RPG Evolution - True Tales from Stranger Things: The Satanic Panic Comes to School

Stranger Things' latest season incorporates the Satanic Panic into its storyline, but in my experience it wasn't the jocks who became the biggest threat. It was a teacher.

Stranger Things' latest season incorporates the Satanic Panic into its storyline, but in my experience it wasn't the jocks who became the biggest threat. It was a teacher.

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The Satanic Panic Was Real​

Depending on where you lived and your family's social circle, the experience of Dungeons & Dragons players with the Satanic Panic could vary greatly. For the most part, my family rarely encountered any prejudices against the game. I've mentioned previously that my aunt was a big supporter of my hobby.

I was introduced to D&D as part of a learning program. It was considered a means of promoting reading and imaginative play and was promoted as such in elementary school. The Satanic Panic backlash came soon after while I was in high school.

The only incident I knew of where someone had a problem with us playing D&D was that my dad mentioned a coworker frantically telling him that I had to stop playing the game immediately as my soul was in danger. My dad told him off.

And that was about the extent of my experience with the Satanic Panic. Until I took an art class in high school.

Meet Mr. P.​

Mr. P. was an art teacher who was not particularly interested in art. Ironically, I met one of my lifelong fellow gamers in his class. It was a drawing class in which we would be asked to draw something and then, since there was no deadline as to when we were finished, sit around talking.

That meant a lot of time for discussions of topics Mr. P. was much more interested in. And once he found out that two of us played D&D, he then spent every class publicly debating me about it.

Mr. P. felt he was doing us a favor. He brought in material that criticized the game, then asked us to refute it. And me, being me, eagerly engaged him in a public debate. For the entire class.

This went on and off for weeks. We would barely do any drawing, then Mr. P. would bring out anti-D&D material, I would refute it, neither of us would budge on our position, and we'd do it all over again the next class. I remember at one point an audible sigh from my classmates, who were sick of the debate and certainly weren't learning anything about drawing.

The "Evidence"​

Mr. P's arguments were wide-ranging and poorly sourced. Here's some of the criticisms in the literature he shared and my response to the criticism:
  • The most powerful character is formed by rolling three sixes on a D6. I didn't even understand that "666" was supposed to be an evil number at the time. I explained there were lots of ways to generate a powerful character, and not just getting sixes.
  • There were demons featuring sexual content in the Arduin Grimoire. I'd never heard of the Arduin Grimoire until Mr. P's pamphlet mentioned it; some of the content in it was obviously for mature audiences. That wasn't in any way "official" D&D though, and I made it clear we didn't play in that setting.
  • The Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Dungeon Master's Guide featured "real" magic circles. This was true (see picture, AD&D DMG, page 42), to the extent that they were based on what you could find in text books (I have no idea if the symbols on the magic circle are accurate). For parents concerned about exposing their kids to "occult" topics, I had to admit that it was in the book. It didn't have any bearing on the game though, as never drew these circles or used these symbols.
There was a lot more of course, but this was the kind of thing I spent my art class discussing with a teacher. To get a sense of the arguments leveled against D&D players, see Mike Stackpole's Pulling Report.

Your Tax Dollars at Work​

As a kid, I was excited about the opportunity to debate an adult publicly. My parents didn't fully understand what was happening and I didn't consider it a big enough deal to tell them. Although it was a badge of pride to take on the Satanic Panic so publicly, I also didn't really comprehend what was happening.

As an adult and a parent, I see this exchange very differently. A student and teacher are most certainly not equals, and the literature Mr. P brought in was religious in nature. There are a lot of things wrong with these exchanges, not the least of which being this teacher was bullying a student during school hours on school property and not actually doing his job.

As much as Stranger Things would like to make its villains fellow students, our critics were frequently more powerful, better connected, and protected by entrenched institutions. And they were almost always adults.

Mr. P. was a terrible art teacher, but he taught me an important lesson about how art can be perceived; be it a drawing of a demon, three numbers grouped together, or magic circles. I passed the class (he gave me a B, I think), but I learned a lot from him about what the outside world thought of my hobby.

Your Turn: How did you deal with the Satanic Panic when confronted with it?
 

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Michael Tresca

Michael Tresca


Lieslo

Explorer
I think this was more a US thing than a UK thing although there was one guy in my group whose family joined an evangelical church and he suddenly stopped coming to Friday night D&D. He may have had other reasons though.
 

Rune

Once A Fool
The kinds of things I heard leveled against the game during high school (in the mid-90s rural Tennessee), weren’t really refutable: D&D may not have taught witchcraft, but it insidiously encouraged it. Or, even more nebulously, playing (and reading) it gave power to demons, whether the players knew it, or not.

Invariably, these kinds of assertions did come from adults. My peers didn’t particularly care about what would happen to my immortal soul.
 

Interestingly despite growing up in Lexington, Kentucky, in the 1980s, I never experienced any of this. We played D&D openly at the lunch tables in elementary school, brought our books to class, etc. In junior high there wasn't a lunch-table game, but D&D was still openly discussed.

Certainly playing D&D made you a huge nerd, which was much more of a cultural stigma in the 1980s than it is today. But it didn't make you a Satanist.
 

Ath-kethin

Elder Thing
I came into D&D after the Satanic Panic, but I do remember having a friend's mother not allowing him to borrow/read my omnibus of the Dragonlance Chronicles on grounds that it was Dungeons & Dragons. I was confused at the time, since the book said nothing about D&D and I didn't see the connection at all, but in hindsight this was my (fortunately only) interaction with the actual Satanic Panic.

I did have a discussion a few years later with one of my mother's friends, who felt that the escapism of a TTRPG (I was actually playing at that point and not just reading what I saw as amazing books) was sacrilegious. When I pointed out that her fandom of other types of fiction was just as full of "lies" she became pretty flustered and my mother eventually called me off.

It helped that the local parish priest in that area actively encouraged us playing D&D since he easily recognized both the educational and developmental benefits of the activity and the counterproductiveness of trying to stop us doing it.

I really feel for those of you who had to deal with the Panic mess firsthand.
 


Maxperson

Morkus from Orkus
I never encountered the Satanic Panic in a significant way. The closest I came was my Christian father refusing to let my friend teach me how to play the game, because it was evil. A year later in 1983 I moved to California to live with my mother and she bought me all the books and I've never looked back.
 

J.Quondam

CR 1/8
I recounted my main brief "Satanic Panic" experience in a thread earlier this year. It happened when I was in 6th grade (~11 years old) and very new to D&D. A kid in my class was handing out pamphlets labeled "Dungeons and Dragons":

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I was terribly excited a find a fellow "gamer," of course, but he proved to be pretty uncomfortable with that... and we never spoke to each other again! Later that day I read the pamphlet and only then realized it was a religious anti-D&D screed. I don't have it anymore, but found someone online who posted images of it here:


It's an interesting artifact from the time.
 

GuyBoy

Hero
UK
Satanic Panic wasn’t a thing over here though one of the players from our school group did become a strong Christian and gave up the game; this was after we’d all gone to various universities and only met up occasionally in the hometown to game.

I was probably a bit more impacted by the conservative reaction to punk music though I’d be exaggerating to even say that was greatly significant.
 

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