296: Satan, Bad Acting, and Dice

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Satan, Bad Acting, and Dice

It may be a condemnation on the satanic nature of tabletop gaming, but Skullduggery is also a hilariously awful movie that inspired Adam Gauntlett's childhood.

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Incidentally for further reading:

Shermer, Michael, Why People Believe Weird Things; Freeman & Company (1997)

Victor, Jeffrey S., Satanic Panic: The Creation of a Contemporary Legend; Open Court (1994)

They're both interesting, but I found Shermer more readable.

I remember living in those times, and the bad, stupid Jack Chick tracts. In the D&D one, the girl has a spell to make her Dad buy her $200 worth of gaming books and minis, and all I ever thought was "Where do *I* get that spell?" In short, all the movies and whatnot and all the stupid Chick Tracts in the world didn't turn me off gaming.

And yeah, I read Michael Shermer's "Why people believe weird things" as well. Excellent book, In short, people make up their minds first, then come up with reasons to support their opinion, no more no less.

Hehe, I kind of want to go on Ebay and find this now, along with The Room.

The discussion of people consciously choosing not to educate themselves is a pinpoint description of probably my greatest single pet peeve with the world in general, now that I'm old enough to see it. Thanks for putting it so succinctly and well.

LadyRhian:
I remember living in those times, and the bad, stupid Jack Chick tracts. In the D&D one, the girl has a spell to make her Dad buy her $200 worth of gaming books and minis, and all I ever thought was "Where do *I* get that spell?" In short, all the movies and whatnot and all the stupid Chick Tracts in the world didn't turn me off gaming.

At my last job, which was in a relatively poor city troubled-youth school, our otherwise-intelligent head nurse was still handing out anti-Halloween Chick tracts in 2006. I'm sure he still is, poor deluded soul. Those kids didn't need to be filled with anti-fun propaganda as rough as their lives already were.

Harkonnen64:
Hehe, I kind of want to go on Ebay and find this now, along with The Room.

It's available on DVD via Amazon. Oddly, the distributor doesn't appear to hold the rights to the movie; it's a bit of a murky subject.

After all the lives I've seen destroyed by the Satanic conspiracy moral panic I just don't know if I could enjoy stuff like this anymore. After all, the same hysteria that fueled Skullduggery led to the McMartin trial.

Skullduggery wasn't made to present a coherent, logical argument. It existed to make money, and the best way to do that was to latch on to a popular trend. It didn't have to be gaming as Satanic conspiracy, but Ota needed something acceptably Satanic to stand in as a hate figure so he could sell his movie. If ice cream had the same social stigma, Adam would have smothered his victims in Ben and Jerry's. Gaming was a convenient target, nothing more.

Well, Ota, if you need motivators for violent, evil behavior in your films next time, ones that have been proven true and ones which can be used to tell a story with actual effort, may I suggest...

Abusive parenting
Mental disorders
Poor environment of the person's home/city/school
Bullying
and Lack of parenting

All of these things can influence violent or immoral behavior in someone's life. Gaming is an outlet for feelings in many ways, and sometimes people who are mentally unstable break when they act out some fantasies in games. Games are never a cause of terrible behavior in anyone, and they have been proven as such. The only reason they're seen this way is, as told in the article, they are used as political and social targets to write off someone else's bad behavior or someone's lack of good parenting, and place the blame elsewhere.

"...a witch hunt is, in part, motivated by guilt and projection of 'sins.' There is plenty of guilt among parents today, and it is guilt related to those precise objects of their resentment... The ideological targets of Satanism witch hunters are things which are believed to shape the minds of children: child-care centers, schoolbooks, popular music, and even games."

Actually, here's one idea: What about someone who discovers gaming to be a way to relieve themselves of troubles that have plagued them for years prior? They get into the roles they make and through some gameplay with others, they find a way to cope with their troubles. Besides, isn't it a proven fact that inspiring films, like Schindler's List, Lean on Me, Back to the Future, ect., are held higher than films which just latch onto hysteria like this one you made?

But, I suppose no such inspiring film about games exists, or will ever exist.

image

Oh, wait...

