D&D General [Nonfiction] [Review] Dangerous Games by Joseph P. Laycock AKA The Satanic Panic or Arguing with Morons


"Never argue with an idiot. You'll never convince the idiot that you're correct, and bystanders won't be able to tell who's who." - Mark Twain

This is a deeply frustrating book for me because I wanted to like it but the problem is that it keeps running into the truism of the aforementioned quote undermines it at very turn. There's an apocryphal story passed around in my Kentucky game group from my DM to me that came from a convention he attended. Basically, it was the heady days of 2nd Edition and the developers at TSR were determined to remove anything controversial from their material: no demons, no devils, no brothels, no nudity in the books, and everything kept to a gloriously family-friendly PG. Then one of them, the story goes Ed Greenwood, commented, "Do you believe any of these bored housewives and fire and brimstone preachers actually read the books before condemning them?"

This book attempts to tell the story of the Satanic Panic and why so many evangelical Americans were terrified that Dungeons and Dragons endangered young souls. Well, the reason for that is that the people who are going after it are morons. They are looking for a target and make up whatever extreme claims that they need to in order to make it sound plausible. This is a problem for the book because their arguments are nonsense so the book spends an extensive amount of time deconstructing idiocy.

One of the most lucid points in the book that could have been an actual interesting chapter was the discussion of the creation of a Christian RPG named DragonRaid designed to indoctrinate youngsters in evangelism. DragonRaid was eviscerated by evangelists because, well, of course it was. It was an RPG and RPGs are evil. Why? Because RPGs are evil, so sayeth the Lord. Didn't you read that passage of the Bible? Nonsensium 12:28. If your argument is against someone who doesn't care about facts or logic, especially in matters of faith, then there's no point to arguing with them in the first place.

Speaking as someone sincerely religious who grew up in the Bible Belt, the scapegoating and silliness of this never gets less so. We address the infamous James Dallas Egbert III case and it is perfect for what could have been a harsher takedown of the hysteria here. Egbert was a suicidal teen with mental health issues and struggling with his homosexuality as well as his fundamentalistr parents. An insane private detective and self-styled cult deprogrammer made up the insanity about him being trapped in the steam tunnels as well as driven mad by the evil game.

The best part of the book is definitely when they get away from engaging with the arguments and their nonsense then simply pointing out how utterly stupid they are. The fame-hungry sensationalism behind the Egbert case, poor Mrs. Pullman's utterly delusional attempt to make sense of her son's suicide by creating BADD (Bothered by Dungeons and Dragons), and evangelical groups trying to raise a stink for what seems like profit-based motives. The fact there was a man who ran on a campaign of getting D&D banned from schools is sadly too bizarre to be false. We also have the fact the hatred of D&D only died down because these same concerned citizens moved onto video games.

The book tries to get into the psychological power of roleplaying, Jungian psychology, the definition of religion, and more but trying to deconstruct arguments against RPGs is an exercise in futility because there's no argument. It's kind of an interesting book to read in our "Post Facts" world of 4chan conspiracy theories and Alternative Facts. The constant attempt to disprove what is bold faced lies and ranting stupidity to begin with. When discussing Deities and Demigods, the book comments on how much of the anger was over teaching about historical gods and real life history. As if the very act of education was offensive. The book's neutral tone becomes angering to anyone with a love of learning, mythology, or actual reasoned debate. Given I am an academic by trade as well as an author, its hard to maintain objectivity.

So it is a very frustrating 368 pages of dealing with the complicated and bizarre world of Eighties moral panic. Unfortunately, at twenty dollars, I just don't think this book is worth it. Maybe if the author puts it on Kindle Unlimited.
 
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Alzrius

The EN World kitten
I've also read this, and I'm very much in disagreement with your take on it.

The frustration in your review seems, if I'm reading you correctly, to come from the fact that you perceive it to be engaged in a futile task of rationally explaining something (i.e. the Satanic Panic) to irrational people. But that's not what this book is; while it does deconstruct where the hysteria (both religious and otherwise) came from, it doesn't do so for those irrational people. This book was never going to be something you could hand to the "Bothered About Dungeons & Dragons"-type people and watch them return to sanity as they read it. As you noted, nothing could do that, and I don't see this book as trying.

