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Monday, May 21, 2012

HOW DUNGEONS AND DRAGONS LED ME TO SATAN (A PERSONAL CONFESSION)




I first met Dungeons & Dragons back in 1981. "D&D" was seven years old. I was ten.
It was Virginia Nyahay, the G.A.T.E. ("Gifted and Talented Education") coordinator at my elementary school who introduced us. You see, at that time the game was in its second edition, an edition edited by child psychologist Dr. J. Eric Holmes, who argued it could be a valuable tool to stimulate cooperation, problem solving, communication, and math skills in adolescent brains. I've long suspected Ms. Nyahay must have heard about it through some sort of academic journal--it was not yet well known--and decided it was just the thing for the bright young minds in the G.A.T.E. program. However she found it, D&D (more through games that imitated it than the actual game itself) changed my life. Three decades later I still enjoy role-playing, and I think my skills as a writer owe a lot to those games.
Oh right. If forgot. I am supposed to be talking about the Devil.
It was shortly after I fell in love with the game that we all started hearing the whispered campfire tales that pass themselves off as "facts" on the lunatic fringe of the American Right. " D&D was a secret conspiracy to spread devil worship." Never mind that the game was about good versus evil, encouraging children to be on the former side. Never mind that it was more Tolkien than Torquemada. The same Evangelicals who would later decide that Harry Potter was the Left Hand of Satan had spoken. And so we had M.A.D.D. ("Mothers against Dungeons & Dragons") and Jack Chick. If you have never read Jack Chick's Evangelical comic strip "Dark Dungeons," widely circulated in the 80s, do yourself a favor and read it now. Here's the link. We even had an anti-D&D made for TV movie starring a young Tom Hanks.
Across the country, school D&D clubs were quietly shut down, all in the name of saving kids from the clutches of Beelzebub (or of simply avoiding protests and lawsuits by fools and fanatics).
But here's the funny thing. Several years later, when I was sixteen, I heard about this little book entitled The Satanic Bible, written by a man who had put together the first public, above-ground Church of Satan. You couldn't really avoid hearing about it, because the "Satanic Panic" of the 1980s was in full swing. Between the talk shows screaming about it, and Geraldo Rivera's two-hour prime time expose of the devil in our midst, Satanism was unavoidable. And I can remember thinking to myself, in the midst of all of this, how the same people had been screaming about D&D a few years earlier. If they could have been so wrong about D&D, I thought, maybe they are wrong about "The Satanic Bible" as well.
Thus it was Jack Chick, Tom Hanks, and Mothers Against Dungeons & Dragons who led me to the Church of Satan.
I wonder if Hallmark makes a "thank you" card for that.

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