The Panic Over Dungeons & Dragons (in 1985)

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In the mid 1980s, the U.S. media latched onto a story: teens were committing suicide, and the roleplaying game Dungeons & Dragons was somehow to blame. As a kid who was himself playing D&D (and not committing suicide) during this media firestorm, I remember the outcry pretty vividly. All the kids I knew who played the game were nerds, just like me. I was vaguely aware that sometimes teens did commit suicide...perhaps even nerds. Was there any connection between nerds playing D&D and nerds committing suicide? Not from what I saw. But I saw a lot of adults up in arms, concerned for my health and my soul, while for me, D&D was just a fun way to socialize and nerd out with my friends. (A similar discussion centered on teen suicide and heavy metal, and it always seemed equally bizarre to me. Though I never dug metal personally.)

In 1985, 60 Minutes broadcast a segment on the controversy over Dungeons & Dragons, interviewing the families of kids who had killed themselves, and who had also been D&D players. 60 Minutes also interviewed D&D creator Gary Gygax (deceased one year ago this month), who stated that the whole thing was just "a witch hunt." Well, now the 60 Minutes segment has turned up online. If you played D&D in the 80's, or remember the controversy over it, these two videos are worth a look:

Note: at the end of Part 2, we see a followup on Dr. Thomas Radecki, a psychiatrist (and chairman of the National Coalition on Television Violence) interviewed during the piece. The followup was aired in 1995. Here's part 2:

Pat Pulling, featured in the 60 Minutes piece, founded Bothered About Dungeons and Dragons (BADD) after her son's suicide. Read more about Pulling in The Pulling Report by Michael A. Stackpole. (Pulling passed away in 1997.)

Now that most of the people in the 60 Minutes story are either dead or discredited, the whole thing seems like a distant bad memory, one of many moral panics that swept the U.S. in the 1980s. I'm wondering if any of our readers were (or are still) D&D players, and remember this whole brouhaha. Care to share your experience in the comments?

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March 27, 2009 - 8:59am
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