Violet Van Fleet ‘21, Feature Editor
The players sit at the table, shifting uneasily. At the head of the table, the Dungeon Master has a strange glint in their eyes, an evil laugh dancing on their tongue. The wizard shivers under the harsh gaze of their party members, the 20 sided die held tightly in their grip. It is a matter of life or death. They all exchange grimaces, readying themselves for the inevitable. If one falls, the rest will follow. “Roll for initiative.”
Most of us know this classic role-playing game (RPG) as a favorite of Stranger Things’s Mike Wheeler and his friends, and others associate it with the uniting force of nerds everywhere due to its representation in the media. However, it is much more than that. Let’s start with the basics: what is D&D? The often abbreviated Dungeons & Dragons is a fantasy game that involves at least two players: the Dungeon Master, or the DM, and the players. Each participant creates a character—not necessarily of human origin—that will serve as their alter ego in whatever quests the Dungeon Master sets forth. Created in 1974 by Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson, the game still has a massive following that spans all seven of the seas.
In a single session, worlds can be constructed, gods can be felled, and darkness can be enslaved. DMs, which are also known as Game Masters or GMs, spend hours creating advanced storylines, creatures, and maps that are specifically designed to mess with the players. Add the dice, and you have got yourself one for the ages. Senior and resident Dungeon Master Cole Shoemaker said, “DMing is a fantastic experience; I like seeing the things the players come up with to try and defeat monsters or uncover traps and get around things without doing combat. It’s really cool.”
Nevertheless, stigma has surrounded D&D for decades. History repeated itself in the 70s and 80s when accusations of practicing witchcraft and demon worship that belong in a textbook about the Salem Witch Trials began to spiral out of control. Unfortunately, D&D became the focus of these outrageous claims.
It all started with the unfortunate case of one James Dallas Egbert III in 1979. As a sophomore at Michigan State University around the time of his disappearance, the 16-year-old prodigy was known for his genius. Sadly, this genius was overshadowed by his love for illegal substances and D&D. Egbert was completely devoted to the game, often wandering the steam tunnels beneath the college in order to act out the game in real life. Under the cover of dusk, he would return to his dorm room covered in dirt after traversing his homemade labyrinth in a drugged haze, effectively freaking out his roommate.
When Egbert vanished from campus, many assumed that his involvement with D&D had driven him to act this way, using his missing status as a launching point for those who opposed the game. Yet, these same critics neglected the fact that the teen suffered from severe bouts of depression and was addicted to hardcore illegal substances. He was found a month later, but the victory was short-lived when he took his own life in 1980. The Texan detective William Dear, who was commissioned to look into the missing Egbert, published the disturbing aspects of the case in the 1984 novel, The Dungeon Master.
Sadly, this is not the only incident. Only two years later, a Virginia high school student by the name of Irving Lee Pulling II committed suicide. His mother, Patricia Pulling, blamed D&D for driving her son to such erratic behavior and founded Bothered About Dungeons and Dragons (BADD). Although BADD filed several lawsuits and gave lectures across America, the group was unsuccessful and disbanded following Pulling’s death in 1997. It should be noted that, like videogames and violence, there is no connection between fantasy games and suicide. In the next few years, a handful of murders were also attributed to D&D. The game is also banned in some prisons for promoting thoughts of escape within prisoners. Nonetheless, sales still skyrocketed and continue to do so.
Throughout the decades, D&D has become cemented in pop culture as the go-to game from die-hard fans to casual players alike. And now, nearly forty years later, the game is gaining popularity once again. In South Lyon, pockets of players are emerging from every corner, brandishing swords made of paper and graphite. Sophomore and resident D&D player Andrew Brenner said, “It definitely strengthens people’s friendships between each other, and it’s a very vocal and fun game to be with your friends with.” Clubs are being assembled, battlefields are being drawn, and characters are being willed into existence.
This blame, while falsely assigned, does nothing to inhibit the positive benefits that the players reap. Dungeons and Dragons has even served as a gateway for authors such as Junot Díaz and Cory Doctorow to hone their craft. These are only a few of the many fantasy writers that have been influenced through the in-depth process of exploring and creating worlds through D&D. It takes roleplaying to another level; one that includes your family and friends. It can be anything the players want it to be, whether that is the fires of Hades or the gumdrops of Candyland. D&D is that it does not discriminate, and the ranks grow steadily larger with every passing decade.
Do not deny the siren song of everything that lies beyond the human imagination. If you choose to answer, prepare yourself. Strap on armor, sharpen axes, and ready spells. There is a whole universe out there if you just have the courage to pick up the dice and roll for it.
Photo courtesy of Wikipedia