If you’re as old (and as good-looking) as I am, you probably remember the occasional media hysterics surrounding Dungeons and Dragons in the late 70s and early 80s. Reports of teens committing suicide after playing D&D, getting lost in steam tunnels, turning to devil worship… it got to be almost routine by the mid-80s. You didn’t even pay attention after a while.
It certainly caused problems for some gamers, though. I knew of a few who were forbidden to play D&D by their parents. My own parents certainly heard the reports, but my Dad had a practical solution… he asked to sit in on a game. He rolled up a character named Drawde (Edward spelled backwards) and trooped down in the dungeon with us.
It was a decent enough session, actually, although my brother Mike and I exchanged a few wide-eyed glances as Dad started busting in dungeon doors. My older sister Maureen tagged along, and even my Mom joined in for a while. I remember Maureen found a +1 ring and when I explained it protected her from attack, she sauntered to the front of the party and started talking smack to the next group of orcs they ran in to.
She got peppered with arrows, and my father had to come to her rescue. She hung out in the rear after that. “Anyone want to buy a magic ring?” she asked.
We never had another family session of D&D. But my father was apparently satisfied that the game wasn’t leading Mike and I towards eternal damnation and we were never questioned after that, even as the press reports about the game got crazier. I think I still have Dad’s character sheet somewhere.
The BBC had a look back at the 1980s Dungeons and Dragons media scare in an entertaining and informative article written by Peter Ray Allison and published yesterday. Here’s some of the highlights.
In 1982, high school student Irving Lee Pulling died after shooting himself in the chest. Despite an article in the Washington Post at the time commenting “how [Pulling] had trouble ‘fitting in’,” mother Patricia Pulling believed her son’s suicide was caused by him playing D&D…
At first, Patricia Pulling attempted to sue her son’s high school principal, claiming the curse placed upon her son’s character during a game run by the principal was real. She also sued TSR Inc, the publishers of D&D. Despite the court dismissing these cases, Pulling continued her campaign by forming Bothered About Dungeons and Dragons (BADD) in 1983.
Pulling described D&D as “a fantasy role-playing game which uses demonology, witchcraft, voodoo, murder, rape, blasphemy, suicide, assassination, insanity, sex perversion, homosexuality, prostitution, satanic type rituals, gambling, barbarism, cannibalism, sadism, desecration, demon summoning, necromantics, divination and other teachings.”
Pulling and BADD launched an intensive media campaign through conservative Christian outlets as well as mainstream media, including an appearance on current affairs show 60 Minutes opposite D&D creator Gary Gygax…
Looking back now, it’s possible to see the tendrils of a classic moral panic, and some elements of the slightly esoteric world of roleplaying did stir the imaginations of panicked outsiders.
Read the complete article here.