It’s True, Dungeons & Dragons Ruins Your Life

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Written by Luna Lindsey. Additional reporting by M. Dolon Hickmon.

I was once one of God’s elect, chosen to come to Earth in these latter-days to usher in the Second Coming of Christ.

Now I’m a spiritual mutt, belonging to no religion, believing in no gods, and “speaking evil of the Lord’s anointed.” I’ve become exactly like Korihor, a Book of Mormon villain, who winds up smitten by God for his unbelief.

How did I fall so far? Dungeons & Dragons (D&D), of course.

The first time I heard about D&D, I yearned to play it. I was a homeschooled teenager with few friends. Even among my peers at church, I didn’t feel accepted. My one respite from constant loneliness was reading novels of fantasy and science fiction.

Dungeons & Dragons held an almost irresistible lure. Here was a game where you could pretend to be a different person. You could solve puzzles and explore mysterious and magical realms. It sounded perfect!

But D&D was forbidden. Like tarot cards, Ouija boards, and even ordinary playing cards, anything to do with magic or mysterious symbols was presumed to be imbued with evil forces. Wicked spirits clung to those D&D figurines, to the strange books and polyhedral dice. They lurked, waiting for a chance to creep into the minds of young people, to possess them, or worse — to drag them away from God and into a life of sin and sex, addiction, devil worship and human sacrifice (in roughly that order).

Such were the images of the game in my impressionable young mind: a collection of scripture fragments, urban legends and fearsome admonishments from my mother. The cover of the Player’s Guide revealed this truth: pictures of scary monsters! Scary things are evil. Because evil is scary.

I’d been told that D&D taught kids to cast actual spells. Someone was just bound to accidentally summon a demon; it only follows. As my mother always said, it’s all fun and games until someone joins a coven. (Then it’s just fun.)

D&D is the gateway drug to Satanism, I had no doubt.

The demonization of D&D started in the 1980s. Patient Zero is now thought to have been a woman named Patricia Pulling. The aggrieved mother of a teenaged suicide, Pulling blamed her son’s tragic death on a pretend curse which had been placed on his character during a role playing game he’d played at school. When her lawsuit against the high school was tossed, Pulling took a forty-hour course and became a private investigator. After much sleuthing, she discovered other murdered or suicided children who were also D&D gamers. With no other relief at hand, she resorted to the best possible course of action: write a pamphlet calling for a ban on make-believe-monster-slaying, fictional-spell-casting, and pedantic rules-lawyering with mysterious, multisided dice. (Does anyone even know what those things are for?!)

The curious can read Pulling’s entire pamphlet for themselves.

Al Gore had not yet invented Facebook, but mimeo’d copies of Pulling’s pamphlet spread like chicken pox at day care. Faster than you could click ‘Share’ on a cat-in-a-shark-suit-on-a-roomba meme, Pulling’s inventions became the one point of doctrine upon which Baptist, Catholic and Mormon moms could all agree.

Television networks broadcast credible-sounding news reports (like this 60 Minutes piece), saying that D&D caused suicide. They were ubiquitous enough that I saw at least one when it aired. The ‘logic’ usually went something like this: players became so involved with their characters that they lost all track of reality, and when their character died, they were left with no reason to live.

Or maybe, the deeply superstitious speculated, kids were actually being possessed by demons, who (for some reason), wanted to immediately kill off the host they’d just spent centuries trying to attract. Hey, you can’t expect demons to be any more logical than the religious leaders who invent them, right?

For many parents, then and now, this was God’s literal truth, as can be seen in this unedited footage from an actual D&D game.

D&D remained forbidden fruit; just one more thing I wanted that I couldn’t have. Like wanting to stay up late enough to watch ‘Doctor Who’ on PBS. Or to date boys before I was 16. Or even to wear shorts in 105 degree summer heat.

Then life happened. I met a guy, and we got married. I got pregnant, then divorced, and I became the worst thing any Mormon girl could be: a divorced single mother. Divorced! I was used goods at the ripe old age of 20. All without so much as having ever rolled a natural 20. (Those cursed dice again! What are they for?!)

