Back in the 1980s, when I was a mere lad, Dungeons and Dragons was the most dangerous game in town. Sure, crack was ruining cities left and right, and meth was in the early stages of making white trash into hyper-zombies of the netherworld, but for me, D&D was more terrifying than them all. And, naturally, we all wanted to play it!
There had been the James Dallas Egbert III steam tunnel suicide attempt that was tied to Dungeons and Dragons, and the book DUNGEON MASTER which was poorly researched and wrong but made it sound like D&D had driven the poor kid looney tunes. Then came MAZES AND MONSTERS, based on the Egbert case, a polemical warning against the evils of D&D featuring a young Tom Hanks and that kid from MEATBALLS and MY BODYGUARD. Again, the conclusion was: kids who play fantasy games will get the real world mixed up with a fantasy one and never come back home.
The sensationalist-media-driven-fear of Satanism in heavy metal music and subliminal messages on records added fuel to the D&D fire. Ozzy and Judas Priest were on Geraldo defending their music, while angry parents groups sought to save their children by shielding them from the evils or rock and roll and D&D.
And of course, there was this Christian warning about the links between pretend magic and REAL magic! D&D was a gateway drug to Satanic power!
Sadly, those of use who braved the necromantic secrets hidden in these games never did get any super powers, which was quite a rip off! And none of us went nuts, though I’ve had a few people throw a twenty-sided die at my head. And in hindsight, it all looks really, really silly.
So whenever I hear fear driven claims about modern video games or entertainment, I think of the same tepid arguments made against comic books (SEDUCTION OF THE INNOCENT, anyone?), rock and roll (beware the power of Elvis’s hips!), heavy metal (KK Downing, of Judas Priest, “I can’t even spell subliminal!”), punk rock (The Decline of Western Civilization, Part I), and fantasy role playing games.
It also got me thinking of the “threat” of juvenile delinquency in the 1950s. Seems the greatest generation was having trouble raising the listless kids who hadn’t saved the world from the Axis but started asking questions about civil rights, feminism, and knew that Mcarthyism was polluting the political, social, and entertainment worlds with hysteria. If you want to read a great piece on this era, find yourself a copy of Nelson Algren’s essay “Nonconformity”
Or, just remember these sage words from the great Dr. Omond Solandt, writing at a similar time:
“One of the very real dangers to our North American civilization is our worship of conformity. In almost every walk of life the person who conforms most pliably [sic] to the accepted standards of dress and behaviour is most likely to succeed. We must recognize that this enforcement of conformity will finally result in universal mediocrity. New ideas, especially in human relations and often even in science, come from those who refuse to conform.”
Now go roll a D6 for initaitive and do your own thang.