A little bit more about the panic surrounding “Dungeons & Dragons.” In August 1979, a 17-year-old Michigan State University student named James Egbert disappeared from his dorm room. Egbert was a deeply troubled young man, a child prodigy had become deeply involved in drugs, and panicked about others accepting his sexuality. Over the course of a year, Egbert drifted across several states and attempted to take his own life several times before finally dying by a self-inflicted gunshot wound in August of 1980.
When the press covered Egbert’s story, however, some reporters zeroed in on the fact that he played “Dungeons & Dragons” regularly and that he attended several conventions devoted to role-playing games. Egbert and other students were said to play their D&D games in access tunnels under the University campus, and some reporters speculated that Egbert’s D&D sessions were becoming all too real, leading to his drug use and depression. D&D, many thought, was the source of ill psychological health. No one considered that it was depression, loneliness, and rampant homophobia that dictated Egbert’s bleak actions.
In the wake of the stories, author Rona Jaffe invented a fictionalized, D&D-forward, extra-salacious version of Egbert’s story for the 1981 novel “Mazes and Monsters,” the book that served as the inspiration for the 1982 TV movie with Tom Hanks. In the movie, Hanks plays Robbie, a college student who was once addicted to a D&D analog called Mazes and Monsters. When he takes up the game again, Robbie loses track of reality, thinking himself a wizard. The film ends with Robbie, unstuck from reality, almost throwing himself off the World Trade Center.
D&D fans, including Cohen, ironically love “Mazes and Monsters” for how misguided it is. Cohen noted that “Bender’s Game” was a parody of it.