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.


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


It was in 8th grade for me where I got my first taste of this (1988). I had worked up enough courage to present my nerdy hobby in an English assignment that was supposed to be an "instructional speech". I brought my dice and my Players Handbook into Mrs. Smith's class to show everyone how to make a D&D character. To my surprise, I got through the presentation without other students harassing me and some even seemed interested.

Upon completion of the presentation, her response is "yes, but isn't this for devil worshippers"? She gave me a poor grade on the assignment and I could tell all of the other students shared my "WTF is she talking about?" facial expression.

I shouldn't have been surprised since this is the same teacher that seemed to publicly humiliate me every couple of months in the class. She was one of those teachers that favored the more popular kids and crapped on us social misfits.

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Community Supporter
So what's the Arduin Grimoire anyway?
This link sums it up: Arduin - Wikipedia

As a high schooler I had no idea who Dave Hargrave was or what he was all about, much less Arduin Grimoire. I was unhappy an adult was speaking on behalf of the gaming community (he really wasn't, but critics held him up as if he was) when so many others were scrupulously trying to defend the hobby. Dave was all "suck it up, kids" and I couldn't refute the argument that parents may disagree with his perspective, which was obviously R-rated material throughout his (unofficial) D&D supplements. As an adult, I'm a little more sympathetic. This book does a fantastic job of explaining his perspective: Dangerous Games: What the Moral Panic over Role-Playing Games Says about Play, Religion, and Imagined Worlds - Kindle edition by Laycock, Joseph P.. Humor & Entertainment Kindle eBooks @ Amazon.com.

Here's a quote from that book:

These violent and sexist elements reflected Hargrave's experience of the world. He had served in Vietnam as a combat photographer and had seen firsthand what weapons do to the human body.

Also the pamphlet leaves out the rest of his quote, which makes him a bit more sympathetic:

Arduin is a reflection of what my life has been--90 percent of what I've seen has been human garbage. War, death, intrigue, back-stabbing. I'm trying to show that 10 percent of hope.

You are using an Alt-Right trope of “woke left” to make a false equivalence to the religious right. This is disingenuous.
I assume the “ I don’t expect to be here long” is a claim to some form of perceived martyrdom? Your response to Morris seems unnecessarily rude.

I’m not sure what being over 50 has to do with anything, but, hey, happy half century.
I've seen the shift from the right being in charge to the left being in charge and see no real differance between the two ideologies. Shoving your ideology down someones throat is wrong no matter your ideology. If you are going to be inclusive and tollerant you have to accept that there are people who will disagree with you and not try to "cancel" them. However speaking truth to power usually results in cancelation these days. I don't edit myself for political correctness or whatever you call it these days. I don't expect to last long disagreeing with you folks.

Now, the left being nasty and trying to cancel people for wrongthink. Let me give you a real good one. There are real scientists whose speaking engagments at colleges are being canceled because they will be speaking about scientific facts that run counter to the blank slate ideology the left pushes.


This guy votes Democrat and isn't a Trump fan so maybe you will trust him.

Today we’re going to look at one attempt at cancellation that particularly galled me, for the charges against the accused—genetic researcher and paleoartist Emily Willoughby—are not only unfair, but bespeak the profound ignorance of her critics.

This piling on is what happens when someone studies the genetics of IQ, but doesn’t even mention race. It’s enough that one studies the genetics of this trait to bring out a pack of howling morons denying that there is IQ, that it has a genetic component, and then you claim that the student is a horrible person who must be a eugenicist or Nazi.

How is that any different than hard core Christians doing much the same back in the 80's and 90's.

Seem to me your arguments are simply Christians always bad, leftists always good. That's still bigotry, even if it's aimed at white guys who love Jesus.

Challenging moderation


Well, that was fun
Staff member


But it got much worse when I hit middle school (about 1988 or so). The trifecta of long hair, heavy metal band shirts, and D&D books made me a visible target to "concerned" teachers and fundie Xian kids.
It looks like we're about the same age. When I was in middle school and high school, I was a pretty standard milquetoast nerd: small for my age, good grades, liked by teachers. The metalheads wanted nothing to do with me, nor I with them. In retrospect, to think that all that time we could have bonded over D&D makes me kinda sad. Frickin' kid cliques, man. We were all so foolish.

Likewise, when I hit the middle school range (which, my school didn't technically have a middle school, it was all just 7th-12th graders in one Thunderdome building), it seemed like things got noticeably worse. Hormones, man. And in hindsight, for the adult teachers, it can't have been easy, either wrangling a population of kids whose brains and bodies just started going haywire.

But it got much worse when I hit middle school (about 1988 or so). The trifecta of long hair, heavy metal band shirts, and D&D books made me a visible target to "concerned" teachers and fundie Xian kids. I also had an art teacher (who went to the same church as my parents and I) try to intervene, but I was otherwise a model student and didn't get into much trouble so fortunately my parents saw no need to change anything. Ah, the 80s! What a primitive time!


Satan’s Echo Chamber! Muhahahaha
I dealt with it.

My family went to church which was no issue. But my mom’s friend went to a church that forbade D&D and most rock/metal.

So it came to pass that I was a good reader and patient kid by a relatively early age. Older kids on the block saw me as a potential player. So 2nd/3rd grade, I was invited to play and an older kid was crazy enough to loan me some modules!

My mom read about the kuo Toa goddess and was not thrilled with the description…but the propaganda of her friend had her “worried” that some themes were “not good.” When I was playing isle of dread and I cut a native in half with a battle axe (narrated by the next door neighbor kid) she was not a fan.

I was chastised for mentioning a wizard character in her friend’s home…by her friend who was babysitting me. Shut me up quick!

I therefore did what kids do when unreasonably restricted. I played in secret! And a lot!

About age 15 I told my mom “we play all the time.” My gygaxian vocabulary impressed my mom and seeing I had not sacrificed our pets nor renounced our shared culture it became no big deal.

And as I type, my daughter is painting a group of skeletons her first character will face.

I survived the satanic panic. I indoctrinated my kids . And as a geezer I rolled into work blasting Danzig ready to play D&D as soon as the work day ended. I am a survivor and it was real. The anxiety I had secretly playing really sucked. It was stomach churning at times. The forbidden fruit!

Thanks for nothing Mr. chick!

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