Tuesday, July 23, 2019

Is there a Generation Gap in D&D?

                        The term generation gap became a buzz word in the 1960s. With the staunch differences between the WWII generation, and the new Baby Boom generation struggling with the social upheaval at the end of that decade and spilling into the next. The generation gap is a difference in outlook on the world due to a difference in age. Can we apply this sociological and psychological phenomenon to the current situation in D&D? There, at times, seems to be large amounts of misunderstanding between the modern 5e D&D surge of fans, and the older fans that tend to lean towards the OSR movement. I think some of the history of the game can explain some of this gap, and I try to explain a more personal side of the history below.
                I am not sure exactly how to tackle this subject, and I feel that I am going to get flack for it no matter what I say. I might as well just jump into then. For some in the D&D community there is a generational war, and I see it waged on a daily basis on most forms of social media. For a lot of the newer players to the game they feel assaulted by older player, or that older players are trying to gatekeep the hobby as a whole. My goal today is to talk about what it was like for me and several others I know personally growing up in an era that D&D was at best consider a hobby for the geeks and nerds (words that have lost a bit of their connotation, often considered a positive these days) and at worst evil and demonic. Some of us that lived through the Satanic Panic of the 80s and 90s have war wounds, and sometimes do feel protective of the hobby. This is not an excuse to beat up on new players, or new styles of play, but sometimes moving on is hard.

First D&D...Next Pokemon

Back in the Day

                I cannot completely sum up the entirety of the experiences of ALL gamers in ALL places throughout the earlier days of D&D. What I can do is sum up some of my experiences, and some of the experiences of people that I know. Note that not EVERY player experienced these aspects of the game, but some did.
To get a beginning grasp of what the times were like during the dark days of D&D, you should really see the 60 Minutes piece on D&D, which I will link to below. Many newer players do not realize that there was a nationwide organization, BADD (Bothered About Dungeons & Dragons), which was promoting the idea that a game was inherently evil, and caused people to kill themselves. This does not include all the local news reports that blame D&D for any form of abnormal behavior and of course, there is always Dark Dungeons.

60 Minutes D&D Episode

I vividly remember not being able to take any of my D&D books to school. There was a real threat that the books would be confiscated, even if I was reading them on my own time, and never have them returned. I have a close friend and his family confront him about him playing D&D and made him physically throw his books away in front of them. Though I cannot find direct evidence, I do remember people mentioning book burning of D&D. Whether it actually happened or not, we believed it did. Generally, these are the interactions between adults and kids, but the interactions between kids and other kids could be just as bad.

Headline says it all

Trying to find new members to play with was a challenge for me, and for the first decade of playing the game, I played with the same group from my neighborhood. Bringing up that you played could be a risk; you could labeled a “dork/geek” or a less than kind word for the homosexual community. Geek culture was not what it is today, and that was not a friendly label. It put a target on you for harassment and possibly physical abuse, both of these even more a certainty if you were labeled a homosexual. Honestly, “Thac0” became a code word. We could say it, and it meant nothing to the world outside of D&D. If the person knew it, you could feel safe to discuss the game around them. This is the reason I named the blog “Thac0” because I remember using this ploy up until about a decade ago. We often used a sports stand in to talk about D&D when non-players were around. Example: “Hey, are we playing “basketball” (D&D) tonight? Yes, please don’t forget the ball (dice) and John is team captain (DM).” It sounds like a joke but, this was actually done.

Dark Dungeons is a great game.
I was in my twenties and dating women, I had a career, and had to have a conversation when I “came out” as a gamer. There are certainly women out there that I dated that honestly never knew, I would just say that I was going to my friends to hang out. True story, I was hanging out with my wife before we started dating and 4th edition had just come out. We were at the mall, in 2009, I am 30 years old. I excuse myself to the bathroom, and secretly go to the bookstore and purchase the Player’s Handbook and secret it away in my pack. The book is 3/4th into my bag, and who comes walking into the store but my friends and my future wife. First words out of her mouth, “Hey, what’s that?” I froze in fear, because I really liked this girl and I was afraid of a reaction. I try to brush it off with a clever, “Uh, nothing.” She is not buying my clever line and pulls the Player’s Handbook out of my bag. To my surprise and shock, she did not care and just laughter (because she never giggles) that I was so secretive about it. My wife is not a RPG player, but the culture had begun to change. My public expression of D&D changed that day; I have not been one to hide it anymore.

