Friday, November 7, 2008

The Anti D&D Movement

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 (, 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.


Anonymous said...

I remember a Polish catholic priest who told me that if I'm listening to AC/DC I'll be possessed by Satan and I'll throw my parents over the walls, speak several languages and all those catholic bullshit folklore. Same RPG.

This guy was some kind of exorcist (with Vatican approval) and made a group called "Oasis" - community for young catholics. I heard from my friend (who went there once) that their meetings was kind of drama, prayers were in extasy etc.

In the end, this priest and his community was accused about beign a sect (toxic and dangerous one) and they were whipped out from the church. ;)

Sorry for my English. :)


Scott said...

We played D&D at the public library. The librarians got complaints, and told us we could no longer play D&D there. Upon inquiry, though, we discovered we were still allowed to play RuneQuest. O_o

(Right around that time, by way of an adolescent piss-take, there was a marked increase in the ludicrous squick-level of our Broo.)

Anonymous said...

Hi Jarl & Scott, appreciate your comments.

Jarl, we had a similiar situation with a few religious leaders in the community wanting to cleanse the young people of evil which came through D&D and heavy metal music. He preached to his youth group to speak to the people who played and listened to the music. To get them to burn their books and music. He even put out a tape about the evils of backward masking. I never understood this whole thing. You couldn't understand what was being said, but these people were able to find intricate messages. I never listened to my records backwards. My one friend who I used to game with was the one who brought me the tape about the backward masking and asked if I would burn my books. I firmly told him that wasn't going to happen. After that I lost a friend of many years because he thought what I was doing was evil.

Scott, your story reminds me of an almost identical incident that happened at our library. We started playing there after school, but after a few sessions (and after the showing of Mazes & Monsters) they refused to allow us to play. We weren't allowed to even show our gaming books or we were asked to leave.

Anonymous said...

He even put out a tape about the evils of backward masking. I never understood this whole thing. You couldn't understand what was being said, but these people were able to find intricate messages.

I think it's innate human ability to seek human faces in everything - antropomorphisation of hill on Mars into mans face and so on.

Backward records are just mumblings and - fanatically prejudiced moron - can find there what he/she looks. Stairway To Haven is most famous example of such rubbish.

Nowadays "Satan" sits more often in computer and violent video games. D&D, in that matter, is forgotten (not by all, but witchhunt is in regress).

From my country, Poland, bands like Vader or Behemot are still mopped by official Polish media - as satanic, dangerous and so on.

Zamjr86 said...

I'm a younger guy, 23 at the moment and a total D&D noob. I'm too young to remember those days of the persecution of gamers, but I've heard of it and I find it sad and hilarious at the same time. while it is no doubt painful to i.e. have lost a friend to the D&D witch hunt,
the thought of scores of ignorant people thinking playing D&D will turn you into an unholy voodoo warlock makes me laugh.

Unknown said...

I, too, am a younger geek having recently turned 25. However, my parents are much older than those of others my age, being 40ish years older than me. My father keeps relatively updated, but my mother is still using Dippity Doo (aka hair gel) and Cold Cream (menthal make-up remover). We have never seemed to relate on a mother/daughter level due to this wide generation/culture gap.

I remember a few years ago when I was planning out a campaign for my friends over the holidays. My mom asked me what I was doing, and I figured since I've been playing for several years I might as well tell her. So I gave her a basic explanation of it all and she replied, "Oh," and went back to what she was doing. I was thinking of how well that went over, when 30 seconds later she says, "Wait, isn't that the game where people kill each other?!" *sigh* I continue to explain and succeed in making her more confused and concerned. *sigh* I ended up explaining it as an elaborate game of "pretend" made up like a story and executed with math. Oh well, I tried.

ze bulette said...

Probably the best thing that ever happened to older D&D (business-wise) was that it got some people riled up... Nothing sells books like a good old fashioned book burning.

New publishers (I'm looking at you Raggi!) might take a lesson from this. :)

José Viruete said...

RPGs were virtually unknow for Mainstream Media... til the "RPG Crime" happened.

Two players, very mad, created their own RPG, one of killing "weak, unworthy people". They kill a poor man in a bus stop. After that, they went home, wrote a diary entry and created a character sheet of the guy the just killed.

Since then, everything a weird crime happened, you can here "Police don't discar it can be an RPG crime", and you can trace the influence of this into movies & tv... very sad.

José Viruete said...

In my post I was talking about Spain :)

I goy lucky: my dads knew what roleplaying was about (more or less). They knew it was about me & me friends in a room, eating junk food and throwing dice. In fact when the anti-rpg histeria started I remember my mum telling us: "this is not true. They are armless, and I prefer having you at home playing D&D than getting wasted god knows where and with what people.

Yong Kyosunim said...

My problem in the 80's was that people who didn't understand the game labeled me a dork and those with a religious streak labeled me as a dork on his way to hell. The bottom line was more of an emphasis that D&D was a dork game moreso than the doorway into the occult, hell, Satan's Country-Time Kitchen, etc.

While some of you dealt with shock and horror of "Oh, you play D&D! Your soul is in danger!!", my experience was "Oh, you play D&D! Hahahahahaha! LOSER!!"

And I tried so hard to get into Satan's Country-Time Kitchen too. :(

Well, that was my experience.

-K said...

I am almost 20, and I have seen quite a bit of the "haha, major geek". I had a friend who was fundamentalist Christian. Her parents would not let her play D&D. She asked me if we actual tried to perform spells or practice magic.

She watched me create a character. At the time I was creating a swashbuckler with flying sandals (don't ask, we were all supposed to have flying objects as the city was two hundred feet vertically... someone had already taken the carpet). She asked me if I believed in the spells and that flying spells were a rout to the devil. I could not help but wonder: "does she relay think I am going to try and fly out the upstairs window! I can watch the Disney movie Aladdin without believing rubbing a lamp with, in any place in the known universe, produce a gene, or that carpets, by any current definition, fly!"

After knew I played DnD she kept a little more distance, which was a shame. She was a very nice person. Its hard to see friendships torn because of medieval superstition.

Anyway, I was reading an anti-DnD article which said all rock music is the devil's invention. I guess the are branching out now.

Anonymous said...

I remember a news story of two gamer kids, one cast a "Shield" spell and the other one shot him (oddly enough the shield spell didn't stop the bullet). So my mom comes up to our game and tells us about it, she was all concerned that D&D might be bad or lead to craziness or whatever and my friend says, "what an idiot, he should have cast "Protection from normal missiles".

Needless to say my mom was aghast until we all broke out laughing. She never brought up any nonsense again after that.