Heart, Minds, and Polyhedral Amunition
I saw an article posted recently about the “Satanic Panic” and the “War Against D&D.” It wasn’t a new article, but I’ve seen it and several like it floating around in the last few years. Many of these articles are written from the perspective of people that had their hobby curtailed in that time period, and the villain of the piece often tends to be fundamentalist Christians. Every time I see this characterization, I have a lot of thoughts, and instead of posting them in lots of places, here or there, I decided just to summarize them here.
The Real War
The borders of this “war” and its “sides” have always been poorly understood–the war never ended, its shifted fronts from heavy metal to D&D to video games, to hip hop, and back again.
It always seems to be forgotten in these discussions that it wasn’t just televangelists like Pat Robertson decrying D&D. There were psychologists and law enforcement officials that also saw D&D as a growing menace, and there were television talk shows and news programs that gave all those groups threatened by D&D an almost unopposed voice.
People might question one source of authority when that authority demonizes something new and unknown, but when you have religious, medical, and legal institutions getting in on the act, suddenly it seems like a real threat.
However, just as important as realizing who had the microphone is realizing who the “troops” were in this fight. I’m in my 40s and a parent myself now. I hope I have not blindly jumped on any trends in a fit of over-protectiveness, but I think people are too hard on the parents that were acting in good faith.
Almost every parent I know lives in mortal fear that their child will suffer pain or may make terrible, life-altering decisions that we didn’t see in time. Even if you are close with your children, the teenage years are those years where we naturally begin to pull away, to become our own person. Because of that, it’s very easy for a parent to lose track of some aspect of their child’s life.
So when a child does something like taking their own life, its is a natural reaction to be horrified and to feel guilty. And to continue to go forward, a parent that suffers those loses needs to have a purpose, and they may feel the need to exonerated of their complicity in the death of their child.
If you offer that person a external force to blame, that gives them something to work against, and something to take their guilt away from them.
Not every parent has the time and resources to research everything that interests their child, so if news programs are serving up “facts” for them in easily digestible segments, how much can you blame them for accepting that information? Let those of us without jumped upon conclusions cast the first stone.
If there is anyone close to an actual villain in this situation, it’s the people that see something new and strange (to them) that they have no desire to find more information about, and yet are fully willing to state, as a fact, that new and different thing is, indeed, dangerous.
None of this is meant to imply that you shouldn’t correct incorrect information. It does mean that the goal should probably be understanding, rather than “winning.” Its also worth noting that that portraying this as a war that has been won is, in it self, a matter of skewed perspective.
Ceasefire versus Armistice
Because shows like Game of Thrones and movies like the Lord of the Rings have become popular, we equate that popularity with “winning” this war. For many, many people that were concerned about D&D, it wasn’t just the subject matter that wrong, bad, and evil. It was actively participating in an activity with those topics that would “warp” the player. Remember that some of the people that hold this opinion can firmly hang onto their cognitive dissonance that they can watch porn, and that’s perfectly normal, but someone that does those things in that video, in real life–those people have a moral issue.
I can personally attest to having run into people that think D&D died back in the 80s, and their “side” clearly “won.” What does a fantasy movie have to do with that very specific, evil, Steam Tunnels and Suicide game? I mean, in that game, people actively participate in spellcasting, while dressed in costume, and rolling funny dice. What does that have to do with the pretty little blonde girl and her dragons?
Watch enough episodes of Forensic Files. Eventually you will find a story, produced in the last few years, where a police official equates participation in Dungeons and Dragons as an indication of potential dangerous mental instability. Bonus points if the person is shown to be interested in an RPG that isn’t actually D&D, but they still bring up D&D.
The war never ended. There was no winner. The war is a battle of fear of the unknown versus information. The front shifts all the time.
It’s been a long time since my only real, notable contribution to this battle, and it goes back to my 7th grade Sunday School class. We were about to participate in a unit on the evils of roleplaying games. Several of the kids in class dabbled in D&D, but I was the one that actually volunteered to the teachers that I played.
I offered to run a game of D&D in front of the class to show just how harmless the hobby was. The teachers, to their credit, said they wanted to look at the books and materials involved in the game before they said it was alright. After I spoke up, one of the other kids in the class volunteered their brother’s DMG, and I gave up my Expert set book for a week.
The next week, we were told that the teachers were a little concerned about some of the material, but none of it was much worse than what you might see in a horror movie at the time. I will admit, I’m glad we didn’t volunteer the Monster Manual.
In front of the class, I ran a game where we had a cleric, wizard, fighter, and thief. They ran into a giant crocodile and some lizard folk. No one carved eldritch symbols into their flesh, and I’m almost 100% certain no demons possessed anyone during the session.
While those teachers were doing Sunday school classes, they never had a unit on the evils of Dungeons and Dragons again. That said, when we had the unit on heavy metal music, I decided Vince Neil and company could defend themselves. I knew the wisdom of picking my battles.