So there I was, a twenty-year-old with a wee baby on my hip. LDS singles who’d avoided me before my marriage now barely spoke to me. Afraid they might catch a bad case of divorce—or worse, sex!—people steered wide when we passed in the halls at church activities.

I needed friends.

My interest in science fiction drew me to RadCon, a fan convention. This outing would be risky: people would be playing D&D! By going, I’d place myself within temptation’s grasp. Burdened with the guilt of “crucifying Christ anew,” I went anyway.

Finally, after years of dreadful yearning, I walked among scattered tables festooned with nerds, stray game pieces, and cold pizza, trying to decide which would be my first tabletop role playing game.

Not D&D, of course. That was the Big One; a horror reserved for degenerates who’d surrendered to some demonic over-mind.

No. My first game would be something safe. To me, that meant science fiction. Fantasy games were inherently malevolent, with their wizards and monsters. But sci-fi would be totally okay.

No magic spells or demons; just robots and computers.

I lingered in front of the table for Cyberpunk 2020. Finally, I decided: This is the one. Nerves jangling with fear and excitement, I sat down. Immediately, my conscience screamed: This was the top of the slippery slope that I’d been warned about!

But I needed human connection. I needed a sense of belonging. I needed fun. So I played. And I had a blast. I connected. With people! People who liked me. People who didn’t make me feel like a freak.

I wanted more. But not D&D, no way! Rather, I found a weekly Shadowrun campaign with an open spot. It had trolls and elves and magic, but also guns and bombs and computer hacking. I felt fairly certain that the inclusion of technology would make it safe from the influences of the devil.

I almost lost my nerve. One dark night, in fitful prayer—the kind that Mormons call “wrestling with God”—I told the Lord that I was going to do this, because it made me happy. It was the one fun and fulfilling thing in my lonely, stressful and depressing life.

I was gripped by an overwhelming sense that I was about to cross a forbidden line. Was that the Holy Spirit, telling me not to go? Was he saying that this would separate me from God? Was it possible that I would surrender my soul to Satan, between rolling dice and downing potato chips?

I imagined a rope tied round my waist, the other end connected to God, as I jumped into the black pit of Outer Darkness. If things get out of hand, I told Him, you yank me back.

Then I willfully, pridefully (a dirty word, for a Mormon), joined the Shadowrun game.

After Shadowrun came SLA Industries, a far-future space cyberpunk game that was disturbingly violent and completely screwed up. No demons or magic there (psychic powers don’t count, right?), so I was still safe!

I’d heard about the Camarilla, a live-action role playing game. Players didn’t just sit around at a table; they dressed like their characters and walked around, interacting, pretending to be vampires, which had been a shameful fascination of mine since I was little. What could be more exciting? Or more risky? (Well, besides D&D.)

I joined the Camarilla, though I was very careful to play non-gothy characters. To be extra sure, I didn’t wear black. But I hung out with goths, and people who smoked and swore a lot. We listened to heavy metal music.

I made tons more friends.

Breaking the final taboo proved astonishingly easy. One evening, it just happened. I sat on a couch with friends and we played D&D. At this point, the cautionary tales seemed superstitious and silly. It was just fantasy role play, and there were far more hardcore games (I’d played them), and obviously there were no demons hiding under the odd misshapen dice. The worst thing I actually had to worry about were power gamers, with their obnoxious desire to kill everything in sight.

I was still a true-believing Mormon. Very much so. But now I had far more friends outside of the Church than in. This was a sin, in and of itself. Mormon youth and single adults are strongly “encouraged” to associate with other Mormons, and if you intended to make friends outside the Church, they should not be of the sort that came out of closets and wore T-shirts that said, “I only wear black till they make something darker.”

Worse, I’d met people from other faiths.

Not just non-Mormon Christians, either. There were Buddhists, Wiccans, and even a real-life Satanist.

They were all very nice people, who had interesting things to say. They tolerated my beliefs, and I tolerated theirs. They weren’t evil or scary. Not even the Satanist, in spite of his black fingernail polish.

