Five Amazing TV Moments from D&D History

In honor of the 40th anninversary of Dungeons & Dragons, which is being celebrated non-stop here at GeekDad’s Saving Throw Headquarters, we present Five Amazing TV Moments from D&D History. In these clips, we see the how the famous game has been portrayed, from being ridiculed and used as a scapegoat to being celebrated. Journey back into the dark past with us … and for light, just “Use your lightning bolt!”

1. Freaks and Geeks, 2000
In this famous Freaks and Geeks “Discos and Dragons” episode, James Franco, as the bad-boy Daniel Desario, connects with the A/V nerds who play D&D. This wasn’t meant to be the series finale, but it was.

2. TSR TV Commercial, 1980s
“You’re playing the most phenomenal game ever created …” In this Dungeons & Dragons commercial from 1983, the announcer seems to be using his Spell of Suggestion to get susceptible teens to purchase the game.

3. 60 Minutes, 1985
In this  famous 60 Minutes segment from 1985, D&D co-creator Gary Gygax defends the game that supposedly caused kids to commit suicide and summon demonic spells. Also features Patricia Pulling, whose son committed suicide, and blamed his death on D&D. Apologies for the bad video quality. (Click here to watch video; first part only.)
60 minutes

4. Community, 2011
From the NBC show Community, about a fictional community college in Greendale, Colorado. This widely-seen “Advanced Dungeons & Dragons” episode focuses on a student known as “Fat Neil,” whose friends try to cheer him up by pretending to be interested in D&D.

5. Mazes and Monsters, 1982
Police sirens. News reporters. A worried detective. “Look, we heard a game of Mazes and Monsters got a little out of hand over at the university.” That’s how this 1982 made-for-TV movie, Mazes and Monsters, opens. Dreamy college kids take their interest in a fictitious role-playing game too far. Based on the Rona Jaffe 1981 novel which itself was loosely based on the disappearance of James Dallas Egbert III from Michigan State University in 1979. Poor Tom Hanks (in his first leading role) — he took the game too far. You can watch the entire movie here.

6. Bonus Clip
And here’s a bonus clip by our pals at Network Awesome, who made a mash-up of several of these clips. Let it play through and look for a few more gems that reference D&D, including a very rare Super 8 movie of yours truly, and my pals, playing D&D back in 1981, set to Joe Cocker’s “With a Little Help from My Friends.” All true.

network_awesome

Ethan Gilsdorf

About Ethan Gilsdorf

Ethan Gilsdorf is a journalist, memoirist, critic, poet, teacher and 17th level geek. He wrote the award-winning travel memoir investigation Fantasy Freaks and Gaming Geeks: An Epic Quest for Reality Among Role Players, Online Gamers, and Other Dwellers of Imaginary Realms. Based in Somerville, Massachusetts, Gilsdorf writes regularly for the New York Times, Boston Globe, Salon.com, BoingBoing.net, PsychologyToday.com, Washington Post and wired.com. He has published hundreds of articles, essays, op-eds and reviews on the arts, pop culture, gaming, geek culture and travel in dozens of other magazines, newspapers, websites and guidebooks worldwide. He has also published dozens of poems in literary magazines and anthologies. He is a core contributor to the blogs "GeekDad, "Geek Pride" on PsychologyToday.com, and Boston NPR affiliate WBUR's Cognoscenti blog. He is also a book and film critic for the Boston Globe, and is the film columnist for Art New England. He and author Noble Smith geek out and wax nostalgic about D&D and other nerdy pop culture relics at Dungeons & Dorkwards. He is a lover of ELO and a hater of littering. Sometimes he wears a tunic and chainmail, or these grampy pants. More info fantasyfreaksbook.com or follow on Facebook fantasyfreaksbook

Ethan Gilsdorf

About Ethan Gilsdorf

Ethan Gilsdorf is a journalist, memoirist, critic, poet, teacher and 17th level geek. He wrote the award-winning travel memoir investigation Fantasy Freaks and Gaming Geeks: An Epic Quest for Reality Among Role Players, Online Gamers, and Other Dwellers of Imaginary Realms. Based in Somerville, Massachusetts, Gilsdorf writes regularly for the New York Times, Boston Globe, Salon.com, BoingBoing.net, PsychologyToday.com, Washington Post and wired.com. He has published hundreds of articles, essays, op-eds and reviews on the arts, pop culture, gaming, geek culture and travel in dozens of other magazines, newspapers, websites and guidebooks worldwide. He has also published dozens of poems in literary magazines and anthologies. He is a core contributor to the blogs "GeekDad, "Geek Pride" on PsychologyToday.com, and Boston NPR affiliate WBUR's Cognoscenti blog. He is also a book and film critic for the Boston Globe, and is the film columnist for Art New England. He and author Noble Smith geek out and wax nostalgic about D&D and other nerdy pop culture relics at Dungeons & Dorkwards. He is a lover of ELO and a hater of littering. Sometimes he wears a tunic and chainmail, or these grampy pants. More info fantasyfreaksbook.com or follow on Facebook fantasyfreaksbook

11 thoughts on “Five Amazing TV Moments from D&D History

  1. yes! E.T. is a great idea. although it is not TV — it’s the movies. interestingly the story was that TSR / Gygax would not let Spielberg use the D&D name, so the game as played in the movie feels fairly generic.

  2. Speaking of Patricia Pulling…

    If you’ve got a moment and haven’t seen it, give a Google for The Pulling Report by Michael Stackpole. Great essay/article on the D&D Satanism scare of the 80s.

  3. The Freaks and Geeks episode (and the Community episode) drives home the magic RPGs have for me by being centred on the players enjoyment moreso than the avatars’ conquest, which tabletop can do deftly by lowering the barriers between player and player avatar. Without worrying about system, in fact regardless of the game, it was about the people at the table. This is a spirit of tabletop RPGs that too often seems to be missed today. Thaks for sharing this Ethan. I will post this to the LinkedIn RPG group: a group that is more anout the players and less about the game. (Drop in sometime – you’d be welcome)

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