Wednesday, April 23, 2014

The Great D&D Panic of the 1990s

BBC just featured a story about "The Great Dungeons & Dragons Panic of the 1980s."

For our family, it was "The Great Dungeons & Dragons Panic of the 1990s."

Our son Kevin was a big D&D fan. He and his junior high buddies used to crowd around the kitchen table with their chips and Mountain Dew and play D&D into the wee hours. This was also the time of The Great Columbine Panic of 1999, in which parents all along the Front Range were inspecting their teen boys of any predilection for walking into school and murdering a dozen of their classmates. The two scares went hand in hand, joining the usual paranoia that goes along with raising a teen in America.

Later, in the new century, we got to add terrorism and joining the military and drug use and suicide into this heady brew. It's a wonder our boys -- most of them -- made it into adulthood.

In the BBC article, veteran roleplayer Andy Smith sums of the panic this way:
"The view of roleplaying games has changed over time, mostly because the predicted 'streets awash with the blood of innocents as a horde of demonically-possessed roleplayers laid waste to the country' simply never materialised."
"Materialised" with an "s." I love the Brits.

Kevin's role-playing friends included a young man who hated school and grew up to be an accomplished truck mechanic, another young man with an active imagination who now spends most of his time in his mother's basement, another who is a computer guy with a very good IT job, another who is in a rock band in Denver and makes some fine home-brewed beer, and at least one girl -- I don't know what she's doing these days. And then it gets difficult. Two of members of this roleplaying crowd are no longer with us. Both dead by suicide in their 20s. One hung himself and one blew his brains out with a gun. I went to both of their funerals and have only been more sad at the funerals of two of my brothers, dead from pneumonia and cancer.

One of these young men was a very talented artist. He had just finished art school in Denver and had returned to Cheyenne. Not sure what happened to make him take the final plunge. He was a mysterious teen. He wore one of those long western coats to school, the same coat worn by the two killers at Columbine. After April 20, 1999, junior high administrators told him to stop wearing the coat to school. He refused. His diminutive German-born mother went toe-to-toe with school officials and got them to back off. Last time I saw here was at her son's funeral. I will always wonder what was going through her head that day.

The other casualty of those years was a skateboarder who couldn't go straight. He was a hardcore druggie and just seemed to be getting his life back on track when his young wife found him hanging in the closet. I remember him as a friendly kid whom I didn't want my son to hang out with. But he did. He later went to drug treatment for a year. He still has some struggles but graduated from community college and lives a thousand miles away with his girlfriend who seems nice on the phone.

So did D&D have anything to do with these later life traumas? I am not sure. Some innocent blood was spilled, but the violence was mostly self-inflicted. My wife Chris and I were concerned with D&D overdose at the time. When we asked Kevin about it, he thought we were being silly. Just wait until he brings kids into this crazy world.

Those roleplaying D&D kids always seemed to have such a raucous good time. A bunch of likable nerds.

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