Conservatives once tried to “cancel” the popular role-playing game Dungeons & Dragons.
News posted on
A viral Tweet reads, “Don’t let the party that tried to cancel Dungeons & Dragons in the 80s lecture you about cancel culture ever again.” The statement addresses concerns over rampant “cancel culture,” a phrase used mostly by conservatives to criticize the left’s response to cultural insensitivities. Recent examples include discussions of racism in Dr. Seuss books, or backlash over transphobic statements made by author J.K. Rowling.
The idea of cancel culture itself is inherently controversial: one person might feel as if someone (or something) is being censored for sharing a point of view, while another might think that person is being held accountable for making harmful statements. The phenomenon is hard to define, but as Twitter users are pointing out, it has a history.
Dungeons & Dragons is a tabletop role playing game that first gained popularity in the 1970s. In the game, each player develops their own character, who embarks on a journey through a fantasy world.
In the 1980s, amidst a backdrop of the so-called “Satanic Panic,” religious groups alleged that the game encouraged demon worship and witchcraft. When one 16-year-old D&D player mysteriously disappeared and another committed suicide, some insisted that the game had warped their reality. A moral panic set in, although researchers found no link between the game and violence.
Conservative Christian groups launched a media campaign which claimed that the game was an occult tool and an introducion to devil worship. One parent even attempted to sue a high school principal for allowing the game to be played on campus.
D&D continues to be debated, though the kind of criticism it once faced now targets new media such as video games. Recently, D&D players brought up issues of race and class, particularly regarding the villainous characters being portrayed as non-white. In a statement released last year, its makers promised to address these issues in the game's latest version. “We want everyone to feel at home around the game table and to see positive reflections of themselves within our products,” it said. “‘Human’ in D&D means everyone, not just fantasy versions of northern Europeans, and the D&D community is now more diverse than it’s ever been.”