The Great Dungeons & Dragons Panic of 1982, Explained

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Now two separate Dungeons & Dragons-inspired films (don’t ask about the first one), the D&D IP has come a very long way from its controversial past. If you want to find a good example of the changing zeitgeist of pop culture and the ascendancy of nerd culture, just look at D&D.

By 1982, the trembling parents of America had yet another form of media to freak out about, this time a Risk spin-off. Debuting in the mid-70s from the company Tactical Studies Rules (TSR), the general rules and play-styles of D&D were devised by Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson, who crated a fantasy-board game in which players would take turns playing as their own personas, plundering dungeons, taking influence from military strategy titles. The stat-based title would influence video game RPG design for decades. You’re welcome, Skyrim fans.

The most bizarre development was not the lasting influence, but the sheer amount of villainization the board game garnered in such a brief lifespan. Dungeons and Dragons became public enemy number 1 in the 80s. If you played the game you might have as well have worn an upside-down cross. The dread over elves, bards, and paladins reached unacceptable proportions when the cautionary film Mazes and Monsters hit TV screens, produced by all people, the company that makes Dawn dishsoap. Oh, and it also happened to be the film debut of one of greatest stars in film history, but he probably would prefer that you skip this one … Don’t.

The game itself is fairly simple, participants rolling dice to determine their fates within the game. Sometimes you died, sometimes you slayed the orc, each toss of the die determining whether your designated action was successful or not.

Great, you say. No, children creating their own stories and working together is bad. That’s what very uptight parents thought at least. The plague of 20-sided die was indoctrinating youngsters into the esoteric ways of paganism and demon worship, critics declared despite any hard evidence. Televangelist Pat Robertson warned for over 30 years, “People got into role-playing and the next thing you know they were on a fantasy world that really captured them.” This innocent board game was supposedly the greatest demonic gateway drug.

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