Dangerous Games: What the Moral Panic Over Role-Playing Games Says About Play, Religion, and Imagined Worlds by Joseph P. Laycock Book Review

Write on: Mon, 18 Apr 2022 by  in Charles' New Reviews Read 943


"Never argue with an idiot. You'll never convince the idiot that you're correct, and bystanders won't be able to tell who's who." - Mark Twain

This is a deeply frustrating book for me because I wanted to like it but the problem is that it keeps running into the truism of the aforementioned quote undermines it at very turn. There's an apocryphal story passed around in my Kentucky game group from my DM to me that came from a convention he attended. Basically, it was the heady days of 2nd Edition and the developers at TSR were determined to remove anything controversial from their material: no demons, no devils, no brothels, no nudity in the books, and everything kept to a gloriously family-friendly PG. Then one of them, the story goes Ed Greenwood, commented, "Do you believe any of these bored housewives and fire and brimstone preachers actually read the books before condemning them?"

This book attempts to tell the story of the Satanic Panic and why so many evangelical Americans were terrified that Dungeons and Dragons endangered young souls. Well, the reason for that is that the people who are going after it are morons. They are looking for a target and make up whatever extreme claims that they need to in order to make it sound plausible. This is a problem for the book because their arguments are nonsense so the book spends an extensive amount of time deconstructing idiocy.

One of the most lucid points in the book that could have been an actual interesting chapter was the discussion of the creation of a Christian RPG named DragonRaid designed to indoctrinate youngsters in evangelism. DragonRaid was eviscerated by evangelists because, well, of course it was. It was an RPG and RPGs are evil. Why? Because RPGs are evil, so sayeth the Lord. Didn't you read that passage of the Bible? Nonsensium 12:28. If your argument is against someone who doesn't care about facts or logic, especially in matters of faith, then there's no point to arguing with them in the first place.

Speaking as someone sincerely religious who grew up in the Bible Belt, the scapegoating and silliness of this never gets less so. We address the infamous James Dallas Egbert III case and it is perfect for what could have been a harsher takedown of the hysteria here. Egbert was a suicidal teen with mental health issues and struggling with his homosexuality as well as his fundamentalistr parents. A publicity-hungry private detective and self-styled cult deprogrammer made up the insanity about him being trapped in the steam tunnels as well as driven mad by the evil game.

The best part of the book is definitely when they get away from engaging with the arguments and their nonsense then simply pointing out how utterly stupid they are. The fame-hungry sensationalism behind the Egbert case, poor Mrs. Pullman's utterly delusional attempt to make sense of her son's suicide by creating BADD (Bothered by Dungeons and Dragons), and evangelical groups trying to raise a stink for what seems like profit-based motives. The fact there was a man who ran on a campaign of getting D&D banned from schools is sadly too bizarre to be false. We also have the fact the hatred of D&D only died down because these same concerned citizens moved onto video games.

The book doesn't just stick with the Eighties Satanic Panic of Dungeons and Dragons but also deals with the Nineties rise of such counter-culture works as White Wolf gaming. Ironically, White Wolf gamers included many actual alternative religion pagans, gnostics, and "real" vampires. Yet, it got far less attention from the moral majority. Perhaps because they sensed that they simply wouldn't care. While there were some genuine "vampire murders" loosely connected to their exploitation of gaming, even these were not the subject of ire from the Religious Right? Why, I suspect because the actual facts were never important.

The book tries to get into the psychological power of roleplaying, Jungian psychology, the definition of religion, and more but trying to deconstruct arguments against RPGs is an exercise in futility because there's no argument. It's kind of an interesting book to read in our "Post Facts" world of 4chan conspiracy theories and Alternative Facts. The constant attempt to disprove what is bold faced lies and ranting stupidity to begin with. When discussing Deities and Demigods, the book comments on how much of the anger was over teaching about historical gods and real life history. As if the very act of education was offensive. The book's neutral tone becomes angering to anyone with a love of learning, mythology, or actual reasoned debate. Given I am an academic by trade as well as an author, its hard to maintain objectivity.

So it is a very frustrating 368 pages of dealing with the complicated and bizarre world of Eighties moral panic. Unfortunately, at twenty dollars, I just don't think this book is worth it. Maybe if the author puts it on Kindle Unlimited.

Available here

Last modified on Monday, 30 May 2022 00:11
C.T. Phipps

C.T Phipps is a lifelong student of horror, science fiction, and fantasy. An avid tabletop gamer, he discovered this passion led him to write and turned him into a lifelong geek. He is a regular blogger on "The United Federation of Charles".

He's written Agent G, Cthulhu Armageddon, Lucifer's Star, and The Supervillainy Saga.