Wednesday, January 28, 2009

D&D and the Devil's Boardgames

I don't usually post stuff from my other blogs here, but I think this one should be shared...

Gary Gygax, co-creator of Dungeons and Dragons, passed away on March 4, 2008. So the organizers of GenCon, the gaming convention founded by Gygax in the '60s, decided to donate the proceeds of its annual charity function to his favourite charity, in memorial. They raised nearly $17,000 for Christian Children's Fund.

And CCF refused every penny.

The org said it couldn't accept money that came, in part, from D&D sales. Well, actually they said they couldn't "endorse" a gaming convention or any other event with which they were not directly involved, but I think we all know what they really meant. If the money had come from a creationism convention or something, I'm sure the ink wouldn't have dried on the check before CCF cashed it. (1)

I wonder how CCF staffers explained to the starving children that they wouldn't be eating for another week because of a game.

This is so '87. Literally. Throughout the '80s, idiots like "former Illuminati witch"/child rapist John Todd, "former Satanist"/"vampire" Bill Schnoebelen, and Jack "It Must Be True If You Find It in a Comic Book" Chick were warning all and sundry that D&D was designed specifically to indoctrine kids into the occult. Schnoebelen even claimed the creators of D&D consulted his Satanic coven in the late '70s because they wanted to make their game "authentic" (Dungeons and Dragons was created in the early '70s, and it's about as authentically Satanic as Taco Bell food is authentically Tex-Mex).

Meanwhile, a Virginia mother named Patricia Pulling decided that her son Bink's 1982 suicide was not the result of his obvious mental instability, nor his delusional lycanthropy (2), nor the fact that his name was "Irving", but the result of a fracking game. She started an org called BADD (Bothered About Dungeons and Dragons) to spread the message that role-playing fantasy games are bad, m'kay?

According to Ms. Pulling, D&D is a thinly veiled form of Satanism, incorporating demonology, witchcraft, voodoo, murder, rape, blasphemy, suicide, sexual perversion, and cannibalism (among other things). She also believed that about 8% of Richmond, Virginia, residents were practicing Satanists. (3)
She insisted Bink killed himself because he had become so immersed in D&D that when a curse was placed on him in the game, he thought he was really cursed. She also attributed the suicide of Sean Hughes in 1988 and the murder of Mary Towey in 1984 to D&D. (4)

Unfortunately, a few people actually listened to Pulling and accepted her lunacy as something other than the grief and denial of losing a son to suicide. She was a guest on 60 Minutes in 1985 (along with Gygax), and appeared on numerous TV talk shows. She was even allowed to testify in criminal trials in three states as a "gaming expert". (2)

Ms. Pulling passed away in 1997, but the legacy lives on. Dr. Thomas E. Radecki, also a D&D "expert", has testifed in 9 trials involving crimes allegedly connected to fantasy role-playing games. (5)

Admittedly, I've never played D&D. I did sit in on a game of Magic: The Gathering once, and witnessed nothing more sinister than a long, heated debate over whether or not you can give yourself Pestilence. But I don't need to be familiar with the game to know that it does not cause violent outbursts, homicides, or mental illness. No game can do that. Well, maybe Pictionary.
However, adopting the POV of Pulling et. al. for a moment, let's look at some timeless, popular games that really can pose a threat to the mental and spiritual wellbeing of your children...

Operation: Makes malpractice look fun and easy. Oops, don't touch the sides! But if you do, it doesn't matter! We'll just put the dude back in the box and pretend it never happened...

Life: Teaching kids that their lifestyle and career choices are dependent wholly upon chance, rather than on dedication and skill? Is that a good idea?

Candyland: Can you say "gingivitis", kids?

Battleship: All the fun and frivolity of maritime disaster in a handy carrying case.

Scruples: Designed by a batshit insane man who thinks The Protocols of the Elders of Zion are authentic, and sees Sapphic overtones in candy bar commercials.

Risk: Global imperialism for ages 8 and up.

1. "Children's Charity Turns its Back on Gygax Memorial Donation" by correspondent Andrew Eisen. Nov. 4/08
2. "Satan's Fantasies" (part I) by Kerr Cuhulain,
3. Wikipedia entry for Patricia Pulling. Retrieved Jan. 29/08.
4. "The Pulling Report" by Michael A. Stackpole (1990)
5. Radecki's website, Modern, the founder of the National Coalition on Television Violence, had his license suspended in 1992 for inappropriate sexual behaviour with a female patient (Entertainment Weekly, Dec. 25/92).


Captain Karen said...

