The Dungeons and Dragons Stigma

The group of fast friends that I gamed with for many years was often recruiting members. Our core was three players and myself as DM. The modules all said 4-8 characters, so we always tried to add a fourth player. We tried friends, family members, neighborhood kids, everybody. The two brothers that formed the core of the player group had a cousin that lived not far away. Good kid, bookish, no social butterfly, just the type that should fit in well. We gathered him in and introduced him to the game. He was entranced and loved it. We had a solid introductory game and agreed to come back next weekend and play again.

Come Saturday and Colin didn’t show up. His cousins went to his house to remind him of the game and were sternly advised at the door that “good Christians don’t play games about Devil Worship!”. Their aunt promptly called their father and told him in no uncertain terms what his boys were up to. Fortunately their dad was a bit of a free spirit and told them to not address the game around her, but otherwise we had no issues. We all had a puzzled laugh about the whole thing and kept playing.

This was the first time I had really heard about the DND “stigma”. At that time the dork/nerd angle wasn’t played up all that much, as it probably would have had more effect on us. Later we heard about Richard Ramirez, the “Night Stalker” serial killer, who supposedly had Dungeons and Dragons books in his bedroom, which of course led him (along with evil rock music) to go and kill people. Then during an old movie search at the video store, I found the inestimable Tom Hanks (way before Forrest Gump) as the lead in a move called “Mazes and Monsters” which unsubtly paralleled Dungeons and Dragons. The lead character, traumatized by his brother disappearing as a young boy, falls under the spell of the game and ends up in a sanitarium believing he truly was his character after a harrowing adventure through the New York subway, quitting school and losing his girlfriend. All in all a pretty stern condemnation of the game!

Interestingly enough for the time, this movie was supposedly based on the real-life disappearance of James Dallas Egbert from Michigan State University in 1979. The sad truth about the disappearance was that this troubled young man essentially ran away from home and was found in New York, the only reality about the movie. He was a gamer, but this had nothing to do with his disappearance, nor his mental problems.

As an adult now, I have seen Saturday Night Live sketches talking about Tom Cruise as “the Treasurer of the Dungeons and Dragons club” implying he never was cool to begin with, Sara Silverman’s show just had her loser friends gathered together with his group of costumed DND devotees trying to rescue her from a hostage situation and nearly killing themselves with their clumsiness.

But the stigma is the same with anything that the lowest common denominator masses don’t understand. Anything that involves reading is completely foreign to the public right now. God forbid you have some knowledge that you didn’t gather from Google or TMZ! In the end, I think that DND devotees can hold their heads up high, knowing that the majority of people in this day and age don’t have anything close to the imagination or intelligence to engage in their chosen hobby. That is by no definition something to be ashamed of….