Those of you who are old enough will remember the 80s and how Dungeons & Dragons had a subculture in every junior high and high school will remember the anti D&D movement. We were easy to spot. We huddled around desks in study hall trying to roll our dice as quietly as we could or huddled around a table in the cafeteria bragging about our latest adventures. Some of us were smart enough to cover our gaming books with brown paper bags, but those of us (this included me) who carried them openly were asked inane questions. One substitute teacher saw the cover of my Dungeon Masters Guild and asked if I was a devil worshiper. Others would ask stupid questions like ‘Do you really think you can cast spells?’ or ‘Aren’t you worried about going to hell?’.
I was one of the few, if not the only, football player that played D&D. I didn’t hide the fact that I did and couldn’t care less of what the other players thought. Though the other players wouldn’t target me they would target my friends. Making fun of them and a few incidents where they were beat up because they played. Then these same football players would come to me in study hall and ask how to play the game. They were interested, but were afraid of the social ramifications. If you were associated with D&D then you were weird, a nerd, a spaz, and my favorite a dork.
If the constant pressure at school weren’t enough then there were the religious radicals going nuts about how dangerous D&D was. Since they didn’t know the name of any of the games they just referred to all role-playing games as D&D. Claiming the game prepared children for satanic cults by learning the rituals or becoming witches. They had mass book burnings of gaming materials and the major broadcast companies covered it as news. One lady in particular Patricia Pulling organized BADD (Bothered About Dungeons & Dragons) after her son committed suicide. It was very popular in the 80s for parents to blame outside sources for the children’s problems.
Then there was this hilarious anti D&D comic Dark Dungeons (http://www.chick.com/reading/tracts/0046/0046_01.asp), Stairway to Hell, and countless articles telling everyone what a dangerous influence D&D is for children. Some even suggested those who played were cursed and needed an exorcism.
I think the pinnacle moment (that I experienced) of the anti D&D movement was when Mazes & Monsters, a movie of the week was shown. Almost every player watched it or was forced to watch it. It starred Tom Hanks (luckily he had no credibility back then) about a group of college students who played a live action version of D&D and one student, James Dallas Egbert, was lost in some steam tunnels and died. This was based a novel of the same title and events that supposedly happened. The book was rushed because the author, Rona Jaffe, wanted to get it out quickly while the topic was hot. The real facts seem to tell a different story. That James Dallas Egbert who did play a version of a live action D&D, went to the tunnels to commit suicide and he wasn’t playing the game at the time. Despite all the lapses in fact having it shown on television made it real for many parents.
I watched the movie with my mom. She had a few questions about it, but she never had a problem with the game. It kept us busy, it got me reading books (which was a miracle in itself at the time), the group I ran with didn’t steal, or get into fights. We were kids playing a game. We had fun.
Because of all the bad publicity TSR removed references to demons, devils and any other creature they thought might cause offense for the 2nd edition.
Eventually the ‘this is how it should be’ people moved on to their next target, heavy metal music. The rockers had deeper pockets than the gaming industry.
Today gaming is a part of everyday life. It’s everywhere and with video games more popular than ever its hard to believe there was a time when gamers were though of as lesser people. I’d like to hear of your situations, the obstacles you encountered in school, socially or at home because you were a D&Der.
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