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Subject: German Article about the D&D witch hunt of the 80s rss

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Uwe A. Redjac
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I am a bit in a hurry, but I just came across this article in DER SPIEGEL (a leading German magazines).

http://www.spiegel.de/netzwelt/spielzeug/0,1518,640413,00.ht...

Sorry I am too lazy to translate the whole thing, the main parts are details on the cases used as an excuse for the thesis D&D -> axe murderer -> satanist -> doom for all (book a front seat now) as well as the main proponents (a certain Mrs. Rona Jaffe and a Mr. Pat Pulling) of said ... well ... let's use the word "thesis" in a very loose sense here .

And if you will excuse me now ... I got to hurry to raid the Forbidden City and ravish one of the local maidens.

Toodles

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Chris Ferejohn
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uweareuter wrote:

And if you will excuse me now ... I got to hurry to raid the Forbidden City and ravish one of the local maidens.


Wait, in a game or in real life?

YOU DON'T EVEN KNOW ANYMORE DO YOU!?!?!? HAVEN'T YOU SEEN MAZES AND MONSTERS?
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I read Dark Dungeons and it said I would be able to cast spells and have mental powers if I played DnD. I'm still waiting. . . .
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J Montney
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You know that the women in the Forbidden City are half snake, half human, right?
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Andrew S
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I've started to translate it. Here is section 1. My German is a bit rusty but I think you get the drift. I'll try to do the rest later today but if anyone else wants to jump in, feel free.

>>>>>>>>

How Fantasy Fun was turned into a "Killer Game"
by Thomas Hillenbrand

Whenever teenagers are involved in violent crimes, people like to find the root cause in the use of computer games. This is a similar phenomenon to the controversy over D&D 30 years ago. At that time the Fantasy RPG was under suspicion of being responsible for deaths.

To call James Dallas Egbert III gifted would be an understatement. At 13 he had graduated High School and worked as an advisor for the air force; at 16 he was already at Michigan State University and studying Information Technology in his fourth semester. However, the wonder child was not happy. He hardly had any friends since the highly intelligent boy did not seem normal to his significantly older and stupider peers. In addition his parents put pressure on him. When Dallas told his mother by phone that he had received a 2+, she let him know that next time he might care to deliver a 1. On 15 August 1979, he disappeared without a trace.

Because the police were not making progress in their investigations, Dallas' parents hired the well-known private detective William Dear. He quickly found out that Egbert jr. had a weakness for a strange game that was all the rage at this time on US college campuses - "Dungeons & Dragons" (D&D). Per Dear's research, in this fantasy game the players would take on the roles of Knights, Elves or Mage and travel through dark dungeons that were populated by orcs and dragons.

Dear came up with a working hypothesis based on this flimsy information, which he then rolled out in front of several TV and print reporters. His hypothesis was that Dallas, the psychologically unstable wonder-child, regularly played D&D in the supply tunnels under the university. In the process he had lost his grip on reality and had slid fully into a fantasy world. The boy had probably got lost in the labyrinthine tunnel system.

Dear had no evidence for his theory but that was not necessary. The story of a dreamer teen genius who went mad because of a mysterious game, and staggering through steam tunnels with chain mail and broadsword, was just too good. The reporters ate up the story like chocolate - Egbert's disappearance was suddenly no longer local news but a national headline.

Depression, Drugs and D&D
The story did not make sense in any way. D&D is played on a living room table, all the characters actions are performed through conversations and dice rolling. The players don't wear costumes. As became clear later, Egbert had actually gond down into the supply tunnels - but to do role-playing but rather for an unsuccessful attempt to kill himself with sleeping pills. Detective Dear found out later that D&D was the least of Egbert's problems. The teenager suffered from severe depression, was wrestling with his homosexuality and was addicted to drugs - amongst others, cocaine, self-made PCP, so-called "Angel Dust" - Phenyl-Cyclidin-Piperidin.

Admittedly these details interested no-one. When Dallas Egbert did turn up again in one piece, this merited only five lines in the "New York Times". The impression that had remained with the general public was that D&D, this strange game with the strange dice, twisted children's minds.

