Could Dungeons and Dragons Help Fight Screen Addiction? | Full Report | Retro Report on PBS


– The warnings are familiar, kids become so
obsessed with gaming, they may lose all
sense of reality but before today’s video
games like Fortnite caused parents to panic about
how kids were spending time, there was Dungeons & Dragons. (rattling of dice) – In the 1980’s, D&D
players became engrossed, creating a fantasy world
that some adults saw as, not only an unhealthy addiction, but a dangerous invitation
into devil worship. The twist is that today, the
imaginative role playing in D&D may seem like an antidote
to the modern obsession with screen time and that’s a far cry from
the fear it once inspired. (somber music) On a summer day in August 1979, the family of a missing
teenager called a Texas investigator
named William Dear with some startling information. Dallas Egbert had disappeared
from Michigan State University during the summer session. – [Male Host] James Dallas
Egbert, III was a 16 year old sophomore and his family
hired Dear to help find him. – He was a computer nerd and
he had a large amount of hair and carries his
little briefcase. I wasn’t sure that I
was being told exactly what precipitated his
disappearance so I said, “Well, I guess the
best thing we do is “I’ll go to Michigan
State University “and I’ll find out for myself
exactly what was going on.” When I went to his room,
there was a corkboard with a series of tacks. – [Male Host] In
what might look like a random pattern of thumb tacks, the investigator saw what
he thought could be a clue. The shape resembled a
building that was part of a network of underground
campus steam tunnels which students told him
they sometimes explored. – We set out with maps
and we started going into the tunnels one morning
with press everywhere. I entered with the idea that I did not know
what I was getting into. – [Male Host] But he had a
hunch that it had something to do with a game that
was growing in popularity. (adventurous music) – [Male Newscaster] This is
a quest in a fantasy world of castles and dungeons,
monsters and dragons. This world has become
real to these people (laughing) It’s all part of a game
called Dungeons & Dragons. – [Male Host] Dungeons &
Dragons, also known as D&D was created by the late
Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson in the early 1970’s. It was born out of their
love for military war games and they devised scenarios
with made up characters that incorporated their
interest in history and fantasy fiction. Gygas said, “It
provided an escape.” – All of us at times
feel a little inadequate in dealing with
the modern world. It would feel much
better if we knew that we were a super
hero or a mighty wizard. – [Male Host] The game
is played in a group and the guide, or
Dungeon Master. – You enter a very small room. – [Male Host] Talks the
players through the fictional, sometimes violent
adventures they will go on. – [Female Narrator] A throw
of these special dice decide the outcome of battles in
an intricate scoring system. Nothing is acted out, the
real action is in the mind. – Now you guys are
entering the castle. – [Male Host] But some,
including private investigator William Dear, worried that
while the action was imaginary, some kids might take it too far. – You’re leaving
the world of reality into the world of fantasy. It advocated murder, decapitation and I’m going, “This isn’t a healthy game.” How can it be a healthy game? – [Male Host] That
game and Dear’s hunch that Egbert was playing
it in the tunnels made great fodder for
headlines but it was a dead end and Dear went back to
Texas empty handed. – It was within a day or two
that a phone call came in and you’re still alive. – [Male Host] Egbert was
a complicated teenager whose disappearance was
never fully explained and who later committed suicide. – There was speculation
he was the victim of a campus game called
Dungeons & Dragons but after a month long,
nationwide search, he was found unharmed. – [Male Host] Dear fed
into the growing suspicions about D&D in a book
that pointed to the game as a culprit in
Egbert’s disappearance but Tim Kask who helped
developed D&D with Gary Gygax says Dear was just hyping
the story for personal gain. – He was a publicity hound and he knew that he
could hang it on D&D and gather a lot of
media frenzy and he did. Dallas Egbert was
a tragic story. Brilliant young man sent
off to university at 15 that had nothing to do with
D&D in the steam tunnels. – [Male Host] Still, that
attention set off an unexpected chain of events. – Our stock took off, literally. We sold thousands of more
copies within 90 days of all that stuff happening
and we were up in print runs. That’s when we took off. – [Male Host] Sales
nearly quadrupled the year after Egbert disappeared. As the cult game was
going mainstream, Dungeons & Dragons
generated interest in two conflicting groups: people who wanted to buy it and those who wanted to ban it. And televangelists
took on a new crusade. – [Female Announcer]
They are kids like yours, like the ones in
your neighborhood. Kids who are turning to darkness because society
has shut God out. – A conservative Fundamentalist
Christian group would see a game that involved satanic
figures, evil figures that would be a
source of concern. – [Male Announcer] Dungeons
& Dragons have been called the most effective
introduction to the occult in the history of man. It is a fantasy role playing
game that teaches demonology… – [Male Host] Gygax, a
religious man himself, was put on the defensive. The company hired psychologist
Dr. Joyce Brothers to fend off criticism. – [Joyce Over Radio] There
is good and evil in life and the way Dungeons &
Dragons is set up is that good triumphs over evil. – [Male Host] Tim Kask
says that in private, he and Gygax couldn’t believe
the game was being linked to devil worship. – Without sounding
disrespectful at all, we laughed our butts
off most of the time. Because it was like,
“Are you kidding me? “You really think we’re teaching
your children demonology?” – [Male Host] But
the controversy grew
