There are very few franchises out there that are able to evoke such a massive amount of support from it’s fan base. Franchises like Star Wars, Star Trek and Lord of the Rings are just but a few that have literally inspired a generation to believe in “The Force”, to “go where no man has gone before”, or to just believe in the ability of a single Hobbit to save the world. For one reason or another, these franchises have made a massive impact on our modern culture. And now I would like to potentially add one more name to the the list of culture impacting franchises: Critical Role.
“Nerdy-ass voice actors get together to play Dungeons and Dragons… Nerdy-fun-times” — Matthew Mercer (Dungeon Master)
Critical Role, is exactly as it sounds, it’s a bunch of awesome voice actors come on to play some good ‘ol D&D. They usually stream live on the Twitch channel for 3–4 hours every Thursday.
These guys are awesome for a number of different reasons. I suppose first and most foremost is that they are just really really awesome, and it’s a great watch. I know that 3–4 hour episodes sound really intimidating, but trust me, after you get into it, you’ll wish they were longer! In fact, here’s episode 1, just to get you started :). They are currently pushing 30+ episodes right now, so there is ample binge-watching opportunity.
But aside from the fact there there is a lot of entertainment value in each episode, there are also a number of different reasons why Critical Role seems to stand apart from any other shows I watch.
The Dungeon Master, Matt Mercer, is a D&D God
Out of the many Dungeon Masters (DM) that walk this land sharing stories, there are few more skilled than Matthew “HOW DO YOU WANNA DO THIS?” Mercer. This is a DM that prepares for literally every single possible situation that his players could put him in. Creating amazing battle maps, immersive stories and of course, amazing characters to add even more depth to an already amazing game.
But despite all of his preparations, there are still times when his players catch him by surprise, and this is where Mercer really shines. His improv is so quick and so consistent, that you wouldn’t even actually know that he’s going off book. He just rolls with the punches and goes in with the silliness that his players takes him. Like when they all choose to turn into cows and fly into the night sky.
These guys are genuinely friends
You would be hard-pressed to find any other show, where the cast members show a more genuine love and affection between each other than the players on Critical Role.
I suppose it’s because they have already been player for 2 years prior to bringing their game online (a period that fans refer to as “pre-stream”, the dark-before-times that we desperately want more info for). And that that pre-stream game, had originated just because a bunch of really good friends wanted to have a great time together. You can literally feel the emotions that build up as something happens in-game. And even though everything is just pretend and it’s happening in a made-up world, you can literally feel that what is happening in-game is affecting these guys. Each time a character goes unconscious and is on death’s door, you can see the tears start forming on Laura Bailey’s face. Which brings us to the other reason.
They are so invested in their characters
Now when it comes to D&D, they say that you get attached to your character because he/she is an extension of yourself. These guys take that to a whole new level. It is not so much that they see their characters as extensions of themselves, but rather, they see their themselves as their characters. They have immersed themselves into this world that Matt Mercer has created, to the point that what happens in-game can actually affect them in real life. Like that one instance when Grog wins his long awaited re-match with Kern the Hammer. This is all pretend, in a made-up world, with no possible repercussions in the real one, but look at Travis Willingham’s face, and tell me that isn’t the face of a guy who just literally won the lottery.
It’s amazing that these guys are so into what they are doing while they’re streaming, and it just makes it so much more amazing to watch, because as the players themselves get more immersed into the game, us, the viewers also get immersed and invested into the game because we share these emotions with the players. It no longer becomes “us watching them play a game”, it becomes “us experiencing the game with them”.
The fans… OMG the fans
A show, no matter how great, can not survive unless it has a supporting fanbase. And thankfully this is something that Critical Role has in spades. #Critters, Critical Role fans, are among the most supportive and amazing fan community that I have ever seen, and have the pleasure to be a part of. The amazing waves of support and good vibes that Critters give the cast is nothing short of amazing.
You can see that in the amazing amount of fan art that has spawned around the show. So much so that if you go to twitter, and search #CriticalRole, you’ll just be bombarded with waves upon waves of new fanart that pops up every week from fans.
And aside from the fanart that Critters continuously produce, there’s also the insanity that is #Critmas. Critters are such an amazing community that they send gifts to the cast and crew of Critical Role on a monthly basis. So much so that the show has to dedicate 1–2 hours of the live stream just opening and going through all the amazing stuff that is sent to them.
The two-way street that is the internet
And the reason that so many fans are so willing to send gifts to these guys, on top of the show itself being amazing, is that the fans feel that they have made a real connection with the cast of Critical Role. And that is the wonder of the internet. As opposed to traditional media, where majority of the time communication is seen as “one-way” (the celebrity talking to the audience, and the audience not being able to talk back), the very nature of the internet is that it facilitates two-way communication. Through various forms like Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Twitch and/or Periscope.
We are able to see and watch the show, make comments, and directly communicate with the cast, ask them questions, and tell them how we feel. And the cast is actually able to, and does, reply back to us. They hear what we are saying and they have a conversation with their fans. And for me, that forms a connection, a bond that you can’t really get anywhere else. Rather than it being the case of fans admiring their role model whom stands on a pedestal, we feel that the Critical Role crew are among us, they are part of our community just as much as any other Critter out there, and they partake in the discussion and forums that we have created for ourselves surrounding the show.
That warm fuzzy feeling
And of course, on top of everything that the show is, and what the fans make of the show, the cast is able to turn it into a force for good in this world. One of the major pillars that has been present with Critical Role, since episode 1, is that they have acted as a pseudo-donation drive for various charities. Chief among them is 826LA, wherein a part of all donations made to the Geek and Sundry Twitch channel is given to 826LA.
And they didn’t stop there, Critical Role has acted as a major force in raising funds and awareness for a variety of different causes. They have … (list them out)
And more recently, they have taken the act of giving back to the community one step further. They have now started to encourage Critters, that instead of buying and sending them gifts for #Critmas, they instead look to start using that money and make donations to various charity organizations in the name of being awesome, and giving back. They even came out with a “Critter’s guide to Critmas” listing out various charities that Critters could consider donating to.
The guys of Critical Role are trying to use the power of D&D to make the world a better place, and I think they can actually do it.
Critical Role is an amazing show, for all of the reasons that I have listed out above, and so much more. They have provided an outlet for people to express their creativity, and a shelter for people whom are going through a difficult time in their lives. It is a force for good in this world, and I hope it continues to be for a long long time to come.
Have a great 2016 everyone! And is it Thursday yet?