Some time around third grade, probably about 1983, I had my first encounter with Dungeons & Dragons. My friend Dave, his older brother John, and I would play it after school with some of the other kids in the neighborhood. I still remember the day my mom took me to the local hobby shop and I bought my very own copy of the Dungeons & Dragons Basic Set in the red box. John was the person who introduced me to J.R.R. Tolkien, and that year I read “The Hobbit” for the first time. We used to spend hours making characters–using the lists in the back of “The Lord of the Rings” and “The Silmarillion” for names–and playing adventures.
My brother and I had a babysitter, Tom, the one who first introduced me to MTV, who was in high school. He played but decided he was getting a bit old for the game so he sold me his copies of the original Dungeon Masters Guide, Players Handbook, and Monster Manual for $10. (In fact they’re still packed away in a box in my mom’s attic. Very recently she called and said, “I have this box of D&D stuff here. Can I get rid of it?” I practically choked and said, “No, I’ll get it next time I’m back east.”)
My mom was never very comfortable with me playing the game. At the time it was very much in the news as a stepping stone for kids to get into Satanism and eventually killing themselves. She had the book “Mazes and Monsters” in her room and at one point she even sat me down to watch the TV movie. Even a few years later when I started to get more into music and starting listening to bands like Motley Crue on the radio, she would leave newspaper clippings on my desk about kids who’d commited suicide supposedly because they listened to too much heavy metal or played a Judas Priest record backwards or some other nonsense.
She never stopped me from playing but we did have to have our “talks” every once in a while to make sure I was never taking things too far. I always told her that it was a learning experience because it taught good math skills. It wasn’t much fun if you couldn’t add up a bunch of numbers or figure out percentages in your head quickly. “Ok, the orc is attacking you and… uh… 2 and uh… rolled a 13… uh…”
Eventually I got too old for the game myself. Not in my heart really. But junior high is a tough time for anyone, and playing D&D with nerds was a good way to get beaten up. A lot. Thankfully SSI released their first gold box Dungeons & Dragons computer game “Pool of Radiance” about the same time. And that’s when I switched from being a pen and paper player to a computer player. I’ve played pretty much every single D&D computer game that’s come out since 1988, and a lot of other role playing games as well. (Knights of the Old Republic, totally sweet.)
Recently I’ve thought more about my time with D&D, and the controversies surrounding it, and was it really good at teaching math? A lot of it is because my friend Cameron has a son who’s now 11. A few years ago he was way into Pokemon. Not too long ago it was Yu-Gi-Oh. And now he’s been showing me websites with a Superhero action figure game. It made me think about the huge scare that tended to surround Dungeons & Dragons. Yu-Gi-Oh and these other battling monster games are not that different on a basic level. And yet they have mainstream acceptance. The main difference with D&D, at least the way that I see it, is that it is all about story telling, creative immersion, and most importantly about choices of morality. Those kinds of things are probably what really scared people, even if they hid behind denouncements of Satanism. (I found a lot of Christian websites talking about the evils of D&D while looking up links for this post.)