The Perils of the 20-sided Dice

Richard Metzger at Dangerous Minds dug up this episode of 60 Minutes from 1985. Anybody else remember when modern culture suddenly discovered D&D and completely flipped out?!

I still remember an episode of Unsolved Mysteries from the same era. A young man had died by falling down a cliff. Possible accident, possible suicide, possible homicide. But the show had to have an over-dramatic scene of the boy’s mother going into his room and finding sketches of minotaurs and dragons in his desk. Then the voice of good ol’ Robert Stack, ” … he had entered the world of …. Dungeons and Dragons!” **dramatic chord!**

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  • Andrew

    There is also the old Tom Hanks movie, “Mazes and Monsters”, which contains an epic level of hysterical nonsense.

    • George

      Yep. (Couldn’t remember the name of it, though.) It was, essentially, the “Reefer Madness” of D&D.

      • TrickQuestion

        I am happy to own a copy of Mazes and Monsters on DVD. I got it at Gamestop for $1 a while back. That was a good day.

        • Paul

          That was a cool movie and to go with it, to make sure parents with daughters rather than sons were suitably freaked, there were a couple of movies about anorexia and bulimia. These scare the parents movies also make me remember Go Ask Alice with Andy Griffith as a priest allowing kids to sleep in his church and they used Jefferson Airplane’s White Rabbit as the theme song. I had that one on VHS but never found it on DVD

  • UrsaMinor

    Ah, the evils of D&D! It was horrible what it did to my life. I was heavily into it in college, and it warped my thinking so much that I started to pursue social relationships instead of being a loner. Eventually it got so bad that I completed my degree and graduated, and then went out to have successful careers in both biology and commercial software engineering.

    But you never completely shake off its insidious influence, even after you stop actively playing. Even twenty years after college, it was responsible for drawing me into my very first conversation with the man that I eventually married.

    Oh, the horror!

    • FO

      Yep, but you are gay, you cheater, your target was a man!
      The pool of nerdy women is utterly empty. =P

      • UrsaMinor

        See what evils D&D leads to? Q.E.D.

    • vorjack

      Huh. Come to think of it, I first knew my wife as part of my gaming group. I wonder how many people from our generation met like that?

      • Michael Mock

        …Now that you mention it, that was a lot of the early interaction between me and my wife, too. Admittedly, she was dating another member of the group at the time.

        • fatherdaddy

          I, too, married a woman who was dating a friend in the group. Or, am I assuming too much in saying the ex was a friend?

    • DMG

      UrsaMinor, please excuse my ignorance as a newcomer, but do you have a newsletter or blog or something I can subscribe to? Comments like the one above are one of the highlights of Unreasonable Faith for me. :)

      • UrsaMinor


        No, I am not a blogger. I’m afraid that you will have to wade through the comments here, sorry.

  • Ajax the conquerer

    Oh man, do I! I have a vivid memory of a classmate, eyes full of fear and alarm, telling me I would be possessed and commit suicide if I played D&D.Luckily my parents weren’t alarmists… I stopped playing sometime in high school and only started playing again a few years ago (in my late 30′s now). One of my 2 groups is comprised of business professionals (I’m the oddball as a contractor)- and even now I have been asked by several of them to say we play poker on game night when their friends or family are around. One in particular was very worried that his catholic fiance would find out and leave him for it. W…T…F…

  • PsiCop

    Just goes to show, there’s nothing like a good old-fashioned moral panic to warm the hearts of paranoiacs and cranks around the country!

  • vasaroti

    The hysteria over comic books all over again. Or maybe the hysteria over penny dreadfuls or pulp novels. BTW, if you have a copy of “Seduction of the Innocent,” it could be worth $$.

    Can someone suggest an acceptable, updated synonym for “hysteria?” Clearly the disease of NOMS, Pat Robertson, etc. is not below the belt.

  • Aeiluindae

    What was really funny is that, while my parents generally-speaking did not fall victim to scares like that, they did express concern about my playing D&D with my school friends at lunch time. They simply had no information about it that was reliable, no experience, because they didn’t know any people who played D&D and so had only the fear-mongering to go on.