Formica Archonis:
After all the lives I've seen destroyed by the Satanic conspiracy moral panic I just don't know if I could enjoy stuff like this anymore. After all, the same hysteria that fueled Skullduggery led to the McMartin trial.

TBH while I do have a lot of sympathy for that position, I couldn't help but think as I was Youtubing bits of the movie that it really deserved a MST3K treatment, and the best people to do that'd be the LRR team. After all, the movie's a Canadian product; it's only fair that Canadians should suffer. ;)

Yep, the 80's were weird. Some of it was the entire impending WWIII thing. That was a real, subliminal fear that just underwrote everything. The other was the hijacking of Christianity by political conservatives. It was creepy watching it become a religion of fear. In both cases the fear needed real, tangible targets. Nuclear annihilation and demons are just too esoteric.

Gaming was a perfect target. The practitioners were largely teenagers, who kinda lack a way to reply in the public forum. It came with it's own jargon which was totally opaque to the outsider. It was clearly addictive (but in a good way, my parents were perfectly happy knowing that on Fri/Sat night I was in someones living room playing games).Most early gaming was of the loot and pillage variety and the AD&D 1st books were walking public relations disasters.

Great movie referance. I've mentioned this one a few times myself. "Something Awful" has a decent review/synopsis of it that is funny to read and right on the money.

That said I will say that I think people tend to underplay how much of that hysteria RPG gamers and the game industry brought upon themselves. To be honest a lot of this got started due to the way Gary Gygax handled things like the Egbert case/disappearance and the attitude he took about it.

It certainly didn't help when concerns over Satanism and devil worship were actually thrown back in the faces of the people making the accusations, with some rather immature stunts and responses that simply added fuel to the fire. This is one of the reasons why I frequently warn video-gamers about the way in which they counter attack critics. Doing something ridiculous like responding in the persona of an exagerrated stereotype might be good for a few laughs, but it's just going to encourage the people your up against in cases like this. When your fighting in the court of public opinion, it's not so much about being right, as much as how you present yourself.

Add in things like the whole "vampire clan" incidents

http://vampireclan.skcentral.com/newstories1.txt

http://www.gothicsubculture.com/vamp-clan.php

http://www.francesfarmersrevenge.com/stuff/serialkillers/vampireklan.htm

I think White Wolf did a lot of damage to the perception of gamers, especially back in the 1990s. Their attitude and trying to justify themselves in an obtuse "it's art, we're beyond criticism" attitude didn't help either. I still remember their "Montreal By Night" book which has a picture of a vampire dominatrix licking blood off a bloody abortion hook, with a female victim bleeding between her legs chained to a urinal in the backround... combined with a statement in the back of the book pretentiously claiming "oooh, is it art?" about the whole thing. Not to mention one of the clan books ( Tzimisce if I remember ) famously featured a fanged vagina on the back cover.

I'm a big believer in free speech, and actually encourage that kind of content (I mean it IS horror) but the attitude about it, the antics of the fanbase, and similar things certainly did not help the reputation of PnP RPG gamers. Had it been defended maturely, and without the defensive pretentiousness, I think a lot of the pressure against RPG gamers would have ended a lot sooner. I also don't think that people in fandom media (RPGs, Video Games, Movies, etc...) would be walking on eggshells quite as much right now since they wouldn't have dealt with a period of being pursued quite so vigorously.

Such are my thoughts at any rate, sadly in a lot of the activities of video gamers (like Amazon-bombing the books of a pop psychologist that made comments video gamers didn't like) seem to be heading us down a similar path.

What a blast from the past, I LOVED this movie but haven't seen it in years (I used to work in a video store and developed a taste for bad horror). A few people have suggested additional reading/viewing material so I figured I'd throw in an option as well.

Dark Places is a murder mystery revolving on a girl whose entire family was murdered. Her brother was arrested and eventually convicted of the murders based on widely publicized ties to heavy metal and satanism. The girl's testimony is ultimately what convicts her brother. Flash-forward to adulthood, the girl is completely dysfunctional and has spent her life living off of donations and support given by strangers due to the tragedy of her life. As the money begins to run dry, she's contacted by a conspiracy theorist group who focuses on famous murders. They believe her brother was innocent and hire her to interview people who led to his conviction.