The person most responsible for the spread of this point of view, next to the press, was author Rona Jaffe. Inspired by the so-called Egbert Steam Tunnel Incident, she turned the 1981 incident into a novel. In Jaffe's "Mazes & Monsters" , the student Robbie begins to think of himself as the cleric Pardeux. He leaves his girlfriend (because of his celibacy), stabs people (who he thinks are monsters) and in the end tries to jump from the World Trade Center, which he thinks is a mystical temple.


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Jamie Vantries
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Man, Mazes and Monsters is one of the funniest movies I've ever seen! I highly recommend it!
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When I first got contact lenses, I was stunned to realize that my opthamologist was none other than Egbert's dad. That was just plain weird.
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I'm amazed D&D could weather the ****storm that came after the anti-D&D witchhunt in the 80s. They really had no champions in the mainstream media. It was disinformation galore. Did any parents sue TSR?
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When I was growing up in Upstate New York (maybe 1984), there were three guys I knew who I occasionally played D&D with. All three were extremely intelligent, and the fathers of all three were doctors. Due to the D&D witch hunt, they were forced by their families to partake in a "trial," wherein they were allowed to submit their case for why D&D was alright. After the trial, their parents informed them that they would not be allowed to play the game ever again. The parents cited religion; because of the fact that Greyhawk was a polytheistic world, they reasoned, it was against God.
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Andrew S
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Ok here's the whole article including section 1 again. Hope it makes sense.

How Fantasy Fun was turned into a "Killer Game"
by Thomas Hillenbrand

Whenever teenagers are involved in violent crimes, people like to find the root cause in the use of computer games. This is a similar phenomenon to the controversy over D&D 30 years ago. At that time the Fantasy RPG was suspected of being responsible for deaths.

To call James Dallas Egbert III gifted would be an understatement. At 13 he had graduated High School and worked as an advisor for the air force; at 16 he was already at Michigan State University and studying Information Technology in his fourth semester. However, the wonder child was not happy. He hardly had any friends since the highly intelligent boy did not seem normal to his significantly older and stupider peers. In addition his parents put pressure on him. When Dallas told his mother by phone that he had received a 2+, she let him know that next time he might care to deliver a 1. On 15 August 1979, he disappeared without a trace.

Because the police were not making progress in their investigations, Dallas' parents hired the well-known private detective William Dear. He quickly found out that Egbert jr. had a weakness for a strange game that was all the rage at this time on US college campuses - "Dungeons & Dragons" (D&D). Per Dear's research, in this fantasy game the players would take on the roles of Knights, Elves or Mage and travel through dark dungeons that were populated by orcs and dragons.

Dear came up with a working hypothesis based on this flimsy information, which he then rolled out in front of several TV and print reporters. His hypothesis was that Dallas, the psychologically unstable wonder-child, regularly played D&D in the supply tunnels under the university. In the process he had lost his grip on reality and had slid fully into a fantasy world. The boy had probably got lost in the labyrinthine tunnel system.

Dear had no evidence for his theory but that was not necessary. The story of a dreamer teen genius who went mad because of a mysterious game, and staggering through humid tunnels with chain mail and broadsword, was just too good. The reporters ate up the story like chocolate - Egbert's disappearance was suddenly no longer local news but a national headline.

Depression, Drugs and D&D
The story did not make sense in any way. D&D is played on a living room table, all the characters actions are performed through conversations and dice rolling. The players don't wear costumes. As became clear later, Egbert had actually gone down into the supply tunnels - not to do role-playing but rather for an unsuccessful attempt to kill himself with sleeping pills. Detective Dear found out later that D&D was the least of Egbert's problems. The teenager suffered from severe depression, was wrestling with his homosexuality and was addicted to drugs - amongst others, cocaine, self-made PCP, so-called "Angel Dust" - Phenyl-Cyclidin-Piperidin.

