Wednesday, 20 April 2016

Nerds Victorious

There's an article in the New York Times about the moral panic over Dungeons & Dragons in the Eighties. I only played it a few times, and I remember that I sort of enjoyed it, but it never became part of my life. I just wasn't that sociable a nerd and preferred to read sci-fi by myself. Also, D&D came in when I was already in my early twenties, and I think you had to catch the bug in your mid-teens or thereabouts. Anyway, the D&D panic never really spread to Britain, perhaps because fundamentalist Christians have never had much clout since the 19th century (in England, at any rate). We've been lucky in that respect. 

Anyway, the story behind the D&D panic is the usual nonsense - the association of various real and imaginary Bad Things with a Strange Activity adults don't get. 'Fred plays this game, now Fred is dead - the game somehow killed Fred'. One can of course correlate teen suicide quite easily with walking, bathing, or wearing trousers, but a game featuring spells and evil wizards must have seemed like a literal godsend to attention-seekers and yammering idiots of the 'think of the children' variety.

An interesting fact the NYT mentions in passing:
The explosion of video games over the last few decades has been accompanied not by an increase in youth violence but, rather, by a sharp decline.
But there are no headlines in that. Another good article on D&D is here. It makes the point that nerd culture has won the war against Christian intolerance, and that the nerds are fairly magnanimous in victory. It also gives examples of the scare pamphlets religious bigots put out to stigmatise gamers. The parallels with Salem and the McCarthy era are obvious enough so I won't labour them.

How We Won the War on Dungeons & Dragons

How We Won the War on Dungeons & Dragons

A list of deaths caused by various problems were blamed on a dice-rolling fantasy game, in a dishonest attempt to provide a religious 'one size fits all' explanation. And the article ends with this thought:
In the 1980s, angry mobs of parents burned their kids' D&D books. Those kids, now grown up, digitize and annotate the pamphlets that once condemned them.
It's a weird kind of progress, but progress nonetheless.

1 comment:

Aonghus Fallon said...

Actually makes me feel quite nostalgic. We're talking about a period when you still needed (a) a typewriter (b) some letraset & (c) a photocopier to publish your pamphlet.