The book flashes back and forth between the present day and the day the murders took place, revealing what happened as the protagonist figures it out. A great read for those who remember the Satanism hysteria of the 80's.

Therumancer:

I think White Wolf did a lot of damage to the perception of gamers, especially back in the 1990s. Their attitude and trying to justify themselves in an obtuse "it's art, we're beyond criticism" attitude didn't help either. I still remember their "Montreal By Night" book which has a picture of a vampire dominatrix licking blood off a bloody abortion hook, with a female victim bleeding between her legs chained to a urinal in the backround... combined with a statement in the back of the book pretentiously claiming "oooh, is it art?" about the whole thing. Not to mention one of the clan books ( Tzimisce if I remember ) famously featured a fanged vagina on the back cover.

I'm a big believer in free speech, and actually encourage that kind of content (I mean it IS horror) but the attitude about it, the antics of the fanbase, and similar things certainly did not help the reputation of PnP RPG gamers. Had it been defended maturely, and without the defensive pretentiousness, I think a lot of the pressure against RPG gamers would have ended a lot sooner. I also don't think that people in fandom media (RPGs, Video Games, Movies, etc...) would be walking on eggshells quite as much right now since they wouldn't have dealt with a period of being pursued quite so vigorously.

I would disagree.

White Wolf didn't put on a "This is art, and above criticism." shtick way back when, near as I can tell. In fact, they had to put disclaimers in their LARPing books, and some of their RPG rulebooks, to warn people just glancing them that this was strictly gaming, not a rulebook on being a vampire.

However, yes, the Montreal book was creepy and the body horror was gross, but at the same time, that was one book. The entire Vampire line then was cheeky humor and dark settings. Having one book that pushed the bounds is often enough for overzealous people to tag them with, so I blame bad/guilty parents and an overzealous media at the time for making the issue worse.

AgentBJ09:

Therumancer:

I think White Wolf did a lot of damage to the perception of gamers, especially back in the 1990s. Their attitude and trying to justify themselves in an obtuse "it's art, we're beyond criticism" attitude didn't help either. I still remember their "Montreal By Night" book which has a picture of a vampire dominatrix licking blood off a bloody abortion hook, with a female victim bleeding between her legs chained to a urinal in the backround... combined with a statement in the back of the book pretentiously claiming "oooh, is it art?" about the whole thing. Not to mention one of the clan books ( Tzimisce if I remember ) famously featured a fanged vagina on the back cover.

I'm a big believer in free speech, and actually encourage that kind of content (I mean it IS horror) but the attitude about it, the antics of the fanbase, and similar things certainly did not help the reputation of PnP RPG gamers. Had it been defended maturely, and without the defensive pretentiousness, I think a lot of the pressure against RPG gamers would have ended a lot sooner. I also don't think that people in fandom media (RPGs, Video Games, Movies, etc...) would be walking on eggshells quite as much right now since they wouldn't have dealt with a period of being pursued quite so vigorously.

I would disagree.

White Wolf didn't put on a "This is art, and above criticism." shtick way back when, near as I can tell. In fact, they had to put disclaimers in their LARPing books, and some of their RPG rulebooks, to warn people just glancing them that this was strictly gaming, not a rulebook on being a vampire.

However, yes, the Montreal book was creepy and the body horror was gross, but at the same time, that was one book. The entire Vampire line then was cheeky humor and dark settings. Having one book that pushed the bounds is often enough for overzealous people to tag them with, so I blame bad/guilty parents and an overzealous media at the time for making the issue worse.

The problem isn't, and never was, the material itself. It was the attitude they took when questioned that turned more people against them and gaming. I know, because I was there when it happened and while not a White Wolf fan I was involved in the turmoil just by being a gamer.

The thing with the Montreal book wasn't so much the artwork or the content of the book, but the attitude that was taken. The pretentious "is it art?" answer to the criticisms they were getting was on a full page in the back of that same book. Also the fanged vagina was from an entirely DIFFERANT book.

White Wolf by no means should have consented to censorship, or lowered the intensity of their material. They should not however have talked down to, and belittled those making criticisms. There is a point at which you become antagonistic to the point where people are going to oppose you without really caring about whether they are right to do so or not.

