Sunday, June 1, 2014

Holmes on Anti-D&D Hysteria

Recently I found an interesting letter from J. Eric Holmes that I wasn't aware of previously. It was sent in to Space Gamer issue 64, July/August 1983, in response to an earlier article. Holmes shares his thoughts on the anti-D&D hysteria which started in the early '80s:

"This letter is in praise of W.G. Armintrout's "Report from the Trenches: The D&D War" in Number 61. Congratulations, sir, on a cool head and a good article. I hope everyone will read it and take its message to heart. This is no joke, folks, and it concerns every one of us. There is a very real possibility of legislation outlawing role-playing games being passed by the States individually, or even by the Congress, may God help us. Such attempts have been made in the case of videogames.

Over a year ago I agreed to do a television interview for a local Los Angeles station. They told me they were doing a "series on youth" and wanted to have a program on D&D. I had done previous TV and radio interviews on the subject, and I accepted. A very nice couple, husband and wife team, came to my house to tape the interview in my game room. They honestly identified their station, but did not tell me anything else about it. I didn't even have a TV set, and so failed to identify them as a religious station. I would have agreed to the interview anyway, hoping to appear as sane, calm and sensible, but I would have insisted on seeing the final tape. My interviewers promised to let me know when the interview and associated material would be shown, but they never did. They had interviewed people at a game store. "There was one guy," they told me, "that the other young men told us not to bother talking to. They said he was too crazy, too far out, and wouldn't make any sense. But we found him to be the most interesting of the whole group."

About halfway through my hour-long interview, the subject of demons came up. I was asked what I thought of the charge that D&D teaches demonology. "I think it's silly." There was a hushed pause before the next question. Suddenly I knew why I was being interviewed!

Didn't I believe in demons? No, I said, no more than in dragons or unicorns. They are al mythological creatures. Didn't the rules of the game have specifications for demons? Yes, they did, I admitted, picking up the Monster Manual and demonstrating that the section on demons was no longer than that on dinosaurs or on dragons.

"Of course, if you believe in demons, then probably you shouldn't play the game," continued, "even though it's perfectly possible to play the game without using demons. It' easy to understand the distress of those who do hold such beliefs."

The point is, however, that the Bill of Rights protects the rest of us from having these beliefs forced upon us against our wishes. Remember Armintrout's rules. Be confident in your own rights and beliefs.

Educate as best you can. I don't know how the video tape was edited, since my husban and wife team didn't keep their promise to tell me when it was aired, but one of my students sait and was horrified. "They tried to make you out as a terrible evil person, and I said, 'I know Dr. Holmes, he's not like that at all,' and I turned it off." Wouldn't you like to know what the guy at the game store said to these same interviewers that they thought was such good sense?

Maybe, like Armintrout suggests, we can outline this storm. He seems to have done so, I hope the rest of us can follow his sensible example."

John Eric Holmes
Shiprock, NM 


-In regard to "previous TV and radio interviews", Holmes wrote in his 1981 book that, "Beth Ann Krier of the Los Angeles Times and Jim Mitchell of Channel 2 (CBS) News in  Los Angeles, showed a genuine interest in understanding the game and in presenting it in an informational and entertaining fasion". I also have a 1982 radio interview with Odessa College in Texas listed in the Holmes Bibliography. I haven't heard any of these interviews and I'm sure there are several others I'm unaware of; if any finds anything please let me know. Holmes also covers the public reaction to role-playing games in chapter 13, "Are They All Crazy?", although there is no mention of demons there.

-The Holmes Memorial by John Martin mentions that he and his wife moved from LA to Shiprock, NM in 1982.

-I am still looking for a 1982 article by Holmes called D&D: Dangerous For Your Health?, which may cover some of the same ground.


  1. I wonder if the video of the interview is extant.

    1. That would be quite a find. First step would be identifying the station involved. I'd also love to find the Jim Mitchell/Channel 2 footage.

  2. I never ran into any sort of religious objection/backlash back in the day.

    My mom never had a problem. She thought it was great that I had a group of such well-behaved boys over to play every week.

    1. I didn't encounter much but there were a few kids at school whose parents didn't want them to play for 'religious reasons'.

  3. Huh, I never knew Holmes lived out that way. I've been through Shiprock once or twice.

    1. I believe they lived in Shiprock just a few years. Holmes' wife, also a doctor, was working there. Eventually they settled in Portland, OR for the last 20 years of his life.

  4. Semi-related trivia: The W.G. Armintrout whose article Holmes praises is Bill Armintrout, who now runs a major gaming website, The Miniatures Page.

  5. I thought this post was really good so I added a link to it on my Best Reads of the Week series. I hope you don't mind.