    That’s the problem. You have a couple of reporters spoiling for a story, and you have an activity that some nerdy young people do, which is difficult to understand if you don’t participate. Then something bad happens to a player. Those reporters gleefully go to work and come up with this piece that may be sort of accurate, but misses the fact that the dead kid probably had other emotional/mental problems in the rush to come up with this really juicy story. The story is a hit, they make money, and then other reporters and laypeople start seeing what they expect to see. Because no one except D&D players, who are now assumed to have some sort of problem and thus their objections are ignored, has any familiarity with the game, it just spirals out of control from there.

    Worth noting is that they still let me play, because they weren’t dumb. So we played, largely in ignorance of all the fear-mongering, because we were a few years after the big stories. Because of time restrictions, we moved to a story-driven “rule of cool”-based variation that didn’t involve tons of 20-sided dice and I still laugh at some of the hilarious stuff our party got up to.

  • FO

    I started RPGs when I was eleven, and I do think they offered a cheap escape from reality and from relating with not feeling adequate.
    They helped myself stunt my social and personal growth, especially when it comes to women.

    • UrsaMinor

      See, if only you’d gone for the My Little Pony play figures instead of D&D, you’d have been surrounded by girls and learned how to relate to them.

    • Paul

      At 11 I started smoking pot. I had been an outcast until folks knew I toked and I found acceptance, sex and friends that I didn’t have before. If it hadn’t been for pot, I would have been as isolated as any D&D players without even the game to fall back on.

  • Troutbane

    Ya know whats odd? The group deploring DnD as harmful has to admit it was very effective at preventing people who played it from having sex before marriage (or possibly, ever).

    Ive wondered how much larger the population in the Western world would be if DnD (and possibly Star Trek) had never been invented.


  • Michael Mock

    Oh, man, do I remember that. That was my early teens.

    I was fortunate: my parents weren’t prone to that sort of panic. In fact, my father once expressed some real pity for the sort of Christians who think that God designed the whole world as a minefield where the slightest misstep would dump people irrevocably into hell. He thought they were missing out on the whole idea of Grace.

    And, now that I think of it, I was around a lot of people like that. The librarian at my school suggested – preemptively – that since I was always carrying these massive hardback books around, I should spend a session explaining to my classmates what the game was about and how it worked. Which took about half an hour, and most of them looked a bit shellshocked by the end of it… but it wasn’t the monsters or evil deities that stunned them, it was the sheer amount of math involved. [Cue sinister/dramatic music riff] One of them actually asked me, “You really use all those charts?”

    My younger brother went on to a Lutheran school several years after that, and spent most of his lunchtimes roleplaying. They would have had an absolute meltdown if he’d brought in D’n’D – or anything with a fantasy base, really – but apparently the Robotech RPG was just fine.

    • Schaden Freud

      Perhaps that’s the answer – the fundies think all those charts and formulae are spells.

  • Dutchhobbit

    D&D is sort of evil. They ask you to pay big bucks for lots of books and dice which is badly balanced. Then later, they bring a new version of the game which “fixes” problems.

    • The Other Weirdo

      Isn’t that how Wii games are fixed? For example, House of the Dead: Overkill. You found bugs in our games? We’re sorry about that, but 2 years later, we have a fix. You require a PS/3 and a whole new copy of the game, but see? No more bugs. At least not those ones.

    • Francesco

      Actually you can get nearly everything online. And, unlike a book, it can entratain you for CENTURIES! (Besides, dice are not bad balanced, and you can continue to play with the older versions of the game, which are still usable, still fun, and you can even swap thing from one edition to the other)

  • Bruce H

    I distinctly remember a conversation with my mom, right around 1985 or so, when I had to explain to her that D&D was not satanic. I said, “It’s just a game, mom.” She looked at me as though she wasn’t quite convinced, but let the issue slide. I wasn’t aware of that 60 Minutes episode, but in hindsight, it’s clear where she got the idea that D&D was something to be fearful of. She was a regular viewer back then.

  • Bill

    I remember this scare well. I played some D&D in HS (mid 80′s), and while my parents saw no probloem with it, I had a friend who’s fundamentalist parents freaked our. I distinctly remember the mom telling us a story of a kid who became convinced he had “boots of flying” and killed himslef by jumping off his roof. Reminded me of “Reefer Madness” type scare tactics.

