Tabletop gamers of my generation never had to deal with the mass hysteria surrounding role playing games in the 80s. Some of us, including myself, did have people in our lives who believed RPGs were evil. I still have strong feelings about my experiences, and I’m sure others with similar stories do as well. But what we experienced was an aftershock of a much more widespread phenomenon. Most people I’ve spoken with view tabletop games as an interesting past time. Occasionally they deride it as childish, or ‘nerdy,’ but it’s not very common these days to come across someone who honestly believes it is evil. None the less there was a time when role playing games were the target of religious zealots all across North America.
I bring this up because I was recently sent a link to a series of forum posts and images, uploaded by a fellow called Walkerp. When he was young, his hometown was swept up in this ‘controversy.’ His mother (who is clearly the coolest mother ever) saved a lot of local newspaper clippings on the subject, and eventually presented them to him as a gift. He was kind enough to scan and share them, and I’ve reproduced them below. Some of them are a little blurry near the edges, but I was able to decipher everything just fine. Reading these clippings was enlightening for me. It’s one thing to know a controversy existed, to read about it, and even encounter an odd individual or so who still believes D&D is evil. It’s quite another to see these issues seriously discussed in a newspaper.
You’ll note that in many of the clippings, a man named Clifford Olson is referenced. The anti-D&D crusaders repeatedly say they fear the children are being influenced by the game, and that they don’t want a repeat of the Clifford Olson incident. I had never heard of Clifford Olson before, but I assumed he was somehow involved in role playing games. Perhaps he was the kid who committed suicide over it which I’ve heard so much about. Curious, I decided to look into who he was. As it turns out he was not even slightly related to D&D or role playing games of any kind. He was simply a pedophile who raped and murdered young girls.
I am honestly floored by that casual and despicable accusation. How can any adult seriously claim a group of young teenagers are going to become monsters? It’s hard to believe a newspaper would print that kind of vile attack against children, much less that anyone would ever take it seriously. I understand that fear can be powerful, and that emotions run high after a tragedy, but there is no excuse for that kind of depraved behavior.
As I read this, I repeatedly thought of the men and women who worked on D&D in those days, Gary Gygax in particular. He (and no doubt many others at TSR) was a devout Christian. I can’t imagine what it is like to have your life’s work literally demonized by your own religious community. He probably found great comfort in his religious beliefs, but petty fools chose to take his source of comfort and use it as a weapon against him. Even decades after this nonsense had mostly blown over, after Gary died, a donation in his name was refused by his favorite Christian charity. I can’t even comment on that, it’s simply depressing.
Cicero said: “Not to know what happened before we were born is to remain perpetually a child.” So without further comment, here is what happened in our hobby before many of us were born.