Saturday, December 21, 2013

Mazes and Monsters and Moms

A few months back I was at my mom's senior living center and ran into a mom whose two sons I had played D&D with back in the early 80s. She pulled me aside and said, "I was so happy to give you boys a place to play Dungeons & Dragons, even though at that time lots of moms wouldn't have." I was put off guard by her remark, because I never felt any disapproval from the adults in my life about gaming, and I wondered what small-town ninnywags had given her a hard time about letting her sons play "Whatsits and Whosits", as her husband referred to the game.

When I started playing D&D in 1977, most folks I met had no idea the game existed, let alone how it was played. If you weren't a wargamer or a college student, you simply would not have encountered it. The mass media weren't all over it until '80. And the initial press was positive. So you could play at home or at school and no one cared. Then in '81 came the steam tunnel years, and depending on where in the States you lived, D&D was either frowned upon or outright banned. Not so for me. I had the D&D Moms on my side, and until now, never realized they caught flack for letting us play.

My mom told me years later, "I loved that you played D&D in high school. I never had to worry about where you where on a Friday night." Because we were in the basement. Drinking. Hot chocolate. And fighting orcs. Ouch, I guess I was a bit peripheral to the dating and party scene then.

But her finest moment as a D&D mom was ambushing Rona Jaffe on a radio call-in show when she was on to promote Mazes & Monsters. Hopped up on TAB and Devil Dogs, she phoned in and said to Ms. Jaffe, 

"You should be ashamed of yourself for smearing kids who play that game and for saying they're crazy. My sons and their friends play Dungeons & Dragons and they're all honor roll students and have never been in trouble a day in their lives."

Ms. Jaffe's reply is lost to history. But years later, my mom would still bring it up, calling the author "That sleaze queen." I love my mom.


  1. In all fairness I think Rona Jaffe just wrote that book as she'd heard about some subject that would make an interesting novel, rather than trying to put the people who play down. It was loosely based on an actual event of a guy who already was having his difficulties that had nothing to do with that game. The rest of the people who play in the book are not having any adjustment issues, including the narrator who seems basically a voice of Jaffe herself. And I would dearly love to be able to eat another Devil Dog. I can't find them anywhere anymore!

    1. Clearly mom's take was a bit less charitable! As for those Devil Dogs, try this:

    2. I never read the book, but in the movie version at least I felt the game was not presented as bad, it was the Tom Hanks character's personal issues that led to him having problems, seeing them through the lens of the game world. Cool to hear about the moms sticking up for you though!

  2. That's cool that your mom did that. I remember watching the made for TV movie back in 81 or 82 and it made me want to play D&D. So I guess it was a better commercial for TSR and they didn't even have to pay for it.

    I just shared this movie with my son today, he watched most of it but then lost interest. I'm planning on running a family game of D&D using my Holmes edition soon.


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