My direct experience with the so called Satanic Panic of the late 1970’s early 1980’s, is mild compared to some. I never had to burn any books, nor did I witness any being burned. I think my experience is probably what most experienced – being shamed into silence and avoiding stirring the pot.
40 years ago, in the spring 1977, my brother, Robert, talked me into buying the Holmes Basic Dungeons & Dragons. It was Christmas of 1978 that we traveled to Colorado and spent Christmas with the family of Dad’s sister. Mom gave me a copy of the AD&D Player’s Handbook. My aunt commented saying are you sure that’s a good idea, giving them that book? My Mom was not one to be intimidated, and said, “No, I read it, it’s just a game.” Nevertheless, there was no gaming until we got home. This was mostly because we had so many other things to do and were surrounded by so many cousins and all the electronic gadgets, plus all the snow.
The effects of the panic were more implied displeasure, and keeping out of sight to avoid confrontation. I was raised to care way too much about other’s opinions. I don’t think that was my parents’ goal, but that was the message I lived. We lived in a small town that was all white. It was not a welcoming town for many. Still, we made trips to the mall 20 minutes away as often as we could, and got our TSR supplies from the hobby shop there. I even subscribed to Dragon magazine.
Some of the churches actively frowned on D&D, but not the one we attended. We knew which neighbors to avoid the topic of D&D, and usually which kids at school. We did start a club in our high school, but we weren’t stupid. It was called the Science Fiction Book Club to avoid issues. I was its first president. Each week, we played a different RPG after school to get a taste of each one. So we did play D&D in school, and regularly took our D&D books and Dragon magazines to school. We used money we raised to go to the Renaissance Festival, and to ConQuest in Kansas City. both were close enough to drive.
I was interviewed by the school newspaper about the club, and the article mentioned the list of games we played, one of them being “Camel World.” It should have read Gamma World. We had a good laugh about it. That’s all I recall about the article. I wish I still had it.
We ended up with a “controversy” in the local newspaper. Someone wrote a letter to the editor about how bad Dungeons & Dragons was. It went on about promoting sacrifice with a picture of some woman on an altar under the heading Judges Guild. One of our group wrote a brilliant response. He wrote, “calling Judges Guild Dungeons & Dragons is like calling football Spalding.” The guy who wrote that was a couple years behind me in school. He did just as he said and opened a game store, which is over 20 years old and doing quite well.
Going off to college didn’t end the subconscious care I took to avoid advertising that I played D&D and other RPGs. I waited until I found that someone else played before I spoke up. While in college I played occasionally at school, but played a lot when home on breaks and over the summer.
I did a paper in high school on Franz Anton Mesmer and how Mesmerism evolved into modern hypnotism. I re-used that paper in college, with some updates. I used that knowledge a couple of times to hypnotize some friends. One loner of a guy who thought dice were somehow evil, but always sat there doing some sort of dice game with himself*, burst in and rebuked us in the name of God. That was the most intense and negative experience I think I’ve ever had about something that hurt no one. Others rose to my defense and shooed him away. [*I think he was calculating odds from rolling a pair of dice. He found that acceptable because it wasn’t a game. I think because he found enjoyment in it, it was a loophole for him to play a game. He did similar things with the equally evil deck of cards.]
After college, I answered the call to ministry and went to seminary. I was close to home then, so I played almost every weekend the first year or so, until I had a church to serve on the weekends. I bought Mega Traveller as I thought a science fiction RPG would be more acceptable. But I never played it, even though I spent a lot of time getting a campaign ready. [I recently sold those books.]
I married soon after seminary, and my now ex-wife was very much against D&D and “magic and demons”. There was no convincing her otherwise. It was a big surprise when she bought our oldest son Yu-gi-oh cards, with all of their talk of magic and spells. She also let both boys watch the Yu-gi-oh cartoon. Oddly, she didn’t see the contradiction. I spent my marriage with my books packed away most of the time, except for rare occasions that I got to play in my brother’s campaign. Moving into a new church with boxes labelled D&D got the whispers started. I “knew” I couldn’t talk about it. I didn’t know how to approach the topic in a positive way.
