A Lesson in Stupid Moral Panics: The History Of Dungeons And Dragons Bans
from the hail-satan dept
We talk a lot about the backlash that inevitably occurs against video games, usually whenever a tragedy takes place, or a new envelope-pushing game comes out. This goes on, despite all the evidence and expert opinion stating that such backlash is completely misguided. For those of us who choose to think with reason rather than emotion, it only adds to the frustration that some of the loudest voices against violence in video games will occasionally turn out to be alleged criminals themselves, yet the next grandstanding politician or advocate faces no carryover scrutiny. It can seem enough to weigh down even the most patient person's faith that eventually sense will prevail and reason will be invoked.
So if you're one of the disheartened, gather around, because I want to tell you again the story of how moral panics occur in every generation and are almost always defeated. That link will take you through a brief history of all the things society has crapped its tighty-whities about, including the waltz, comic books, rock and roll, romance novels, the telephone, and movies. What folks my age may remember, however, is when it seemed like half the country was insisting that Dungeons & Dragons was a satanic cult ritual causing children to off themselves in record numbers. Annalee Newitz has a fascinating article about the moral panic that existed around the dice-rolling role-playing game and how its history is now curated by the very people that endured its idiocy.
It sounds crazy in our world today, where there are Dungeons & Dragons movies and a rich game industry full of titles inspired by those old paper-and-dice games we played back in the twentieth century. One of the most popular shows on television, Game of Thrones, features plots that my friends and I might have cooked up back on that playground at lunch. Somehow, the popularity of epic fantasy and role playing overcame America's fear of young people making up stories about monsters and gods. Meanwhile, the literature of the anti-D&D crusaders has become so obscure that it's memorialized on websites like The Escapist, where scanned-in pages of heartfelt nonsense are heavily footnoted to remind us of the historical context.
As the article says, looking back from the vantage point of a world where entertainment is strewn with the fantasy genre, it's stunning to see the propaganda that had been unleashed. Unsurprisingly, said propaganda has since been eviscerated, with all the common tales of kids killing themselves being shown to be completely unrelated to anything having to do with children's games. Still, this kind of thing propagated like hell-fire. For all the normal, non-Satan-worshipping kids out there that were just trying to have a little fun, it must have seemed like insanity would rule the day. Fortunately, it didn't.
And yet the half-elf thieves and evil clerics and dorky kids with dice won at least one melee in this particular culture war. That's abundantly obvious when you consider that the media is dominated by D&D-influenced stories. Meanwhile, the anti-D&D campaigns today have been reduced to items like this shabby little pamphlet, digitized by a gamer who wanted to memorialize a hard time in geek history. It's a clear example of history being written by the winners.Winners who are now all grown up and who have moved on to their next moral panic, be it violent video games, drill gangster rap, or any number of the next thing the younger generations will come up with. The cycle repeats. Every generation was young, became old, and feared the new young again. That's too bad, but for those of us still reveling in our youth, real or imagined, it's nice to know that the moral panic over video games, like all those before it, will eventually subside.