Friday, 19 September 2014

How We Diced With The Devil

I spend my working hours plugged into documentaries and podcasts covering all types of subject, and yesterday I was tuned into a paranormal podcast which was discussing the 'Satanic Panic' of the 80s. which I remember all too well.

Now, as well as the worry that heavy rock music was tempting teens into worshipping Satan, some of you will recall that Dungeons & Dragons came clearly into the firing line of the Religious Right spearheaded by the wonderfully named Tipper Gore.

Even here in Sheffield, UK, there was a flurry of anti-D&D sentiment with the local press echoing the worries of the Church Of England that sweet teens like me would be drawn into a life in which they became Satan's minions. Of course because I was into Iron Maiden et al, I was doubly doomed.

Forget the fact that I was way more literate than my peers as a result of the time I spent with my nose in books, no, I was going to hell and had a first class ticket.


Anyway, I've covered all that previously in my first book, but it did get me into a conversation on a social media site, which led to me taking a fresh look at the controversy that surrounded what is in reality an innocent pastime.

In 1982 Irving Pulling of Virginia, USA, committed suicide, not in itself of particular note, however Irving was a member of a high school D&D group, and his mother Patricia was to become infamous for what came to pass in the wake of her son's death.

Driven by the Satanic Panic and being an anti-occult campaigner, Patricia Pulling filed a lawsuit against the principal of the school on the grounds that as the D&D group met at school, and as Irving was the victim (Pulling claimed) of a D&D curse placed upon him prior to his death, the principal was directly responsible.

This led to the founding of 'Bothered About Dungeons & Dragons' or 'BADD' which sought to 'educate' on the dangers of Dungeons & Dragons.

Pulling even produced a pamphlet which strangely enough looks like many of the fanzines of the day...

Patricia then filed  what was to become an infamous lawsuit against TSR and Gary Gygax, which was finally thrown out by the courts in 1984, after a prolonged battle. However, it was also demonstrated during the proceedings by none other than Michael A Stackpole, that contrary to the grief driven claims of Pulling, there were lower instances of suicide amongst gamers than non-gamers.

Pulling succumbed to cancer in 1997, and despite her continuous campaigning right up until her death, BADD pretty much faded away.

An excellent in-depth article named 'The Pulling Report' was compiled by Stackpole in 1990 and can be found here:

At over 40 pages, it's worth a read, if you are interested in the history of our hobby.

There were many such claims made against gamers in the 80s, and more often than not, BADD, which punched way above it's weight in the minds of the conservative small towns of the Southern United States, was in the eye of the hurricane...

The Miami Herald ran this article in October of 1985:


On the afternoon of June 9, 1982, Irving Lee "Bink" Pulling II completed his final examinations at Patrick Henry High School and wrote on the test sheet, "This is the last paper I will ever write, GOODBYE."

That evening, outside his parents' home in Montpelier, Bink, 16, shot himself in the chest with his father's pistol.

Patricia Pulling, Bink's mother, is convinced that his suicide resulted from a "curse" put on him in school earlier that day while he was playing the fantasy game Dungeons & Dragons. He was so distraught over the curse, she said, that he killed himself.

Pulling and her husband, Lee, have spent the last three years fighting to have Dungeons & Dragons removed from schools, which sometimes permit it as an extracurricular activity, and to force the manufacturer, TSR Inc. of Lake Geneva, Wis., to put warning labels on Dungeons & Dragons materials.

"We've never asked for the game to be banned from the market," Lee Pulling said. "We want warning labels."

A TSR official said that the game is harmless fun and that warning labels are unneeded.

"What's the warning going to say?" said Deiter Sturm, TSR public relations director. "Are you going to put a warning label on automobiles, saying, 'This automobile is for transportation use only, not meant to be a weapon or means of suicide?' Anything we have in life can be misused, be it games, TV, sports, anything that we have."

Bothered about D&D

After her son's death, Patricia Pulling organized BADD -- Bothered About D&D -- whose newsletter now goes out to 2,000 concerned parents and others who oppose Dungeons & Dragons. BADD says it has linked Dungeons & Dragons to 51 suicides and killings involving young people since 1979.

The research, however, is unscientific, consisting mainly of Patricia Pulling's interviews with police and parents in cases brought to her attention by newspapers and television. She and her husband want the federal government to investigate the deaths to determine if Dungeons & Dragons was a cause.

