D&D in the 80s, Fads, and the Satanic Panic

Cadence

Legend
Supporter
Went looking for panic articles and got sidetracked. Apologies for the tangent, but...1975 seems to have been a big year as far as early media presence for board/wargaming/D&D.

The oldest newspaper I found mentioning Dungeons and Dragons was about Origins I. Appearing in a variety of papers starting on 28 July 1975 under various titles* and edits, this particular copy is from The Commercial Appeal newspaper in Memphis TN on 28 July 1975:

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*Arizona Daily Star (Tuscon): "To Play, You 'Must Be Crazy" super-titled "'War-Gamers' Gather"
Daily Press (Newport News): "Lovers of War Games Let Nothing Bar Play"
Globe-Gazette (Mason City, Iowa): "Board battles create furor"
Arizona Republic (Phoenix): "Games played on boards attract fanatical breed of strategy minded people"
Dayton Daily News (Dayton, OH): "Strategy Game Players Relive Wars, Disasters"

In Baltimore itself there was an Editorial on 2 Aug 1975 in the Evening Sun that was a bit amusing.

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For those wanting more, the Baltimore Sun had one with a lot more quotes on D&D on 10 Aug 1975 with lots of pictures and quotes about gaming in general.

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For more on the state of the war game hobby at the time, the Washington Post had an article about it that was picked up elsewhere (like the Anderson Herald in Indiana), also on 10 Aug 1975 and well into September elsewhere.
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and

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The St. Louis Post-Dispatch has a big one on Gen Con VIII on 31 Aug 1975 (including some random quotes from a games):

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Warpiglet-7

Cry havoc! And let slip the pigs of war!
I had a period of secret D&D playing. A very persuasive and opinionated friend of a parent convinced them that the game was blasphemous.

Meanwhile, I was going to church and never heard it mentioned. Not did my parents that I know of.

Oddly, the folks were buying me all the LJN toys for Christmas! Loved Northlord the barbarian!

Fast forward a few years and I bucked up and told them we had been playing all along.

OK. You don’t erupt into flames when we go to church. You are nice to family pets and children . You Gygax inspired vocabulary is ahead of the curve….well “I guess it’s ok.”

And now that I play the game with their beloved grandchildren is only met with questions about whether the youngsters had fun, if the monsters got them etc.

But it was real for some of us. It petered out totally by 86 or 87 for me. And my geek flag flew freely through high school, college, grad school, professional/learner life and on…

But it was anxiety producing and I felt like I had to lie for a couple of years.

The real scandal is that my parents let me get an AC/DC record at age 7…

Hellfire! Scandal!
 

I agree with you that the panic was fairly mainstream in the culture. Again, I met people even here in New England who bought into it.

My recollection from a few decades of hobby study, including a bit of formal undergraduate study in the 90s, was that there was never any peer-reviewed or substantive scientific, psychological, or medical evidence to support there being anything harmful or dangerous about roleplaying.

To be clear I wasn't arguing that there was research supporting the claims about D&D, just that the claims were taken seriously by a lot of mainstream institutions. I am talking more practical level therapists and psychologists (which I definitely remember encountering), people who went on Donahue and the nightly news to give expert opinion on the matter (which at the time, could often be very out of step with what we know today). I think this was all stuff that was just coming up in the culture and part of the why it was probably hard for parents to navigate (and why I am sympathetic to a lot the choices my parents made during the satanic panic) is because there wasn't much good information to go on. I think it was just something new, people perceived potential danger, and in the cultural climate it led to a real moral panic (it is easy to forget this isn't that distant from stuff like Son of Sam, the Manson Killings, a widespread change in drug culture, massive historical change, the rise of a political Christianity in the 70s that was still quite strong in the 80s, etc).
 

And in fact the opposite, as later studies demonstrated, such as the ones on the suicide rates of teenagers in general vs. D&D playing teenagers, which showed that RPG gamers have a fraction of the rate. Which in retrospect seems totally logical- having a group of friends you socially interact with regularly for a fun activity is exactly the antonym of a risk factor.