Admittedly these details interested no-one. When Dallas Egbert did turn up again in one piece, this merited only five lines in the "New York Times". The impression that had remained with the general public was that D&D, this strange game with the strange dice, twisted children's minds.

The person most responsible for the spread of this point of view, next to the press, was author Rona Jaffe. Inspired by the so-called Egbert Steam Tunnel Incident, she turned the 1981 incident into a novel. In Jaffe's "Mazes & Monsters" , the student Robbie begins to think of himself as the cleric Pardeux. He leaves his girlfriend (because of his celibacy), stabs people (who he thinks are monsters) and in the end tries to jump from the World Trade Center, which he thinks is a mystical temple.

2. In the cinema, Tom Hanks portrayed the crazy D&D player

"Mazes" was very successful and in 1982 was made into a film with Tom Hanks in the leading role. It is entertaining, 30 years later, to see the young Hanks hallucinating while straying through dark chambers in his robe, carrying a lantern. The scenario seems terribly far-fetched. At the time though, many US viewers viewed the sorry spectacle as an authentic portray of fantasy role-playing.

Much of the demonization of D&D is reminiscent of the current debate about so-called killer games like "Counter-Strike"; the media mechanics are totally comparable.

Just like then, there is firstly the lack of knowledge of the subject: The game - invented in 1974 by Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson, and sold through the TSR (Tactical Studies Rules) label founded by the pair -had become, by the end of the seventies, an underground hit at America's colleges. Nobody over 25 understood exactly what the kids were doing when they met in their bedrooms for a dungeon crawl.

The only thing that was known was that it was something to do with Monsters, Mage and murder and this disturbed many adults. Nobody knew how the game was actually played - and this was reflected in the media reports. When two young army recruits in North Carolina dressed up as Ninjas and massacred an old married couple, the "Houston Chronicle" explained to its readers that this was the sort of battle dress that "one can wear during a D&D game".

The Mass Market and massive Image Problems

If D&D had remained a niche phenomenon, the public disgust would quite possibly have died down again. However, the game became the biggest winner that the game world had seen since Monopoly. By the mid-eighties, there were almost four million D&D sets in circulation. Purely for statistical reasons, there were an increasing number of cases in which D&D boxes were found next to youths who had taken their own or someone else's life. Of course it was equally likely that there would be a Risk game or baseball cards in the child's room - yet role playing games had now become the chief suspect and every new case garnered significant attention in print.

To many observers the suspicion of D&D seemed plausible. Were these role-playing games not extremely violent? Did they not encourage children to torture and plunder in their imagination? And was it not inevitable that these imaginary acts of violence would spill over into normal life?

D&D inventor, Gary Gygax, defended himself vehemently against the accusations. The "witchhunt" was not acceptable - if someone is mentally unstable and has lost grip on reality, then that was clearly not the fault of dice and fantasy stories. TSR refused event to have a warning label on the packaging. Gygax sneered that people would also have to "put a sticker on dogs", since they could bite someone.
TSR came under increasing pressure in the mid-eighties. On an almost weekly basis, US newspapers would report on teenagers who had played D&D before their death. Also, there were now two media-savvy experts constantly on hand , ready at any time to attest to the enormous danger of role-playing games for the soul and psyche of adolescents.

First there was Pat Pulling; the founder of the Initiative Bothered about D&D (BADD) maintained that, "I have already been physically attacked by children at events. They suddenly change into their (role-play) character. Pulling was convinced that the suicide of her, in her words, "absolutely normal" son, Irving was triggered by a "Curse of Insanity" which a D&D game master was supposed to have issued.
Research in the US Newspaper archives from 1975 to 1990 shows that apparently every US journalist who was looking for a critical voice in his role play article at that time, would call Pulling. The woman from Richmond, VA, had no legal, sociological or medical qualifications. Even her knowledge of role-playing was negligible. Pulling's "Curse of Insanity" cannot be found in any D&D publication. The game designer, Michael Stackpole, provided meticulous proof that she did not understand even the basics of the game and had presumably never played.