Dungeons & Dragons is a game of the imagination. Dice are used, but there is no board, as there is in Monopoly or backgammon. It is set in medieval times, based loosely on the writings of J.R.R. Tolkien, author of the trilogy Lord of the Rings and other fantasy works.

Pulling's group and other opponents of Dungeons & Dragons object to its emphasis on violence.

"Dungeons & Dragons is essentially a worship of violence," said Dr. Thomas Radecki of Champaign, Ill., a psychiatrist and chairman of the National Coalition on Television Violence in Washington, D.C.

"It's a very intense war game. Talk to people that have played it. It's very fascinating. It's a game of fun. But when you have fun with murder, that's dangerous. When you make a game out of war, that's harmful. The game is full of human sacrifice, eating babies, drinking blood, rape, murder of every variety, curses of insanity. It's just a very violent game."

Radecki's organization is trying to convince CBS to take its Saturday morning cartoon show Dungeons & Dragons off the air.

Dungeons & Dragons has been controversial almost from its inception, but controversy has only spurred its popularity and growth. TSR's Sturm said in a telephone interview that three to four million people play the game and that many other role- playing fantasy games have appeared since TSR founder Gary Gygax created Dungeons & Dragons in 1973.

Initially, Dungeons & Dragons was played mostly by college students. But the trend in recent years has been toward high school and junior high players. TSR has simplified the instructions to reach the younger market.

Bright players

Because the game is complicated and requires a vivid imagination, Dungeons & Dragons always has attracted bright young people. Bink Pulling was in a program for the talented and gifted at his high school.

In a number of cases, Patricia Pulling said, the connection between the game and the death is clear.

Deiter Sturm said TSR investigates when BADD attributes a death to Dungeons & Dragons.

"We always find there were many, many different factors involved in that person's life," Sturm said. "We haven't yet, out of all the names, seen one shred of evidence to indicate the game was the cause" of a death.

The mother of one suicide victim said Dungeons & Dragons "is a dangerous game for some young people. It was a dangerous game for my son."

But the woman, who did not want to be quoted by name, said her son had other problems. Some of the criticism of the game "is a little misguided," she said.

That is the view of some others as well.

Easy explanation?

"Dungeons & Dragons has been one of those things that people grab onto to explain suicidal death among young people," said Julie Perlman, executive officer of the American Association of Suicidology. "And I feel it is unwarranted."

She said that in 1982, the last year for which statistics are available, there were 5,025 suicides reported among people aged 15 to 24. Perlman said she believes many more suicides went unreported.

"Everybody wants an answer that explains it easily," she said. ". . . I just see that Dungeons & Dragons is an easy answer. It's not that simple."

Beth Grant-DeRoos of Dublin, Calif., is director of the Association for Gifted-Creative Children. She said her organization, with a membership of 7,200 families in California, views Dungeons & Dragons as a positive force that encourages children to exercise their imaginations and use their minds.

"Eighty-six percent of our families have children who play Dungeons & Dragons," she said.

Out of schools

Several school systems have removed Dungeons & Dragons as an extracurricular activity since the controversy arose. The Arlington, Va., school board banned the game shortly after the Pullings filed their first lawsuit against the principal of their son's school.

TSR's Sturm said many parents oppose Dungeons & Dragons "because they have to find something to place the blame on to relieve their personal guilt.'

And, if you think that was bad, take a look at this from the Omaha World-Herald of November 1984, where police speculated that there was a D&D connection following the deaths of a pair of brothers in Colorado.

Chief Of Police, Larry Stallcup was quoted thus:

"We aren't sure at this point whether we have a double suicide or a suicide/homicide," 

The police chief said [Dungeons & Dragons] appeals to very intelligent people, who use their imagination to manipulate characters and work through a series of mazes to achieve treasures and avoid falling into the dungeon.

"My undertstanding [sic] is that once you reach a certain point where you are the master, your only way out is death," Stallcup said.

"That way no one can beat you."

D&D was everywhere from colouring books, and 'Letraset', to boxes of cereals. There was even an animated series which had me running home from school every week to watch the latest adventures, and try to work out whether the producers were following the rules. And before you ask, yes, I have the whole thing on DVD. It seemed that Satan's influences were everywhere:

And, how many pubescent gamers 'rolled their D20s' to ads like this?

It's plain to see that we were all certainly going to hell with such explicit advertising...

We were screwed!

Some of you will no doubt recall that TSR (the original owners of D&D) experimented with a (truly awful and very unsuccessful) line of toys based on the game in the 80s...