I learned from them, which is even worse. The things they told me made sense. I discovered that prayers were answered for people of other faiths, too. Wiccans called this phenomena “magic,” but it didn’t involve summoning demons. In fact, aside from the addition of candles and incense, it didn’t seem all that different from my Mormon prayers. I learned Buddhists were really chill, relaxed, and very accepting of me. More accepting than most Mormons I’d met. Even the atheists were kind!

These people allowed me to be weird. For the first time in mylife, I could relax and be myself, talk openly about my interests, and even be liked for it.

Some part of me already recognized the true danger in role playing: exposing myself to “the world,” which tainted my mind with new ideas. Ideas that conflicted with, and even refuted, many LDS claims.

I made one last effort to get straight with God, to “Chose the Right” and rededicate myself to the Mormon Church. I still preferred the company of gamers and geeks, but God wanted me to find a righteous LDS husband. And I wasn’t going to find him among heathens. So returned to church, leaving most of my friends behind.

Only now I had something to compare my LDS life to. In stages, it dawned on me that I had never been happy at church. I’d never been worthy enough and I’d never had the kind of spiritual, uplifting experiences that I’d had with those supposedly “wicked” and “sinful” worldly people.

And I never would.

I wasn’t good enough for the Mormons, but I was good enough for the geeks. And I’d adopted a few of their beliefs. These were like tiny seeds, which I’d fit into the cracks that riddled the cinderblock wall of Mormonism.

From those seeds, green shoots sprouted, their roots prying against the foundations of my Mormon belief. In time, I discovered additional kernels, which fit those widening gaps in the LDS paradigm.

These new beliefs suited me better, and they were more compatible with facts and science. New thoughts lent me additional mental flexibility. Limber vines of reason began to eat at the brittle mortar of tradition, until eventually, the whole wall fell.

I no longer believed in God.

It could be said that my path out of the Church was inevitable. My heart never fit, no matter how closely I followed the Church’s commandments.

Perhaps D&D was merely a catalyst: the accelerant that sped the process of reframing my beliefs. But without it, without that window opening my mind to thoughts outside the stifling Mormon ideology, I might still be there, doing my best to pretend to be someone I’m not.

D&D led me down a path of temptation, until my heart became desensitized to the Holy Spirit, and I could no longer hear the gentle whisperings of God. Too late to turn back, I had been misled, brainwashed by the ways of the world. I am well ensnared in Satan’s grip.

Or so I would have once believed.

Today, I recognize that the path I took was one of liberation. By choosing to follow my heart in spite of the Church’s frightening conditioning, I made a saving throw that rescued me from decades of spiritual slavery.

So thank you, Gary Gygax, creator of D&D. Some might say that you summoned an elder demon, which is even now destroying the very fabric of American morality.

But in my story, you are the hero.

*****

Luna Lindsey

Luna Lindsey

About the Author

Luna Lindsey was born into the Mormon Church and left the faith in 2001, at age 26. She now lives in Seattle, WA and writes about topics of interest to her, including psychology, culture, and autism. She also writes science fiction and fantasy. When she’s not busy traveling to improbable worlds, or thinking hard about this improbable world, she’s enjoying life with her improbable family. Her new book, Recovering Agency: Lifting the Veil of Mormon Mind Control is available in e-book and print.

23 comments

  • *wild applause* I feel you on so much of this article [tho I’m a bad geek and haven’t played D&D yet…] and I’m so so very glad you were able to find an expression of yourself and friends by doing so. “…allowed me to be weird” is just… the most incredible feeling when you first find it. Seriously, been there done that.

    My D&D was, amusingly, pr0n and s&m, but it’s the same basic thing: people who weren’t part of that tiny little microcosm welcomed me into their subculture and were just friends to me. It’s amazing what that little act can do — be friends with someone, you might change their life. etc.

