A once controversial game has rolled a 20 when it comes to a total role reversal.
Dungeons & Dragons, the role-playing game that stirred concern in some quarters in the 1980s, is one of 2016’s three new inductees into The Strong Museum’s National Toy Hall of Fame, with the museum calling it a groundbreaking game that revolutionized the way older children and adults engage in imaginative play. The other two toys that made the cut are the classic swing and Fisher-Price’s Little People, figurines that were introduced in 1959.
The National Toy Hall of Fame is known for enshrining toys that have become cultural icons, ranging from Barbie to Monopoly. The newest three inductees were pulled from a list of 12 finalists, winning out over long-time popular toys including Nerf balls and the mystery board game Clue.
Dungeons & Dragons, known more popularly as D&D, was created in 1974 by Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson. In the role-playing game, players create their own characters, picking from a number of races, such as elvish or human, and occupations such as wizard or fighter. A so-called Dungeon Master leads the players through a story that typically involves a quest or searching for treasure.
The game’s approach hailed by National Toy Hall of Fame as creating “an entirely new way to play.”
“What I love about Fisher-Price Little People and Dungeons & Dragons is they are two faces of the same kind of play,” said curator Christopher Bensch in an interview. “Fisher- Price Little People is a tool that empowers some of the youngest kids to make stories and make characters to play in that farm or airplane, and D&D empowers adults and older kids to do that same thing.”
Bensch noted that D&D created a revolutionary way to play games because of its collaborative storytelling structure, compared with the relatively simple plot line of board games of the time, such as Candyland. “D&D is such a rich, layered experience, and we wanted to recognize its role in shaping a huge part in electronic play,” such as later computer games such as World of Warcraft, he added.
That’s a turnabout from the 1980s, when some parents expressed concerns that the game could corrupt the morals of their children. Controversy over the game ramped up after the disappearance of James Dallas Egbert, a teenage computer student who had played D&D. A private investigator who was hired by his family had blamed D&D on his disappearance. Egbert was eventually found, but later committed suicide.
In 1983, a woman whose son, a D&D player, had also killed himself, formed a group called Bothered About Dungeons & Dragons, while religious leaders said it fostered an interest in occult practices.
Groups including the Centers for Disease Control have found no link between role-playing games and teen suicide, according to The Encyclopedia of Cults, Sects, and New Religions.
Public perception of D&D has changed a lot since the ‘80s, as have role-playing games in general. Its original concept has spawned similar games set in other universes and science-fiction settings. The game was also featured in the popular 2016 Netflix hit “Stranger Things,” while “Community” creator Dan Harmon this year created a show called “HarmonQuest” that features him and several friends playing a fantasy role-playing game.
The swing added to the Hall of Fame was described as a classic toy that’s been enjoyed by humans for thousands of years.
“Though the equipment has evolved with the centuries, the pleasure children and adults find in swinging has hardly changed at all,” curator Patricia Hogan said. “Swinging requires physical exertion, muscle coordination and a rudimentary instinct for, if not understanding of, kinetic energy, inertia and gravity. It’s the perfect vehicle for outdoor play.”
Fisher-Price Little People were introduced in its 1959 Safety School Bus pull toy. Subsequent toy sets introduced a farm, zoo, service station and airport, among other settings.
Said Chris Bensch, The Strong’s vice president for collections, “More than 2 billion Little People have been sold since 1959, and they have helped generations of small children imagine big adventures in play sets representing farms, schools, airports and other fascinating places in their worlds.”
The toys that were finalists but weren’t inducted include bubble wrap, singled out for its “entertainment value in repeatedly popping the bubbles”: Care Bears; Clue; the coloring book; Nerf; pinball; Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robots; Transformers; and Uno.
The Strong Museum, which is based in Rochester, is devoted to the idea of play, which Bensch said is something adults need just as much as children. “It’s such a valuable release for all of us and so important for individuals and a wonderful way to socialize together,” he said.