after the news media reported that a string of
teen murders and suicides had one thing in common, the killers or victims
were D&D players. – [Female Newscaster] Mary
Towey was killed by two friends, Ron Adcox and Darren Molitor. The crucial point is, can
a game create psychosis? Or is someone like Darren
Molitor an accident waiting to happen with or
without the game? – [Ed] If you found 12
kids in murder suicide with one connecting
factor in each of them, wouldn’t you question it? And that’s all people are doing. – [Gary] I would certainly
do it in a scientific matter and this is as unscientific
as you can get. It’s nothing but a witch hunt. – [Male Host] But many
grieving parents believed there was a connection. Pat Pulling’s teenage
son committed suicide and she spoke publicly,
claiming that his game playing contributed to his death. – It has been linked
in suicide notes, police reports, and
coroner’s reports. – Young people commit suicide for a whole variety of reasons. In my research, I saw
nothing that led anyone towards depression or suicide. – [Male Host]
Northwestern University professor of sociology,
Gary Alan Fine, wrote a book called
“Shared Fantasy” and studied the D&D subculture. – They were the kind of
kids and young people who didn’t go to dances
or date on the weekends. They were part of a nerd
culture, I guess you would say. – I can still throw
guest spells huh, Steve? – [Male Host] The D&D
culture intrigued filmmakers and fiction writers. Rona Jaffe’s book, “Mazes
and Monsters” was loosely based on what people thought
had happened to Dallas Egbert. It was made into a movie
starring a young Tom Hanks. – [Male] Led the journey begin. – Well, which way do we go? – They went down the storm
tunnels and got to play D&D in the tunnels. We had to like sit
around a table like, how awesome would
it have been if it turned out that D&D
was like what they did. – [Male Host] Cory Doctorow
is a writer and activist who early on was profiled
as an avid D&D player in this story from 1985. – Tag lures him. – The moral panic
was mostly laughable. The idea that there were people who were Fundamentalist
Christians for whom Dungeons & Dragons
represented some kind of existential threat
to my soul was silly. You could go around and have
really satisfying arguments with like profoundly
ignorant grown ups. – [Male Host] Over time,
the Dungeons & Dragons controversy lost
steam and today, the common thread
between D&D players is less likely to include any
reported links to violence. And more likely to
involve Emmy Awards and literary prizes. Stephen Colbert and
writers Ta-Nehisi Coates and Junot Diaz are
among the millions of smart, bookish
kids who played D&D and shrugged off
any sense of panic. – People went bananas. My mom moral panicked, she was way more worried
about us getting shanked or getting caught
up in some nonsense. – It was a lot of fun. It also provided them a
variety of other skills, leadership skills and
negotiation skills. – [Male Host] And for
Diaz, as a young immigrant from the Dominican Republic, the game had special meaning. – This was a revolution. Being a bunch of kids of color in a society that
tells us we’re nothing. Being permitted under our
own power to be heroic. To have agency, to
do the hero stuff. To take and be on adventures. There was nothing
like it for us. It was very, very,
very, very impactful. – [Male Host] While some
parents used to worry about what kids were playing. Now they’re more likely
to be worried about how they’re playing. – [Male Broadcaster] Screen
time, what’s the right amount for modern kids? – Cell phones and social
media have revolutionized the way we live but how
is plugging in changed the way your kids
are growing up? – This is the biggest
parenting issue of our time. – Through the 20th century, you have this tension between free play and controlled media. I mean, we were concerned
about what sitting in darkened movie theaters would
do to our children. Just wait 30 years and
they will be worried about what their children are doing and it will no doubt
be something different than sexting and bullying
as we know it today. This is not a new phenomenon. It just changes with
each new technology. – [Male Host] The American
Academy of Pediatrics says that in this media
saturated age, it’s important for kids
to use their imaginations in free play. (children chattering) And in a twist, the role
playing games that set off a moral panic in the past, may look more like a solution
to getting kids off screens and encouraging them to spend
time playing face to face. (children chattering) – It’s a great thing to dream
yourself in other places and it helps
understand who you are, it’s just nice to
spend a lot of time thinking, imagining, in a group, collaborating. – Bobby is awesome. – [Junot] Imagination
is a good thing. Very powerful. (gong and cheering)

13 thoughts on “Could Dungeons and Dragons Help Fight Screen Addiction? | Full Report | Retro Report on PBS

  1. I had a neighbor who was a "crazy born again christian" and I had brought my D&D books with me to play with their grandson.
    They took one look at my Players Handbook and proceeded to have an intervention against me
    They went to my house, preached to my parents, told me that I was joining Satan's following.

  2. They were concerned about Dungeons & Dragons and the Fantasy/Reality threshold and Fundamentalists actually does it.

  3. The original problem they had was with LARPing, not D&D or fantasy gaming, and even THEN it's still misplaced. It's like if Garry Kasparov decided to dress like a queen and yell at everyone "I'm gonna move diagonally around you!!!" We aren't going to ban chess then, are we. If anything can be learned from popular channels like Critical Role is that it promotes teamwork and problem solving. If you can't work together with people, there's gonna be a TPK. Plain and simple.

  4. I've thoroughly enjoyed playing again. 4 hours once a week we get together and just have fun as friends and we just have a great time together.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *