Thursday, August 18, 2022

"No Game is Worth Dying For ..."

The disappearance of James Dallas Egbert III on August 15, 1979 plays an important role in both the history of Dungeons & Dragons and in my own personal history of involvement in the hobby of roleplaying. The media hoopla surrounding what became known as the "steam tunnels incident" brought D&D to the attention of the American public for the first time and, with it, fears that the game was somehow "dangerous" to those who played it. 

For that reason, it's unsurprising that Tim Kask, editor of Dragon at the time, would pen a lengthy editorial in issue #30 (October 1979), in which he talks about recent events and D&D's purported role in them. Kask is clearheaded and direct: the involvement of D&D in Egbert's disappearance is a mere speculation based on minimal evidence. As we would later learn, D&D played no significant role in this incident and all of the wild tales told about the game and its supposedly baleful effects upon its players were hogwash.

I've reproduced the entirety of Kask's editorial below. It's certainly held up better than the yellow journalism of 60 Minutes, which credulously accepted the unsubstantiated claims of Patricia Pulling. While I personally never experienced any disapproval from family or friends regarding D&D – quite the contrary, in fact – I know many people did. That's why I think it's still important to set the record straight about the events of August 1979 more than four decades later. 


  1. haha there's definitely games worth dying for. not D&D, for sure, but I think you're setting the bar too high

  2. I'm very much a gamer, but I can't think of a game worth dying for.

  3. Egbert is such a tragic figure in RPGs.

    If Egbert was the various things that he's purported to have been: a queer, depressed, autistic, self-medicating, engineering genius with relentlessly ambitious parents, it seems notable that D&D provided him the solace and community that would otherwise be hard to find for a shy 16 year old alone at Michigan State. I'm obviously not the best person to talk abut RPGs and that sort of pressure, but that Egbert's life descended into even more tragedy when the hobby/community was taken away from him it might not be a coincidence, even if it's at most one factor of many. Kask's editorial hits the right tone even if it's largely trying to protect the hobby, but it does show real concern for a fellow hobbyist, and I hope Egbert got to read it.

    In retrospect the satanic panic, BADD, and all that nonsense look like such a frantic reaction of distinctly 1980's fear-based fundamentalism and Reaganism to the reality of contemporary (at the time) cultural and change - pure reactionary deceit. This of course becomes an even stranger irony given the religiosity of most of D&D's designers and the basically wholesome nature of a hobby that's sitting around with friends and making stuff up.

    Someone should set up a James Dallas Egbert III Memorial Award for RPG design or something.

  4. The sad irony of the 60 Minutes piece is that all the suicides they covered were caused by guns owned by the children's guardians, & guns have nothing to do with D&D (except brief reference to Boot Hill in the DMG). The kids didn't kill themselves with daggers or swords; if they had, the story may have had a point. Instead they overlooked the 800 pound carnivorous ape in the room & missed the real story -- the side effects of the 2nd amendment that is front & center in our politics right now. D&D was being used as a smoke screen to avoid the real issue of unhappy kids getting their hands on their parents' guns.

  5. "D&D was being used as a smoke screen to avoid the real issue of unhappy kids getting their hands on their parents' guns."

    That argument is as specious as the about about D&D being the cause.