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Friday 16 June 2017

Classic Rant: What the D&D "Satanic Panic" did to a Whole Generation of Geeks

So, there's a new academic book on RPGs: "Dangerous Games: What the Moral Panic over Role-Playing Games Says about Play, Religion, and Imagined Worlds". 

There's an article reviewing the book, sort of, here. Note, I have not read this book myself; what follows is my own speculations on the subject, not something related to the book.

As to the book, I think the concept is interesting, but as always I am HIGHLY dubious of anything that comes out of academia regarding RPGs, even if it's from my own Religious Studies background. Strike that - ESPECIALLY then, since I know just how indoctrinated that field is by anti-perennial Marxist ideologues who want to see all religion is a meaningless product of local cultural factors.

It does sound like it could be good, though. And there's also this quote:

"When grown-ups told me that playing Dungeons & Dragons (D&D) was going to drive me insane or cause me to worship the devil, it suddenly dawned on me that adults were fallible: They ran the schools, the churches, and the police, but they didn’t always think rationally or know what they were talking about."

As far as the comment above: my own observation as a religious scholar would be that the RPG hobby, and indeed the whole generation of geeks from the time of the Satanic Panic appears (to my observation) to be disproportionately populated by two groups: atheists, and people involved in what is sometimes termed 'alternative religion' (that is, people not in a standard mainstream Christian or Jewish denomination or in an orthodox mainstream version of the traditional religion of their own cultural background, but have become converts to some fringe movement or the westernized version of a non-western religion). We're talking here about just how many gamers are Wiccans, Pagans of other sorts, call themselves Buddhists, Taoists, some form of fringe or ultra-personal Christianity, or New-age "Spiritual" (not really following any religion, but practicing Reiki or Yoga or Crystal Healing or all of the above). 

I think that the phenomenon quoted above, the early realization that the very accusation of D&D as "satanic" by trusted authority figures when any young kid playing D&D knew it wasn't, had two effects:

a) A lot of those kids felt like they could never just trust anyone's word unquestioned again. It was a potential moment (like many others can be) where you realize that most people don't actually know fuck all about religion/philosophy/reality and are just quoting dogma, rather than a product of their own thought processes brought about by personal experiential experimentation.

b) Half (not literally half, but whatever) of the kids for whom (a) happened decided (not necessarily that very instant, but this event was something that contributed to that direction) that clearly nothing could be real then except for that which is immediately materially quantifiable, and (again, EVENTUALLY) rejected spirituality altogether; while the other half decided (eventually, as a gradual product of, among other things, etc.) that if most people didn't actually know FUCK ALL about religion, they would want to seek it out themselves and find out that experiential Truth.

Ironically, I think that the first 'half' above were the kids who were internally horrified at the idea of being accused of being satanists for liking D&D. They became atheists because deep down they were scared of some sort of "divine punishment" for an inherent spiritual wrongness they didn't even know they had until that moment, and (most horrifyingly) didn't seem to be able to even identify, and so would prefer a world where no such danger could possibly exist. The other kids, who became Wiccans or Pagans or Neo-Buddhists or Tantric Sex Polygamists or hippie Etheogen Experiencers or Ceremonial High Magicians (or, for that matter, literal Satanists), are the ones who deep down weren't afraid of god but outraged by the betrayal of a society that seemed like reality to them and suddenly very clearly wasn't. That moment (among others, blah blah etc.) was a realization of the fundamental illusion of Paradigm, and thus a Paradigm Shift into the weird, in search of the Real. 

Of course, that's all just a poetic way of saying that when their parents said "D&D is evil because it teaches you Real Magic!!", some kids said "my parents are retarded; that must mean there's no Jesus and no Real magic!", and other kids said "my parents are retarded; so fuck yeah I'm going to go find me some 'Real Magic'!"


( Originally posted March 28, 2015)


  1. Ah, the good old days, when the fat blue-haired busybodies condemning RPGs for violence and pictures of sexy women were _conservatives_.

    Does this suggest that in a couple of decades the gaming community will be full of hard-core antifeminists?

    1. Highly likely, yes. Shit, the generation coming up right now show signs of despising everything their millennial elders stand for.
      You want to create a whole generation of 4chan anti-feminist meme-warriors? Trying to ban games for being sexist/racist etc. is how you get that result.

    2. The easiest way to gauge the long term politics of a generation is look at how popular the president is when they hit 18. I had one grandfather voting for FDR his whole life and another voting for Eisenhower until he died. Similarly you get people voting against Carter and Bush for a long long time.

      So the long term politics of today's teens will be largely shapes by how popular Trump ends up being.

  2. I got into D&D, as a wee lad, in the early 80s when this "Satanic" scare was in full bloom. My mom made sure I was brought up in traditional conservative Christianity but at the same time I was encouraged to be well-read. Before I got into D&D, I was very familiar with medieval romance and Greek and Norse mythology. Due to that influence, D&D caught my imagination big time. In church, I encountered a few, particularly a self-righteous young couple who handled our youth group, who accused me of engaging in Satanic activity due to my love of D&D. When the pastor I loved retired from pulpit due to the necessity of concentrating his life on his new child, we had a free-for-all try-out of new preachers. One of them gave a sermon on how He-Man And The Masters Of The Universe was evil because of its occult elements.

    All of this soured me and made me a fine target for leftwing indoctrination when I went to university. I subsequently lost my faith and floundered for many, many years. Fortunately, a few years back, I read The Bible on my own; and that coupled with studying C.S. Lewis and G.K. Chesterton returned me to my Christian faith with a more mature understanding of it.

    1. My story is a somewhat watered-down version of the same. Lewis was like an intellectual life preserver in a sea of unexamined dogma. Thanks for sharing.

  3. It wasn't just D&D, I remember the 700 Club going after Heavy Metal and Comic Books at the same time. Thankfully my parents didn't watch.

    Although during the panic my mom did once come into our game session and ask about a kid who shot his friend who had cast a shield spell to block the bullet. The spell didn't work obviously (I seriously doubt that's what actually happened but that's how it was reported). One of my friends, without missing a beat, said "what a fool, he should have cast protection from normal missiles." My mom turned pale until we all cracked up, after that she left us alone.

  4. The whole thing seems to suffer from revisionist history by the Left. Just like with the McCarthy hearings. Just like with geeks say you can die during Traveller chargen. Geeks are the Happy Meal generation.

  5. I wonder how many of the "atheists" who came out of that are still bitter about the whole thing, such that they aren't really atheists as much as they hate God for messing with their hobby (even though God didn't, but no matter).

    My parents looked at the DM's Guide, saw the list of mental illnesses, recognized that the definitions summarized pretty much everything they had learned during their medical training, and gave me a blessing to continue.