Jobby encounters a story on the internet about a D&D panic in the 80s. This reminds him of something that happened to him.
Dungeons & Dragons Panic?
I came across this story recently on the BBC’s website: BBC News – The great 1980s Dungeons & Dragons panic. It tells some tales about how, in the 1980s, a couple of players of D&D did silly things like kill themselves after playing it. In one case this caused a parent, Patricia Pulling, to set up a campaigning group to spread the word about how evil Dungeons and Dragons is and how it spreads witchcraft and occult practices.
This all sounds a bit crazy and far-fetched but I have heard simmilar rantings first hand. In fact, it changed my life quite a bit. Let’s start at the beginning.
Discovering Dungeons and Dragons
I first came across Dungeons and Dragons in the mid 80s. I was about nine or ten years old and one of my friends had just got the Basic Rules set. This came in a nice red box with a cool picture of a dragon on it. I remember there were plasticky dice with indented numbers. The box included a crayon which you rubbed across the dice so the colour of the crayon stuck in the grooves of the numbers. Ah… the memories!
My friend had looked through the rules and couldn’t make head nor tail of them. He asked me to read through and see if I could explain them to him and our group of friends. I did this and we were soon charging through dungeons and occasionally fighting dragons, though more often orcs and kobolds. Incidentally, I blame this friend for starting me on the trend of teaching board game rules (see How to Teach Board Game Rules).
While learning about D&D and playing it I was a Christian. I never considered the game to be inherently evil or even to be teaching me anything about witchcraft or magic. Disappointingly, to this day I still can’t cast magic missiles, let alone fireballs! I rather pride myself on being able to recognise fiction and not believe in it. I had no illusions that D&D was some kind of Satanic manual.
While my friends and I were rolling dice and telling stories, Patricia Pulling and others were preaching around the world that this past-time was evil. Now there’s a scary thought!
Fast forward about eight years. At this point I was in my late teens and still enjoying roleplaying. In fact, I had now played several other systems including GURPS, Rifts and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (really!). I was also still a Christian, regularly attending worship at my local chapel.
By this point I had also started to attend worship in the evenings at an American chapel on a nearby air base. And it was at one of these American evening worships that I heard the sermon which changed my life.
I had to sit through over half an hour of the preacher talking about Dungeons & Dragons and how it was a tool of the occult. About how parents should be vigilant that their children weren’t taking part or being influenced by players of D&D. About how it was going to help bring about the end of the world.
As a regular roleplayer this irked me no end. This guy had obviously never actually experienced roleplaying. It sounded like he’d never seen a copy of the D&D Player’s Manual in the flesh. His sermon was very much a load of nonsense filled with a lot of hyberbolic fluff that he’d made up. This preacher sounded just like Patricia Pulling!
So these people really exist! Frankly it baffles me that anybody can take that sort of view about a couple of books and some dice. Especially when the books are rules for a game. I know that I can distinguish between games and reality and it makes me wonder if these people can. After all, they’re really worried about other people being sucked into a cult which doesn’t exist.
I would have been more impressed if the guy said that he had been playing D&D for the past three months and was able to talk about some of the occult happenings that he had experienced. Of course, he couldn’t do that because if he had played D&D at all then he would have found out that there are no occult happenings attached with the hobby and he wouldn’t have had a subject for his sermon.
Change Of Life
So how did that change my life? Well, sad to say that it gave me a rather dim view towards Christianity. I abandoned my faith and now I am an atheist. The roleplaying still continues to this day, and has expanded into boardgames, Magic the Gathering (I wonder what the preacher would make of that game!) and the occasional video game. I still believe in being nice to people and being honest but now I feel it’s very important to think things through and try experiences before spreading fear, uncertainty and despair. It’s also made me realise how some people will put down things they neither understand or know anything of, which I find really depressing.
What’s you view on religion and roleplaying? Have you been affected by any conflict between the two? Leave a comment below and let me know.