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DARK DUNGEONS

Dark Dungeons is possibly the most widely distributed piece of anti-game propaganda in the history of gaming. It was first produced by Chick Publications in 1984, during the heyday of anti-RPG paranoia, and print copies were available on request from Chick as recently as the mid-90s. Chick Publications, headed by reclusive comic author Jack T. Chick, also brings us booklets on the evils of everything from Catholicism and Buddhism to Halloween and reincarnation.  Chick takes no prisoners, and isn't interested in playing nicely; they'd much rather convert you to their narrow world view, and possibly get you to sprinkle the world liberally with more of their pamphlets.

Dark Dungeons has only been updated once since its first appearance in 1984, and then it was to remove a reference describing the works of J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis as occult books - a move that was possibly due to threats by the estates of both authors. The pamphlet has been out of regular print for several years - Chick Publications has made it available on their site at http://www.chick.com/reading/tracts/0046/0046_01.asp, and for a sizeable donation ($750US), you can have your own custom batch of 10,000 printed up, complete with the name of your church or organization on the back of each.
Blessed Linkness - Special thanks to Pastor Van Nattan of Blessed Quietness and Michael Prabhu of Metamorphose for directing some of their readers to this page so that they can learn the truth behind the myths and misinformation about role-playing games. To learn more about some of the lies and rumors you might be hearing from others about RPGs, be sure to visit the FAQ pages! (And for a rebuttal to Michael Prabhu's claims, visit this page

Original tract on chick.com:
Dark Dungeons

More info from wikipedia:
Jack T. Chick
Chick Publications
Chick tracts


dd1.jpg (10825 bytes)Because they do not normally print it, or have not issued further anti-RPG materials to warn people away from other popular role-playing games (Vampire would have been a perfect candidate), one could conclude that they have eased up on the hobby - but nothing could be further from the truth. Chick Publications is still active against role-playing to this day. Two columns by William Schnoebelen appear on their website - Straight Talk on Dungeons & Dragons, written in 1984, and Should a Christian Play Dungeons & Dragons? - the latter written in 2001 (and as a followup to the first). In Straight Talk, Schnoebelen claims to have once been the witch high priest of Lake Geneva, and contacted during that time by alleged employees of TSR, who requested that he reality check the spells in D&D... several years after it had already been released. In Should a Christian..., he claims that the Cthulhu mythos and Necronomicon are real, and that bookstore shelves "literally groan" from the massive amounts of books on wicca and the occult - books that were few and far between when D&D first came along (which can only mean one thing, right?).

BETWEEN THE COVERS

Dark Dungeons touches many of the bases of mid-80s anti-RPG paranoia. Most of the cliches and urban legends are here; the dark, seductive lady who acts as DM for a group of younger players, the gamers who identify far too much with their characters and become deeply troubled when a character dies, the "real spells" contained in the books, the obsessive playing at the cost of a healthy social or spiritual life, the eventual induction into a witches coven, and of course, the inevitable suicide. About the only legends they miss are drugs, rape, murder, and lead figures that scream when you throw them into the fire. But to be fair, you can only give so much story in 21 pages.

Here is a brief overview of the myths and misconceptions that Dark Dungeons helps to uphold, as well as some random observations I've collected:

 
Marcie, one of the players, becomes visibly upset when her thief character misses a poison trap and the Dungeon Master 'declares her dead.' As she jumps up from the table, begging anyone for help, Debbie (our pigtailed protagonist) tells her "Marcie, get out of here.YOU'RE DEAD! You don't exist anymore."

TRUTH: The loss of a character in an RPG can be upsetting, especially for someone who has devoted a lot of time and effort into detailing that character. But in a role-playing game, it is easy to avoid death - in a fantasy styled game such as the one we can assume "Dark Dungeons" is, there are healing and even resurrection spells to put a character back into the action. There is always the option of making a new character to adventure with. Also, there's nothing to say that you can't take that character to someone else's game and start playing again as if nothing had ever happened at Miss Frost's house.

This raises an interesting point that anti-game pundits often bring up - does this quality of RPGs cheapen life to the point where it no longer has much value to the players? Usually not - role-playing is only a more interactive form of reading a story, and heroes and villians die in stories all of the time. We have had stories for as long as we've known, so the logic just doesn't follow. If a person is so attached to a character that they would create such an outburst, then the correct course of action is to get them help as soon as possible - and don't blame a game for a person's mental and emotional problems. That doesn't do anything to help them at all.

Note how Debbie tells Marcie "(G)et out of here. YOU'RE DEAD! You don't exist anymore." This is a subtle reference to the player/character confusion that so many have accused gamers of in the past. Since Marcie's character is dead, Marcie herself is 'dead' to the other players of the game, at least until the game is over.

