In the 1980s, a group was formed which warned of an emerging danger to America’s youth. That danger was a new, and increasingly popular form of entertainment that, while seemingly harmless, allowed children and teens to tap into their more violent and morally questionable urges while hiding under the guise of harmless escapism. In fact, the group argued, it was necessary to understand this form of entertainment if one wanted to understand the then-increasingly prevalent and seemingly unexplainable wave of crime, to the point where it manufactured police training manuals based on a document explaining the phenomenon in question. Meanwhile, the group’s founder appeared all over the mainstream press, including 60 Minutes and Geraldo Rivera’s show.
Given that the 80s were also the arguable birthplace of mass market home video games, made by companies like Atari and Nintendo, the reader might conclude that they were the target of this crusade. But they’d be wrong. The form of entertainment in question was table-top roleplaying games, such as Dungeons and Dragons, and the group warning about their danger was a little organization called Bothered About Dungeons and Dragons, or BADD, which alleged that Dungeons and Dragons, or “D&D,” was a cover for recruitment into Satanic murder-suicide cultism, using the deaths of various mentally unstable teenagers who (allegedly) had played the game as evidence. In fact, the founder of the group – Patricia Pulling, who coincidentally was also the author of its main document, The Pulling Report – was the mother of one such child.
There was just one problem: The whole argument was laughably, unimaginably false. In fact, today, the only people who still read The Pulling Report are tabletop role-players looking for a laugh. The idea of police investigators interrogating high schoolers about whether they role play as elves or dwarves, and what class they are (an actual recommendation of the report itself) rises to the level of absurd comedy. D&D has become so mainstream it gets pop cultural spoofs on shows like The Big Bang Theory and Community, and claims pop culture figures like Vin Diesel and Patton Oswalt as enthusiasts. Patricia Pulling, and BADD, if they are remembered at all, are remembered as punch lines, or as symbols for how bad parents can use senseless, irrational moral panic backed by quack “scholarship” as a way to distract from their own failures.