Dungeons and Dragons, The Devil’s Board Game,
The granddaddy of all role playing board games, Dungeons and Dragons is perhaps also the most popular and important RPG in gaming history. Introduced in 1974, D&D quickly became a hit game among youngsters, teens, and college aged gamers. By 1980 it was the most popular game board game, with an estimated 3 million players and 750,000 copies being sold annually.
Like all things new, it wasn’t unusual for D&D to earn the suspicion of older generations. Many people thought the D&D was a corrupting influence on American youth, blaming the game for moral decline and leading to psychological illness. Then in 1979 the disappearance of a college student named James Dallas Egbert III fanned the flames into a roaring inferno.
Egbert was a student of Michigan State University, and a troubled teen who was being forced by his overly controlling parents into a career he did not want to pursue. On the night August 15th, 1979 Egbert disappeared after entering a steam tunnel. A large search was conducted but the boy was never found. His parents blamed his disappearance on his favorite game; Dungeons and Dragons, claiming that in a fit of D&D induced mania their son had a psychological break from reality and went off on a real life D&D adventure. The story made national headlines, and faster than the roll of a dice the evils of D&D spread across the country. As it turned out Egbert had entered the tunnels to commit suicide, but instead ran away to become an oil worker in Louisiana. He was discovered several months later and forced to resume his education by his parents. He committed suicide a year later.
The truth behind Egbert’s disappearance did little to stem the tide of anti-D&D sentiment, especially when the cause was taken up by the growing Christian Conservative movement. Soon preachers and televangelists such as Billy Graham, Pat Robertson, Oral Roberts, and Jerry Falwell were railing against the board game at the pulpit. Fundamentalist Christians accused the game of having satanic influence, encouraging occultism, black magic, and witchcraft. Christian groups decried the game as an instrument of the devil and a propagator of evil among the nation’s youth, causing murder and suicide.
Reaction against D&D was far from rational. Christian Groups often successfully pressured schools and colleges into banning the game. A few successful groups even convinced local government officials to adopt ordinances forbidding the game within their boroughs or towns. Inspired by MADD (Mothers Against Drunk Driving), a woman named Patricia Pulling founded BADD (Bothered By Dungeons & Dragons) with the aim of banning the board game everywhere, and if that couldn’t be done, then suing the game into bankruptcy. Other groups raised money from donors, bought as many D&D sets with it as possible, and destroyed them in large bonfires.
Dungeons & Dragons was not the only victim, but a host of other 80’s icons such as the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Care Bears, Transformers, GI Joe, and many others faced similar accusations of satanic influence and evil. In fact, the whole country was awash in a moral and religious panic over occultism and devil worship. The subject became the focus of every talk show on TV. The corporation Proctor & Gamble was accused of being a satanic company due to its centuries old logo, while rumors abounded that it’s president donated much of the company’s profits to The Church of Satan. Hundreds of childcare workers were imprisoned on the charge of child abuse based on the claim that they had conducted “satanic rituals” on the children. Many of the kids were toddlers, who were dragged into interrogation rooms and shouted at by detectives until they broke down and admitted to being the victims of weird satanic abuse. BADD head Patricia Pulling made the claim that 8% of the American population were satanists, which at the time amounted to around 20 million people. When questioned by a reporter where she came up with that number, she claimed that 4% of teens and 4% of adults were satanists, hence 8%. There was even a ridiculous claim parroted by the media that around 1 million people a year were murdered in occult human sacrifice rituals.
The war on D&D and the satanic panic ended in the 1990’s when a number of scientific organizations debunked the rumors. Among them were studies by Centers for Disease Control and the American Association of Suicidology which found that D&D had nothing to do with murder, suicide, or anti-social behavior. Regardless the stigma is still held by a few. In 2013, 700 Club leader Rev. Pat Robertson claimed on national TV that D&D, Harry Potter, and other “demonic games” was the source of teen suicide.