Sunday, August 24, 2008

Veteran of the Psychic Wars

The 60 minutes piece on D&D has surfaced on YouTube.

This brings back some hard memories.

From Kellri's post on the matter at Knights and Knaves:

I nearly cried watching that 60 minutes piece - it brought back a lot of really hard feelings I haven't thought about in a long time.
I was born in '68 into a fundamentalist Baptist family and attended a private Christian school from K-12. I've seen actual fucking book burnings that involved my own books. I've been suspended from school for D&D three times, grounded for weeks for D&D, slapped around by parents and teachers for D&D, and undergone one really hostile psych exam. Suffice to say, nearly ALL of those witch-hunt stories were MY stories.

I imagine it's hard for newer gamers to realize the battle that it truly was for some of us to play D&D in the time when it was most popular. Combine the geek hate with the religious hysteria with the belief that the game was truly a cause of mental illness and suicide...

There was a frightening group of people who think I was diseased and evil for liking this game. I was harassed on the street by complete strangers for the heinous crime of carrying around D&D books out in the open.

This has had several effects on my life. I have a complete distrust for the media and authority figures (including teachers, police, and clergy), an absolute disgust for common public opinion, and the unwillingness to accept the "badness" of things commonly avoided by polite society. It led directly to my interest in the occult (long since dropped, mainly because I found that actual occult practices had nothing to do with the game, and because the descriptive trappings I want to use for occult elements from the game come more from fiction and horror movies than any real occult practices... oh yeah, and because it's all BS just as any other religious practice is) and my intensely skeptical and critical and contrarian nature. It directed me into heavy metal (which attacks the hypocrisy of these sorts of things and shares a lot of imagery with role-playing games and it revels in all the things that are supposed to be "bad") and long hair and separation from mainstream culture in general. It warped my idea of what "normal" is (strictly conformist and quick to attack anything outside the accepted lifestyle) and made sure I never wanted to be associated with that suffocating thing.

Really, these people inspired me to become the very thing they were decrying. "
Be careful when you fight the monsters, lest you become one," and all that. I wish I had a save or die attack.

As a probably disturbing side effect, I also have a tendency to not care about children seeing things they are not "supposed" to see. The idea that there are "children's things" and "adult's things" and that there should be clear division of the two is so damaging to society. I got that notion from D&D as well. When I was a kid, I was told kids shouldn't be messing with things that promote violence and magic, and when I became an adult, I was told I shouldn't be wasting my time with such childish things as D&D. So I don't act differently around children than I do adults. I find that I horrify children at about the same rate as I horrify adults, and as an added bonus some people keep their children away from me.

I didn't have it as bad as some. I can only count myself lucky that my family wasn't a part of this, although Mom did make me watch Mazes and Monsters soon after I started playing. But family members of friends... watching people have to lie to their parents and sneak around to play the dread D&D... some saw that as a reason why D&D is bad in itself, but I saw it (and still see it) as a liberating influence. Imagine having to lie to your parents to exercise imagination, deal with difficult vocabulary, and do math drills. Reading, writing, and creativity: Surely it's all the devil's work. Fucking hell.

But this isn't all in the past. The past two years, I went to a religious school. Now, things apparently weren't so bad in Finland as they were in the States with all of this, but my school had a lot of foreigners in its language program...

Please visit The Escapist.


  1. As you can imagine, my definition of "lifestyle gamer" is probably quite different than the one WotC uses.

  2. I got lucky myself. My folks were cool with it, and always understood it was a game. Even played D&D with one of our parish priests.

    But I remember the climate of fear and stupidity around that time -- ridiculous stories about D&D books screaming when they were burned, pamphlets like "A Christian response to Dungeons and dragons : the catechism of the New Age" (apparently still in print!). And of course much of the mainstream media coverage of the game encouraged the panic. I remember in particular a Life Magazine endpiece featuring a teenage D&D player dressed in chainmail, bragging about his chaotic evil character firing orc babies from catapults.

    One of my best teachers in highschool will always be a hero of mine for an incident during the late 80s satanic panic. A cop came around the school with a big presentation for the teachers about the warning signs of Satanism -- occult symbols, heavy metal, RPGs, black clothes. When he finished, good ole Mr Norton told him "What a bunch of bullshit. You just described my best students."

    Thanks for posting this.

  3. I remember hearing about much of this but avoided it.

    While attending a Southern Baptist church in Port Arthur, Texas in 79 I asked one of the youth decans, who was probably 50-60, if wargaming, which I had to describe (this was old hex and chit), was sinful. He said, "no, as long as it doesn't come an obsession and take over your life."

    To this day I wonder if three years later he would have given the same answer, because I think it is the correct one not only for gaming but anything. Part of me hopes the basic wisdom he used then overcame the hysteria and part of me figures it didn't.

    Regardless, my parents and the parents of my friends never had this reaction nor did anyone we dealt with. I'm sure my father, at least, saw the 60 Minutes story given he always watched it(should ask). Two of my friends as freshman (my last of three years in Wyoming) dated very religious girls and neither of them figured we were hell bound. My last three years of high school (back in Texas) I went to a church where the minister's son played (played with his group once or twice).

    I guess I was lucky.

  4. Last time I checked, murder-suicide involving guns was not part of D&D.

    But it's so obviously the cause of a few handfuls of kids shooting each other!

    I'm glad this bit of witch-hunting is virtually over.

    There's a whole new crop of candidates now!

  5. I caught some of the late 80's hysteria when a family friend of ours started warning my parents after I told her son of my new hobby. Thankfully my folks are smart and, after actually reviewing it for what it was, supported me (aka bought me subsequent sourcebooks) and allowed me to host gaming nights.

  6. Thanks for the links to these videos - I haven't seen that story since it first aired, and I've been trying to find a copy on video for over a decade now.

    Oh, and thanks for the link to my site, as well!

    - Bill

  7. thanks for this post and the youtubes. I wish I had a save or die attack. funniest fucking thing I read all day. I think I'm going to have to try to use that in conversation before the day is over.

    Duly added to my blogroll and reader. Cheers!

  8. Good post Jim. ;)

    I'd love to hear from anyone else who had a similar experience. Everybody is always shocked by that crap but it seems few who actually lived through it stuck with gaming.

    The heavy-metal connection is spot on - that music was getting the same kind of bogus attention at the time for exactly the same reasons. I wasn't much into it, but a few guys in my school & church were and we could always look each other in the eye and know we had the same shit to deal with.

  9. As an 80's headbanger and D&D player I went through a lot of that nonsense as well. My grandmother STILL believes that D&D is Satanic because some bogus televangelist said it was in the 80's. Somehow, my heathen ways don't seem to bother her as bad as my continued gaming.