  • Headless Unicorn Guy

    “It’s Friday night and I’m ready to roll
    With my wizard and my goblin crew;
    We’re all going down to Mom’s basement
    With some Funyuns and Mountain Dew;
    I’ve got a big broadsword — it’s made of cardboard —
    And the stereo’s pumpin’ Zeppelin;
    It’s that time of night — turn on the black light —
    LET THE DUNGEONS AND THE DRAGONS BEGIN!”

    Been there, including targeted during the Satanic Panic by the local Campus Crusade for Christ. 1976-1980, Expeditions Ltd, Cal State Fullerton. The “Burgess Shale period” of gaming, before there were any “official campaign backgrounds” so every DM had to homebrew his own. Back then it was Saturday night on Third Floor Langsdorf Hall, and Dr Pepper was the Elixir of Life instead of Mountain Dew.

    P.S. The illo up top is from Jack Chick’s “Dark Dungeons”, which is now a movie. When the tract first came out, my DM’s exact words were: “So that’s a ‘typical Dungeonmaster’? If I ran into another DM who looked like that, I’d have married her by now.”

    Cyberpunk 2020? You started with a Talsorian? And Shadowrun (i.e. Grimdark Cyberpunk with Elves, Dwarves, etc)? And then White Wolf LARPed? White Wolf-style DARK Fantasy games (“No, DARKER!”)started out as a “Stick it to those Xians!” reaction after the War on D&D.

    • Well, plus, who doesn’t want to play a vampire? 🙂 Honestly, I liked White Wolf’s fairy game better, Changeling: The Dreaming. I ran a Changeling tabletop campaign for several years through this same period of my life. But the Camarilla (an actual organization that is licensed to run LARPs in the World of Darkness) only sanctioned play of vamps and werewolves, and never got around to making rules for playable fae. Alas!

      Respect for your old school gaming cred. I’m old school, but as they say (they don’t really say this), just when you think you’re old school, there’s someone older schooler.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy

        From “Ugh & Argh” titles (Tunnels & Trolls, Starships & Spacemen, Bunnies & Burrows) to “Ugh: The Argh” titles, huh?

        Your bio says you write F&SF. What have you done? And any specific sub-genre? I’ve got a couple small-press publishing creds along those lines (though the last year or two I’ve been assisting on My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic fanfic novels).

      • I’ve got an epic urban fantasy novel, about fairy hunters in Seattle, called Emerald City Dreamer.

        And I’ve sold a number of short stories, including Touch of Tides, a hard SF story about exploring life on Europa. http://crossedgenres.com/magazine/008-touch-of-tides/

        The others are listed on my website. http://www.lunalindsey.com/p/blog-page.html Plus I have another one coming out in November’s Journal of Unlikely Entomology. 🙂

  • Headless Unicorn Guy

    P.S. Discovering D&D probably saved my life. At the time I was getting mixed up in an End-of-the-World Fundagelical Cult with spiritual abuse as part of the Gospel, and when I discovered D&D it was so much better than their “Fellowship(TM)” that I never looked back. I found out years later that several others from that “Fellowship(TM)” had to be forcibly deprogrammed.

    P.P.S. One of our gamers (and a collaborator on some official pubs) was a soft-spoken Mormon law student. But then, California Mormons have a rep for being the most mellow and Utah Mormons the most rigid.

    • And glad D&D saved your life. I know that it’s saved far more lives than any claim of supposed deaths caused by it, because it gave many lonely, bullied kids an outlet, and a way to make friends and learn social skills. Now that gaming is mainstream and cool, I think we can tend to forget how hard it was to be a nerd back then.

      Mormons are definitely very nice. Even the rigid Utah Mormons. And, lots of Mormons are into RPGs and SF, etc. Whether you avoided the gaming scene highly depended on your parents and your ward (congregation), on your particular microculture within the larger culture. There’s a con at BYU every year, has been for ages, where of course they play D&D. But I didn’t know about it. When I briefly attended BYU (during the “marriage” part of the above story), I saw them holding that con, and I wondered… but I didn’t do anything more than experience some mild cognitive dissonance, and went on thinking D&D was evil.