What's more you have to understand that what might be put into a book as a disclaimer doesn't cover what people working for, or representing the companies in question do or say. The PnP gaming industry was infamous for a long time in how utterly flippant it was in dealing with it's critics person to person. When you had protestors showing up at cons
and the like, the responses were hardly professional. Gary Gygax was hardly alone in
baiting critics.

Ah Mazes and Monsters

You're quite right

My abiding memory of that film wasn't D&D is evil but..

Wouldn't be cool to have parents who spend that much money redecorating my bedroom every time I'm away....

Thank God, I'm not the only one who remembers the chick tracts claiming that D&D was used as a recruiting tool for these mythical devil worshippers

This was quite well written (especially the beginning, the middle fell into sort of repeating the weird shit in the movie). I'm looking forward to more from you.

Did Tom Hanks' character kill someone in that movie? I'm sure that that's worse than committing suicide.

Eh, another one of these movies, but does it have Tom Hanks?


Also it's a well known fact that Mazes & Monsters is a far-out game.

Odd. Just a few days ago I found another Escapist article that discussed the old Chick tracts (that's those little "hey you! Jesus wants you in his kingdom!" pamphlets you find in airports and other public places that Christians lacking the stones to actually talk to people about their faith leave behind) claiming that D&D was used as a recruiting tool for the occult.

The funniest thing is, even Satanists will tell you that they don't worship or even believe in the devil. So I guess it's the Wiccans who are recruiting naive young role players into their vile plans to...erm, worship nature?

Wait, have you ever even MET an unstable or violent Wiccan? I don't mean to stereotype, I'm sure there's a few out there. But it's not exactly a take-over-the-world-type religion. I can't recall a bloody war being fought over Wicca.

Oh, that's right, these people are fundies! Never mind.

TheTygerfire:
Did Tom Hanks' character kill someone in that movie? I'm sure that that's worse than committing suicide.

Not that I can recall. It's been a while since I've seen the movie, mind you.

look at the title, and see if you can spot the bad spelling.
show some journalistic integrity, escapist!

Serris:
look at the title, and see if you can spot the bad spelling.

Well, I'm glad it's not just me who saw that.

Serris:
show some journalistic integrity, escapist!

... "integrity"? That's the word you're going with? Really? Okay....

Adam Gauntlett:
This usually involves killings, which the oblivious authorities pass off as a heart attack epidemic.

...Wait just one minute here...

image

Sounds about right, gaming definitely makes me want to make sexy-time then murder nubile young women. But I just can't seem to get the women to want to sex me. Are the tips in this movie about how to make that happen?

Also, what the hell is naughts-and-crosses? Can't picture some guy with that on his back cause I have no idea what its supposed to mean.

funguy2121:
Thank God, I'm not the only one who remembers the chick tracts claiming that D&D was used as a recruiting tool for these mythical devil worshippers

Well, see, now here is one of the reasons why PnP gamers had problems for such a long time.

One of the problems with geekdom, is that in defending the things we love, we tend to both get ridiculously offensive, and also tend to intentionally overlook it when the other side has some legitimate truths involved in what they are saying.

I'll be blunt, I've met more Pagans, including some very dark ones, as a result of playing PnP RPGs than I have in pretty much any other way. People tend to overlook how the fandom communities overlap, and how you find tons of pagans involved in things like the SCA, and how a lot of SCA members are involved in PnP RPGs as well. All of this ties into the counter-culture of course, and things like Heavy Metal... which is pretty popular with RPG fanboys. Plenty of people who have gotten into Heavy Metal have gotten involved in the devil worship stuff for the "cool factor", or what I should say is "faux devil worship" given that they generally have no real idea what they are doing, and it's all about the fun.

Now, understand that to a Christian there are only two "forces" out there, God and The Devil, anything not from God is the result of The Devil trying to turn you from him as the great deceiver. Someone who "doesn't believe in the devil" is actually hurting their own case to a lot of Christians because a totally benevolent religion still gets you sent to hell for not embracing god and Christ as your savior. "The road to hell is paved with good intentions" so to speak.