This is not a common practice among real-world gamers, in real-world games, where much of the point of playing is to enjoy the company of others. But we must remember that this comic isn't the real world - it's the 'Chick' world.

 

Miss Frost, the Dungeon Master of the group, takes Debbie aside after everyone has left the game and informs her that since her character has achieved eighth level, she is now ready to learn 'real' magic. Debbie asks "You mean you're going to teach me how to have the real power?" (in bold italic underline, for triple emphasis!) Miss Frost responds by saying "Yes, you have the personality for it now.

TRUTH:There has been no evidence to support the claim that any form of witchcraft, occultism, or satanism has used role-playing games as an indoctrination tool. The closest thing we may have is William Schnoebelen's claim that he was approached by members of TSR to 'reality check' the spells in the early form of Dungeons & Dragons in the mid-70s - and judging from some of his other claims, it's highly unlikely that he's telling the truth on this one, either.

 

Debbie returns to Miss Frost's house to explain how happy she is now that she has the real power. As a test, she cast a "mind bondage" spell on her father, who was trying to get her to stop playing "D&D." Debbie's face is now twisted and sinister as she tells her story. When Miss Frost asks what the result of the spell was, Debbie gleefully tells her that he purchased her $200 in "D&D figures and manuals."

TRUTH: The game in question is no longer "Dark Dungeons," but now "D&D." Chick has slyly created a 'pretend' role-playing game, then begun to make references to a real one. Either that, or he slipped up, and forgot about this story detail.

 

While at Ms. Frost's house, fighting 'the Zombie,' Debbie gets a call from Marcie. She asks Ms. Frost to tell Marcie that she will see her later that night.

TRUTH: There is more than one zombie in Dungeons & Dragons. By capitalizing the word "zombie" and using it as a singular, Chick openly flaunts his monozombistic worldview - one that is flawed and phony. To suggest that D&D is not polyzombistic is to deny the truth as it is plainly spelled out for us in the Monster Manual.

(Yes, yes, I'm joking...)

Debbie goes to Marcie's house as promised, and is told by her mother that Marcie has "shut herself up in her room and won't come out." She goes on to foreshadow that "ever since her character in the game got killed, it's as though a part of her died."

When Debbie enters Marcie's room, she finds a terrible scene - Marcie has hung herself from the ceiling in a room filled with fantasy posters and figures - the apparent "smoking gun" of her last desperate act.


TRUTH: The suicide/gaming connection has never been successfully proven - not in any court case to date, not by the Center for Disease Control, not by the American Association of Suicidology, and not by any reputable source anywhere in the world. (Citations of some the actual investigations into the RPG/suicide connection can be found to the right). 

This will never stop people from making the connection, however.

According to the American Association of Suicidology's suicide statistic data from the 1980s (when this tract was published), a group of people as large as that of roleplaying gamers (estimated at 4 million by some sources) would have to reach around 490 successful suicides and over 8000 unsuccessful suicide attempts yearly, just to reach the national average! That means that before anyone can make any serious claim about a connection between roleplaying and suicide, they would have to supply well over 8000 examples before it can be considered an epidemic, and not just a statistical probability. (You can read more about this particular subject here.)

Brian, an Escapist reader, wrote in with an interesting point that I hadn't thought of before: If Marcie identified with her RPG character too closely, as many critics of RPGs claim is true of gamers, then why did she sign the suicide note with her real name, instead of Black Leaf's?

Mercy, James A., personal communication to Paul Cardwell, Jr. (June 8th,1988) -  No evidence of game/suicide connection, by Chief, International Injuries Section, Centers for Disease Control.

The Associated Gifted and Creative Children of California - Survey of coroners from all major American cities who were asked to review the psychological autopsies of adolescent suicides, revealed not one case in which Dungeons and Dragons or any other role-playing game was a contributing factor.

Dr. S. Kenneth Schonberg - In a study at the Albert Einstien College of Medicine of over 700 adolescents who had committed suicide, not one case cited D&D or any RPG as a possible cause.

American Association of Suicidology, Denver, Colorado - No evidence of any game as a possible cause of suicide.

Lips, Thomas J., personal communication to Jennifer Clarke Wilkes (September 15th, 1993) - No evidence of game/suicide connection, by mental health consultant, Health & Welfare Canada.

Debbie tells the bad news to Ms. Frost, who is unimpressed. "Your spiritual growth through the game is more important than some lousy loser's life." After all, "It would have happened sooner or later. Her character was too weak." Debbie responds by mentioning the tenet of many witchcraft faiths - that you may do what you wish, as long as you harm no one. "But now we have harmed Marcie," she says.