  • I’ve never played D&D, so I’m peacefully free of demon inhabitation.

    I play World of Warcraft. Since I’ve never heard a preacher or Bill Gothard warn against WoW, I can blissfully play along, casting spells (although without incantations….. just by pressing a number on my keyboard!) and killing things – even other players although that’s not my favorite part of WoW – and I don’t have to worry about demons invading my soul. 😉

    • Headless Unicorn Guy

      For the Alliance or For The Horde?

      • I have 6 level-90 Alliance toons (full disclosure: one’s a DK & another’s boosted, but that’s 4 toons 1 -> 90!) & 1 level-90 Horde Death Knight. So primarily Alliance although I have a handful of Horde toons for various reasons. I’ve been playing for about 2 years now.

        I do think that Horde players are more likely to be demon-possessed, because Alliance is SO much better…. 😉

        From what I’ve heard of D&D, WoW is similar enough in concept that I feel “rebellious” and like I’m getting away with something by playing. 😉

    • I’m pretty sure the demons have got you, too. That’s the thing about demons, you can’t see them, so you never really can tell.

      • Nope, I’m safe, because it’s D&D that gives ya demons. Or at least so I’ve heard! I’ve never heard anyone say that WoW gives one demons. 🙂 ROFL

        (Of course I’m just being silly… if WoW had been invented at the time people were teaching against D&D, they would’ve said it gives you demons, too. 😛 But since they *didn’t* say that, then I say that makes WoW players safe from such! LOL Great, now I want to go play WoW because I’m talking about it, & I can’t because I have to fix supper. 😥 )

      • Naw, WOW would probably be safe, because Harry Potter is the tank against fundamentalist fear mongering these days. 🙂

        BTW, if you like WOW, you might love FFXIV. I know a couple of old WOW-heads who have been obsessed with FFXIV for a year. I played both for a couple of months, but I need variety.

  • Someone brought this video to my attention. It’s from an early 90s 700 Club documentary about the influx of the occult agenda throughout society, called Lost Without a Compass, a nice capstone on the end of the Satanic Panic of the 80s. This clip depicts a D&D game in the same hilarious totally wrong way the Jack Chic tract does. Also, in my post, I linked to a funny video called “Summoner Geeks,” an animation of a comedy skit done by the Dead Alewives. Based on the similarity of the ominous droning background sound, I’m going to guess Summoner Geeks is a direct spoof of this clip:

    For the obsessed, the full movie can be found here. I watched several random moments from it, and whoa, it’s pretty manipulative across the board: http://laughingsquid.com/the-700-club-warns-of-the-dark-rituals-of-dungeons-dragons-players-1993/

  • Pingback: Tabletop Gaming and Devil Worship | Amusing Nonsense

  • I have been playing D&D since the early 80’s and am still playing with some of the “original” guys I started with. For a 50yr-old man, I am glad to say that (roughly) every other Friday night is spent in what we call “Fellowship”. It is not about playing the game per se (but don’t get me wrong… everyone needs to roll a “20” now and again), but rather, the game (in my experience) is merely a tool (excuse?) that has allowed friends to continue to get together and share time. What is most interesting is that we all have different beliefs and yet we all accept and respect each other’s beliefs. We have an atheist, an agnostic, a theist and a Christian (me), yet D&D has fit seamlessly into all our lives and has never caused a schism… D&D and “Faith” (whatever that may be) are not mutually exclusive (go figure!). Our group (5 highly geeky guys) have also been blessed with wives\spouses\others who, rather than criticize, fully support our Friday night Fellowship D&D games. In fact, family schedules have even been worked out with that in mind. Even my children (all adults now) have been part of the phenomenon. As my lovely wife says: “it’s better to have the guys get together at your brother’s house [yes, I play with my brother] and laugh and drink and roll dice than to have them go out and carouse” [not that that was ever going to happen].

    So hats off to Gygax and all the others! You have provided a wonderful game that brings people together, keeps them together and, as we have read from Luna’s story, provides a way for people to expand and explore their own selves and beliefs.

