Here's a little reminder of the times:
"As I am writing this (11 Sep). DUNGEONS & DRAGONS is getting the publicity that we used to just dream about, back when we were freezing in Gary's basement in the beginning.
If we had our 'druthers', it would not have happened in such a fashion. By now, as you read this, I hope the mystery surrounding James Egbert has been happily resolved. Whatever the circumstances of the incident, it has been a nightmare for his parents and family, as well as for TSR Hobbies,Inc.
It has been speculated that James was involved in some sort of D&D game that went beyond the realm of pencil and paper roleplaying and may have mutated into something tragic. D&D was seized upon as a possible connection for a number of reasons. First, James was an avid player. Indeed, I have met him at past conventions and he used to subscribe to Dragon.
Secondly, there was the matter of the pins in the bulletin board, and the speculation that they formed some sort of clue a'la a D&D map or clue. Added to this was the fact that the pins possibly resembled the steam tunnel system under James' college, and an anonymous tip that 'live' games had been played out there in the past, as well as other places on the campus. Pictures of the map were sent to TSR for analysis, with no concrete results.
Third, the day of his disappearance was the day prior to GENCON XII, and there have been reports that attendees think that they may have seen him at the Con. Sadly, registration doesn't show him registered anywhere.
Finally, James had an IQ that qualifies him as a genius, and D&D is a very intricate and complex game, appealing to bright people. This was seen as sufficient evidence to link the two, at least in the headlines.
Some of the reporting has been every bit as bizarre as the circumstances surrounding the whole affair.
The chief detective hired by the parents has made some incorrect statements regarding the game that have only fuelled the controversy and added to the misconceptions surrounding it. Unfortunately, the nature of the incorrect answers has led to sensationalist speculation. D&D has been described as a cult-like activity, and every editor knows that cults sell papers, or dogfood, in the case of TV.
These basic mistakes have linked the supposed method of playing D&D to this disappearance. The detective is quoted as saying, by both UP and AP, "You have a dungeon master - he designs the characters. Someone is put into the dungeon, and it is up to him to get out." He was further quoted as saying that, "...in some instances when a person plays the game 'you actually leave your body and go out of your mind'". A campus policeman said that dozens of D&D games were being played by "very secretive groups".
All of this had been grist for the journalist's mill, and has resulted in some pretty bizarre headlines, all playing on the esoteric aspects of the game, some slanted from the incorrect assumptions. A few choice samples that we have seen here, and only the gods know how many we haven't seen, include "Missing youth could be on adventure game", "Is Missing Student Victim of Game?", "'Intellectual fantasy' results in bizarre disappearance", "Student May Have Lost His Life to Intellectual Fantasy Game", "Student feared dead in 'dungeon'", and more of the like.
The most unfortunate consideration here is that all of the supposed links to this unfortunate incident were somehow assumed to exist, when in truth no such link has been proven.
No one connected with D&D, from the authors, through the editors, typesetters, proofreaders, down to the final stage, the shippers, ever envisioned anything like this happening. The slightest hint that this game somehow may have cost someone their life is horrifying to each and every one of us.
If this is true, and the worst fears are realized when this mystery is resolved, something is drastically wrong. If James is located and all ends happily, the amount of suffering and grief has certainly been disproportionate.
If the worst is true, let it serve as a painful and sad lesson to all of us that play games, that games are simply games, meant to be amusing diversion and a way to kill time in a fun fashion, and nothing more.
TSR has never ever suggested that D&D was meant to be acted out. How would it be, when half of what makes it so much fun - magic - can not be simulated?
This incident could conceivably affect each of you who reads this. If the 'bizarre' tag sticks, all of us should consider the idea that we might meet with scorn, or macabre fascination, or be branded as 'intellectual loonies' in the media. In view of the distortions caused by the media, it may become incumbent now upon all of us to actively seek to correct the misconceptions now formed or forming whenever and wherever possible.
For now, we can only hope and pray that James will be located and in good health. No game is worth dying for . . ."
- "Dragon Rumbles" by T.J. Kask. The Dragon, October 1979, pages 1, 41.
James Dallas Egbert III was pronounced dead from a gunshot wound to the head on August 16, 1980.