The other night on his television program, The 700 Club, televangelist Pat Robertson answered a question from a concerned viewer. The question seemed innocent enough. The viewer asked if it was alright for Christians to enjoy video games that have magic in them, if the person playing the games is not practicing the magic.
Pat spent a few seconds flubbing around for an answer before apparently suffering a stroke and transporting us all 30 years into the past. He stated:
I don’t know what game you’re talking about. I know there’s one called Dungeons and Dragons that literally destroyed people’s lives. I mean they got into this thing, and they were almost, [sic] it was like demonic.
First things first, this is pretty clear evidence that you should not ask your grandfather for advice on video games.
After that, completely ignoring the point that Dungeons and Dragons is not, in the strictest sense, a video game, I have one thing to ask:
Really? I mean fucking, really?
Someone needs to call Robertson’s handlers and tell them that he’s 30 years too late for this bullshit.
Anyone even remotely familiar with the hobby should be familiar with the hotbed of controversy the mid-80s was for a little game called Dungeons and Dragons. Between Jack Chick, Patricia Pulling, and Rona Jaffe there was no small amount of negative press about the game that so many people have enjoyed over the years. Dark Dungeons, Mazes and Monsters, and the advocacy group Bothered About Dungeons and Dragons (BADD) were all born in the first half of the decade, and were all partially responsible for Gary Gygax changing a lot of terminology in the 2nd iteration of his Dungeons and Dragons rule set, changing certain things, such as demons and devils to other, less charged names.
1982 was also the year we saw the made-for-television movie adaptation of Rona Jaffe’s book Mazes and Monsters starring Tom Hanks, a book that was a thinly veiled spin on 1979s “steam tunnel incident” (that, by the way, turns out wasn’t linked to Dungeons and Dragons at all).
But despite all of this (or maybe partly because of this), the game thrived. This might have been a case of “no such thing as bad publicity,” and indeed, while Dark Dungeons and Mazes and Monsters are still around in this day and age, they do so in a very different light. The gaming community has had 30+ years to take the wind out of the sails of these arguments, and even paint them in a satire, like when the website Fecundity.com mashed up the Dark Dungeons comic with the show Mystery Science Theater 3000. Hell, as early as 1989 author and game designer Michael A. Stackpole had published Game Hysteria and the Truth, which took Patricia Pullman and BADD to task.
So the groundwork is there. The research has been done, and three decades of time hasn’t done anything to change those arguments. Today, this should be something that we are able to defend by just being who we are. This game that has touched our lives in one way or another has been around for the better part of four decades. For a hobby, much less a single game within that hobby (regardless of how many rules changes it has gone through) means something.
So, in response to this latest “attack” on our hobby of choice, I would encourage everyone who plays Dungeons and Dragons, Pathfinder, Star Wars, Call of Cthulu, Spirit of the Century, Burning Wheel, or any of the multitude of roleplaying games out there to raise your voice. Talk proudly about what involvement in the hobby has done for you. Bring down this ill-informed, fundamentalist rhetoric with the actual truth of the hobby instead of the truth as they would have people believe. I want us to challenge Robertson’s belief that Dungeons and Dragons has “literally destroyed people’s lives.” I’m living proof that involvement in the game (and hobby in general) has done nothing but enrich my life. Not only has it provided me countless hours of entertainment (as well as much needed distraction when real life sucks, as it so often does), but it has done much to increase my vocabulary, but has also sharpened both my reading comprehension and writing skills as well as helped to develop problem solving, team building, and critical thinking skills that are so necessary to get by in today’s world. (Of course, some of these skills may be at odds with the various fundamentalist attacks – people that can think critically for themselves… well, tend to think for themselves.)
It has also had incontrovertible ramifications on my social life. I have made numerous friends that I would have never met if I was not involved in Dungeons and Dragons and roleplaying games in general. Some I have lost touch with over the years as is the way with people, but others have become true blue, lifelong friends. These are people all over the world, young and old, married and single, parents and children. Some of these people I have never even actually met in person! But there’s a common bond that we share in our love for the hobby. Hell, if it weren’t for Dungeons and Dragons, I never would have met the woman who became my wife!
So, in closing, I want to urge you that no matter how small, weak, and comically ill-informed the attack may be, it’s important that we as gamers speak up against it. Let them know that we aren’t going to stand for it. We’re the representatives for our hobby and our pastime, and we need to showcase the good that comes of it.
Here’s the video for those of you that haven’t yet seen it.