Today, playing Dungeons and Dragons is a great way to bond with friends, explore your own creativity, and encourage social harmony among groups. In the ’80s, however, the popular tabletop role-playing game was viewed as the opposite. It was akin to playing the Ouija board, plotting a murder, or worse.
Dungeons and Dragons or more commonly known as D&D was the creation of American game designers Ernest Gary Gygax and David Arneson. It was in 1974, in a lonely Wisconsin basement where it all started. Those geeky basement shenanigans turned into a worldwide craze, with millions and millions of enthusiastic players. With only dice and great companions, you can already enjoy this game. The so-called Dungeon Master creates the story in which the other players’ characters indulge in. Through dice rolls, players determine the fates of their characters. These dice can roll up to 20 sides, for an extended element of chance.
Ultimately, D&D became so popular and successful in the market, celebrating various types of media and merchandise, and even films. The game is also largely enjoyed by some of the most important names in the industry such as Stephen King.
But long before its overwhelming success, it was a subject of condemnation and malevolence. For a game that was made for fun and entertainment, it used to be a reason for mass hysteria, causing widespread moral panic and fear of the occult and evil.
D&D and the Satanic Panic
D&D, as designed to give the players creative freedom, explores endless possible story plots and settings. A character can be a god, a monster, an angel, or a devil. You can be anyone or anything as far as your imagination goes. But since it was released at a time when moral and religious security was challenged, it became an element of fear and panic. “Dungeons and Dragons” analogically transformed to “Dangers and Devils.”
The ’80s was not a great time for moral security, as conditioned by events popularized by the media. There came the onslaught of serial killers such as The Manson Family, Ted Bundy, and The Zodiac Killer. Criminals painted as a group or individuals either blending into society or involving themselves in reclusion instilled the fear of your neighbor in the general public. And what better time was there for LaVeyan Satanism’s inception than this time? Additionally, there came the rise of media depicting evil such as the classic horror film The Exorcist.
Unsurprisingly, a game that tolerates themes relating to the occult and presumably evil was not safe from fingers looking for something to blame. Eventually, deaths associated with D&D players emerged and people started to accuse the game of promoting immorality and even blasphemy. Like the narrative of video games promoting violence but more intense. The thematic coincidence was not an option for these people. They convinced themselves that every unfortunate event played a direct correlation to the game.
It even went as far as a mother of a former D&D player creating a campaign against the game. Irving Lee Pulling, a high school student who struggled to fit in shot himself in the chest. His mother, Patricia Pulling insisted that it was due to his son playing D&D, ignoring obvious psychological matters at hand. Much like the famous Columbine Massacre blamed on metal music, disregarding the issues of gun control and mental health. Pulling called this movement BADD or Bothered About Dungeons and Dragons.
She initiated a media campaign through religious outlets where she described D&D as “a fantasy role-playing game which uses demonology, witchcraft, murder, rape, blasphemy, suicide, satanic type rituals, and other teachings.” TSR, the game publisher, countered such extreme accusations by hiring a psychologist. With the intention to inform the public that the whole point of D&D was for good to triumph over evil.
The game continued to receive malicious and outrageous claims about its conjectured relation to evil and blasphemy. Religious people claim that D&D risks the youth to demonic possessions. Some also claim that the game instills in children “the inability to distinguish between fantasy and reality.” The extremity of D&D as a source of violence and immorality even went as far as the game being banned in prison. Authorities exclaimed that apparently, the game can “foster an inmate’s obsession with escaping from the real life, correctional environment, fostering hostility, violence and escape behaviour”.
You see, these claims went beyond logical extremes that you wouldn’t imagine D&D to transform into a wholesome, family-friendly, and sensational form of entertainment. It took a while for such extreme accusations to die down. Eventually, people started to accept the fact that the game was in no way promoting such wicked ideas. As a matter of fact, D&D promotes personal development. This includes social and analytical skills, logic and reasoning, and of course creativity and courage.
Dungeons and Dragons’ blasphemous beginnings were fortunately just an unfortunate beginning and not an end to its genius. D&D is continuously gaining more creative souls, craving an awesome recreational adventure. In fact, we are welcoming another D&D movie next year which is “Dungeons and Dragons: Honor Among Thieves.”
Now we can enjoy playing the game with friends and loved ones and watching the movie in the cinemas. All without the cost of satanic gathering involvements, too. Society has now progressed past the need for unnecessary and hysterical paranoia. What matters most today is that people have the privilege to find happiness, even if it’s just through a game that was once deemed unacceptable.
Diana is passionate about writing most especially, creative writing. She loves to write poetry whenever she has free time and inspiration and shares some of it on her Instagram poetry account. Her inspirations can be from personal experiences, an outburst of emotions, or through art and music that resonates through her soul. Diana appreciates art and literature the most, especially the classics but is not the biggest fan of reading.