TRUTH: Ms. Frost mentions "spiritual growth through the game" - now, the game is not only an indoctrination tool for occultists, but also a continuing education program in occultism. "Fighting the Zombie" must have been a pop quiz that particular day. (So, what happened to the folks in the dark robes standing on the giant pentagram?)

There has never been any evidence of occultists using D&D or any RPG as a "spiritual growth" program (though William Schnoebelen may say differently, since he is willing to make any claim necessary). But that doesn't mean that a person can't learn something from playing an RPG - it's possible to learn many lessons in strategy, ethics, and the repurcussions of your actions in a good game. In fact, the potential for learning is so great that some Christians have developed their own Christian-based RPGs (such as Dragonraid), or modified existing games to help teach Christian lessons. And for this, we do have real, concrete evidence.

When Ms. Frost says "Her character was too weak," it is left to us to decide if she is talking about Black Leaf or Marcie. Or perhaps it's both? Once again, readers are being fed the sort of player/character confusion that gamers are often accused of. An actor is not the same person as the role that they play - otherwise, John Wayne would really be a coldblooded killer. A roleplayer is no different than an amateur actor.

Then, Marcie expresses her concern that her suicide is their fault - "But now we have harmed Marcie." It is common for people who have lost (or nearly lost) a friend or loved one in this way to feel as it they were to blame - maybe if they had paid more attention, or been at the right place at the right time, things wouldn't have turned out the way that they did. I can speak on this from personal experience. Here, Debbie is doing the same thing that a real person confronting a real suicide would do - but the implication is that the game made them do it. If only she had been playing Chutes & Ladders instead of "fighting the Zombie," it might have been easier to pull herself away.

 

Ms. Frost, angry with Debbie's weakness, grabs her roughly and tells her that she had "better let Elfstar take care of things." Debbie responds by saying "I don't want to be Elfstar anymore. I want to be Debbie."

TRUTH: More player/character confusion - Ms. Frost wants Debbie's D&D character to take over for her and forget all this nonsense about some "lousy loser's life." Sort of like how Gary Coleman handles all of his life's situations by letting Arnold Jackson take the wheel for a while. "Whuzyoutalkinbout, Ms. Frost?"

 

Distraught with her situation, Debbie sits under a tree. When her friend Mike approaches to find out what's wrong, Debbie utters a profanity in disgust. To protect our innocent minds from such filth, Chick abbreviates it in the text - S.O.B.

TRUTH: Why Chick would want to put such vulgarity in his comics, when they are supposed to be guiding people to goodness and purity, is beyond me.

(Yes, I'm joking again. There are times when you HAVE to joke, just to stay sane...)

 

Mike encourages Debbie to go to a meeting that afternoon to see a speaker who "came out of witchcraft" and "knows what (she's) up against."

I have no real rebuttal here, I just wanted to point out Mike's varsity jacket, square chiseled jaw, and the part in his hair that you could set your watch to. You wouldn't expect a speech like this from a pimply-faced kid with Coke-bottle glasses and a Star Wars t-shirt, would you?

 

The (unnamed) speaker explains that they will be collecting D&D materials, along with rock music, charms, and anything else creepy, spooky, and altogether ooky, in order to put them into a big pile and burn them.

In the first printing of Dark Dungeons, this particular panel included a footnote that has since been removed. The words "occult books" had a double asterisk next to them, and the corresponding note below read "Including C.S. Lewis and Tolkien, both of which can be found in occult bookstores."

The story behind this footnote is detailed in Secrets of Dark Dungeons by P.D. Magnus, which tells us that the bit about Lewis and Tolkien was submitted to Chick by a man named John Todd - a preacher who "claim(ed) to have been an important figure in international witchcraft before his salvation" and often spouted rants and sermons about massive satanic conspiracies. (Sound familiar? It seems Chick always keeps the same sort of company.)

This character's image could even be modeled after Todd, who appeared in an early Chick comic, "Spellbound" (which you can read here). His dark history and insane messages are far too colorful to be detailed here - for more information on John Todd, be sure to check out his wikipedia listing.

Strangely enough, the footnote was removed by Chick Publications because their policy is that they "must be able to prove what is printed by more than one source." What sources did they use, then, to prove that role-playing games make innocent kids kill themselves?

 

As the speaker casts the demons out of Debbie, she gives her (capital L!) Life to Jesus, and asks Him to be in charge of everything, "not that lousy D&D manual."

TRUTH: As a guide for life, D&D manuals would indeed be "lousy" - unless you happen to have a Shambling Mound in your backyard, and you need to know how to get rid of it.

They are not guides for life, they are guides for a game. No one should decide anything in their life based on something in a D&D book, and truthfully, no one does.