The explanations here are for us, the people who aren't rushing to judge, so that we can better understand what exactly was going through the mind of the crazed reactionaries who saw so much that was never there. It's an explanation, not an argument, which spotlights what motivated the fear-filled and closed-minded groups who demonized RPGs as being about demons. There's value in deconstructing idiocy, as you put it, because unlike them we want to actually learn about what we don't understand, instead of either making things up or simply saying that they're not worth knowing.

In that regard, I found this book to be very illuminating, because it puts into stark terms things that most RPG players can intuit but struggle to articulate. Issues of why shared fantasy worlds (emphasis on "shared") are so powerful, the importance of unreal things in understanding both the world and ourselves, and why some people find that threatening and/or get lost in those imaginary worlds. Games of the imagination, as the book notes, can be serious business.

The Twain quote, in other words, doesn't apply here. This book is about peering into the minds of the idiots, rather than arguing with them.
 

jasper

Rotten DM
.....

.... We address the infamous James Dallas Egbert III case and it is perfect for what could have been a harsher takedown of the hysteria here. Egbert was a suicidal teen with mental health issues and struggling with his homosexuality as well as his fundamentalistr parents. An insane private detective and self-styled cult deprogrammer made up the insanity about him being trapped in the steam tunnels as well as driven mad by the evil game.
.......
Have you read Amazon.com: The Dungeon Master: The Disappearance of James Dallas Egbert III eBook : Dear, William C.: Kindle Store
Because I have and i was alive during this time. So I did not get that vibe about the detective. Grandstanding yes. Self Serving yes. But insane no.
 

Wolfram stout

Adventurer
I may have to grab and read this one. I was the son of a pastor in the US South of what would be called an evangelical church (although we didn't use that term back then). What is interesting to me as in the early 70s this church was very strict but had no problem with Halloween. We had massive parties, where even the adults dressed up. By the end of the 70s (about 2 years after we left this church) they were the very typical evangelical church fully invested in the Satanic Panic. No Halloween, No D&D, and due to some really horrible books called "Trouble in the Toybox" (I think this came out in the 80s). every toy and cartoon was Evil.

And something I don't see mentioned too often now, is that the Satanic Panic had different modes. There was the Occult Warnings (beware the witches and wizards) but there was also attacks against "The New Age". The New Age stuff was the psionics of the Satanic Panic (crystals, astrology, meditation). It got a lot of play because it was generally more visible than occultist stuff back then.

But I did know a few very conservative church youth groups that actually embraced DragonRaid. I think those groups had Youth Ministers that were closet D&D players trying to survive.
 

Have you read Amazon.com: The Dungeon Master: The Disappearance of James Dallas Egbert III eBook : Dear, William C.: Kindle Store
Because I have and i was alive during this time. So I did not get that vibe about the detective. Grandstanding yes. Self Serving yes. But insane no.

Mad is perhaps a poor word. Actively incompetent or attempting to deceive the nation for financial gain is another given the family of Egbert themselves were furious over The Dungeon Master book he wrote and its sensationalization of their son's death. He also was constantly lying to people as his book contained a made up story of a daring helicopter rescue of a young girl from a cult compound as well as stealing Egbert's corkboard and claiming the unrelated tacks on it were a secret map of the steam tunnels.

Thanks for the correction.

Plus he eventually did post a retraction of virtually everything, it just never received any media attention.
 

I've also read this, and I'm very much in disagreement with your take on it.

The frustration in your review seems, if I'm reading you correctly, to come from the fact that you perceive it to be engaged in a futile task of rationally explaining something (i.e. the Satanic Panic) to irrational people. But that's not what this book is; while it does deconstruct where the hysteria (both religious and otherwise) came from, it doesn't do so for those irrational people. This book was never going to be something you could hand to the "Bothered About Dungeons & Dragons"-type people and watch them return to sanity as they read it. As you noted, nothing could do that, and I don't see this book as trying.

The explanations here are for us, the people who aren't rushing to judge, so that we can better understand what exactly was going through the mind of the crazed reactionaries who saw so much that was never there. It's an explanation, not an argument, which spotlights what motivated the fear-filled and closed-minded groups who demonized RPGs as being about demons. There's value in deconstructing idiocy, as you put it, because unlike them we want to actually learn about what we don't understand, instead of either making things up or simply saying that they're not worth knowing.