Growing up, both my brother and I played D&D (he still does). In fact we started up a gaming group that met after school in junior high. My parents were quite shocked and disappointed when one of our close family friends from church told us that they wouldn't let their sons play with us anymore because the two of us played the game. She had recently watched the movie with Tom Hanks and was scared that her kids were going to snap and take a +6 battleaxe of smiting (+8 against dwarves and halflings) to her and her husband the next time they punished either of them. I make light of it now but she was deadly serious. My parents became a bit concerned and looked into what my brother, our friends and I were doing and what was involved. They soon realized there was no problem. To them, it encouraged problem solving, team building and using our imaginations. It was a chance to get away from the TV, play with our friends and they knew we weren't running around the neighbourhood wreaking havoc or doing drugs.

I have a feeling (just like with heavy metal music and violent movies/video games) that there is likely another underlying reason that makes some people "snap" for lack of a better word. It's not the game, the movie or the television.

tweetey30 said...

I never played D and D but hey I know people that have and there is nothing wrong with it. I just hope these people realize its just a game and those poor children. Jeff knows a couple that plays here with there son that is grown up now. Its amazing to see. I have to admit I have never seen them actually play but Jeff has.

Karen is right. I dont see any problems with it as long as you dont go over board with it. Have fun with it but dont take it to the seriousness of it. I mean som people or children might say well we need this stuff to play. No you dont. Pretend you have those items.

SME said...

...scared that her kids were going to snap and take a +6 battleaxe of smiting (+8 against dwarves and halflings) to her and her husband...


I agree, there doesn't seem to be any more harm in the game itself than in World of Warcraft or other games. IMO, it's just an unfortunate coincidence that a few D&D gamers in the '70s and '80s had pre-existing issues and did strange things. Then people made a connection between the game and the behaviour. Classic scapegoating and avoidance. Rather than admit that maybe their kids needed some form of professional help or that their own parenting was less than sterling, some parents chose to blame a game.

The story behind the Hanks movie, Mazes and Monsters, is a good example. It was based primarily on the case of James Egbert, a child genius who gained early entry to Michigan State. When he disappeared, a doofus of a P.I. concluded he might have been killed while playing D&D in the steam tunnels beneath the campus.

In reality, Egbert was lonely, drug-addicted, struggling with his sexuality, and suicidal. He ran away to attempt suicide.

The P.I. did eventually find him, but Egbert was so embarrassed about his problems that he swore the guy to secrecy. So people still think it was a game of D&D gone awry that made him disappear.

A woman wrote a book about it and the book was made into Mazes and Monsters with Tom Hanks, and voila! Hysteria du jour.

mister anchovy said...

It seems to me that game-playing is a fairly healthy thing to do as long as it doesn't become obsessive and replace a broad range of activities. I don't know much about D&D, but if it involves kids having fun, it can't be so bad.

I do have some criticism of some video games, only in that they suck a great deal of time and give back little. Quite a number of years ago, I put a game called Half Life on my computer and wasn't seen for three months. At the end of it, I emerged knowing how to kill a bunch of aliens and navigate my way through a bunch of screens. The was about the end for me in terms of video games.

I play an Asian game called Go. I've played it for many many years and I like it a lot because it has a simple structure and set of rules, but playing it involves engineering, philosophy, logic, situational analysis, imagination and a healthy competitive spirit. I don't know very many people who play this game though, because it doesn't offer instant gratification. You have to gradually develop conceptual and tactical understanding and it takes quite a lot of games before you start to improve. I think it's the best game in the world.

SME said...

I kind of avoid some games for the same reason - too much time is spent, and there's not enough benefit.
Games can be unhealthy. One of my cousins was a basement-dwelling freeloader for months thanks to World of Warcraft. But are they going to lead to suicide, homicide, demonic possession, paranoid delusion, or Satanism? Um, probably not.

It seems like fantasy-based games and books are singled out for criticism. No one suggests that Bobby Fischer went nuts because of chess, and Go doesn't get blamed for bouts of insanity (even though the dude in Pi played it). But some folks see wizards, vampires, or dragons and just freak right out.

tshsmom said...

WAS a "basement-dwelling freeloader"? Guess again...he's STILL a "basement-dwelling freeloader"! :(

Your brother read this post over my shoulder. I can't believe that he hasn't commented. This is his #1 pet peeve!

I think you're right about the wizards, vampires and dragons. I'll bet they wouldn't take money from a Harry Potter convention either.

Bridget Jones said...

I'd think that this is a joke but *sigh* know otherwise. How weird, and almost superstitious of those people. And they're adults!