Pulling however had an excellent feel for what worked in the press. At TV interviews, she would bring her small daughter with her who then, with tears in her eyes, would tell how her late brother Irving had threatened her with death and how D&D was to blame for everything. Hardly anyone questioned why an anxious mother suddenly became an expert on youth culture, suicidology and various other topics. Pulling even showed up several times as an expert witness in court.

3. Pithy Quotes, but no kind of scientific basis
Chief critic number two was Chicago psychologist Thomas Radecki. He asserted that there were 45 documented cases of death that were clearly attributable to D&D. "Children are being murdered because of this game", he warned. "Our teens can no longer get out of the dungeon". Naturally Radecki - who meanwhile had twice lost his license because of "professional misconduct" - could provide no evidence for his theories.

Years later, studies by the American Association of Suicidology and the CDC came to the conclusion that there was no causal relationship between suicide and fantasy role-playing games. Even today, Radecki sees things differently. He explained that there was an "overwhelming amount of evidence" that the consumption of TV shows and computer games that glorified violence dulled people's senses and increased their propensity for violence. As a result one had to conclude that this was no different with role-playing games even though there were no detailed studies.

All facts to the contrary, the D&D critics succeeded in harassing TSR more and more. Above all, Pulling became even more influential when she brought the religious right on board. Once she was established in the media as an expert, she began to assert that D&D was a game conceived by Satanists, to propagate rape, cannibalism and necromancy.

Naturally there was no sort of evidence for this either. For devout Christians, it was enough just to see the D&D cover. There they could see horned devils, wizards or sacrifices of virgins. Game shop owners now had to deal every morning with groups of outraged fundamentalists in front of their shops. Fantasy author Tracy Hickman, close to resignation, formulated the reaction of most people to his hobby in the following way: "Role-playing games? Oh you mean that evil game."

Devils banned from the game

At some point, TSR gave in. Under pressure from the religious right, the company censored the content of its "Monster Manual", a book that listed the villains to be fought by the heroes. The demons and devils listed there now had to be called Tanar'ri and Baatezu. It was only a decade later that Wizards of the Coast, now the publisher, dared to reverse this - and even today the more sinister elements of the game are cordoned off in a separate hard cover book like the "Book of Vile Darkness" complete with an age advisory. Many role-playing game publishers routinely state in the foreword a that there is no such thing as magic and demons in real life.

Once the D&D boom had passed its peak in the mid-eighties, the uproar died down somewhat. It is hard to tell whether the drop-off in criticism was because the game's critics could never provide tangible evidence or whether the discussion about the damaging influence of certain media forms on youths shifted to other fields such as rock music or computer games.

-------------
The last major "D&D Death Case" dates from 1988. 20-year old Daniel Kasten had shot his adoptive parents in Suffolk County, NY. Ten weeks after the crime, he testified that role-playing games had driven him to commit the crime. Kasten's attorney explained to an astonished jury that a "Mind Flayer" was guilty of the offence. This evil D&D monster possessed telepathic powers in the game and could enslave men psychologically. Kasten believed, according to the defence, that the Mind Flayer had driven him to murder. As a result the young man was not responsible for his actions. For the jury, this was too much fantasy - they stuck the D&D player into a quite ordinary dungeon.


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Geoff King
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JBMallus wrote:
You know that the women in the Forbidden City are half snake, half human, right?


ahh , but which half is the human half?
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Mike Evertts
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ralpher wrote:
I'm amazed D&D could weather the ****storm that came after the anti-D&D witchhunt in the 80s. They really had no champions in the mainstream media. It was disinformation galore. Did any parents sue TSR?



If anything, it seems as if all the controversy from the 80's helped D&D. As odd as it is, even negative publicity can increase the popularity of things.



Funnily enough, we have a teacher at my school who still warns us of the dangers of games like "Magic the Gathering" and "Dungeons and Dragons." She found out that a student played Magic the Gathering and freaked out. She called his parents and demanded that he stopped playing a game that uses supernatural powers. He refused. In all fairness to the teacher though, I'm not too sure of her sanity when she has to literally "ask Jesus" if a student can use the bathroom or not.
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Rostok wrote:
...even today the more sinister elements of the game are cordoned off in a separate hard cover book like the "Book of Vile Darkness" complete with an age advisory.


