Kriska on the evils of AD&D

Q: What year did you first start playing AD&D?  Can you provide us with a brief synopsis of your playing history?

 A: I first remember playing D&D when I was in the 4th grade. A kid I knew had gotten the game and wanted to try it out so he invited a bunch of kids over. His mom was a librarian, so she let us use the meeting room at the public library. I was hooked, but only got to play occasionally after that until I got to high school and was invited to join a group of players who met regularly. That was the beginning of my epic Friday night group, and my main friendships in high school. When I went to college, I left all those great guys behind because I was one year older than them, and after a while I started missing the comradery of a playing group, so I took a chance and answered an advertisement looking for players that I found in the college newspaper. I also accepted an invitation to join a group from a guy who lived in my dorm. That group was hilarious- all ROTC military guys who were VERY serious about their math formulas and topographical maps. But the group I met through the newspaper is the one that would change my life, because that is how I eventually met my husband.

Q: I remember hearing lots of things about the evils of AD&D growing up, in fact I was strongly discouraged from playing it.  What memories do you have of such warnings, either from personal experience or just from the media?

A: Personally, no one in my family was ever concerned with what games I played or what books I read, and for that I am very grateful. But you couldn’t avoid hearing THOSE stories sometimes in the news. I remember two big ones that spurred along D&D’s bad reputation- the first was the fictional movie “Mazes and Monsters” which showed a young man becoming so obsessed with the game he loses touch with reality. I also recall a news story about two brothers here in Colorado who killed themselves, and how the media tried to tie that into the fact they played D&D.

Then the Christians began calling it “The Devil’s Game” and preaching against it. That is where most of my personal experience with harassment and bullying in high school comes from- concerned Christians trying to save my soul from hellfire and damnation. It was not unusual for myself or a member of my RPG group to be approached in the hallways at school by someone who would invariably began the conversation with “Why do you worship the devil?” “Ummm, why do YOU think I worship the devil?” “Because I heard you play that game.” Oh boy…here we go! This is harassment, plain and simple. It was pretty miserable sometimes, but my friends and I stuck together. 

Q: These warnings don’t seem to have persisted 25 years later, in fact AD&D is going strong and now has some successful competitors.  Do you have an idea when and why the concerns about the evils of AD&D died down?

When people stopped blaming heavy metal music and violent video games and role-playing games for every bad thing that happened to their little perfect “Johnny.” I think this blame-the-game hysteria largely began to die down in the 1990’s. Of course, there are still some sensational stories from that time period, but now they had other games to blame as well, such as Vampire:The Masquerade and Magic: The Gathering. This is not based on any sort of scientific fact, but I wonder if the 90’s signaled a change because the players who had grown up with D&D were now entering their adult years, and were better able to explain themselves and were no longer “hapless young victims.” I wonder if there is a correlation between the fall of a great many flashy, drama-seeking mega-ministries that were preaching against it and the attention they focused on it?

I think it also helped a lot that Patricia Pulling, a crazy opponent of the game, pulled out of her own organization (B.A.D.D.) in 1990 and stopped seeking so much publicity. It’s funny, in a depressing way, how much misinformation one grief-stricken mother can spread through fear-mongering.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Patricia_Pulling

http://www.rpgstudies.net/stackpole/pulling_report.html

And some other lists of incidents from the 1980’s…

http://mentalfloss.com/article/31885/12-nutty-dungeons-dragons-media-mentions-1980s

http://www.theescapist.com/faq_encyclopedia.htm#erwin,daniel

Q: According to Wikipedia, Unearthed Arcana was one of the most controversial AD&D products in the 1980s, which ironically was the only AD&D book I owned during jr high/high school.  This controversy was partly because the book introduced the possibility of players having half-orc characters.  In 3rd edition AD&D and Pathfinder, characters can play essentially any race: orcs, goblins, half-devils.  Why isn’t there an uproar about races like tieflings now, and when did this idea of racial taboos become less important?

A: I think this ties into the discussion from question #3- as people stopped looking under rocks for reasons to freak out about gaming, they stopped caring so much about little things like what type or race of character you can play. The over-zealous, fearful religious faction that still believes that these kind of games are the devil’s work no longer spend so much time and energy in getting themselves in front of a camera to spout off their crazy beliefs. And in this day and age of video games like Grand Theft Auto, where you can play drug-dealers and pimps that appear fully created and visualized in front of your eyes without leaving anything to the imagination, do you think people are going to freak out about a bunch of quiet, studious bookworms gathered around a table playing a fictional creature? I don’t.

Q: Looking back on the AD&D that was around when I was in jr. high, it’s hard to see what all the fuss was about: you were roleplaying heroes trying to fight off evil.  If anything, the game seems to have gotten more “evil” while the outrage about it seems to have gone away.  Demons and devils are more prominent than ever, with tiefling as a playable class.  Alignment restrictions have gone down and “evil” modules like “We Be Goblins” have been published.  The only real reference to drugs or alcohol in the original game was “so you all meet in a tavern” while now there are game mechanics built around drunk fighters and a spell called “Polypurpose Panacea” which produces drug-like effects.  If the game that exists now were around 25 years ago, I could see more justification for parental concern, but they’re not now even though they were back then.  I mean even if you had things like kitsune and oreads 25 years ago you would expect critics to say the game was encouraging bestiality and objectum sexuals, as ridiculous as that sounds.  Do I have a polyanna memory about the original game, or is this the downfall of Western civilization going on and we just don’t know it?  Or is there some other explanation?

As the players have matured, so has the game? 

I am not sure- I do acknowledge that changes as you have outlined have indeed happened, but I think the world around us has changed too. As I pointed out above, video games like Grand Theft Auto, Call of Duty and Halo make a game based on your imagination alone seem pretty tame by comparison. And I also believe that just because there is a rule outlined in a book, that doesn’t mean you HAVE to use it.

Every single group I have played with had the house rule of “No evil characters.” I fully support that and it was the first one we enacted when we started a group for teens at the library. Putting aside the esoteric arguments of good vs. evil, the simple fact is that if you have evil characters in your party, you are going to focus more time and attention to dealing with that than you are in accomplishing any kind of adventure.

Also, I am sure that after being asked repeatedly by nerdy teenage boys for some clarification about the rules involving drinking and other things, the game creators decided to set some standards for play.  (Because hey! It’s pretty exciting that your character can be older than you and do something that you legally can’t. Just as it is exciting to imagine approaching a tavern wench and flirt brazenly with her when in real life you are too shy to stutter a few words in front of a member of the opposite sex.). Overall, I tend to think that players play within their maturity comfort levels, just as readers read within their maturity levels. If a reader isn’t ready for something they encounter in a book, most often they will move away from that topic and find their way back into their comfort zone. THIS IS OK. It is a natural and normal way for young people to explore their own boundaries and proceed at their own pace. What I do not condone, for example, is sitting a five year old kid down in front of a TV, handing him a gun, and playing Call of Duty with him because having that kind of tacit parental approval will, I fear, normalize the things that kid is going to see and do in such a violent game. 

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