The world of role-playing games is widespread these days, with games of every kind, in many different mediums, spanning genres and filling up convention after convention. While stigmas and stereotypes still exist for those who play, player demographics span nearly every age, gender, and class. (Did you know Roger Moore and Vin Diesel were adult Dungeons & Dragons players?) But it wasn’t always so. Like rock & roll before it, tabletop role-playing—and D&D in particular—had some, shall we say, wildly inaccurate perceptions in its early days. Today, Guest Geek Eric Turowski paints us a picture…
Okay, so actually he writes us a blog post, but I’m going for metaphor here. Take it, Eric!
The First Time I Was Accused of Satanism
My first year of college, I was led down the dark path of evil and into the world of sinister malice. That’s right, I was lured into Advanced Dungeons & Dragons marathon gaming. It was the glorious ’80s, the tail end of the Cold War, in the San Francisco Bay Area. There were entire stores dedicated to tiny lead figures and glistening jewel-like dice with far more than the normal number of sides. Mind blowing.
Of course, D&D is the gateway drug into LARPing, Renaissance Fairs, Cosplay and the like. I was tempted. All that, however, sounded like it could be sweaty and verging on exercise. I opted for the sitting-down-with-a coke-running-around-in-my-mind version as opposed to what seemed like slightly organized flashlight tag.
Still, the game became a little obsessive.
“Dude, aren’t you supposed to be in Sociology right now?”
“Are you freaking kidding me? We’ve done thirty points of damage to this ogre and he’s still attacking!”
Yes, we played at school, usually in the library. But soon the college decided we were gambling (or something, but certainly not learning), and kicked us out. Of course, we were geeks, so we used the school’s own laws, chartered an official campus club, named it something other than D&D club, and they gave us an office. Go figure.
On weekends, we shuffled around from house to house, aiming for a spot where parents were at work or out for the day. For the most part, adults considered the whole thing a harmless waste of time, kind of stupid, or “Thank God George found some real friends.” By that, I wondered if heretofore, all George’s friends had been the imaginary kind.
However, at one house, we found a very different attitude.
We packed in to Joe’s living room, bags of Goldfish, Doritos, boxes of Cheez-Its, cans of Coke and Mountain Dew and Jolt (we were still a few years away from beer-drinking D&D), and backpacks full of books, charts, maps, character sheets, dice-of-many-sides, and tiny, carefully hand-painted figures. I think we were playing one of the Against the Giants modules. We set up, and we lounged in the boneless way only teenagers can achieve. As we campaigned through the underground against—I can’t remember if it was frost or fire giants—Joe’s mom stormed in.
“Why aren’t you at work, Ma?” Joe asked.
Joe’s mom, a diminutive but solid looking black woman put her hands on her hips and glared. “I got a call from Guy’s mother. And we figured out what ya’ll are doing.”
Joe looked a little embarrassed. We probably all did. We were spending all our off-hours (and far too many of our on-hours) on a role playing game, hoping to work through the Giant modules to get to the mysterious underground world of the Drow.
“You boys are trying to raise demons.”
Nobody said anything for a minute, at least.
Joe’s mom nodded as if this confirmed the theory she and Guy’s mom had cooked up.
“Uh-hunh.” She pointed. “Two black guys, two white guys, two Chinese guys, and two Mexican guys. You all a cult.”
The Bay Area is a very diverse place.
“Ma, we’re just playing a game.”
“A game? With all that stuff? With all these books? Who needs so many books to play a game? You raising demons. Rituals. Like a Ouija board. Consorting with devils.” With that, Joe’s mom grabbed the first book within reach—the Monster Manual. Her eyes popped. “See what I’m saying? Right here! Type I demon, vrock, type II demon, hezrou—these are straight up outta the Bible!”
Even with my limited knowledge, I knew that there were neither vrock nor herzou in the Bible. But I didn’t want to get Joe in any more trouble than he already was. Or Guy, either, since apparently his mother was in on this Satanic bust.
What we didn’t know then was that one of our own sacred institutions was being used against us. A guy named Jack Chick had published a comic about D&D being demonology training. In “Dark Dungeons,” a girl—Playing D&D? What? (These were less enlightened times.)—is recruited into a witches’ coven via the role playing game. The publication was apparently circulated to Christian churches including, apparently, the one Joe’s and Guy’s mothers attended. But that wasn’t the worst of it.
“I seen it on TV. Satanic underground networks. Secret covens. They stealing babies! Well, I didn’t raise my baby to be no covener. Thou shalt not coven! That’s straight up outta the Bible!”
Something in the air made the early ‘80s rife with demons. The crazed witch hunt now known as the Satanic panic was just getting underway at that point, too, with arrests made at a day care just a few hours away in southern California. Testimony based on the then-recent phenomena, repressed memory, was considered valid. People actually believed that a nationwide Satanic underground network ritually abused thousands of children. Dentists, daycare operators, store clerks became entangled in this frightening, but absolutely untrue, scenario. Somehow, some right-thinking evangelistic types had equated our time-eating role playing with covens and ritual abuse.
Personally, I couldn’t equate a game based on Tolkien and Robert E. Howard books to any anti-Christian sentiment. Fundamentalist Christians, however, had found a whipping boy in the TSR tomes—and in the people who played it. I suspect it was because the game used math. Just a little, mind you, but some people go crazy when they see numbers.
Joe cast his eyes at the rug. “Ma, we’re not…covening. We’re just playing a game.”
She waved the Monster Manual at us. “That’s why you wanted to get that damn cat. She’s your Satan animal, so you can talk to demons.”
“Familiar?” George foolishly offered.
“Don’t you sass me!” She dropped the book as if it were covered in devil poop. “Now, you pack up and go. If I see you together again, I’m calling the police. And Pastor Reynolds. And you can take the bus to school from now on, Joseph.”
“Ma!” Joe whined.
“You ain’t using my station wagon to get up to your demonic tricks. Now, get outta here. Satan ain’t gonna make me miss my lunch.”
Sheepish and confused, we packed our figures, charts, maps, books, dice and left. As we stood on the sidewalk, Joe’s mother admonished us through the screen door.
“Ya’ll need to give up this occult training right now. Find girlfriends. Go to church. And you’re coming with me to church tomorrow, Joseph. I don’t wanna hear any lip either!” And with that, she closed the door.
The girlfriends part stung a little. But I learned something. While I’d been interested in the darker aspects of things my whole life, this was the first time I’d seen anyone so stirred up by the idea of the occult, and it stayed with me. When I sat down to write my first novel, I immediately turned to the demonic for inspiration—given this little experience, I figured demonic possession would generate the biggest impact, garner the most extreme reactions. More recently, while still sticking with an occult theme in Inhuman Interest, I turned it around, made it amusing, non-Satanic, less threatening.
After all, no one wants to upset Joe’s mother.
ABOUT THE GEEK
Newspaper founder, bookstore owner, artist, musician, and man-about-town Eric Turowski writes lots of mixed-genre books when he’s not too busy playing laser tag with Tiger the Cat and his fiancée Mimi somewhere in the San Francisco Bay Area. He is the author of Inhuman Interest (Story By Tess Cooper #1). You can find him at www.ericturowski.com.