Though there's plenty to look at in these articles and say "that's not quite right", this one kind of jumped out at me for some reason.

Much (most... almost all?) of the contents of the Book of Vile Darkness were never much represented in earlier editions of the game, at least not in the core rules.
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I was more peeved that Satanists became regarded as nerds.
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D&D is the devils work dont you know? It'll make you kill yourself!!!
D&D Chick Tract

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kennylibido wrote:
I was more peeved that Satanists became regarded as nerds.


I've never met a Satanist who wasn't.
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I read William Dear's book on the subject while I was in High School. It's kind of a fun mystery with all the secret tunnels and detectiving and such. Unfortunately, the 2nd half of the story never really goes anywhere as Dear forced to rather clumsily cover over how his big theory was mostly wrong.

Wikipedia says that he was also on a FOX show about alien autopsies in '95. Umm, quality.
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ralpher wrote:
I'm amazed D&D could weather the ****storm that came after the anti-D&D witchhunt in the 80s. They really had no champions in the mainstream media. It was disinformation galore. Did any parents sue TSR?


Most of those misinformation nutjobs are now the idiots whining about video games. You know the ones that never played the games but some how are "experts".

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It's a pity that TSR couldn't have sued some of them for libel.

One of my grandmothers, to the day she died, believed that she'd saved me from the "evils" of roleplaying by haranguing my father over the phone for hours one night into throwing out all my RPG stuff back when I was still in high school. What actually happened though is that, after he finally escaped off the phone from her, he told me that if she were to ever ask, I was to tell her that he'd thrown out all of my roleplaying books, games, etc. that very night... because if she ever found out that he hadn't, he would. I love my Dad.
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CJstratgamer wrote:
ralpher wrote:
I'm amazed D&D could weather the ****storm that came after the anti-D&D witchhunt in the 80s. They really had no champions in the mainstream media. It was disinformation galore. Did any parents sue TSR?


Most of those misinformation nutjobs are now the idiots whining about video games. You know the ones that never played the games but some how are "experts".

shake



You mean like the whiny jackass Jack Thompson?

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jack_Thompson_%28activist%29
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MisterG wrote:
When I first got contact lenses, I was stunned to realize that my opthamologist was none other than Egbert's dad. That was just plain weird.


Who did you think he was before you put in the contacts?
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Howling wrote:
...In all fairness to the teacher though, I'm not too sure of her sanity when she has to literally "ask Jesus" if a student can use the bathroom or not.


So many possibilities exist for commentary on that quote that all I can muster right now is a surprise.
 
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I went to high school during the early 80's in Virginia and remember all this too well. All the local christian schools had the game banned. My school, fortunately, wasn't associated with any religion so didn't have any problems with it. Some parents did though. But not enough to demand it not to be played.

I did work with someone about 20 years ago that had his D&D books burned by his parents in the backyard after searching his room while he was out. He later kept them at a friend's house. Strangely, they only burned D&D, but didn't touch any of the other various RPG books he had.
 
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Howling wrote:
ralpher wrote:
I'm amazed D&D could weather the ****storm that came after the anti-D&D witchhunt in the 80s. They really had no champions in the mainstream media. It was disinformation galore. Did any parents sue TSR?



If anything, it seems as if all the controversy from the 80's helped D&D. As odd as it is, even negative publicity can increase the popularity of things.



Funnily enough, we have a teacher at my school who still warns us of the dangers of games like "Magic the Gathering" and "Dungeons and Dragons." She found out that a student played Magic the Gathering and freaked out. She called his parents and demanded that he stopped playing a game that uses supernatural powers. He refused. In all fairness to the teacher though, I'm not too sure of her sanity when she has to literally "ask Jesus" if a student can use the bathroom or not.


Where do you go to school - the 17th Century?
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