I was rereading Atlas Games' 40 Years of Gen Con when I came across the following quote from James M. Ward:
"D&D's a product that always looking at the hero, and at doing good. That's very much a Midwestern "work hard and good things will happen to you" concept. If the game had started in someplace like Atlanta, it would be much more gothic in its appeal. If it had started in California, it would be more laid back. Because it started in the Midwest, the work ethic of the Midwest went along with the game design".
This sentiment is echoed in the same section of the book by Tracy Hickman and Mary Kirchoff.
So, is D&D a product of the Midwestern U.S.? Certainly it got its start there geographically, in the heart of Big Ten Country, in a period where there was much less global cultural exchange than we have today. But how much of an effect did its birthplace have on the tone and presentation of the game?
I think it would be absurd to suggest that D&D was solely a Midwestern phenomenon; clearly, the game quickly exploded into worldwide appeal. But (and this is coming from a lifelong Midwesterner, mind), I do think the Midwest left some fingerprints. Its difficult to speak in generalities, but I know the people I grew up around. There's a work ethic here that admires that steady, increased levels of success through accomplishment. There's a largely non-cynical acceptance and employment of religion. There's a cooperative idealism that hasn't quite managed to be transformed into a worn, jaded outlook. There is a less aggressive, abrasive nature than on the East Coast, yet perhaps a more focused, fussy one than the West Coast. There's a well-read population, but in more of a generalist, non-exclusionary vein. Of course, all these are generalities, but I do believe things may have been different were D&D a product of Boston, San Francisco, or New Orleans.
Had Uncle Gary been a product of the U.K. or Europe (I mean directly), I also believe the game would have been darker. We in the Midwest are further removed from the impact and geography of the landmarks of the Dark and Middle Ages; games like Warhammer Fantasy differ from D&D in terms of grittiness, black humor, and gore. It is easier for us to view these less as bloodbaths and more as fantastic vistas, even though we may know the historical facts.
How far does it go? The wintry climate encouraging indoor activities? The local library's taste in books? Likely, D&D has been influenced to be the game it is in a hundred little ways we can only guess at.
So, is D&D a product of the Midwest U.S.? Would it have been different if created in another region or country? Would it have been created at all? Fire away!