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.

ADnDSpells.jpg

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

Noddy Beholder

Explorer
What happened? Was this a "sir, have you no decency?!" moment?

I'll let you be the judge of that :cool:


Here's the story of what happened.

Our local free paper had a column written by our Moral Guardian, henceforth known as MG. MG had set herself up as a crusading journalist determined to expose all the satanic cults abducting children for dreadful rituals. Somehow the paper bought into this, but even worse the local police did too. She was touted as a special advisor to the police on cults, with access to cases and allowed to interview witnesses and (unbelievably) victims on occasion.

Given her views, we should have figured we'd end up in her crosshairs, but it was still a shock to see the headlines claiming we sold games that encouraged demon worship. That day was filled with regulars coming in saying “Have you seen this?”. The other two RPG shops in our area had similar reactions.


That seemed to be it, but then we got a call from the paper asking for comments. The owner wisely passed this task onto me. I unwisely accepted.
I dodged the most loaded questions and gave honest and accurate answers to the others. I also included an open invite to MG to attend our Friday night game (that bit didn't get into the article, they must have needed the space for advertising...).

I only really fell at the last hurdle “So you don't think there is any harm in these games Mr... (angling for my surname here). Now I have a very distinctive surname and I didn't want some local barmpot seeing it and turning up on my doorstep armed with a cricket bat, having decided to do a bit of local demon hunting. I therefore said “Oh just call me Aleae . A stunning own goal if I say it meself. The next day, we had regulars coming in waving that day's paper. Part of the interview read “An assistant at the shop, who wished only to be known as Aleae said...”

Oh crikey. I was referred to as “The assistant known as Aleae” for years afterward :p


And MG? Vengance is a dish best served cold indeed.
About a year after the above palaver, she shot herself in the foot with a storm bolter set on full auto.
She was asked by the police to to “advise” on an open and shut case again three blokes in an abuse case. They give MG access to the victims and suddenly they're remembering rituals in the woods, sacrifices and how one of the accused showed them his satanic tattoos that covered his torso.

The guy didn't have a single tattoo on him.

The case collapsed, the police got a colossal telling off and the local paper cancelled her column while frantically distancing themselves from her.
She's still about, now she rattles on about how the royal family are lizard people. Most locals just point and laugh, which is what she deserves.

A few weeks later, the paper rang up asking if we wanted to buy advertising. I told them what to go do with themselves.
 

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GuyBoy

Hero
I'll let you be the judge of that :cool:


Here's the story of what happened.

Our local free paper had a column written by our Moral Guardian, henceforth known as MG. MG had set herself up as a crusading journalist determined to expose all the satanic cults abducting children for dreadful rituals. Somehow the paper bought into this, but even worse the local police did too. She was touted as a special advisor to the police on cults, with access to cases and allowed to interview witnesses and (unbelievably) victims on occasion.

Given her views, we should have figured we'd end up in her crosshairs, but it was still a shock to see the headlines claiming we sold games that encouraged demon worship. That day was filled with regulars coming in saying “Have you seen this?”. The other two RPG shops in our area had similar reactions.


That seemed to be it, but then we got a call from the paper asking for comments. The owner wisely passed this task onto me. I unwisely accepted.
I dodged the most loaded questions and gave honest and accurate answers to the others. I also included an open invite to MG to attend our Friday night game (that bit didn't get into the article, they must have needed the space for advertising...).

I only really fell at the last hurdle “So you don't think there is any harm in these games Mr... (angling for my surname here). Now I have a very distinctive surname and I didn't want some local barmpot seeing it and turning up on my doorstep armed with a cricket bat, having decided to do a bit of local demon hunting. I therefore said “Oh just call me Aleae . A stunning own goal if I say it meself. The next day, we had regulars coming in waving that day's paper. Part of the interview read “An assistant at the shop, who wished only to be known as Aleae said...”

Oh crikey. I was referred to as “The assistant known as Aleae” for years afterward :p


And MG? Vengance is a dish best served cold indeed.
About a year after the above palaver, she shot herself in the foot with a storm bolter set on full auto.
She was asked by the police to to “advise” on an open and shut case again three blokes in an abuse case. They give MG access to the victims and suddenly they're remembering rituals in the woods, sacrifices and how one of the accused showed them his satanic tattoos that covered his torso.

The guy didn't have a single tattoo on him.