Not to be outdone, the 'Defender's Of The Faith' hit back with their own toy lines. Praise Unlimited Inc, a Florida manufacturer of Christian toys, deliberately aimed their lines to counter the evil products spewing forth from TSR:

The Miami Herald, that bastion of anti-gaming fervor profiled the the company in December, 1984 thus:


Cute, cuddly dolls with names like Joy and Faith and an action toy called Judah the Christian Soldier could some day replace "the devil's toys," say two North Carolina women.

"We feel that this is a ministry," Dana McNeal said, displaying toys she believes answer the biblical call in Proverbs 22:6 to "Train up a child in the way he should go."

McNeal and Linda Campbell market dolls, games and other items in North Carolina for Praise Unlimited Inc., a Sarasota, Fla., company specializing in "Christian toys." Campbell and McNeal describe themselves not as distributors, but as "toy missionaries."

"We feel we were called into this ministry, led by the Lord," McNeal said. "The reason there's a need for Christian toys is because of the toys that are on the current world secular market."

McNeal dismissed with a wave of her hand dolls such as Darth Vader from the film Star Wars and the shadowy men and monsters from Dungeons and Dragons.

"We call them the devil's toys," she said.

McNeal said she hopes parents will give their children alternatives -- perhaps a 116-piece Noah's Ark or an action toy named Judah the Christian Soldier.

Another Praise Unlimited toy is a child-sized suit of "the armor of God" described in Ephesians 6:11 as the proper gear to "stand against the wiles of the devil," she said. Accessories include the Helmet of Salvation, the Belt of Truth, the Shield of Faith and the Breastplate of Righteousness.

There also are the Praise Dolls -- Joy, Faith, Hope and Love. They tell their religious messages in song, activated by a child's hug.

"God is so good. God is so good. God is good and good to me," sings Joy, a 21-inch doll with blond hair and a dress decorated with descending doves representing the Holy Spirit.

Campbell and McNeal, who have worked together since March, said the dolls' messages are the antithesis of what's going under many Christmas trees.

"A lot of toys on the secular world market illustrate violence, competition and sensuality,' McNeal said.

She said a recent U.S News and World Report said sales of military board games, guns and violent video games have increased 200 percent in the past two years. But her strongest criticism was for Dungeons and Dragons, a board game that prompted reports of youngsters identifying too closely with the subterranean knights and sorcerers they control on cardboard.

"We're trying to make people aware of what children are playing with and the effect on them," McNeal said.'

And the 'evils of D&D' were making it to the TV screens. Rona Jaffe a writer of somewhat dreary romantic fiction scored a hit when she wrote 'Mazes & Monsters' a truly awful story which, was turned into a 1982 'for T.V' film starring the young Tom Hanks.

I have that book, and I have watched the film, but fear that to do so again may cause brain damage.

The story was based very, VERY loosely on the life and death of one James Dallas Egbert III, who was something of a child genius, who by 16 was studying computer sciences at Michigan State University.

He could not take the pressure and was a drug addict who tried three times to indulge in self harm. The first time he took to the steam tunnels of the university, took a handful quaaludes (hypnotic-sedatives) and  failed to kill himself .

He tried twice more to end his life and finally managed to fail his saving throw vs. shotgun in his apartment on August 16th 1980.

At the time it was thought that the fact that Egbert played D&D, was a contributing factor, hence that bloody awful book and film.

(You will note that this pre-dates BADD)

And so on and so forth...

As you can see, this really was taken very seriously at the time. I guess that today's teenagers with their almost constant supply of paranormal, sci-fi and fantasy media would laugh if we 'Oldies' tried to tell them how we were at one time 'Christianity's Most Wanted'. My, how times change...

Or do they?

A new rallying of the so called 'Religious Right' in the U.S is starting to stir these same old prejudices, despite the fact that so many of the games now are as pure as angel piss, when compared to the old stuff. I fully expect that at some stage we'll see a troubled child, stymied in their ability to express who they are by the button-down society we seem to be becoming, do something which see them harm themselves or others. Then, when the distraught parents, clear out the child's things and find a fictional work containing 'demons' or 'spells' they will seek a way to exonerate themselves, and lash out at the producers and players of games.

We will become hunted members of a 'Global Satanic Cult' and the wraith of Patricia A Pulling will rise again.

Let's all take out our copies of Deities & Demigods and pray to whatever power we wish, that this does not come to pass.

Now, if you will excuse me I need to find my dice and some paper, and do some serious Satan worshipping...