Being in the Main the Mouth of Olde House Rules

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

What I Owe the Satanic Panic...

Back in 81-82’ I was a D&D-obsessed youth.  But I was also fourteen/fifteen years old and stumbling headlong into my adolescence, which meant a tendency to rebel and question authority.  Now understand that I was a relatively obedient kid surrounded by family, friends, and neighbors who really did have my best interests at heart.  I didn’t do drugs or get a tattoo someplace unmentionable.  But I did start to ask more questions and question everything, especially when I sniffed hypocrisy or straight-up ignorance...

And one discovery I made was that, apparently, everything I liked was Satanic, from my enthusiastic taste in music (metal) to my love a certain fantasy game (D&D).  It was the 80s in the south.  Evangelicals were already a force to be reckoned with, and hysterical moral panics found fertile ground to root and grow.  D&D, with its magic spells and pagan gods, was wide open for outrage.  It rubbed against Biblical prohibitions against sorcery (although I had/have many Christian friends who see no problem) and, clearly, it took young people to a place their parents couldn’t follow and didn’t bother to.  It was easier to attack than to listen and learn.  Luckily, I had open, understanding parents who supported my hobby and even sat in on a few sessions just to see what this gaming thing was all about.

Cool.  But this didn’t stop me from seeing the hysteria around me though, and one bit that stuck in my mind was a newspaper article about the evils of D&D.  It was loaded with uninformed nonsense, but what really stood out to me was the idea that the game taught its players actual spells.  It certainly looked sensational in print even if it was totally divorced from reality.  Sure, the Player’s Handbook told me that certain spells required a verbal and/or somatic component.  But it never said what those components were.  The rules were more forthcoming with material components, but still.  Now, to be clear, I don’t believe in magic and the supernatural.  Mind you, I don’t claim these things don’t exist either, but only withhold belief in the absence of reliable evidence, for which I see none.  If working magic existed in the world, evil, unscrupulous people would certainly have exploited it, and history would have been a mosaic of powerful magicians transforming world events... 

All that aside, there was simply no way to cast a working spell from the information given, mainly because it was geared towards gameplay only.  It was enough to know that you needed to speak and, therefore, couldn’t cast certain spells if gagged and/or silenced.  This  should have been obvious to anyone actually looking through the books, and that’s what really got me.  The evidence, indeed, the truth was right there in the rulebooks.  But these hysterical adults couldn’t be bothered to verify anything.  And many of the adults I could trust in most other areas couldn’t be trusted here, which was a revelation.

Now I somehow understood that forty years of experience usually trumped my fifteen summers of existence.  But as I entered adolescence, it was more than just thoughtless and childish rebellion.  I discovered that the well-meaning adult figures in my life could still be wrong.  They could fall prey to faulty logic and dispense terrible advice, even with the best of intentions, which was usually the case in my world.  Fortunately, the wiser adults in my life had more perspective.  Sadly, more than a few (typically, neighbors and the parents of friends) jumped on the panic bandwagon and gave a master's course in how not to think or evaluate information.  And you know what?  I'm grateful for all of it!  D&D taught me to communicate and strategize, and the Satanic Panic taught me (showed me, really) that it was time to become a critical-thinking adult.  We're all shaped by childhood experiences, and when that childhood is full of D&D, gaming itself becomes the formative thing... 


  1. I think I'm a few years ahead of you, but was also in this era. The whole panic made me laugh back then, because it was ridiculous. Nerds sitting around on Saturday or Sunday afternoons eating snacks and drinking too much soda.

    We were as you described, good kids. Very smart, band geeks, choir, audio visual club. Good homes, strong ethics. All successful now. And not because we are benefiting from a 'Pact.' Forget that some of the best singers in school (and I mean became professional including opera) were drinking and snorting cocaine. That was totally swept under the outback then.

    My mom only asked me directly once about what we did and never harmed on it. But she watched like the good parent she was. Never interfered or took away from it.

    Of course, she is unhappy that I recently got (a rather large) tattoo. Still my mom.

  2. One of the best quotes I ran across about the whole business was from Sean Patrick's "The Fantasy Roleplaying Gamer's Bible" in which he said something to the effect of: "If I could actually cast spells with D&D, do you think I'd be spending Friday nights at home in my basement with a bunch of other guys?"

    I had a friend who's mom refused to let me bring my D&D books over to their house. He was allowed to play Top Secret and Gamma World, just not D&D.

    It never ceases to amaze me that parents were getting worked up over their kids staying in and essentially engaging in a combination of literature and math.