A growing number of influential publications have offered their own takes on the 1980s Satanic Panic since the March 21st publication of our history of our own (“Mazes, Monsters, Charlatans, Satan and Suicide: A Short History of the Satanic Panic“). It’s been amazing to see the Panic become the topic du jour, especially at large, popular websites like IO9 and the BBC. All I can say is that there must be something in the air besides pollen and the sweet, minty fresh smell of chemtrails for so many sites to tackle the same, relatively obscure topic in such a short amount of time! Whatever signal is in the air, clearly we’re all receiving it loud and clear. Must be one of those “Hundredth Monkey” things. Good that more people are hearing about the panic, no matter where they hear it from, but cheers to you, Disinfonauts, for getting the story here first.
I’m very pleased to share with you a piece from the BBC, but chances are that if you’re anywhere near the internet you’ve already seen it. Our own piece received some mentions here and there – Neatorama, a couple of small blogs – but the BBC has an enviable media footprint, and the story is spreading far and wide. Even more so than IO9’s piece, which was released a few days after our story (Check out IO9’s “How We Won The War On Dungeons & Dragons“.)
“The great 1980s Dungeons & Dragons panic”
In 1979, 16-year-old child prodigy James Dallas Egbert III disappeared from his room at Michigan State University. A private investigator, William Dear, was hired by James’s parents to find their son. Despite apparently knowing little about roleplaying games, Dear believed that D&D was the cause of Egbert’s disappearance.
In truth, Egbert suffered from, among other things, depression and drug addiction, and had gone into hiding – in the utility tunnels under the university – during an episode of self-harm. The well-publicised episode – referred to as the Steam Tunnel Incident – prompted a number of works of fiction, including the novel Mazes and Monsters and 1982 Tom Hanks film of the same name.
Egbert later died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound in 1980. Despite the evidence regarding his mental health problems, some activists believed Egbert’s suicide was caused by D&D.
In 1982, high school student Irving Lee Pulling died after shooting himself in the chest. Despite an article in the Washington Post at the time commenting “how [Pulling] had trouble ‘fitting in'”, mother Patricia Pulling believed her son’s suicide was caused by him playing D&D.
Again, it was clear that more complex psychological factors were at play. Victoria Rockecharlie, a classmate of Irving Pulling, commented that “he had a lot of problems anyway that weren’t associated with the game”.
At first, Patricia Pulling attempted to sue her son’s high school principal, claiming the curse placed upon her son’s character during a game run by the principal was real. She also sued TSR Inc, the publishers of D&D. Despite the court dismissing these cases, Pulling continued her campaign by forming Bothered About Dungeons and Dragons (BADD) in 1983.