics rightly accuse the production of now being too commercialised and losing its original charm. Especially as some of the products, such as the Critical Role book “Kith and Kin” get very bad reviews. I enjoy reading books about the world and characters of CR, but not when they are written ghostwriters. This feels like heartless profiteering.
- Toxic fan culture: Unfortunately, the popularity of Critical Role has also led to a toxic fan culture. There always seems to be hostility between different groups of the fandom. The hardcore critters often overdo it in my opinion. Every merch product in the series has to be bought and every criticism of the show or the actors is shut down. In a community that claims to be tolerant and open, this is simply hypocritical. Fan expectations can also be overly critical and demanding, leading to unnecessary pressure and stress for those involved. For example, in the past, sponsored content such as an oneshot for the burger joint Wendys had to be taken offline because fans saw Wendys as an enemy of the LGBTQIA+ scene. The money raised was donated. The Campaign 3 Opening Title “It’s Thursday Night” was canceled by overconcerned fans. in genernal I think I think Critical Role took more risks in the past and didn’t feel so slick.
In addition, the actors have publicly reported harassment and bullying, coming from fans who had their own ideas about how the characters and stories should feel. Marisha Ray, in particular, has been frequently criticized for her playing style, and Matt Mercer has to defend himself for virtually every rule interpretation he makes. For a series that wants to capture the spirit of the home DnD round, this is a huge burden that sucks the fun and spontaneity out of teh game. There are many great critters who enjoy their show, support their idols or even make fanart, but unfortunately there is also a loud minority who let the slogan “Don’t forget to love each other” become a meaningless phrase.
Critical Role Hype: My Conclusion
While Critical Role has undoubtedly helped bring Dungeons and Dragons and role-playing games to a wider audience and inspired many people, it is important that we do not over-hype the show or hold it to unrealistic standards. It remains an entertaining and unique experience for those who enjoy roleplaying, but it is also important to accept that not every D&D round needs to be as epic and perfectly staged as it is in the show. Similarly, we should be respectful of the actors and their time without encouraging toxic expectations or behaviours. I will continue to follow the development of the show because it has done a lot for our hobby. I will also probably watch relevant highlights on Youtube. However, I don’t count myself among the hardcore critters. Not any more. And I probably won’t watch new and old episodes in their entirety either. Nevertheless, it is important to me at this point that I do not condemn anyone for loving Critical Role with all their heart. Just please make sure to respect other fans and the actors. One last note: If you feel the same way as I do, you might find your community on /r/fansofcriticalrole/ rather than on /r/criticalrole/.
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