The Satanic Panic!
This is going to be a long blog post, so I am going to cut straight to the bottom line on this one. No, there is no link between Dungeons & Dragons and Satan worship, human sacrifice, cult murders or any thing else like that. D&D is not the devils game or Satan’s game. D&D can be a fun and family-friendly game. As with any game system, parents should know and understand what their children are playing. Exercise your parental oversight and you may just find out that this is a new way to engage with your kids.
So, where did all this start and why do parents and church groups still talk about it? Put simply, urban legend fueled by media induced paranoia. Major news publications and TV shows jumped on the band wagon in the 80’s after a college student went missing and a private investigator invented a conspiracy theory blaming the game for the boy’s death. In the end, there was no evidence that the game played any roll in the disappearance or death of the young man, but that did not stop church leaders and concerned parent groups from continuing to propagate the story and malign the game. Capitalizing on the recent media coverage, Hollywood put out a movie which depicted a teenage Tom Hanks being driven insane by the non-trademark infringing Mazes & Monsters.
I think these stories are easy for parents and church leaders to believe because they support stereotypes and underlying prejudices. Put technically, they are reinforced by confirmation bias. Or, to put it another way, when you’re a hammer, everything looks like a nail.
Let’s face it, kids get obsessed with things and tend to dedicate a large percentage of their free time pursuing whatever game or past time has attracted their interest. From video games, to sports, to board games, kids will devote huge amounts of time, money and effort into their hobbies. This obsessive behavior can be concerning, regardless of the subject.
Families talk and share with one-another, often over a meal or on a car ride. I don’t know how you home works, but at our house, we cook and eat family meals almost every day. We encourage our kids to talk about the events of the day, their concerns and plans for the future. When our kids get talking about their latest interest, they can ramble on, often devolving into jargon that we just don’t understand. This is where the trouble often starts with D&D.
Imagine sitting over the dinner table and listening to your child recount an epic battle, but the narrative is in the first person, “Then I took out may dagger and stabbed…” Any parent is going to raise an eyebrow at that one. Throw in a few reference to demons or gods and some parents are going to get down right panicked. Concerned phone calls to church elders or internet searches lead to paranoia induced hysteria fueled by stories that were debunked before some of these parents were out of diapers.
Well, if these stories are all bogus, how come we still see so many of the? I am absolutely sure that you can find true stories about kids who played D&D or some other table-top roll playing game (RPG) doing something horrible or having some serious problem that gets blamed on the game. I am going to go out on a limb and say that all of them fall into one of the following categories.
Coincidence Equals Cause Fallacy – This is an mistake that many people make. For example, dihydrogen oxide is found in every pesticide and vast number of industrial chemicals linked to cancer and other serious diseases. It is found in car batteries and has been shown to dissolve metal like iron. Does that mean we should ban it or remove it from our schools? Should we start a concerned citizens group to lobby against it?No, dihydrogen oxide is water and we need it to live.
Mental Illness – There are many causes of mental illness and many forms of mental illness start to show symptoms during the mid to late teens or early twenties. Parents, well people in general, need to know why something happens. Uneducated in the subject, they often assume it was something they die or something their child did that caused “the problem.” We have a serious lack of mental health education in our country and there are a lot of people that still believe that mental illness is brought upon by lifestyle and impure actions. If this is what you believe, please take the time to talk to a mental health professional.
Cult Leader Personality – There is a lot of literature on cult leaders and how they manipulate followers. The tools, psychological tactics and mind games they play to gain trust and convince followers to do things are devious and worth knowing. Young adults are very susceptible to manipulation by strong leader personalities. Using a role playing game to manipulate peoples real world behavior has been used and abused by many people over the years.
Fear of the Unknown – We often fear and blame that which we do not understand for problems in our lives. It is often easier to blame that which you do not understand than look within and accept responsibility for your own actions and problems.
Mass Hysteria – “A person is smart. People are dumb, panicky dangerous animals and you know it. Fifteen hundred years ago everybody knew the Earth was the center of the universe. Five hundred years ago, everybody knew the Earth was flat…Imagine what you’ll know tomorrow.” K, Men In Black.