  • busterggi

    Ah yes, a toy & game store I had been going to for decades & where I was first introduced to RPGs bowed to pressure and removed its entire RPG section as well as cancelling its weekly game night.

    None of that had any impact on the crime rates for the city.

    • JohnMWhite

      If anything I’d imagine that would make the crime rate go up a little. When youths are given nothing to do and no outlet for their social and creative energy, they start to do destructive, mindless nonsense. Not because they’re bad people (well, sometimes, but that goes for any age-group), but because they’re bored as hell and treated with nothing but disrespect by clueless adults who seemingly set out to create an impossible situation where teens are bored and denied chances to do anything.

      This kind of thing angers me quite a lot. Perhaps it’s a little bit of ego since it’s somewhat personal; I was the kind of kid that played RPGs and card games, which naturally meant I was also the kind that had limited opportunities for social interaction. I did manage to gather a group in high school to play Magic The Gathering, but we were kicked out of the library within about 20 minutes because one pearl-clutcher decided we were “being Satanic in a public building”. Apparently public = Christian and card games = Satanism. School wouldn’t allow us to set up a gaming group, because it was ‘unChristian’, and when we tried to while away free periods with regular card games teachers would simply confiscate them because ‘games of chance are against the Bible’. Apparently stealing property is not against that book…

      Long story short, it’s as if a certain subset of adults actually take pleasure from blocking younger people from having an outlet if it is an outlet they themselves do not understand or, for whatever reason, approve of. Then again, there’s a subset of adults that like to interfere in the personal lives of another subset of adults…

  • Mahousniper

    “Your son was well-adjusted?”
    “Always. He had never had psychological problems, he was healthy. Even physically healthy.”

    Oh really? And I’m sure the mom’s opinion isn’t biased at all. Your son thought he WAS a game character and shot himself in the head. Clearly he had problems and the fact that you didn’t see that shows fault as a parent.

    I hate how reporters that “remain neutral” often just ignore fact in order to make sensationalist reporting rather than actually report reality. How could anyone be surprised that people obviously warped and dissatisfied with this world to the point of killing themselves would be fascinated with escapism?

    As an actor, I find this whole thing personally offensive. If I play MacBeth, I’m unlikely to commit murder. If I play Willy Loman, I’m not going to kill myself for insurance money. If people are unable to discern reality from fiction, they are psychologically unstable, not brainwashed by DnD.

  • Ian

    D&D is dangerous. I played it just a short while after this show was made, and I turned out to be an atheist.

    • Francesco

      Well, it is just full of deities which are much more powerful than the supposed “real2 ones. (3 days for casting resurecction man? REALLY?)

      • UrsaMinor

        Yeah, but how many D&D deities can create a whole universe in six days?

        • Francesco

          I’m pretty much sure they could do it in less. It has been shown that even very powerful mortal can create a small universe, so gods in D&D should be able to do it as well. And certainly demon lords can shape entire planes and expand them.

  • Anonymous-Sam
    • TrickQuestion

      Oh i do so love the Chick tract on D&D. I keep a blank copy of it and every so often fill it in just for kicks. I am easily amused.

    • Dutchhobbit

      This almost seems to be a poe. It has just way too large of a “we are not taking this serious” vibe.

      • Anonymous-Sam

        Which one? Both are very real, though. Pat Pulling did indeed campaign to link D&D with Satanism, and Jack Chick has dozens of such tracts condemning everything from blasphemy to being Catholic.

  • James L. Thibodeaux

    Did they mention that all those who (sadly) took their own life also ate food, breathed air, and lived int he U.S. Perhaps we should ban breathing, eating, and U.S. citizenship! This is a growing crisis people! C’mon! Start freakin’ out, man!

  • Johan

    Religous leaders hated DnD because it made it obvious that demons were fictional creatures. How can anyone who claims demon posession is real tolerate such a thing?

  • Ty

    Fully 50% of my gaming group is hot women, so not sure where the, “there are no nerd girls for gamers” thing is coming from. My experience has been that the same women who love to read fantasy will enjoy gaming. Now, yeah, you’re probably not going to find a lot of mall rats in your gaming group. But really, who wants to date someone who thinks shopping is fun?