Today’s D&D

                To me, today is the type of D&D world we always wanted, and we would have loved as kids. It is generally accepted by the masses as just a game, and not a tool of the devil. There are so many choices when it comes to the hobby that one cannot consume all the media that exists for it. There are games of every edition, run every day throughout the world. New players are pouring into the game, what more could we have wanted?

Whether you like the edition or not, it has done wonders for the community.

                It is hard for some people to accept that the game has changed though. Many of the newer players to the game do not have an Appendix N background in D&D. Many of the new players have Anime/Comics/Video Game background, and there characters and style of play are suited more towards that angle. Just like we produced characters based on the media we consumed, so do they. The new 5e ruleset are designed to give a set of rules that are more useful for those styles of story, than a tactically planned delve into a dark cavern. There is nothing wrong with either style of play, and both are valid.
                Older players need to remember there is not a conspiracy by “the youth” to ruin “your” game.  D&D is not “your” game, it is “our” game and just because we have played it longer does not mean we have some special claim to it. Younger gamers on the other hand, remember that many of the older players went through some rough years to play this game, and anything that is hard fought for is difficult to see change. Many of us have been doing this awhile and have some great advice, regardless of edition.

They aren't out to get you.

I am currently prepping to run a 5e campaign on Friday, bringing an older D&D player out of a 20-year retirement. I am also prepping for the next day, Gygax’s birthday, to run a B/X campaign for people at a local hobby shop and many of them never played back in the day. In light of this, I was chatting in a D&D forum earlier today, and a long time player mentioned his son who is eight is attending a D&D camp over summer! How amazing is that? 

                I write this while sitting in my school’s club with 12 young people playing D&D and laughing quite a bit. Overall, this what we all want, right?
               The last thing I would like to see after posting this is an edition war and flames fired by both sides. Let's try to keep it clean.

EDIT: This article proved to be very popular. I went ahead and created a Facebook group for the blog, if you are interested the link is here


  1. I had similar experiences to you growing up. I first learned about D&D while living in a suburb of Salt Lake City, and it quickly became a way to divide people into groups that mirrored religious lines back in the 1980's. I never experienced the satanic panic, oddly enough, but I was very aware of it, but mainly my experience was more along of the lines of the idea that D&D was yet another thing, like reading comics books, being in art class, liking Star Wars and Star Trek, and not being particularly adept at sports, that made me an outsider. In Junior High School, one does not want to be an outsider. One wants to be exactly like everyone else. I was not that kid.

    I recently answered a question like this on Quora - someone asked "Why is D&D considered 'cool' now?" and I answered that part of the reason is that the people like me who were considered outsiders/dorks/geeks/nerds/whatever as kids are grown up now, have careers, families, and strong social lives (for the most part) and now have the confidence to not be afraid of telling people that we play the game. With that confidence has come more and more people speaking out and acknowledging that they, too, like to play. And on top of all that, you have former geeks who now are involved in pop culture properties like Big Bang Theory and Stranger Things, showing situations of beloved characters playing the game. You also have "celebrities" like Vin Diesel, Stephen Colbert, and Wil Wheaton publicly acknowledging that they play the game. All of this helps to de-mystify it a little bit and make it more part of mainstream culture. Think about something like comic book movies. The MCU has made them a mainstream part of pop culture. If you tell someone "I really liked Guardians of the Galaxy," chances are, you're not considered a geek just because of that. However, 25 years ago, or 40 years ago, you would have been labeling yourself a target for ridicule.