In that regard, I found this book to be very illuminating, because it puts into stark terms things that most RPG players can intuit but struggle to articulate. Issues of why shared fantasy worlds (emphasis on "shared") are so powerful, the importance of unreal things in understanding both the world and ourselves, and why some people find that threatening and/or get lost in those imaginary worlds. Games of the imagination, as the book notes, can be serious business.

The Twain quote, in other words, doesn't apply here. This book is about peering into the minds of the idiots, rather than arguing with them.

I may be giving the book an unfair shake, I admit. For me, I feel like it just sort of jumps past what were more interesting events. The best parts of the book are discussing the events around the Satanic Panic and the absolute bizarrity at work. Basically when the book stops to deconstruct the nonsense and motivations rather than attempting to engage in defining religion.

But YMMV.
 


beancounter

(I/Me/Mine)
I was alive during the Satanic panic, but it never impacted me personally. None of my friends ever told me that their parents wouldn't let them play, nor did I ever hear any adults around me claim that the game would turn me into a devil worshiping homicidal maniac. I do remember seeing Tipper Gore parroting the Satanic Panic nonsense on TV, but that's about it.

It seems to me that either I was lucky to live in an "enlightened" town, or that the worst of the panic was isolated to places like the Bible belt.
 

I was alive during the Satanic panic, but it never impacted me personally. None of my friends ever told me that their parents wouldn't let them play, nor did I ever hear any adults around me claim that the game would turn me into a devil worshiping homicidal maniac. I do remember seeing Tipper Gore parroting the Satanic Panic nonsense on TV, but that's about it.

It seems to me that either I was lucky to live in an "enlightened" town, or that the worst of the panic was isolated to places like the Bible belt.

Not just the Bible Belt. Al Gore's wife took it national as part of her activism and there were also police groups across the country taking it more seriously than everyone else.

I'm old enough to have been caught in the tail end of it but it was already Vampire: The Masquerade picking up where D&D had panicked and excised a lot of their "adult" content. It wasn't limited to the Bible Belt too because there were some genuinely insidious and insane attempts to make roleplaying games illegal.

BADD wasn't just a harmless bunch of cranks but created tens of thousands of packets for police officers around the country describing how the game led to suicide, depression, and violence before distributing them.

The first of B.A.D.D.’s attempts to control the police was Law Enforcement Primer on Fantasy Role-Playing Games. This was available free to anyone writing on a police department letterhead, but is terribly secret from the rest of society. I had considerable difficulty getting this document because my local police chief feigned cooperation, then notified B.A.D.D. what I was trying to do. He seemed really proud of that deception. I finally located a copy through CAR-PGa, which has police among its members and shortly thereafter from several gaming sources. It is no longer very secret as most serious game researchers already have a copy. However, it is still a secret from most of the general public, who have no idea their police are involved in organized attacks on innocent citizens.

I honestly should raise the score to four because everyone should know how naughty word up that. it. These people running an actual smear campaign to people with authority to kill or imprison you.
 

I'm never quite sure what to make of "the Satanic Panic." On the one hand, I suppose TSR's self-censorship affected me, though I can't recall ever uttering the words Baatezu or Tanar'ri aloud. On the other hand, that would have been about the only effect on me. I grew up in an evangelical Bible church (what you'd call "fundamentalist"), and in fact a friend I made in church introduced me to the game in 1980 and would remain my best friend until his untimely passing in 2020. My church might have been a little suspicious of rock music (never mind metal), but D&D never came up.

I'm grateful to Mike Stackpole and others who advocated on behalf of the hobby and helped ensure it didn't become more of a thing. But I suspect one of the features of moral panics is that the panic afflicts all sides. The stakes are raised until social disapproval from any quarter, no matter how niche, becomes an existential threat. You see the same kind of dynamic in what some consider the current moral panic, wherein certain people are searching every nook and cranny for evidence of racism and colonialism (rather than satanism and witchcraft). Yes, it changes the kind of material that gets published, but otherwise, it's not likely to affect anyone who doesn't want to be affected by it. The best response is probably to allow people their moral causes and concerns and not get too bent out of shape about it.

