Dungeons and Dragons had just about as awkward an adolescence as its legion of fans did. In the 1980s, the budding roleplaying game was tangentially linked to a handful of high profile teenage suicides. Fueled by spur-of-the-moment hysteria, pocketed movements arose across the country to ban Dungeons and Dragons, claiming that the game taught witchcraft, satanism, homosexuality, necromancy, barbarism, and dozens of other dour-sounding multisyllabic perversions.
Much of this controversy stemmed from one Patricia Pulling. In 1982 Pulling’s son, an avid Dungeons and Dragons player, committed suicide. Blaming the game exclusively for the tragedy, Pulling tried and failed to litigate against TSR, the game’s publisher. She later founded the advocacy group Bothered About Dungeons and Dragons and authored the passionate but somewhat incomprehensible book The Devil’s Web: Who Is Stalking Your Children For Satan?
A snapshot of this era is captured in this 60 Minutes piece from 1985. It includes interviews with Pulling, Dungeons and Dragons creator Gary Gygax, and the most awkward gaggle of nerds the producers could find. It’s impossible to imagine such a hard-boiled expose on Dungeons and Dragons occurring today, where World of Warcraft and The Big Bang Theory have thrust nerd culture into the mainstream. But the 1980s were a different time. Dice never had more than six sides, elves only showed up at Christmas, and Clue was the most risque game people could handle. Dungeons and Dragons was new, and new things scare people.