The Alphastream Game Design Blog

Cautionary Tales: What We Can Learn From the Satanic Panic

Image of a newspaper with the headline "Dungeons and Dragons causes moral conflict, protest."

The term “Satanic Panic” refers to a period in the 1980s, when various groups decried Dungeons & Dragons as a dangerous game. As absurd as it may sound today, it was something almost every parent in the US had heard about. While the furor made it tough for a lot of kids to get their parents’ permission to play, it didn’t stop the game’s growth. It fueled it. The sales resulting from the Satanic Panic were the highest ever in D&D’s history, until finally being surpassed by 5th edition.

On the Mastering Dungeons podcast we had the pleasure of welcoming Tim Harford, a renowned best-selling author, economist, and journalist who applies the lens of behavioral economics to the topics he covers. This means he loves data, but loves understanding the “why” behind the data even more.

Image from a newspaper with the headline "Dungeons and Dragons: Just harmless fun - or sorcery?"

Tim’s latest endeavor is a podcast called Cautionary Tales. He looks at fascinating topics where things have gone wrong, and what we might learn from them. His latest episode, Demonizing Dungeons & Dragons, looks into the panic.

We discuss the event that started it all: the 1979 disappearance of Dallas Egbert from Michigan State University, and the role of William Dear, the private investigator who looked into D&D and concluded it must be (or should be) responsible. More importantly, we look at what the panic tells us about those times compared to where we are today. We are now in a completely different moment, where parents are pleased to see their child play D&D.

We also discuss the economy of D&D, from author pay to book and dice prices. It was a wonderful discussion, and I hope you enjoy it.

And, while I have your attention, I want to recommend a quick 15-minute podcast for this Earth Day (April 22). My daughter, 16, was interviewed for the Genius Generation podcast. This interview is a great example of how youth is leading on important issues. She discusses the organization she has started, her time in Japan, and how youth are involved today on critical issues. My daughter and I would appreciate it if you give this a listen!  

Mazes and Monsters movie advertisement, with Tom Hanks

2 comments on “Cautionary Tales: What We Can Learn From the Satanic Panic

  1. Meshon Cantrill
    June 4, 2021

    It’s so great to hear really articulate, passionate young people talk about climate change. I’m going to play this interview for my son, not least because he was made in Japan and would really like to travel there! Thanks Luna!

    I also love Tim Harford’s Cautionary Tales, which I found through the 99 Prevent Invisible podcast, looking forward to hearing this.

    • Alphastream
      June 4, 2021

      Thanks so much! I will pass this on to her. I agree. It really is wonderful seeing kids care so much about their world.

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This entry was posted on April 22, 2021 by and tagged , .


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