I took a break from serving churches 19+ years ago, and just didn’t go back. After my divorce, my sons and I played for the first time and they had a blast. We played regularly for a while. We had a two year interruption and then played nearly every weekend for almost a year. With my granddaughter’s arrival just over two years ago, we came to another hiatus. My granddaughter likes to roll my red dice and the “big dice”. It will be a few more years before she is ready for RPG’s.
I started this blog soon after my sons and I first started playing. I wanted to chronicle stories from back in the day, and some of our new experiences. When things ground to a halt with my campaign, I found Roll20 and the current weekly AD&D campaign I am in. Roll20 was after I spent way too much time trying to get my D&D fix playing Lord of The Rings Online.
It is only as I have gotten older and care a lot less about other’s opinions that I have freely let people know I play D&D. I really appreciate The Escapist‘s article on trying to do magic from D&D. That article will give you some good belly laughs. A resource like The Escapist is a great boon for our hobby, and does a lot to counter the ignorant. Countering the willfully ignorant is a different matter. Another helpful thing is Read an RPG in Public Week, three times a year. Let the world know we are here and not going away! I wish we had something like that back in the day.
I started attending game conventions again, with the local Marmalade Dog, here in Kalamazoo. I then attended UCon in Ann Arbor/Ypsilanti, and made some new friends who talked up Gamehole Con and Gary Con. Meeting up with a lot of people in the hobby who care a lot less about what others think, is a good thing. I was in a local DCC game for over a year until it went on hiatus.
I have come to realize that most of my silence about loving D&D is that I wanted to avoid arguments about it. The stress and hassle of someone unloading their crap on me was in itself a burden. I spent so much time avoiding the headache I feared from others’ disapproval, that I denied myself a lot of fun and potential new friends. That is, I think, the worst thing about the Satanic Panic. Books can be replaced, and gaming groups can be found, but the lost potential to find laughter and enjoyment in life, and new friends can never be recovered.
Rather than live with that sense of loss, look forward to what potential there is! I have friends all over the country and across the world thanks to Roll20 and different game conventions. We have a common frame of reference that allows us share in the fun. I have played with friends from different cultural and economic backgrounds, with different tastes in music and religion, and widely different takes on politics. I have even played in games I wouldn’t have tried had I not gone to a con and been made to feel welcome. In hindsight, I wasted a lot of energy avoiding fun.
Rather than edition wars and arguments about politics, we can gather around the table to defeat the bad guys, save the world, and share in the creative experience as co-creators of imaginary worlds. The vivid imagery I have in my mind from time spent at the table, and the laughter about so many situations can never be taken from me. I have made some good friends, and I’ll have their back if ever they need me.
Bonus Content: Here’s how I’ll deal with any “Christians” who want to defecate on my hobby.**
If I am every confronted by someone who thinks D&D is of the devil, then I will throw their beliefs right back at them. I will point out that Satan is the “father of lies”, and wants us to believe that he has more power than he does. He wants to distract us from being the salt of the earth, and instead be wet blankets for honest fun. Satan wants us focused on things that don’t matter, and forget to help those in need: the poor, the hungry, the orphan, the widow, the stranger. I’ll also point out that I know a lot of atheists that are better Christians than many who claim to be Christians. If that doesn’t work, I’ll take off my shoes and knock the dust off of them and walk away. (I hope I’m wearing sandals if that ever happens.) For people who distort the Good News into a list of don’ts, and ignore the logs in their own eyes, I have no problem exposing their hypocrisy and using the Bible to combat them. The truth hurts, BS kills.
I’m the kind of person who thinks of the perfect response well after the fact. In this case, decades later. I hope that I and no one else is ever in that position. If you are, feel free to use my planned response.
**See, a Master of Divinity is good for something besides the power to say no to fudge.