Thursday, January 7, 2021

A Dangerous Game

Yesterday's post about the steam tunnels incident conjured up another memory, that of the 1982 television movie, Mazes and Monsters, starring a young Tom Hanks and based on the execrable novel of the same name by Rona Jaffe. I dimly recall watching this when it was first broadcast and being baffled by it – not because it lent credence to those who wanted to paint fantasy roleplaying games in a negative light but because it was clear no one involved in this film had the slightest understanding of what RPGs were actually like. Honestly, Jack Chick's Dark Dungeons more accurately presents roleplaying games than Mazes and Monsters did, which is just sad. Mind you, most media portrayals of roleplaying, even today, have very little to do with the hobby in which I've been involved for the last forty years. One would think, after all this time, that someone who'd actually played a RPG might be involved in a movie or TV show and help ensure that the details were right. 

A guy can dream, right?


  1. Paul at blogofholding wrote up the game described in the movie:

    (Disclaimer: I helped playtest it. It was fun, because most games with our group is fun, not because the rules themselves were special.)

  2. I remember this. I was in high school when it came out. The next day – as often happened back then – everyone was talking about it. I’ve said before that when I first saw D&D, it was from a wide range of kids playing it, mostly boys, but from all over the social spectrum. If there was some stereotype or stigma, the ones playing didn’t seem to mind. There were as many varsity lettermen, team captains, homecoming court attendees, class officers and similar as there were anyone else. After this movie came out, however, I noticed that within a year the majority of players who weren’t ‘part of the stereotype’ had left the game and went out of their way to avoid being associated with it. People sometimes say it was the old religious fundamentalists who torpedoed D&D’s popularity, but I don’t think so. It was almost a coalition of everyone who seemed to take aim at it. After all, when else do we remember 60 Minutes, Tipper Gore and Jerry Falwell being on the same page about something?

  3. I was concerned my parents would see M&M and freak out, but it didn't really register with them; I said it was a game and they believed me. In any case, I mostly played Gamma World and Star Frontiers so worst case would just be no fantasy until I could afford some other system.

    Several of my friends had to give up their D&D books for a few years because their parents thought it was Satanic. Irony is, the teen Satanists (eyeroll, but harmless) in our extended nerd circle didn't play D&D, but other RPGs; a couple years later that's where I met Stormbringer, Rolemaster, and Champions.

    There's a brief bit of D&D at the start of E.T., seems like a reasonable game going on, but it's very short.

    I'm not sure other than the D&D cartoon, if there was any representation of D&D in TV or movies again.

    1. Plenty of shows have had representations of D&D or other RPGs, but not always the most faithful. Off the top of my head, X-Files, Simpsons & Futurama, Stranger Things, Community... Usually it's so short that it's hard to tell how much it resembles actual play.

    2. But that's true for other games as well. When you see Monopoly being played in a movie or on tv, the board is always full with houses and hotels ... in a real game that rarely happens. And in modern movies or tv, when you see someone playing a console game, they always frantically move the controller from left to right. Nobody does that IRL. But otherwise, the scene would be boring to watch.
      Movies are not documentaries, but they do want to convey a certain atmosphere.

  4. The great irony about the panic of which Mazes and Monsters was a part (and, frankly, the irony about most panics about anything) is that the solution to fend off the panic led to a game that more closely resembled what the panic feared the game to be. TSR's reaction was to create mechanics that hard-wired a pagan world-view into D&D and made it nigh-impossible to play from a Christian world-view without some heavy-lifting and house-rules by the DM. While certainly not explicitly Christian, the game was far friendlier to a Christian interpretation prior to the panic than after.

  5. I never read the book, but I saw the TV movie years later, on video in the 1990s. As you know of course it TOTALLY fails to represent ‘real’ D&D, making it look more like... an ‘encounter group’ maybe?? BUT I will also say that, paradoxically, it ends on that pseudo-positive note of one character saying “We learned a lot about ourselves playing Mazes & Monsters” (paraphrase)! So it’s almost like it presents M&M as being TOO powerful psychologically! How enticing! 😂😂

  6. I'm still traumatized by that vertigo-inducing scene at the end on top of the World Trade Center, which becomes cringe-y in retrospect.

  7. I saw this movie on tv when I was in high school (in Belgium), probably 82. Up to that point, I had been a board wargamer, and had only heard vaguely about D&D. But after seeing the movie, I thought "Yes, this is the game we want to play!". We even invented our own rules based on what we remembered from the movie ;-)

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  9. The 2013 satire Zero Charisma gives a painfully accurate portrayal of gaming's funky side:

  10. I LOVE that movie! It was Hanks’ second movie—the first is even less well known. Bawling his eyes out in the telephone booth, Robbie says: “There’s blood on my knife!”

    Other great scenes:

    —JJ, that is an exact duplicate of Robbie’s map. How do you do that?
    —Some people get great tans.
    (I appreciate dead-pan. Also love the map with color-coded dungeon levels!)

    In the subway tunnels beneath New York, Robbie meets a homeless man.
    Robbie (afraid): Please, there is no reason to fear me. I am Pardieu. I am a holy man.
    Man (incredulous): I’m the King of France.
    Robbie (kneeling): Your Majesty…

    On Youtube:

  11. I remember watching it on TV when it first aired and being disappointed there weren't special effects and real monsters.

  12. I just re-watched it. It was better than I remembered. It did not seem like they were trying to blame the game. It seemed like the game was somewhat incidental to his delusions.