Save vs. Libel, Pt. 2: The Rumour Dies, the Scars Remain

This article was originally published on Ferretbrain. I’ve backdated it to its original Ferretbrain publication date but it may have been edited and amended since its original appearance.

(Content warning for this series: over these two articles I’m going to touch on sexual abuse, mental health issues, suicide, and Gamergate. If you aren’t up for such subjects, maybe skip these.)

As outlined in the first part of this article, the popular rumours smearing Dungeons & Dragons were largely driven by the James Dallas Egbert III case, but soon took on a life of their own. It would take other hands, however, to really bring them to the absurd pitch that they’d reach during the Satanic Panic – and the primary driver of that process was Patricia Pulling.

You can see Pulling as the David Icke of Dungeons & Dragons conspiracy theories: many of her ideas were parroted from others, her credentials and competence as a researcher and investigator were wildly overstated, and she’s mostly notable for weaving all of the different theories she picked up from others into a dizzyingly paranoid collage, a fear-riddled look at the world in which almost anything she didn’t approve of was part of a grand conspiracy to destroy America’s children.

The major difference between Pulling and Icke is this: in Britain we laugh at our extreme conspiracy theorists, in America they get elected President. Whilst Pulling never attained quite that level of power she did end up with an undue level of influence – particularly within police forces which turned to her as a consultant on “occult crime” – which resulted in her being treated as an expert in criminal cases when in fact her credentials were not up to snuff. (If you want an illustration of how dangerous it is to have unqualified amateurs posing as experts and hyping their personal conspiracy theories to the police, you could do a lot worse than doing some Googling on the subject of the West Memphis Three.)

Continue reading “Save vs. Libel, Pt. 2: The Rumour Dies, the Scars Remain”

Save vs. Libel, Pt. 1: The Rise of a Popular Error

This article was originally published on Ferretbrain. I’ve backdated it to its original Ferretbrain publication date but it may have been edited and amended since its original appearance.

(Content warning for this series: over these two articles I’m going to touch on sexual abuse, mental health issues, suicide, and Gamergate. If you aren’t up for such subjects, maybe skip these.)

The most infamous variant of this story is Jack Chick’s second most paranoid tract, Dark Dungeons. (Chick’s most paranoid comic is, of course, The Last Generation.) The beloved tabletop game Dungeons & Dragons is not a mere hobby, but an indoctrination system for occultism and Satanism – one which teaches participants real magic, drives them insane, and causes them to commit suicide. It’s an implausible story, rendered even weirder when someone tries to get the idea across in a brief little comic with unintentionally hilarious and highly quotable dialogue, a surprisingly progressive gender ratio in the gaming group depicted, and an evil Dungeon Master drawn by an artist who can’t quite conceal their secret attraction to hot goth ladies that their religion won’t let them act on.

It’s an urban myth which had a pretty brief shelf life. The movies Mazes & Monsters and Skullduggery were based on it, but after they had their day in the Sun it was largely evangelists riding the Satanic Panic bandwagon pushing the concept – and most of them moved on to other targets after a while. The current boom in popularity of D&D thanks to hit streaming shows like Critical Role, Harmonquest and the like is pretty much the last nail in the coffin; this conspiracy theory is the sort of thing which hinges on tabletop RPGs being a poorly-understood thing where people don’t have much of an idea of what goes on in a typical game session, and now that there’s plentiful examples online of people who can apparently bathe and look after themselves gaming happily the mystery is gone.

A discussion of the wider issue of where the Satanic Panic came from, why it happened, and why it died down is something you could right multiple PhD theses on – but I’m not going to go that broad this time around. Instead, I’m going to cover a brace of materials which, between them, illustrate where the particular moral panic surrounding tabletop RPGs emerged, why it stopped, and how some of the gaming community’s worst habits of the present day can be traced back to the fight against censorious moral panics of the past.

Continue reading “Save vs. Libel, Pt. 1: The Rise of a Popular Error”

Fool Me Once, Dzyan On You…

This article was originally published on Ferretbrain. I’ve backdated it to its original Ferretbrain publication date but it may have been edited and amended since its original appearance.

Among the various changes that have happened at Chaosium since they went under new management has been the appointment of a new Executive Editor for their fiction line, James Lowder. Much of his work since the takeover has apparently focused on handling wayward payments to contributors and contractural issues; if these problems were anything like those that had infamously affected their RPG publishing efforts, Lowder had a big job on his plate. He has now issued new submission guidelines for Chaosium’s line of tie-in books, with an eye to relaunching it in 2018.

Many tabletop RPG companies have taken a sidestep into the world of producing more conventional books – if you can arrange to get an RPG rulebook printed, after all, you’ve got most of the logistical issues licked – and back in the day Chaosium were no exception. Starting in 1993, their non-gamebook releases included both original fiction and reprints of old material, with game lines like the Arthurian-themed Pendragon and Call of Cthulhu each, as a result of being based on various literary traditions (of very different vintages), having a strong body of material available for Chaosium to republish.

Continue reading “Fool Me Once, Dzyan On You…”