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

Wolfram stout

Adventurer
Can you remember any specific shows with those panels, and which mainstream news programs might have hosted them other than the famous 60 Minutes episode?


Perhaps we're having a bit of a semantic issue here. There are (depending on how you count) around 15,000 - 18,000 state and local law enforcement agencies in the US. Whether fraudulent trainers on nonexistent "satanic crime waves" are mainstream kind of depends on how common they are, and perhaps whether their teachings were ever incorporated into larger national or regional training kinds or materials, no?

You can have a little cottage industry of these charlatans bilking money out of Bible belt departments run by misguided Evangelicals without it ever becoming a common thing for most departments or agencies.
While I thought the Phil Donohue show had an episode I can't find the specifics, but I did find an episode of Geraldo Rivera show from Oct 1988 that was on "Exposing Satan's Underground". I have not gone back and watched it so I don't know the details. I found the general listing on IMDB.com
 

log in or register to remove this ad

Mannahnin

Scion of Murgen (He/Him)
While I thought the Phil Donohue show had an episode I can't find the specifics, but I did find an episode of Geraldo Rivera show from Oct 1988 that was on "Exposing Satan's Underground". I have not gone back and watched it so I don't know the details. I found the general listing on IMDB.com
Right. Those are the "tabloid TV talk shows" I referenced. Geraldo, Phil Donohue, Sally Jesse Raphael, Morton Downey Jr., etc.

Certainly those were mainstream media, but they had a lot of frauds and hucksters on; at least as many as reputable experts.
 

Parmandur

Book-Friend
That certainly wasn't my experience. Among all the gamers at my school anyway, pretty much anyone who played had bought--at minimum--the Player's Handbook, the Monster Manual, and the Dungeon Master's Guide. The kids who were hardcore players typically also had the Fiend Folio and Deities and Demigods. I didn't see any greater or lesser book-purchasing habits among DMs than among players: in our school they seemed pretty equal.
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...
 

Can you remember any specific shows with those panels, and which mainstream news programs might have hosted them other than the famous 60 Minutes episode?

I found a surprisingly interesting Tik Tok channel that specializes in old videos from the Satanic Panic. Lots of good stuff here, mostly from VHS tapes: Satanic Panic at the Disco TikTok

Were the Avalon Hill ones (and those of that style) aimed at older? Did the public at large have any consciousness of them?

The two adult board games that immediately come to my mind first are Risk (a staple of late nights at college, arguably a "light" war game) and Trivial Pursuit. But there are others that are clearly just as much for adults as kids, including Scrabble, chess, backgammon, etc.
 

Cadence

Legend
Supporter
I found a surprisingly interesting Tik Tok channel that specializes in old videos from the Satanic Panic. Lots of good stuff here, mostly from VHS tapes: Satanic Panic at the Disco TikTok



The two adult board games that immediately come to my mind first are Risk (a staple of late nights at college, arguably a "light" war game) and Trivial Pursuit. But there are others that are clearly just as much for adults as kids, including Scrabble, chess, backgammon, etc.
I had Trivial pursuit coming out much later in my head!
 

Can you remember any specific shows with those panels, and which mainstream news programs might have hosted them other than the famous 60 Minutes episode?

Well, 60 minutes was as mainstream as it gets, but I remember it being aired on network news, it certainly made its way onto day time talk shows. It was not just the 60 minutes program. And you had TV movies like Mazes and Monsters, the book it was based on. You also had a ton of religious programing about it (which people can dismiss as fringe, but stuff like the 700 club and Jerry Falwell had considerable cultural pull in the 80s). I believe i even posted clips I found from old news shows here and elsewhere in previous threads (but I can't recall exact programs off the top of my head). And if you go beyond D&D, into music and ritual satanic abuse allegations, that was on pretty much everything, from the nightly news, to daily talkshows and more. But again, just pointing to my own experience of guidance counselors who expressed grave concern about D&D, and people I knew who were in therapy where that was the source of the household ban (not religion). I am not saying it was satanic panic all the way down in the mental health field at that time, but you had all kinds of people testifying in court cases, appearing on TV and showing up in peoples daily lives who seemed to believe there was a potential issue with the game.

Again, I am not claiming my memory is the sole arbiter here, but what I recall from living through it, is that it was quite mainstream for a number of years (and obviously some of that is going to be regional: there was a lot more Satanic panic when I was living in the west coast than I encountered living in the east coast---but the panic was also dying down by the time I moved back east so not sure how much of an impact that had). I think people also tend to forget how religious the country was in the early 80s. I also think people tend to forget how conservative the mental health field could be at that time too.
 

