Saturday, October 26, 2013

Guest Blogger Christopher Folino: When Tom Hanks Scared The Crap Out Of Parents About D&D

Growing up in the early 1980’s Dungeons and Dragons was a bit taboo, parents and church groups banned their children from playing the game. The Tom Hanks TV Movie, “Mazes and Monsters” didn’t help matters much, it had parents worried that their children would lose their minds in the fantasy world. Of course, this idea was almost as lame as watching the Star Wars Holiday Special, but, it was a serious concern that loomed over my childhood RPG days.

In fact, one of my best friends in grade school, Greg was forbidden to play Dungeons and Dragons, because his mom believed the game was satanic. It was really disappointing to me, however, I appreciate the fact that my grade school which was catholic never banned Dungeons and Dragons. And thankfully my mom recognized D&D for what it truly is, an amazing game that furthers your mind with fun and creativity.

My love for writing comes directly from my years of playing and being a dungeon master, despite the fact that countless school teachers would dismiss my stories because of my horrible punctuation and grammar. It didn’t matter to me, I would write my own dungeons and my only concern was to keep the pacing and story intriguing for my friends. Grammar you can learn over time, creating a story that could keep your friends entertained for hours was priceless.

Looking back on this period in my life, if my school would have banned Dungeons and Dragons or if my mother would have bought into the game being demonic, my life would have turned out much differently.

I’m sure a great deal of other RPG players from the 1980s are as fortunate as I am that our childhood wasn’t censored, because, in reality it would have censored our creativity. And regardless of what job we ended up with, we are all using the logic, reasoning, storytelling and teamwork that we developed from playing our favorite RPG games. I just wish the folks at CBS who created the Star Wars Holiday Special had played more Dungeons and Dragons! It would have saved us all from having to witness one of the worst moments in Sci-Fi history.

Christopher Folino
Christopher Folino is an accomplished commercial director and founder of a boutique production company Sideshow Productions based in Agoura Hills in Los Angeles. He has produced over a hundred TVC’s spots for clients like Toys ‘R’ Us, Disney, Jakks Pacific and Bandai. Sparks marks his second feature films after his feature debut film, Gamers (2006) which won the Best Screenplay at the Melbourne Underground Film Festival 2006. Chris founded Catastrophic Comics with William Katt (The Greatest American Hero), which has been responsible for the release of The Greatest American Hero and Sparks comics. Sparks comic became the world's first motion comic released for the iPhone back in 2009. Sparks was entirely independently financed and produced by Sideshow Productions and with 16 days of principal production, which called for two production units shooting simultaneously.

Friday, October 25, 2013

B.A.D.D. Was Just Bad

Yesterday’s blog made mention of a young boy that committed suicide in Richmond, Virginia and a mother that took her grief out on Dungeons & Dragons. This led to some pretty dark times for fans of role playing games. Over the course of the next decade there was a great deal of blame laid at the feet of games. Blame for sad and senseless acts of violence that could have otherwise been prevented, if parents had paid more attention to the children of those actions, instead of ignoring them and then faulting anything other than themselves for their inaction. This is one story among many, but it is one that any gamer growing up during this time will remember, it is seared into the history of gaming as a brand (though smaller than it once was) that the gaming community will carry with us for many more years before we are able to fully shed it.

On June 9, 1982 Irving Pulling, (affectionately known as Bink by his family) committed suicide by shooting himself in the chest. It was a terrible tragedy and to this day there is a great deal of speculation as to the real motivation behind Bink’s suicide. One thing is certain though, his death transformed his mother Patricia Pulling into a stalwart crusader against all things role playing, especially Dungeons & Dragons. She formed a non profit group named B.A.D.D. (Bothered About Dungeons & Dragons), she co-authored The Devil’s Web with Cathy Cawthon, she appeared on 60 Minutes speaking on the deaths of children caused by Dungeons & Dragons, and she gave lectures whenever and wherever she could to fight the blight of table top gaming and the evils that it exposed children to.

For 13 years Patricia Pulling’s B.A.D.D. did much to scare the pants off of parents throughout the United States, it can even be said that she was one of the primary catalysts for the moral panic or “Satanic Panic” that surrounded role playing for the better part of the late 80s and early 90s. Along with other crusaders against evil such as Jack Chick and his infamous Chick Tracts (particularly Dark Dungeons), the damage to the perceptions of table top role playing games in the eyes of the public (especially the religious public) was visibly widespread. With the actions of only a handful of people, creating fear and pushing misinformation, many hundreds of children were denied the opportunity to play a game that helped shape the imaginations of so many great and creative minds of today.

Though TSR may have benefited from the publicity through greater sales and broader brand recognition, American youths were not always so lucky. Books were taken from children and some were even burned. I know this because I was witness to the impact that the scare had on my own church community at the time. Our pastor urged us to consider the books as a gateway to evil, to either put them in our trash cans or better yet to burn them. I liked my pastor (I was still young and religious then and he was a good man) but like many people during that time, he was misled. He was told that gaming books contained information that they did not, he was told that there were rituals and demon summoning spells, even though none of these things were true. Like a good Christian, my mother listened, and she still questioned the validity of those statements. Somehow, someway I managed to convince her that they were just the game books that she thought and deep down, knew they were. How my ten year old mind formed an argument strong enough to represent my case I cannot remember, but I have a feeling that a mother’s trust and love of her son had a big part in my being allowed to continue adventures in the lands of my imagination.

In 1997 Patricia Pulling passed away and with her death came the demise of B.A.D.D. as well. Perceptions had started to change, due in no small part to the efforts of individuals like Michael A. Stackppole and his Pulling Report, (which is highly recommended reading) but the damage was deep seeded enough that we still see it spoken of today. There are still those that believe (in ignorance) that our children are at risk by playing Dungeons & Dragons and that we need to protect children from that evil.

In the opinion of this author, it is an unspeakable act to use your right to free expression for fear mongering and the spreading of propaganda composed of falsehoods and fictitious statements. As gamers, designers, writers and just human beings it is our morale obligation to make sure that people with power and persuasion do not use free speech to cause fear or to sow doubt in the minds of those that are less informed. Today we have the internet by our side, we can communicate on a scale like never before and we are stronger for it. Just remember that not everyone views free speech as a means to spread knowledge and to share their ideas, or that if they do, the ideas that they share may be tainted by grief, prejudice or even ignorance. The damage done can be far worse than the small scale issue that was caused by not being able to play table top games with friends, at worst it can be catastrophic. Free speech should be the right of every person, but it is the responsibility of each speaker to use that right for good and to not abuse it like Patricia Pulling and those like her have done and continue to do.

David Bird
Dave is a stay at home father, fledgling game designer and idea man. He launched Dork Dungeon Entertainment in October 2012 and is currently hard at work finishing their first project, a universal role playing system called N20. He is also working on a plush toy project that will be launching via Kickstarter sometime in the future. In September 2013 he founded Gamers For Free Speech, an educational organization with the goal of informing gamers about the dangers of censorship. Being a stay at home father caused a long hiatus in most of his internet projects, but he loved every minute of it and after being away from his hobbies for so long, he's looking forward to delving back into them head first.