    My full answer on Quora was much more eloquent:


  2. My Mother started going to church soon after I started playing D&D in 1981. She burned all my books after paying me for them. I then moved on to Gamma World and Boot Hill. Those games were fine with her. I guess it was just the D&D stuff.

  3. I definitely lived in the Satanic panic... parents threw out my books when they found them on more than one occasion. Ended up just storing my books at friends houses.

  4. Religion at the time had a huge influence. I went to a strongly religious school and the Panic was real there, and the programming was strong.

  5. I just want to preface this by saying that I in no way intend to discount your experiences. I'm truly sorry you had to go through all of this to enjoy your hobby of choice.

    I merely wish to give an alternate experience. I'm a newer D&D player, despite being too close to 50 years old for comfort. I did play a little bit of 2e in my college days, but that didn't last long.

    What I found back then -- despite a deep desire on my part to play D&D -- was an "us and them" attitude, whereby if I didn't already know how to play, none of the cognoscenti had the patience to teach me. It was a sort of "read the books and figure it out like we did or GTFO."

    Without the new reassurance of popularity brought on by 5e, and the welcoming community that surrounds it, I never would have been able to get into the game.

    So while I definitely remember the Satanic Panic, I remember at someone on the outside looking in, wishing longingly to be part of this thing and being met with gatekeepers at every turn.

    Again, I recognize that my own experience is far from your own, and I wish I could have found someone like you back in the day to show me the ropes. But if not for this new, more open D&D community, I would still be walking past the RPG shelves at Books-a-Million, eyeing all of those books, and muttering to myself, "That seems like it would be so cool."

  6. I think that can be attributed to the "shell shock" a lot of people went through. It made a lot of gamers a bit more isolationist because they had been burned before. I am not saying it was right, but there is a possible reason.

  7. I played D&D back in the early 80's, and stuck with it with my group through the various forms up to 4e, which drove me to Pathfinder. 5e is decent, but hard to go back to minimal character expression, which I fear Pathfinder 2 is all about. Currently I play both PF1 and 5e and while different games I have groups for both, and they are both fun for different reasons. I remember when video games were supposed to put the old dice and pencil games out to the pasture, but it never happened, and it never could because the game is only limited by your imagination. That is the best thing about PF and D&D: there is room for everyone, old and young, male and female and everything in between, grognards and newbies. Grab some dice and just play!

  8. Different strokes for different folks, I am coming to love Race as Class more because I dislike "builds".

  9. I am the son of a Presbyterian minister, and my experience of D&D in the 1980s was an entirely positive one. People did ask my parents if they weren't worried about my playing "that game," and they always replied that the only thing the game seemed to make me do was sit at the dining room table and draw maps with my friends.

  10. I recognize that this is a very anomalous experience for that time and place.

  11. It seems like the reactions varied around the country, I am glad it was such a positive for you!

  12. Forgot to mention I went to a Presbyterian School for 10 years.

  13. I remember much of this in the news when it happened in the 80s. I started in the early 70s, and things were completely different. When I told people about the game back then the response was a universal "Huh??"

  14. I have heard the Pre-Satanic Panic gamers had a different experience.

  15. I started playing Basic D&D as a fourth-grader in 1981. Up through middle school, I was definitely called a nerd and spaz, socially shunned, and one very religious family in our neighborhood wouldn't let their two sons play it with me. But by the time I was in high school, even though I made no effort to hide my hobby, I managed to date quite a few girls and have what I considered to be a pretty normal social life. And I certainly never had to hide my gaming life from females as an adult.

  16. People think it was a "have to". I admit it wasn't, but it was a learned response that was never broken.

  17. My only beef about people who are players these days is they are in a super hurry to get from forest A to town B. Whatever happened to the thrill of the adventure? I started playing AD&D during 1989 - so much has indeed changed.

    1. I started right about then too. I think it comes down to style. I think a lot of older D&D was based on fantasy literature. Nowadays it is based a lot on fantasy shows. Shows tend to cut things like travel time out.