At any rate, the mistake the PnP RPG community made here was engaging in outright denial, or exagerrated "booga booga" counter attacks with the people playing up this whole aspect of things. The proper response would have been to take a more laid back approach to the entire thing, explain the paganism for what it was, and how it bled in from other assorted geek cultures, and similar things. That isn't what happened however.

To put things into perspective, some parent with a strong Christian attitude drops by the local gaming group, and finds some new agers with an alter on their stove boiling up some kind of incense brew for casting a spell of prosperity or whatever, and it's understandable where this kind of reaction is going to come from. This kind of thing doesn't have to happen with EVERY gaming group, just often enough for people to compare notes and start seeing patterns.

The worst thing you can generally do is treat the other side like mouth breathing idiots when you have a conflict that's expanding on a national level. Things like the Chic tracts were the direct result of the situation being addressed the wrong way, as misinformed as they might have been, gamers brought that level of activity on themselves.

might have to see this movie, just for the grind house vibe.

As far as tabletop goes, its less culty than most college phrat houses...

Wow, that just sounds like a movie Id be glad to never hear of again

Therumancer:
At any rate, the mistake the PnP RPG community made here was engaging in outright denial, or exagerrated "booga booga" counter attacks with the people playing up this whole aspect of things. The proper response would have been to take a more laid back approach to the entire thing, explain the paganism for what it was, and how it bled in from other assorted geek cultures, and similar things. That isn't what happened however.

Ah memories. I grew up during those times, too. And Theru's right, the D&Ders response was mostly juvenile. Ooooga booga, indeed. The thing is, back then, the vast majority of players were pretty close to the stereotype: geeky male teens. Oh, sure, I lettered in wrestling. But I was still a complete geek, and so were my friends. What's cooler? Dark ritual or dork ritual?

I'll confess to dragging a copy of the Necronomicon to school, just to see if the fundie kids would wig. And yeah, some of them did. Yay dork teen me. Adult me would have said "Sheesh, you can be a fundamentalist Christian and get into games. Why not invite them over?" But hey. Making fun of the ruckus was so much "cooler" (according to our definition of the word. In other words, not at all)

I guess I can just be glad that LARP didn't exist when/where I was growing up. I'd probably be skulking around the woods to this day, bean bag in hand ready to scream "Lightning Bolt!!!"

KorLeonis:
Also, what the hell is naughts-and-crosses? Can't picture some guy with that on his back cause I have no idea what its supposed to mean.

Tic-tac-toe.

Wait. Well-written article on all, but isn't this just an article telling us to read another article saying the same thing on this very website? It's redundant. It's all been said in an area of this very website that is spotlighted extremely efficiently.

Andy of Comix Inc:
Wait. Well-written article on all, but isn't this just an article telling us to read another article saying the same thing on this very website? It's redundant. It's all been said in an area of this very website that is spotlighted extremely efficiently.

You mean Logan's reposting?

You haven't noticed that every week not only is the main article posted, but one of the staff re-posts it a couple days later, while a third tweets about it a few days after that? It happens for all the Featured Content weekly articles.

I wish people actually still played tabletop rpgs... I've only played one twice but it was really quite fun :/

Therumancer:

funguy2121:
Thank God, I'm not the only one who remembers the chick tracts claiming that D&D was used as a recruiting tool for these mythical devil worshippers

Well, see, now here is one of the reasons why PnP gamers had problems for such a long time.

One of the problems with geekdom, is that (1)in defending the things we love, we tend to both get ridiculously offensive, and also tend to intentionally overlook it when the other side has some legitimate truths involved in what they are saying.

I'll be blunt, I've met more (2)Pagans, including some very dark ones, as a result of playing PnP RPGs than I have in pretty much any other way. People tend to overlook how the fandom communities overlap, and how you find tons of pagans involved in things like the SCA, and how a lot of SCA members are involved in PnP RPGs as well. All of this ties into the counter-culture of course, and things like Heavy Metal... which is pretty popular with RPG fanboys. (3)Plenty of people who have gotten into Heavy Metal have gotten involved in the devil worship stuff for the "cool factor", or what I should say is "faux devil worship" given that they generally have no real idea what they are doing, and it's all about the fun.