    • Jabster

      “Fully 50% of my gaming group is hot women, …”

      The characters you play don’t count …

      • Ty

        Oddly enough, one of the women always plays male characters. Never understood that.

        But in our current game, even our DM is a sexy lady. That’s gotta be a first.

  • TrickQuestion

    I have been known to play a little myself.
    I also did a bit of work for White Wolf’s Swords and Sorcery line, And have a tape of an interview i did with Gary Gygax years ago.

    • Jabster

      Ohhhhh … Planescape Torment

      • Troutbane

        Planescape was probably one of the best fantasy settings ever. The look and feel was awesome.

        • Anonymous-Sam

          And made a pretty damned great PC game too.

  • Noelle

    I don’t like games myself. The occasional hand of euchre isn’t a bad way to pass the time, but I don’t care to do it for hours. I don’t hold it against people who enjoy games, as long as they don’t make me play. Pictionary and monopoly are particularly torturous. And charades. OMG I hate charades.

    But occult and dangerous with the DnD is as silly as assuming Monoploly afficionados are in danger of putting up hotels on their properties and charging guests exhorbitant amounts to sit there a few minutes.

    • Ty

      Aren’t you a doctor with a bunch of kids too?

      I’m surprised you have time to breath.

      • Noelle

        Only 2 kids. They feel like a bunch sometimes. One makes me play kid board games. I totally rig the candyland cards. The other knows better than to ask mom help him with video and computer games. I can’t make any character jump over anything without sending it plunging to its death. The husband tried to get me to play his homemade role playing roll the dice games, but I don’t like them.

        Residency had horrible hours. What I got now isn’t that bad.

  • exfundy

    I went to a fundy day school in the 80′s and heard all that drivel about d and d. Unfortunately back then I believed whatever they said. Man, i missed out on a lot of fun. :(

    • Ty

      you can come play at my house if you want.

  • Twin-Skies

    If the guys who put this video together were this freaked out over D&D, wait until they see the crazier stuff like Warhammer 40,000 and World of Darkness ;)

    • TrickQuestion

      Maybe they all play Paranoia…

      • Dutchhobbit

        Because God is a lot like friend computer.

    • Michael Mock

      I *think* they already freaked out over WoD. This video just predates it.

  • Larian LeQuella

    Back in the 80s there was a lot of mass hysteria going around. Not only about D&D, but satanic cults kidnapping babies and murdering them, repressed memories of thousands of girls recovered proving their dads molested them, and just a lot of irrational woo…

    I played D&D starting in 1978, and still enjoy the game. Although now I don’t get to play as much as I would like. I substitute online MMOs for that in a way (Dark Age of Camelot in my case).

    As a matter of fact, my username is really my favorite D&D character’s name.

    • Kodie

      This reminds me of college, which might have solidified my groping toward a more substantial grasp of atheism via skepticism. (Sorry to all those ‘tards who are scared to let their children become aware and send them to theistic colleges). I was brought up in the age of poison Halloween candy, and when I went to college, learned the root of this myth was about a man who murdered his own child under the suspicion that someone else in the neighborhood was passing out poisoned candy.

      I also remember the Tylenol tampering, but was not really old enough to be buying my own Tylenol at the time. I can’t say I was into D’n’D, but I did try to play an RPG in college. I had no idea they were harmful. I had some idea rock and roll was suicide-inducing, but not really warned by my parents. I did know of the double-suicide attempt that was attributed to satanic lyrics on a heavy metal record played backwards. I have “American Dad” on in the background that just made a reference to Tanya Harding – so I wonder if figure skating is the gateway to a satanic urge to club your competition in the knees.

      I do think that an over-emphasis on satan does tend to distract people from what’s really going on with their children. Some people are so mentally ill they will be driven to have their face shot off by their classmate. I don’t know what to do about this. It’s silly and we can laugh, but the more they concentrate on god being the solution to reigning in the adolescents’ behavior, the more ignorant they are to what’s going on, with occasional tragic consequences. In the aftermath of these consequences to blame an activity for channeling satan to harm one’s child is really upsetting actually. They’ve lost their child and still have no clear picture of the sequence of events. God is still good. Their child was somehow distanced from god by an activity they enjoyed and/or helped them navigate their adolescent growth. It’s totally sad these puzzle pieces never get put together.