Dungeons & Dragons: Moral Panic, 1980s style

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The more things change, the more they stay the same – or so it often seems. Back in the 1980s the Internet was a distant dream. So we didn’t have online porn, videos of jihadists beheading infidels, paedophile-haunted chat-rooms or unlimited 24-hour gambling. And although we had video games, blobby little men being chased around by unconvincingly blocky aliens was about as scary as they got.

But there was another threat to our youth, one that involved dice, optional miniature figurines and characters with names like Thong. (Well maybe not Thong – at least not in the version I played …) I was fascinated by this article which describes some of the controversy caused by the craze for fantasy role playing games in the pre-WWW era.

Reading the article now, it seems quaint, almost laughable that such a primitive (in more ways than one) pastime was a source of so much moral panic. By the time I got involved, in about 1983, the principal fear (as reflected in BASIC Boy) was of the mantle of geekhood increasingly being bestowed upon the brave goblin-fighting warriors by the rest of society. I wasn’t afraid of being branded a Devil worshipper so much as a spotty oik who couldn’t get a girlfriend (which I kind of was – a spotty oik that is, not a Devil worshipper – but never mind).

(Actually I wasn’t so much into D&D – I’ve always had an aversion to overly complicated games that last four days – but I did absolutely love the Fighting Fantasy solo role playing books.)

Anyway, this is one reason why I like history. It gives you a perspective on events that you can only get from a distance. I wonder what future generations will make of some of the issues and neuroses that obsess us today?

Changing the subject – I’m taking a break from blogging until after Easter. I’m going on holiday with my family and I’ve made the momentous decision not to take my laptop with me. Call it tech detox if you will. It also means I won’t do any writing as such for nine or ten days.

However I am taking the printed-out synopsis of my third novel, which I’ve done next to no work on for several months, and I’m going to ponder and scribble on it in an unashamedly pre-digital kind of way. The era of the word processor has been a massive boon to writers, and I just can’t imagine writing a novel on a typewriter or – even worse – by hand, though of course that’s what authors used to do and it didn’t stop some pretty good stuff being written! But sometimes I think there are drawbacks too. It encourages us to dive in and just write – which might be a good thing in many ways, but not perhaps always. And of course there are all those distractions – the Internet, e-mail, games, blah blah blah …

I’m hoping the space and focus of the next week will allow me to really think about my novel, to plan and ponder, read other stuff, and hopefully come back energised and ready to pound the keys and get the damn thing written.

Hope you have a wonderful Easter.

5 thoughts on “Dungeons & Dragons: Moral Panic, 1980s style

  1. Fighting Fantasy, yes. I was particularly find of the Steve Jackson “Sorcery!” books, the very best of the choose-your-own-adventure era. And my first novel, “Mentor,” was based in large part on my AD&D days. Did you ever read a book by Greg Castikyan called “Another Day, Another Dungeon”? He was a game-created-turned-novelist. Loved that book!

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