Dungeons & Dragons, Small Towns & Zealots

Dark Dungeons is so Ridiculous, is it not? 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.

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3 thoughts on “Dungeons & Dragons, Small Towns & Zealots”

  1. (==”) What the hell…. This world sure is filled with pathtic idiots…. How can they think that a simple RPG is “evil”? Something must be happen to their brain, uhm…. Wait, i even doubt they have brain, or at least, i doubt they know how to use their brain. XD

    1. If their only interaction with RPG players was comments like that one, do you wonder why they might not like the idea of their kids playing RPG’s? As players we may know better, but we owe it to ourselves and those misguided to prove our side, not by snide and cutting comments or the hidden innuendoes and implications of our opponents, but by listening and responding with honesty, openness and integrity.

    2. I’m so glad I missed this stuff. Though I suppose in another 20 years, we’ll be looking back on the various Jack Thompson outbursts over video games much the same way (what is it with people named “Jack” and their moral crusades? Though my parents don’t remember it, I do recall being told I wasn’t allowed to play Dungeons and Dragons as a kid, this despite having been bought TSR’s “Dragon Strike” game (which I still have) and on old “MasterDeck” Indiana Jones RPG. I found out later that at one point both of my parents had played D&D earlier in their lives, and looking back I think the restriction might have been more about who I would be playing with at the time, rather than what I was playing.

      A friend of mine’s father was an avid D&D player, and then somehow caught the “D&D is Bad” bug, and almost destroyed a massive collection of material, that my friend subsequently rescued. While that was bad, it did lead to his father, in trying to reconcile his positive RPG experiences with his newfound beliefs looking to create his own game which he felt was more in keeping with his beliefs. The result was a rather impressive game, that was actually the first real set of games I played in. Different strokes for different folks I guess, and as long as we’re all willing to be civil, there’s nothing wrong with that.

      I do agree with Walkerp’s comment in that thread that it’s shame more of the devoutly religious who play and have no problems don’t speak out. If they did, maybe we might regulate these uninformed people back to background noise.

      It’s also sort of funny when you think about it. In a small way, all these people were right. Playing D&D probably turned a large segment of the population off of religion in the 70’s and 80’s. Not because D&D was evil or planted seeds of sorcery, but because so many people saw the game as the harmless pastime that it is, and saw the massive cult like overreactions of some fundamentalists as a warning away from any religious thoughts they might have. “We have met the enemy, and he is us” is a saying these types of folks should take to heart before they launch their next uninformed moral crusade.

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