Mannahnin

Scion of Murgen (He/Him)
Oh, I know, but being a "board wargame" was not being a "board game" and I imagine you would get some angry stares walking into a board game event and asking them how they liked their board games. ;)
I'm honestly not sure! I had a few of these games, but in my early con-going days in the 80s, getting in on a game of Yaquinto's Adventurer, GW's Talisman, or GDW's Harpoon was kind of a consolation if I couldn't get into a D&D game. :ROFLMAO:

The Peterson books definitely talk about about how the board wargamers kind of saw themselves as grownups and of a more historical and scholarly bent than the fantasy gamers.
 

cough**QAnon**cough
So what you are telling me is hard to grasp. Are you insinuating that we are NOT being run by reptilian humanoids that were modeled on the 4 hit die creatures in the game?

You do know that most things from D&D were first talked about in the actual world/earth? These monsters come from somewhere.

When I pay my taxes I KNOW they are financing the breeding rodents for a reason. Food. Until you can show me a detailed list of government expenditures, you have not disproven the presence of the child abusing lizards.

Keep living in your dreamland! No wonder so many of you play Dungeons and Dragons! It’s practicing keeping your head in the fantasy land! Pretending our pizza parlors are safe and that our lizard overlords are beneficent!

Edited: bad grammar in a dire warning!
 
Last edited:

Mannahnin

Scion of Murgen (He/Him)
Well, 60 minutes was as mainstream as it gets, but I remember it being aired on network news, it certainly made its way onto day time talk shows. It was not just the 60 minutes program. And you had TV movies like Mazes and Monsters, the book it was based on. You also had a ton of religious programing about it (which people can dismiss as fringe, but stuff like the 700 club and Jerry Falwell had considerable cultural pull in the 80s). I believe i even posted clips I found from old news shows here and elsewhere in previous threads (but I can't recall exact programs off the top of my head). And if you go beyond D&D, into music and ritual satanic abuse allegations, that was on pretty much everything, from the nightly news, to daily talkshows and more. But again, just pointing to my own experience of guidance counselors who expressed grave concern about D&D, and people I knew who were in therapy where that was the source of the household ban (not religion). I am not saying it was satanic panic all the way down in the mental health field at that time, but you had all kinds of people testifying in court cases, appearing on TV and showing up in peoples daily lives who seemed to believe there was a potential issue with the game.

Again, I am not claiming my memory is the sole arbiter here, but what I recall from living through it, is that it was quite mainstream for a number of years (and obviously some of that is going to be regional: there was a lot more Satanic panic when I was living in the west coast than I encountered living in the east coast---but the panic was also dying down by the time I moved back east so not sure how much of an impact that had). I think people also tend to forget how religious the country was in the early 80s. I also think people tend to forget how conservative the mental health field could be at that time too.
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.

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.
 

Perhaps we're having a bit of a semantic issue here. There are (depending on how you count) around 15,000 - 18,000 state and local law enforcement agencies in the US. Whether fraudulent trainers on nonexistent "satanic crime waves" are mainstream kind of depends on how common they are, and perhaps whether their teachings were ever incorporated into larger national or regional training kinds or materials, no?

You can have a little cottage industry of these charlatans bilking money out of Bible belt departments run by misguided Evangelicals without it ever becoming a common thing for most departments or agencies.

I don't know what the numbers are, but I know it was big enough that you would see stuff on the nightly news where it was being taken seriously by reporters, law enforcement and people in high positions. Again it was much bigger than dungeons and dragons. D&D was just a small aspect of the satanic panic. It cut through music (with subliminal satanic messages, subliminal suicidal messages), it led to wrongful allegations of satanic ritual abuse of children, etc. Even as late as 1990 (granted from something that happened in the mid-80s), you had the Judas Priest trial (and there were plenty of people taking the whole subliminal messaging seriously during the 80s. And it wasn't just limited to evangelicals (certainly more prevalent in those communities, but the counselors I had in mind were in the north east, very far from any kind of evangelical culture).
 

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:

1657557314528.png


*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.

1657557956022.png


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.

1657558797184.png


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.
1657559016629.png

and

1657558409301.png


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

1657558337299.png
 

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

Explorer
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.
 

Dungeon Delver's Guide

An Advertisement

Advertisement4

Top