I was having a discussion about D&D with a non gamer acquaintance of mine the other day and discovered something interesting. His idea of what D&D is like resembles 4e a great deal. At least in a general sense.
His only exposure to the game is some reruns of the old cartoon on cable and the Dungeons & Dragons movie, the one with the Wayans brother, so edition wars and things of that nature played no part in our discussion. He had seen Lord of the Rings, but wasn't a fan and prefers Madden to World of Warcraft. So while LotR and WoW both may have had some influence on his opinion I don't think it was substantial. His knowledge of table top roleplaying games is so limited that he didn't even know there were multiple editions, or even that any RPGs existed besides D&D.
I'm not really sure what got us on the topic, but he started asking me questions about how the game is played, what the purpose of the game was and why I played. After explaining myself and the game in very general terms I asked him what he thought and knew about D&D.
His idea of D&D consisted basically of a a game of superheroes living in the middle ages. He didn't know that you rolled up your own PC, but assumed you chose one of several characters that came straight from the book. According to his view these characters were like those in movies, super strong and nearly indestrucible fighters accompanied by godlike magic users who fought dragons and demons. Every character had some kind of power and super powerful weapons. Now this may not be too far from the truth, but the level of power he was talking about was more along the lines of Superman than Conan.
As our conversation continued, with me correcting several of his misconceptions, it hit me that what he described was incredibly similar to D&D 4e. Characters with incredible powers and magic weapons aplenty fighting horrible monsters sounds like a 4e game to me.
After thinking about this a little more I actually could see the broader appeal of 4e. To people who don't play the game, 4e gives them what some non-gamers may expect from the game. As a long time D&D player I like 4e but agree with many of my fellow gamers that it doesn't feel like D&D to me. As a system it is solid and fun to play, but it seems off when labeled as D&D. However, from the perspective of an "outsider" 4e would be pretty much what they envisioned the game to be.
None of this proves or disproves the worth of 4e, but it did give me a little something to think about.