Monday, September 28, 2015

Dungeons & Dragons, Satan's Game

I don't know if this will be an entertaining post or not.  I'm really tempted to do an audio version of it (those are way easier), since the tone of my voice might convey my feelings better than some hastily-typed words while glancing at the clock.  But ah well.

So, I went to a comic convention over the weekend.  It was the same one I first took my nephew to two years ago, only to discover the basement had flooded quite terribly when we came home.  I took both of my nephews this year, one on each day, and ended up getting vomited on my the older one Friday night.  I spent quite a while cleaning up chunder, and discovered that I smelled pretty strongly of regurgitant for the rest of the evening.

What's worse, my buddy Merrill told me about arugula yesterday, and said his wife likes it (or claims to).  It made me feel not dissimilar to how I felt seeing my sister's kid upchucking beans and enchilada onto the floor and himself.

But the reason I wanted to write this up is that today at work, I kept thinking about the D&D panel I went to yesterday.  It was a very disappointing panel, yet I couldn't stop dwelling on it, to the point that I thought it might be amusing to talk about how unamusing it was.  So, I went out and did a little Rish Outcast about it you can listen to here, if you like (or download it here).

It wasn't very amusing, though, and I thought I'd try again here in the blog to talk about it.

So, my pal Jeff has been into Dungeons & Dragons all his life, and his mother is one of those types who believes the worst about anything, and constantly tried to keep him away from that devilish pastime.  He's told me many amusing stories about the moms in his community gasping and shuddering at the revelation that he spent his Fridays rolling multi-sided dice in oblation to the Beastmaster.

So when I heard there was a panel at this weekend's comic-con entitled Satanism, Insanity, and Dungeons & Dragons, I made it a priority to go to it.

But save for one brief shining moment, it was absolutely no fun.  You see, apparently religious nuts and paranoid politicians can do a great deal of damage, and the panel talked about people who were persecuted, arrested, boycotted, shunned, and small businesses that went under due to the anti-D&D hysteria.  Sure, it's kind of hilarious to play that Tom Hanks phone booth scene from MAZES & MONSTERS, but when you find out the actual story behind that, and how role-playing games were the scapegoat for an unhappy individual that lost his mind and eventually his life at his own hand, well . . .

On the panel were people who sold role playing games, people who loved (and were harassed for loving) Dungeons & Dragons, and Michael Stackpole, who was (and remains) head of a gaming coalition who comes to the aid of those who are sued, threatened, defamed, or strong-armed by multi-millionaire televangelists and backwoods politicians in places like Virginia Beach, VA.  Stackpole told story after story of people trying to stamp out the new and vulnerable RPG industry in the Eighties and it never--not a single time--ended with the outraged parents or church groups admitting they'd been wrong.

I went to the panel to chuckle at how naive folks were just a few years ago (and there was a chuckle here and there, like when some of the religious tracts were quoted, helping parishioners identify those who might be "under the influence" of these wicked, destructive games), but when you hear first-hand witnesses of book-burnings in church parking lots, the laughter tends to dry up.

It's all too easy to make comparisons to recent panics and blame games, such as the post-Columbine video game/movie violence paranoia, the Heavy Metal Equals Satanism movement, and the anti-Harry Potter bullshit of the last decade.  And that's not totally fun either.

EXCEPT for this.  Early on, a guy came in and sat in the corner.  And he was dressed in an elaborate devil costume* he'd made himself, and he sat silently throughout the panel, which seemed really bizarre to me (I took a picture as he sipped his drink through a straw early on).  Then they opened it up for questions, and he stood and went to the microphone.

Several people laughed, gasped, or cheered when they noticed him approach the front of the line, and when he started to ask his question in a timid, nerdy regular voice, the entire meeting room exploded with laughter.  I now think, a day later, that it was useful in deflating the nervous tension that had been building up with all the unpleasantness they were talking about (there was a panel later about Ted Bundy the serial killer, and I imagine there would be a similar reaction of someone dressed as Pokey the orange horse stood up and said, "Bundy?  Oh, I thought this was a discussion about Gumby.  My mistake.").

So, when the guy asked his question the second time, he put on a gravely death-metal Satan voice, and the crowd laughed and applauded him.  Certainly the highpoint of that hour, if not the whole day.

I felt a little sad having dragged my niece to the panel, since it was my idea and it turned out to be so unpleasant.  However, it must be said that she dragged me to a "Carrie: The Musical" presentation, which was really hard to sit through (yeah, it's the Eighties Stephen King musical, back in kitschy revival form), so turnabout is fair play.  It was such an awkward, odd choice for a musical, that I started to wish I hadn't abandoned my "Pulp Fiction: The Musical" project earlier this year.**

The Dead Alewives had this comedy sketch about D&D that began, "Dungeons & Dragons: Satan's Game," and it never failed to amuse me.  It's introduced as an actual peek into the sinful debauchery of that evilest of all games, and then presents a pretty realistic depiction of game-play, where nerdy teens snort and giggle and pretend to be elves and wizards while drinking Mountain Dew.  I stole the title from that, but boy, I would've enjoyed the panel more if they had only talked about how funny that sketch was.

Rish Outfield, Dungeon Bater

*Okay, in the spirit of full disclosure (kiss my pudgy arse, by the way), his costume was actually that of Tim Curry's demonic character from LEGEND, The Darkness.  But hey, if the cloven-hooves fit...

**This is no joke.  I really started work on a Pulp Fiction musical intended for the my podcast, but only got as far as writing a Samuel L. Jackson Ezekiel 25:17 song.  Yeah.  The first part goes:
“The path of the righteous man is beset on all sides,
By evil men’s tyranny, and selfishness he hides.
But blessed is he who shepherds the weaker,
Through darkness, as his brother’s keeper.”


Journey Into... said...

I avoided the dangers of D&D by playing that as well as other role-playing games like Top Secret, Car Wars, Marvel Super Heroes and Battletech

Seraph said...

Oh man - I LOVE D&D. Love love love it. I'm a big fan of RPG's in general, but D&D was my first introduction to role-playing games, and I will always have a soft spot in my heart for it. With 5th edition coming out, I'd REALLY like to play ( or even run ) a game, but I just don't have time for it right now.

I've not really had a lot of religious persecution from playing RPGs. WAY more for just being a geek in general. I've read some HILARIOUS stuff about what some religious groups think about the hobby ( the Chick tract 'Dark Dungeons' is a particular favourite ). According to some, I am fully possessed by demons because I have actually dared to RUN a D&D game.

I think you would probably enjoy D&D Rish. It's pretty much just interactive / collaborative story telling. There are systems which to the story side of things better, I won't lie. 'The Mountain Witch' is freaking AMAZING, and 'Polaris' does some really interesting things ( though all the stories in Polaris have tragic endings - that's kinda its whole deal ). Damn - I wish you lived somewhere closer, and try twisting your arm into playing a game with me !

I recommend a podcast called 'The Adventure Zone' - where three ( very funny ) brothers and their dad play a D&D campaign. There's a lot of really funny stuff, as well as some genuinely interesting story-telling going on.

Seraph said...

In case you've never read it :