I can't remember the names of any real experts who did such testifying. Radecki and Pulling were all over the place, but were literal frauds.

TSR hired Dr. Joyce Brothers to do some spokesperson work after the Egbert incident to try to counter the myths, but sadly the stories of prevaricators and perjurers like Pulling, Radecki and Dear got repeated a lot.

I totally agree that the impact of these things isn't what they thought it was during the panic. I can definitely see how it would help with mental health issues for example. I also think the same about violence in RPGs (I think it is more of a cathartic violence that is probably beneficial rather than harmful: violence in the games was a big talking point during the panic).
 


Reynard

Legend

Jer

Legend
Supporter
From a 2017 BBC magazine article ( The great 1980s Dungeons & Dragons panic ) on the Satanic Panic and it going well past the 90s:

View attachment 253282
Google shows that the BBC and CBC both have some more recent documentary podcasts on it I'll have to check out at some point.
I don't think that's Satanic Panic - that's more about how the US prison system operates.

(I've rewritten this post 16 times in an effort to avoid the rules on politics for the board - the US prison system makes me incredibly angry)
 

Mannahnin

Scion of Murgen (He/Him)
To be clear I wasn't arguing that there was research supporting the claims about D&D, just that the claims were taken seriously by a lot of mainstream institutions. I am talking more practical level therapists and psychologists (which I definitely remember encountering), people who went on Donahue and the nightly news to give expert opinion on the matter (which at the time, could often be very out of step with what we know today). I think this was all stuff that was just coming up in the culture and part of the why it was probably hard for parents to navigate (and why I am sympathetic to a lot the choices my parents made during the satanic panic) is because there wasn't much good information to go on. I think it was just something new, people perceived potential danger, and in the cultural climate it led to a real moral panic (it is easy to forget this isn't that distant from stuff like Son of Sam, the Manson Killings, a widespread change in drug culture, massive historical change, the rise of a political Christianity in the 70s that was still quite strong in the 80s, etc).
Sure. We're mostly on the same page on most of that.

But I think we may be running into an irresolvable difference between our recollections, at this point, re: how many mainstream experts actually weighed in. My recollection is that it was mostly just Radecki and Pulling and various news outlets uncritically promulgating the myths, in the usual "Is this a threat to YOUR children?" sensationalist form of coverage, that we used to mock in all the tabloid shows, but has become the staple of clickbait articles and tv news promos today.

I don't think that's Satanic Panic - that's more about how the US prison system operates.

(I've rewritten this post 16 times in an effort to avoid the rules on politics for the board - the US prison system makes me incredibly angry)
Indeed. Although I suspect that the cruel policy here is probably still being informed by the myths about D&D going back to William Dear, and through him to Pulling and Radecki and so forth.
 

Audiomancer

Adventurer
Yeah, one experience or the other doesn't tell us too much: however, thst there was such a close correlation of PHB and DMG purchases suggests that the DM as book buyer model was more common, along with modern WotC customer data and 5E DM-centric prodict design. after the failure of the 3E attempt to sell to everyone at the table...
Interesting. In my circle, pretty much everyone had the PHB and the DMG (and very often one of the Monster books).

Part of that was due to the fact that we periodically rotated DM duties… but I think the bigger factor was a desire to have all the rules. No secret, DM-only knowledge for us!

That said, this is obviously anecdotal information about my particular circle, only. If your group played differently, then you had a different experience. And I have no evidence to suggest that my group was more typical than yours.
 

Parmandur

Book-Friend
Interesting. In my circle, pretty much everyone had the PHB and the DMG (and very often one of the Monster books).

Part of that was due to the fact that we periodically rotated DM duties… but I think the bigger factor was a desire to have all the rules. No secret, DM-only knowledge for us!

That said, this is obviously anecdotal information about my particular circle, only. If your group played differently, then you had a different experience. And I have no evidence to suggest that my group was more typical than yours.
I was born on 1985, and my first experience with AD&D, such as it ia, was in 2008-2009, ao I have no anecdotes from then. For 5E, my experience is one or two people DM and also buy books, everyone else borrows. The numbers here suggest that this is historically normal.
 

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