The Great D&D Moral Panic of the 80s

Geekery today is different today than it was when I was growing up. Hollywood can't put out superhero movies fast enough. People from all walks of life are chomping at the bit for the next installment in a certain fantasy series.

"Something seems to be wrong with your link up there."

"Something seems to be wrong with your link up there."

Today being a geek is something to be proud of. You wave that banner high. We live in an age where arguing in defense of your favorite starship captain doesn't necessarily end in you being shoved in a locker.

Perhaps the greatest metric with which to measure how far society has come in accepting, dare I say even embracing geek culture in this enlightened age, is how many fewer wedgies you can expect to receive for letting society know that you spend your Friday nights gathered around a gaming table with your closest friends, drinking beer, and playing some good old-fashioned D&D. This, of course, hasn't always been the case.

The 1980s were a particularly rough time for gaming enthusiasts. You didn't only have to worry about neon-clad teens baggin your jank. You had to worry about their moms, and perhaps your own mom as well.

The world is a complicated place in which tragedies sometimes occur. All too often, the stupidest and/or laziest members of society will seek to compartmentalize all of their woes into one easy scapegoat. Salem had its witches. Nazi Germany had its Jews. McCarthy had his communists. 

This guy's got, like, fucking everybody.

This guy's got, like, fucking everybody.

While certainly not the most tragic example, the Dungeons and Dragons Moral Panic, which briefly swept the nation in the 80s, is surely the second most pathetic (first place going to the gentleman pictured above).

A social outcast in the 1980s had enough shit piled on their plate as it was without Christian groups and ill-informed mothers banding together to take a big steamy dump on their one reprieve from the soul-crushing misery of their real lives.

But take a big steamy dump they did. Dungeons and Dragons became the go-to scapegoat for teen suicides, murder, and Satan worship.

Satan was a huge nerd in the 80s.

Satan was a huge nerd in the 80s.

These fears were preposterous, of course, based on unsubstantiated nonsense. The madness reached fever pitch in 1982 with the death of Patricia Pulling's son, Irving, after he shot himself in the chest (with a gun, mind you. NOT a magical elven longbow). 

Pulling reacted as any grieving mother would, by suing TSR for making the game and her son's high school principal for placing a curse on her son.

After both cases were thrown out of court for being what legal experts refer to as "fucking retarded", Pulling hopped on the crazy train and toured the country, spouting her batshit lunacy to whomever would listen.

She 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", which I can only take to mean that her son was a part of the most badass campaign in the game's history.

And much to the chagrin of anyone who was holding on to the tiniest flicker of hope for humanity's future, people listened.

Conservative Christian groups came out of the woodwork, striving for new heights of stupidity as if it were an Olympic sport.

Rev. Jon Quigley, of the Lakeview Full Gospel Fellowship, denounced the game as "an occult tool that opens up young people to influence or possession by demons," apparently blind to the irony of professing a belief in demons and the occult while condemning those who were aware that the game they were playing was strictly rooted in fantasy.

Dr. Thomas Radecki, the psychiatrist and champion of morality who would later go on to act as a research director for Doctors & Lawyers for a Drug Free Youth, and still later go on to be arrested for trading drugs to patients in exchange for sex, had some interesting things to say about the game back in the day.

"The game is full of human sacrifice, eating babies, drinking blood..."

A common rookie mistake is to show up at the table with just one baby, thinking it will cover all three primary requirements of the game. Imagine their embarrassment when Satan shows up to collect his living sacrifices.  

A common rookie mistake is to show up at the table with just one baby, thinking it will cover all three primary requirements of the game. Imagine their embarrassment when Satan shows up to collect his living sacrifices.

 

Times have changed, though, and with it the values of society as a whole and those of gamers alike. 

By the time Wizards of the Coast released the game's third edition, child sacrifice was largely eliminated, due to parent company Hasbro's concerns that it conflicted with the demographic their Pokémon toys were aimed at. (citation needed)

Human flesh has also been in decline as the preferred snack food at most gaming tables across the nation, giving way to more easily acquired treats, such as Cheetos. It makes sense when you think about it. In this age of smart phones and society's increasing insistence on speed and convenience, it's a lot easier to stop by Rouses on your way to the game and pick up a bag of chips than it is to hunt down and tackle a hobo.

Likewise, the Blood of Innocents is lessening in popularity as the beverage of choice for today's younger, more squeamish generation of gamers . Show up in the middle of most any D&D game these days, and you'll find them drinking urine instead.

Roleplaying should come from the heart, not from the bladder!

Roleplaying should come from the heart, not from the bladder!

While more traditionalist gamers may see these changes as an affront to their way of life, I tend to view them in a more positive light. The hobby is more widely and openly enjoyed today than ever before, bringing people from all walks of life together at a table to go on an imaginary adventure, and worship Satan in a more society-friendly manner. And isn't that what's really important?

But seriously, don't even get me started on that fourth edition bullshit.


If you're a fan of role-playing games and the bodily fluids mentioned above (as well as others!), you owe it to yourself to check out Robert Bevan's collection of hilarious fantasy novels and short stories.

If you'd like to warn him to repent before he burns in hell, you can find him here on Facebook.

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