My first real job was working for a bookstore in Eugene called Gandalf’s Den Fantasy Gallery that also sold wargames and role-playing games.
Almost exactly a quarter-century ago — in the summer of 1982 — the children’s librarian at the Springfield Public Library contacted the store to see if they had anyone who might be interested in talking to the kids at the library about Dungeons & Dragons, which was at the time still less than a decade old. The owner and his wife delegated me to do the presentation, which was unsurprising, since I was the only employee at the store.
A few weeks after I’d agreed to make the appearance, I got a call from the librarian. She told me that a “youth pastor” at a local church had an objection to the topic and that they were threatening to picket and make a fuss at the library unless they were given a chance to speak out about the evils of D&D. And they insisted on making their statements before my presentation. The head librarian apparently had acceded to their demands, the only option I had was to not give the talk. I was 20, I was stupid, I decided to go ahead.
When I showed up for the talk, there were a dozen or so ten to thirteen-year-old boys — the upper age range of just the kind of kids you expect to find at the children’s library on a sunny summer afternoon — and what seemed like a score of members of the church group, including the pastor, a couple of adults, and a number of teenagers (including the only girls in attendence). Not to mention the children’s librarian, the head librarian, and some news media.
The pastor gave a very stirring speech about how the D&D led to all sorts of Satanic rituals and how you had to spend thousands of dollars on suits of armor and how it corrupted your soul. He went on for what seemed like a half hour. Much fidgeting took place.
I finally got to speak and gave my little dog and pony show about D&D and role-playing games, and other types of games. The photo shows Champions (superhero RPG), Bushido (feudal Japanese RPG), D&D, The Morrow Project (post-nuclear holocaust RPG), and GANGLORD (my own play-by-mail gang warfare game), as well as a couple of others I can’t make out (not to mention my friend and moral support for the event, Tom Stansfield, leaning on the podium). I talked about how there was no way I could have afforded to spend thousands of dollars on armor, how as an athiest I could hardly be a Satanist as well, that I didn’t know any nor did I believe in magic, and how I viewed the whole spectrum of games as just a way to enjoy the company of other people. I answered questions about games from the kids, was asked by the church teens if athiesm wasn’t just the same as Satanism, and tried to keep myself on an even keel when I felt very much outnumbered.
I don’t know if it was planning or sheer dumb luck that made me put on the shirt my folks had brought back from the National Zoo. Despite the wild hair, the beard, and maniacal smile, I think it might have been difficult for some of the kids to seriously consider me as some sort of threat to all that was good with panda bears on my chest.
I have a very nice letter from D&D creator E. Gary Gygax offering his support about the incident.