On a comment thread on G+ I wrote the following: "The nerdishness of RPGs is made of titanium. It is inpenetrable. They will never, ever be cool. They are like trainspotting or morris dancing. Face it." I was half joking, but I also think it's true. All sorts of things are becoming cool nowadays that never were previously, whether fantasy fiction, vinyl or real ale. This is generally A Good Thing, as I think it means that people are becoming less caught up in what's cool and what's not. And that's all to the good, because let's face it, the idea that some pursuits are cooler than others is brainless and awful and responsible for a lot that's wrong in the world.
But D&D is resistant to this trend. It hasn't become cool at all. (Let me make clear, first, that I don't particularly give a shit about this. Whether D&D is 'cool' or not is of the tiniest importance. But it is anthropologically interesting.) Why? I think that it is probably something to do with vulnerability. Not many people like speaking in public, acting on stage, singing openly, putting themselves out there. It scares them. This is because when you are speaking publicly there is nowhere to hide, no protection. It's just you and the audience. You are figuratively naked. Stripped of social protection. You have to perform and everybody is watching. Some people naturally love, or grow to love, being the centre of attention in this way (I can be a bit like this), but most hate it, and even those who love it are lying if they say they don't get a little nervous beforehand.
Playing an RPG is not quite speaking in public or acting, but it is close. It involves making yourself vulnerable: you are going to pretend to be an elf and everybody is watching. This is not just a bit nerdish, then; to most normal people it is both a bit nerdish but also scary. And by definition the people who do it must also be both nerdish and odd enough not to care about the scariness. Why involve yourself in a hobby like that?
This leads me to two further thoughts: this may be why LARPing is the uncoolest thing ever invented - it is scarier yet even than tabletop gaming because it is even more explicitly about making yourself vulnerable. It also raises the question - why is acting not uncool? Partly of course, it is: am-dram is largely the realm of nerds of a different kind. But it may also be to do with the special prestige accorded to the profession - you're entertaining others and they're paying you. If you are playing D&D you are at best entertaining a handful of others and nobody in their right mind is giving you money for it.