ETA: Not sure why I posted something that's likely to piss off everyone, but there you go.
 

beancounter

(I/Me/Mine)
It seems someone is profiting from the absurdity that was the Satanic Panic...:)
toby-2_4b881f1c-3a65-4046-9033-a17e572fdfdd_600x.png
 

I'm grateful to Mike Stackpole and others who advocated on behalf of the hobby and helped ensure it didn't become more of a thing. But I suspect one of the features of moral panics is that the panic afflicts all sides. The stakes are raised until social disapproval from any quarter, no matter how niche, becomes an existential threat. You see the same kind of dynamic in what some consider the current moral panic, wherein certain people are searching every nook and cranny for evidence of racism and colonialism (rather than satanism and witchcraft). Yes, it changes the kind of material that gets published, but otherwise, it's not likely to affect anyone who doesn't want to be affected by it. The best response is probably to allow people their moral causes and concerns and not get too bent out of shape about it.

ETA: Not sure why I posted something that's likely to piss off everyone, but there you go.

Hilarious fact:

Today, my book SPACE ACADEMY DROPOUTS, received a 1 star review from Amazon.com that blasted me for being obsessed with "Nazi, Nazi, Nazi!" "marginalized political groups" and "political propaganda." He said that I ruined my books with my attempts to be woke and anti-fascist.

Here's the funny thing: there's no Nazis in the book.

There are some Neo-Con pirates in one chapter but that was an extended Firefly joke.
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
Folks, we recognize history for what it is, but there's a lot of loaded language being used in this thread. "Moron." "Insane." Disrespect for people's religious texts... it isn't a good look, you know.

I'll remind everyone that we have an inclusivity policy, and trying to equate the panic of the 80s to a desire for inclusion now is apt to play very poorly with respect to that policy.

Keep your heads about you as you engage in this thread, or it will simply be closed.
 

My only real brush with the Satanic Panic came when a visiting priest (I went to a Roman Catholic grade school) warned us against the dangers of Dungeons and Hounds. HAH. You've got to love it when people don't even know what they're railing against. This fellow, "Father " Connie later went to jail for raping children. Guess no one told him that was against the rules?

Of course there were the "cosmetic" changes to the game because of Pat Pulling and her ilk.
 

Wolfram stout

Adventurer
I have to admit I'm a bit curious what an adventure in DragonRaid is like.
So, I never played but I had a roommate in college that had it, and I read over it several times. The adventures will sound a bit D&Dish. The players live in a protected holy land that they use as a base to make raids into the Dragon lands and rescue people (Dragon Slaves). There is combat and even a type of "magic". The magic is the players reciting verses from the Christian Bible by memory. If they do it without mistake (including citing the chapter and verse) then a (non-violent that I remember) effect takes place. Effects would be light, healing, protection, etc. You might hear of a slave caravan travelling and decide to attack it for example.

Funny, this game is still around, and even now has a follow up game. It looks like it might move away from the Fantasy RPG style, I can't really tell. You can google it (as it is a dedicated religious site I don't want to link).

You can also find a really good review of it on Boardgamegeek.com.
 

J.Quondam

CR 1/8
You see the same kind of dynamic in what some consider the current moral panic, wherein certain people are searching every nook and cranny for evidence of racism and colonialism (rather than satanism and witchcraft).
But this is a false equivalence.

edit: I didn't fully read the mod post above. Apologies.
Keeping the bit above only because it's been replied to already.
 
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My review kind of skips over the entire Nineties White Wolf period too where there was some serious humor to the counter-culture Goths embracing Mark Rein Hagen's game.

"Oh yes, I tried to incorporate as much real magic as possible. Also, demonology, the occult, and controversial religious practices."

Which...props to MRH.
 

billd91

Not your screen monkey (he/him)
Not just the Bible Belt. Al Gore's wife took it national as part of her activism and there were also police groups across the country taking it more seriously than everyone else.
Yes, definitely broader than the Bible Belt and before Tipper Gore and the PMRC as well. I lost a player to it in about 83 and I lived in Wisconsin within a couple of hours of TSR and Gen Con.
 

Yes, definitely broader than the Bible Belt and before Tipper Gore and the PMRC as well. I lost a player to it in about 83 and I lived in Wisconsin within a couple of hours of TSR and Gen Con.

I remember when a fundamentalist friend of mine told me he burned his Changeling: The Dreaming books during the 90s and felt free of it.

I was like, "You've burned books, my friends. This is not something godly."
 

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