The case collapsed, the police got a colossal telling off and the local paper cancelled her column while frantically distancing themselves from her.
She's still about, now she rattles on about how the royal family are lizard people. Most locals just point and laugh, which is what she deserves.

A few weeks later, the paper rang up asking if we wanted to buy advertising. I told them what to go do with themselves.
MG sounds like a pretty foul person with nasty, conspiracy-style views; if you were in the US, I’d wonder whether your MG was missing a T?
 

Von Ether

Legend
I'll let you be the judge of that :cool:


Here's the story of what happened.

Our local free paper had a column written by our Moral Guardian, henceforth known as MG. MG had set herself up as a crusading journalist determined to expose all the satanic cults abducting children for dreadful rituals. Somehow the paper bought into this, but even worse the local police did too. She was touted as a special advisor to the police on cults, with access to cases and allowed to interview witnesses and (unbelievably) victims on occasion.

Given her views, we should have figured we'd end up in her crosshairs, but it was still a shock to see the headlines claiming we sold games that encouraged demon worship. That day was filled with regulars coming in saying “Have you seen this?”. The other two RPG shops in our area had similar reactions.


That seemed to be it, but then we got a call from the paper asking for comments. The owner wisely passed this task onto me. I unwisely accepted.
I dodged the most loaded questions and gave honest and accurate answers to the others. I also included an open invite to MG to attend our Friday night game (that bit didn't get into the article, they must have needed the space for advertising...).

I only really fell at the last hurdle “So you don't think there is any harm in these games Mr... (angling for my surname here). Now I have a very distinctive surname and I didn't want some local barmpot seeing it and turning up on my doorstep armed with a cricket bat, having decided to do a bit of local demon hunting. I therefore said “Oh just call me Aleae . A stunning own goal if I say it meself. The next day, we had regulars coming in waving that day's paper. Part of the interview read “An assistant at the shop, who wished only to be known as Aleae said...”

Oh crikey. I was referred to as “The assistant known as Aleae” for years afterward :p


And MG? Vengance is a dish best served cold indeed.
About a year after the above palaver, she shot herself in the foot with a storm bolter set on full auto.
She was asked by the police to to “advise” on an open and shut case again three blokes in an abuse case. They give MG access to the victims and suddenly they're remembering rituals in the woods, sacrifices and how one of the accused showed them his satanic tattoos that covered his torso.

The guy didn't have a single tattoo on him.

The case collapsed, the police got a colossal telling off and the local paper cancelled her column while frantically distancing themselves from her.
She's still about, now she rattles on about how the royal family are lizard people. Most locals just point and laugh, which is what she deserves.

A few weeks later, the paper rang up asking if we wanted to buy advertising. I told them what to go do with themselves.
That must of felt satisfying, but my karmic side says you should have demanded free advertising after the mud slinging. They probably would have said no, but that would have been the icing on the cake for the story.
 

Noddy Beholder

Explorer
That must of felt satisfying, but my karmic side says you should have demanded free advertising after the mud slinging. They probably would have said no, but that would have been the icing on the cake for the story.
"You've read the article, now play the game". Not a bad idea ;)

Mind you the paper closed not long after. It wasn't missed.
Before I worked at the game shop, I was a gardener at a large private home. We'd regularly find sacks of said paper dumped over our back fence. The delivery boys/girls were paid to deliver these, then just dumped the lot and swore blind they'd delivered them...
 


"You've read the article, now play the game". Not a bad idea ;)

Mind you the paper closed not long after. It wasn't missed.
Before I worked at the game shop, I was a gardener at a large private home. We'd regularly find sacks of said paper dumped over our back fence. The delivery boys/girls were paid to deliver these, then just dumped the lot and swore blind they'd delivered them...
I did that as a kid when they didn't pay me.
 


Longspeak

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

I only had mild brushes.
1979, my father says "Check out this cool game I bought for your friend for his birthday." A month later, I was hooked on D&D.

Later, my mom asked about the game with some odd, leading questions. (Child of divorce, here; so all my conversations were with one or the other parent, never both.) I was still 12 or 13, so I couldn't quite get as her angle, but she seemed satisfied by my comparison to kids' "let's pretend" games, but with some rules to stop arguments about who got who.