Now, understand that (4) to a Christian there are only two "forces" out there, God and The Devil, anything not from God is the result of The Devil trying to turn you from him as the great deceiver. Someone who "doesn't believe in the devil" is actually hurting their own case to a lot of Christians because a totally benevolent religion still gets you sent to hell for not embracing god and Christ as your savior. "The road to hell is paved with good intentions" so to speak.

At any rate, the mistake the PnP RPG community made here was engaging in (5)outright denial, or exagerrated "booga booga" counter attacks with the people playing up this whole aspect of things. The proper response would have been to take a more laid back approach to the entire thing, explain the paganism for what it was, and how it bled in from other assorted geek cultures, and similar things. That isn't what happened however.

To put things into perspective, (6)some parent with a strong Christian attitude drops by the local gaming group, and finds some new agers with an alter on their stove boiling up some kind of incense brew for casting a spell of prosperity or whatever, and it's understandable where this kind of reaction is going to come from. This kind of thing doesn't have to happen with EVERY gaming group, just often enough for people to compare notes and start seeing patterns.

(7)The worst thing you can generally do is treat the other side like mouth breathing idiots when you have a conflict that's expanding on a national level. Things like the Chic tracts were the direct result of the situation being addressed the wrong way, as misinformed as they might have been, gamers brought that level of activity on themselves.

Such a long response, I have to do this by the numbers...

(1) I have played D&D twice, over 12 years ago. I can't stand video game RPGs. The closest I'll come to one is Zelda. So I wouldn't say I was blinded my love of RPGs.

(2) Dark? How? Pagan simply means you aren't a Buddhist, Christian, Muslim, Jew or Hindu? OK, fine, we can also exclude Ba'hai and Shinto. I've never met a Pagan who said 'let's worship Satan!'

(3) Your information is nearly as old as me (3 decades). System of a Down and Deer Hunter and Mastadon don't sing about Satan. Hell, no one's even called it "heavy" since like '91! It's just METAL. You may hear some devilish stuff out of Dethklok but the fans understand that it's satire (Murderface Murderface Murderface!) Leaving aside how dated and no longer relevant this information is, your approach can be applied to video games. Tell me how feasible you actually think this is: I played Super Mario Brothers in the arcade when I was 8 years old. That Christmas, I got an NES. Someone recommended I try Legend of Zelda. There was minimal use of magic in Zelda, the theology of which was polythiest. Ergo, Mario Brothers led me down the path to polythiestic witchcraft!

(4)Let's be honest, and this is where we're going to reach an unresolvable conclusion, to a Christian, snakes talk. A guy lived in a fish for 3 days. But I really think that what you stated here isn't even the Christianity of Jesus' and Paul's time. Jehovah said "have no other Gods BEFORE me." You and your ilk say things that are far more Bush-like: "If you're not with us, you're with the terrorists." This mode of thinking leaves you very vulnerable to charlatanry. I'll tell you like my favorite televangelist, Bill Maher, tells it: "I'm selling doubt."

(5) Because it's the truth? Because no one on Earth ACTUALLY worships Satan?

(6) This sort of thing doesn't happen. NO religion, least of all that non-religion Satanism, recruits through D&D or geek culture. Krishnas hand out literature at airports. Christians take to the airwaves. No one recruits through roleplaying games, or ever did during the paranoid 70's and 80's.

(7) I can only presume that this conflict you're describing is some form of "spiritual warfare." So, from a rationalist to a mystic, we'll just have to agree to disagree.

Real quick, I'd like to point out some of the other things that these fundamentalist D&D detractors had to say during the 80's.

Cabbage Patch Kids' middle names came from the monikers of demons from Hell.

Star Trek is a vessel for promoting witchery.

He-Man and She-Ra promotes the worship of demons and devils.

Homosexuals have brought the plague of AIDS to America, where it will spread to the heterosexual population as God's divine wrath for us tolerating and accepting them.

Understand, I don't believe that any faith, any belief, is worth holding onto if it can't stand up to a little internal doubt.

Serris:
look at the title, and see if you can spot the bad spelling.
show some journalistic integrity, escapist!

Apologies for the typo. I've fixed it now.

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