    Gotta go now … D&D starts at 7:00 tonight! 🙂

    • That’s awesome! Yes, tabletop gaming helps to support understanding and shared experience across the boundaries our society has set up. It leads to open minds. I’m a big fan.

  • I really enjoyed reading your article! I experienced a lot of that loneliness first hand back in the day. I was playing D&D at the age of 12 in 1981 when all the craziness was going on. Living in rural Georgia in the early 80s, you can imagine there were not many people interested in that type of game. The Bible Belt was ballistic against D&D at that time and tho it is not as bad, there are occasions when you run into someone who think you are worshiping satan or belong to a coven. It is just not as common as back in the days of the 80s.
    I am a Christian, non-denom and still play D&D. In contrast to the religion you were involved in, I have always had the freedom to choose and discern what is OK and what is not. D&D allows the mind to interact and soar above the usual-sometimes-boring life. Where we may be just normal in reality, we can excel at what we do in fantasy worlds and create our own “Calgon” commercial. (Some will get that, some will not. Look it up! LOL)
    I mainly play for the social interaction plus DMing and creating worlds is awesome! 😀
    As a christian, I have struggled in the past with playing. Is it wrong? Is it bad? Should I be playing? Is it against God? Some would say yes. I believe it is simply, a game. Christians involved in “religiosity” tend to lean away from it, and yet they will watch a Harry Potter movie or some other fantasy/sci-fi/horror film which involves demonic forces, magic use and all kinds of gore and violence.
    To me, D&D (or other RPGs) is simply another form of entertainment, as much as watching a film immerses you into another “reality”, so is the nature of Role-Playing games. I mean, it does have that in the genre name: Role-playing. I’m an actor in a story which I am writing. That is all there is to it.
    Magic, demons, devils and wenches…well some Christians would say, oh man you’re going to hell for participating in those things. Umm, whoa back up bub! first of all, I look for(or run) games that are pretty much PG-13. Magic is fantasy and we are killing demons and devils. So get off your high horse Captain Holy Roller and take a look at yourself in the mirror.
    Secondly, Truth is, we are all at different spiritual levels. Judge not another man’s servant. I think Jesus would have sat down with geeks and played some D&D while expounding his wisdom and teaching us how to love one another!
    Peace!

  • Sorry you had such a bad experience with you faith. I hope readers don’t think this is the only option for believers. I for one love my faith AND rpgs. For anyone wondering if they really are mutually exclusive (as, unfortunately, the author ends up proving, without maybe meaning to), they aren’t. You can do both. Tracy and Laura Hickman (Ravenloft, and Tracy’s Dragonlance series) are still practicing Mormons who continue to engage in the rpg world. For parents who still wonder if they should let their kids play and they found this blog post which essentially proves all of their fears (question: will my child lose their faith and leave? writer starts out with irony and you think, no! she will show the internet stereotypes should die! but then, yeah. ugh…), please don’t let this one writer ruin your child’s chance to play. As other commentators have mentioned, this is a great outlet for the son or daughter who doesn’t feel accepted at school or in your respective religious community.

  • I’m sorry, but this is ridiculous. D&D does not cause suicide. My entire family plays it and nobody has comitted suicide. And enough with the satanic crap. Only psycopaths worship satan. Please don’t do this to people who actually like the game.

  • I very much enjoyed this article. I grew up Mormon too. Never married in the temple (married now), but I was ordained an elder in the church. My bothers and i (I have 5 brothers and a sister) used to play DnD, and my dad had heard all that stuff you mentioned, but didn’t really believe any of it. He told us it was recommended that we didn’t play it, but it wasn’t a commandment or anything. He allowed us to play, and even rolled up a character and sat in for one session just to be sure. He said it seemed like harmless fun and got why we liked it. I don’t know if DnD had much to do with why I haven’t been to church in about 20 years, but i really wanted to know… I want those dice so bad! the golden engraved d20 at the top. I can’t find them anywhere, are they made of metal? (hope not) do you know where I can buy a set?

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