A couple years later, I go to visit my mom's family in a quaint little backwater in North Carolina. I brought my new copy of "Gamma World," with me. My grandma looked at it sideways, asked a bit about it, and there were the same leading questions my mom had asked. She left me alone after the same answers I'd given my mom, but always watched me. I was there the whole summer, and toward the end she cornered me to talk about "the hold" the game had over me. She's noticed I spent all my time with the game, reading it, making notes, drawing maps (which sucked!), notating encounters, etc. She didn't like "the hold" it had over me, or that I'd started giving her pushback on spending weekdays at was amounted to a daycare. It was in a park, but still.

I was 14, and my 11 year old sister was the second oldest kid at this, so naturally I spent time doing my own thing, or gazing lovingly at the (I think) 17-18 year old girl watching our group. She was very pretty, and I was very 14.

Anyway, grandma didn't like how I wouldn't play with the other children and spent my time reading the game book like it was the bible. Eventually, she let up, and I stopped going to "daycare" for the rest of my visit there, spending my days wandering the tiny town or hanging out at the house. I watched "The Empire Strikes Back" about a dozen times because it was the only theater in town (and let's face it, I loved it).

Then, I got home and my mother took her and grandma's concerns to my father, and my father took them to me. Now, my dad... he's cool. He started me on this path. But he WAS concerned that I did it to the exclusion of all else. I just explained that it was the only fun thing to do in East Podunk, NC, and now that I'd returned to civilization, I'd spend more time with my friends. Which was 100% true! I had a D&D game scheduled that week!

Flash forward a couple more years. I've already discussed this part elsewhere, but Pat Pulling became a thing, and I loudly and cruelly mocked her for being so stupid and worthless. Later, I got some perspective, but as a 16 or 17 (I think) year old, I was.... not nuanced in my opinions or in the expression of them.

A couple more run-ins with the parents in this time, but they were mainly of the "spending too much time" variety, not of the games themselves.

Then in college (went a bit late, so I was... 23, I think?), I ran into my first actual satanic panic. A friend in a couple of my classes learned I and another kid were gamers, and had some very pointed questions for us. He was a nice fellow, well-spoken, friendly, always polite.... and he wanted to know things like what "level" I was, and how many spells I knew and such. At first, I thought he was just ill-informed, since I wasn't a D&D player by this point, and my current game of choice was Mage. I began to explain Mage to him, and for a while things were very confusing as I talked about the nine spheres, and how you create effects by combining your knowledge of them to work various effects, all while working hard to-- then he goes, "But have you ever cast a spell?" Well, there's other games where magic is spells, and-- "No, have YOU ever cast a spell?"

Oh. Well, of course not. It's all a game, all make believe, like playing cops and robbers when we were kids and-- "Yeah, the (term for religious elders in his community I can't recall) warned us you would try to misdirect us like this."

Uh.... what the @#$%?

My gaming friend and I tried to explain it's make believe, accepting a set of rules and codes of conduct as true for the purposes of buying into the story. He rejected the idea of accepting alternate rules for purposes of a game. Mr. Christian seemed to vacillate between thinking I was a genius mastermind and some poor deluded fool who'd bought Satan's lies. In the end, we didn't convince him, and really stopped hanging out with him. He'd sit by us a lot, but we'd just politely brush him off after that.

Though, one time I caught him playing a card game called "I doubt it." You play a number of cards, hiding them, and tell the group how many and what suit. If they believe you, fine. If not, you'd have to prove it, or collect the entire discard pile. I asked "Isn't it wrong to lie, not matter the circumstances?" And he.... stopped. At least he was consistent?

And THAT was my brush with the Satanic Panic and its fore-bearers, ignorant parents. And it wasn't even D&D!
 
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Von Ether

Legend
Anyway, grandma didn't like how I wouldn't play with the other children and spent my time reading the game book like it was the bible.

That was probably part of the issue right there.

Cute story: My dad took my 12 year old son to church and brought him into the adult Sunday school class. The little old ladies where staring at his manga bible, obviously judging his holy book comic book.

Then the teacher started asking questions and dad said my boy's hand shot straight up. He nailed every question and gave a few opinions as well. I was told the little old ladies jaws dropped.

Never underestimate a geek. :ROFLMAO:
 

Dioltach

Legend
I was 14, and my 11 year old sister was the second oldest kid at this, so naturally I spent time doing my own thing, or gazing lovingly at the (I think) 17-18 year old girl watching our group. She was very pretty, and I was very 14.
Ah, the 1980s ... Girls have never been as pretty as they were then.
 

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