D&D is big. I’ve covered this a good deal in the past, constantly rehashing that Dungeons & Dragons is one of, if not the biggest tabletop role-playing games out there. But, in last week’s post (which you can read here if you missed it), I briefly mentioned that D&D hasn’t always been so popular…at least not in a positive way. Like many new forms of media that the mainstream population didn’t quite understand at first like, for instance, video games, D&D got a lot of bad press in the 1980’s to the point of there being a media panic that D&D was really some satanic cult. This panic spawned a number of horrible works “warning” against the true dangers of tabletop RPGs. Ladies and gentleman, it’s time to dive into the darker side of D&D.
Did you know Tom Hanks was in a satirical D&D movie? It was called Mazes & Monsters, and it was, in fact, the first film he ever appeared in (imdb.com). Thank goodness it wasn’t one that defined his career, though. This film tells the story of a group of college student outcasts who all share in common an obsession with Mazes & Monsters, a made-up tabletop RPG in which players create fantasy characters and traverse mazes under the direction of the Maze Controller. Not at all like real-life Dungeons & Dragons, right? However, this film told a dark tale of one player, Robbie Wheeling (played by Tom Hanks), becoming so enthralled with the game that he had a psychotic break and believe himself to be his character, a cleric named Pardieu, in real life. The movie’s climax is that of Wheeling’s fellow players and friends trying to stop him from jumping of the New York World Trade Center, which Wheeling insists he must do to meet with his deity, Great Hall, and that he had “spells” to keep him from falling to his death (mashable.com).
Truthfully, this film is of a very poor quality and has quite a shoddy story, in my opinion, but you can’t help but shudder a bit at the intensity of the underlying theme of “D&D could make you to commit suicide!” Sadly, in the 1980’s, pop culture held the firm belief that “immersing yourself in the fantasy fiction of an RPG could lead to flirtations with Satanism, occult worship — and, in turn, criminal behavior,” (mashable.com).
However, Mazes & Monsters was not the first, nor the last, to preach of the “real” evils of D&D. There was a short comic created by reclusive author & artist Jack Chick called Dark Dungeons (theescapist.com). Much like Mazes & Monsters, this comic tells the story of a group of kids who get obsessed with playing the tabletop RPG, Dark Dungeons (D&D for short…very on the nose). The main character, Debbie, is a young, naive girl who wants to literally become her character, a cleric named Elfstar, and therefore joins a witch coven at the recommendation of her Dungeon Master to learn “real magic” (chick.com).
As if a little girl joining a satan-worshipping cult and using dark magic to warp her parents’ mind wasn’t deep enough, this comic gets even darker when Marcie, one of the other players, loses her character from a poison trap. Losing her persona of the thief Black Leaf causes Marcie to break into tears, screaming for another chance or mercy from the DM. The obsession the players have with “D&D” is emphasized when Marcie, unable to face reality without Black Leaf, goes into a downward spiral with a very tragic conclusion…
Long story short, Debbie rethinks her new witch status and, through the mercy of God, denounces the evils of D&D, and her soul is saved. You read the whole comic here. According to The Escapist, “Dark Dungeons is possibly the most widely distributed piece of anti-game propaganda in the history of gaming.” As with Mazes & Monsters, Dark Dungeons is on a witch hunt, fervently warning us of true danger of playing the demonic Dungeons & Dragons…or any tabletop RPG for that matter. It’s really sad, even scary, to think that a majority of people had these views about D&D in the 1980’s…and some still do today! Believe it or not, Dark Dungeons is being made into a movie…despite the fact that D&D’s public image has, for the most part, completely flipped (wired.com).
It looks…interesting. I can only wonder how it will be received by the general populace and D&D fans alike. D&D has had an equally rough history when it comes to film, most notably the film Dungeons & Dragons in 2000 and Dungeons & Dragons: Wrath of the Dragon God in 2005 (imdb.com). Suffering from terrible acting, low-quality CGI, and just general bad writing in both plot and dialogue, Dungeons & Dragons is almost famously cringe-inducing and received very negative ratings, such as a 10% on Rotten Tomatoes. The second film, while including more details from the source material, fairs slightly better, but is still terrible by movie standards. I won’t recommend it, but if you are so curious, you can watch the trailers below.
There are rumors of Dungeons & Dragons once again being adapted into a movie by Warner Bros., with little details outside of potential casting being released (slashfilm.com). At least it doesn’t have a much of a high bar to hurdle…
D&D, despite its popularity now, has seen some pretty dark times and outright disasters in its long lifespan. Mazes & Monsters and Dark Dungeons are quite chilling to look back on, but it makes me thankful that I can go and play D&D today without that sort of stigma looming so heavily. While I may be signing off for a little bit (the class which inspired this blog is ending and winter break is coming up), I’ve loved writing about this awesome tabletop RPG, and I’d like to keep this blog going, even expand it a bit to cover some of my own D&D adventures as well. It may not be immediate, but with luck, I’ll be back with new content soon. It’s been a blast, guys!
Shout out to my teacher, Marti Maguire, for an awesome class and semester as well as the opportunity to make a D&D blog, unconventional though it may be. I hope you are an expert in Dungeons & Dragons now!