As an external observer, I'm curious: what's something you really enjoy about Critical Role?
Oh dang, this is a big one. The really big thing for me was, weirdly enough, holy shit there are women in this. There’s a lot of “geeky” media I consume that I really enjoy, and a lot of it goes seriously above and beyond in terms of caring about people and having a good attitude… but it still hits a barrier of inclusivity for me (just as I’m sure CR hits other folks’ barriers for different reasons) because holy moly, holy mackerel, holy jeez oh man oh gosh, there are almost never any women in ‘em. More to the point, there are practically no women over the age of 30 in ‘em.
I’ve been semi-keeping tabs for a while, now, and I’d say the folks who follow me on fannish social media probably average in age around 18 or 19—probably pretty typical for fandom spaces. The “mutuals” I follow on tumblr, by which I mean the folks I interact with frequently, are generally in their mid-30s (I’m 29—lots of us grew up through fandom together over the past decade or so). One of the reasons I came back to fandom as an older teen after dipping my toe in as a wee one was this feeling of, holy shit, women in their 30s and 40s and 50s and 60s and beyond have hobbies.
I mean, older dudes get hobbies. Older dudes get “mancaves” and hang out playing video games and having a beer and being goofy and, yeah, acting like kids. But that image of the future is just a big ol’ void of “well, you have to grow up eventually” for a lot of women who genuinely enjoy geeky stuff, and there’s this unfortunate rippling effect where many teenage fans on spaces like tumblr regard older female fans with pity or contempt… at the same time as they fan themselves over the 40-something inoffensive stubble-bro du jour who watches the same geeky TV shows they do. I love finding older women in fannish spaces for the same reason I relish running into the incredibly rare older women in my field of work: for a shining moment, I see a future that looks a lot like who I wanna be.
This is all a roundabout way of saying how much it meant (and continues to mean!) to tune into this incredibly geeky premise of a show, where the participants weren’t just playing D&D, they’d been playing for years together and the cameras were a recent addition, and hey, what the heck, there’s women my age and older getting all excited over a good roll of the dice and telling an amazing story and just plain forgetting the cameras are rolling. Being goofballs! Do you know how hard it is to find media in which women over the age of 25 are allowed to be goofballs? Not written that way to impress the dudes on set or the dudes in the audience, just straight-up being goofy? The aggressively unscripted nature of this show brings that out so nicely.
Zahra remains one of my all-time favorite CR characters in large part because, hey, here’s Mary Elizabeth McGlynn playing D&D for the very first time in her late 40s… and she knocks it the heck outta the park, returns in a recurring role over the years, gets her friends hooked, and starts playing a game at home. That means something to me in a really, really visceral way. Not only are women older than me allowed to have hobbies, they’re allowed to pick up new ones. It shouldn’t be a surprise, it should be the most ordinary thing in the world.
But damn, that feels good to see.