Relive the Dungeons & Dragons panic that swept America

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Apr 19, 2016, 11:33 AM EDT

I had to play Dungeons & Dragons in secret when I was younger. I would sneak away to bookstores at the mall so I could page through forbidden manuals and modules, hide character sheets under my bed and basically engage in criminal mastermind-level activity in order to get my fix of fantasy role-playing with my friends. 

I had to do all this because my parents were convinced the game would turn me into a suicidal Satanist. It may be hard to imagine in a day and age when one of the biggest mass audience hits on television is a show about a fantasy kingdom filled with magic, dragons and armies of the undead, but there was a time when America was gripped by a fear that Dungeons & Dragons -- the granddaddy of tabletop role-playing games -- was a gateway for young people into the occult, delusional behavior and even psychosis.

A lot of this was fed by a fantastical tale involving James Dallas Egbert III, a student at Michigan State University, his disappearance and the subsequent investigation by PI William Dear, which linked what was then thought to be a suicide to D&D. What followed was a kind of mass hysteria that led to reports by 60 Minutes and an explosion in the game's popularity. Meanwhile, youngsters all across the country were learning the definition of words like "dexterity" and "charisma," using math to calculate stats like THAC0 and engaging the limits of their imaginations with their friends. The horror.

All of this is explored in this just-released video from Retro Report featuring a look back at the fearful reaction to Dungeons & Dragons, the origins of the nationwide attempt to understand it and testimonials from players like authors Junot Diaz and Cory Doctorow as to what the game did for them. Check it out below, and be grateful we live in a time when the geeks have inherited the Earth.