 

The "filth of Satan" is stacked into a pile and set alight. As the fire rages and parishoners stand around chanting and singing, Debbie thanks the Lord for setting her free.

TRUTH: There were probably some classic Ral Partha figures in that pile. And some of those great old modules like Expedition to the Barrier Peaks, and some of those old Dragon magazines that had Wormy comics in the back... *sniff*

 


FURTHER READING

Can't get enough Dark Dungeons? Then here are some more sites that may sate your craving:

Dark Dungeons: Between the Panels: The official Escapist Dark Dungeons spoof. An interview with some of the main characters from the original comic in a 25th anniversary tribute.

 Mystery Science Theater 3000 Presents: Dark Dungeons: Mike and the 'bots take on the Chick tract. This one has been floating around the internet for quite some time, and because of that, it can be found on numerous sites with various formats. This one looks good, with photos of the cast during the intro and closing - you just have to tolerate a little MIDI music on the opening page. This one is pretty nice, too. This one isn't quite as pretty, but good if you'd rather scroll than click through each page. There are many more, but these should just about cover it.
Mike: "Plus, the women outnumber the men"  Crow: "Well, it IS a 'Chick Tract'..."

PvP: Jesus Kills!: The online comic strip PvP takes a stab at Chick in general with this all-things-reversed parody of Dark Dungeons.  After it was first published, cartoonist Scott R. Kurtz  added a lengthy statement about his afterthoughts regarding the strip.   Both are worth a look. (Note: This page and the strip have been missing from the PVP site for some time now. The link here is to an archived copy of the original page as it appeared in February of 2001.)

Dork Dungeons: from Chyx Publications. Lots of coarse language and adult humor. It made me chuckle more than once. Includes a commentary, and a side-by-side comparison to the original comic.

Darque Dungeon: A parody on the goth scene. More coarse language, adult humor, and references to Livejournal. Please click with discretion.

Secrets of Dark Dungeons: (mentioned above) Paul Magnus' interesting commentary on John Todd, a hate-and-fear preacher from the late 1970s, and the man responsible for some of the content in Dark Dungeons.   The statement accusing C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien of being "occult" authors has been removed from a later edition of DD... this page explains why.

Demonic Deviltry: This one requires a bit of backstory. In 2002, White Wolf Studios released a new RPG in their World of Darkness series, titled Demon: The Fallen. To promote the game, they created a phony anti-RPG website, www.father-ramos.com, and this tract, which is obviously inspired by Dark Dungeons. The site was taken down in September of 2004, but you can view the archived version here, and the tract is available on this site at the above link.

Darkest Dungeons: An upcoming tabletop roleplaying game based on the fantasy world presented in the Dark Dungeons comic, where role-playing games are so dangerous that the players are lucky to get out of them with their lives. "It's your fault Black Leaf died..."  (NOTE: The site has been down for some time, and the RPG doesn't seem to be a reality anymore, but you can visit the archived site here. Also - don't confuse this RPG with the identically-named one listed below.)

Dark Dungeons: A retro-clone fantasy RPG that took its name directly from the Chick pamphlet, and uses characters from the tract (AND their RPG characters) in the rule examples. Since its release, this RPG has amassed a pretty large fanbase, had two alternate editions with modified rules (titled Darker Dungeons and Darkest Dungeons), and acquired a forum, as well as a Facebook page and Facebook group.

The Bronze Blog - Christians & Crusades: A blog post in which the author remixes the Dark Dungeons panels into a commentary on argumentum ad baculum, or "argument from force," a classic example of which is "If you play Dungeons & Dragons, you'll go to hell."

 Boolean Union Studios: A computer-generated film based on the Dark Dungeons story that can be viewed on Vimeo and YouTube.

If you know of any other sites/tributes/parodies that I have missed, please let me know and I'll put them up.

 

Thanks for reading, and look out for the Zombie,
wjw - March, 2007

Sources -

Jack T. Chick, "Dark Dungeons" - http://www.chick.com/reading/tracts/0046/0046_01.asp
William Schnoebelen, "Straight Talk on Dungeons & Dragons" - http://www.chick.com/articles/dnd.asp
William Schnoebelen, "Should a Christian Play Dungeons & Dragons?" - http://www.chick.com/articles/frpg.asp
Paul Magnus, "Secrets of Dark Dungeons" - http://www.fecundity.com/pmagnus/darkdung.html

Contributors: Berislav Lopac (PvP link), Jason McCartan (who led me to Arthur Boff's site), and the kind person who sent me the MST link (sorry, I seem to have misplaced your e-mail).

This document is a work in progress, and is in no way complete as you see it here.  If I have left something out, or missed an important point, it is imperitave that you, the reader, bring it to my attention.  All contributors will receive credit for their contributions at the end of the document.