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.

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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

Unfortunately, very true. The claims that D&D and heavy metal were indoctrinating children into Satanism absolutely are mirrored by all the accusations of "grooming" we see being levelled today.

Except for the fact that we are going through the same thing today. This is what Q anon is based in - a lot of CTs traffic in the Satanic Panic tropes. It is far too convenient a tool for the reactionary crowd to ever give up on. The thing about the SP in the 80s is that it was a cultural movement where you could pin anxieties about public schooling and exposure to new cultures / ideas on it being a tool of subversive elements. As such it encompassed so much more than D&D. It covered Heavy Metal music, sex education, psychiatry / therapy as well as D&D. To this day, outside of gamer circles, most people think it was about Daycares being run by Satanists. So, no - it is not retrograde - it is current.
 

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Undrave

Hero
Except for the fact that we are going through the same thing today. This is what Q anon is based in - a lot of CTs traffic in the Satanic Panic tropes. It is far too convenient a tool for the reactionary crowd to ever give up on. The thing about the SP in the 80s is that it was a cultural movement where you could pin anxieties about public schooling and exposure to new cultures / ideas on it being a tool of subversive elements. As such it encompassed so much more than D&D. It covered Heavy Metal music, sex education, psychiatry / therapy as well as D&D. To this day, outside of gamer circles, most people think it was about Daycares being run by Satanists. So, no - it is not retrograde - it is current.
Felt retrograde in the 80s... sad to see nothing's changed.
 

Stormonu

Legend
This whole satanic panic thing feel laughably surpersitious and retrograde... It also feels like a very Protestant thing. I didn't play D&D in that era but I don't recall even hearing about such things until much later.
People are fickle things, quick to judge what they don't know about and fearful to delve into things that might put them into risk. While a lot of it comes across as "you can't like that thing I don't like", for a lot of people something they aren't knowledgable about is scary - especially if it seems similar to some other thing they've been warned against. Most people, once you show them (over time) it isn't a big bad scary thing will be okay with it. There are some that won't, of course, but they tend to out themselves as being ignorant, given time.
 

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