Jack Chick was the creator of small, comic book-like religious tracts meant to recruit new Christians, but he was so hilariously paranoid of anything not fitting his strict fundamentalist worldview that most “Chick tracts” seemed like they were found scrawled in the notebook of a Jesus-themed serial killer. His stories usually meandered around aimlessly until a character ended up in hell, and the only two kinds of non-Christians he knew were “people who have literally never heard of Jesus” and “dicks.” His tracts targeted groups like Catholics, Muslims, and—on at least one insane occasion—nerds. Chick Publications put out a tract in 1984 called Dark Dungeons about the dangers of games like Dungeons & Dragons. Read on to see why it’s even stupider than you’re imagining.
Parents in the 80s were constantly told that Satanic cults were out to kidnap or recruit their children, and nobody bothered to fact check any of it. Adults genuinely feared that Ouija boards were ancient tools of dark mysticism despite being a registered trademark of Parker Brothers. You could come home one day and find your mom smashing all of your video games because a talk show told her that “Atari” was the name of a scorpion demon-god. My point is that life was shitty enough for Dungeons & Dragons players in 1984 without Jack Chick telling their parents they were secret occultists, but that’s exactly what he did with Dark Dungeons.
This insane mess starts with a woman leading a group of teenagers in a role-playing game that’s technically not Dungeons & Dragons but absolutely is. Marcie completely loses her shit when her game character is killed, and everyone immediately remembers why they stopped inviting her to board game night.
“Hmm… how about… B4.”
“NO, NOT THE BATTLESHIP! NO, NO! I’M GOING TO DIE!”
“Goddamnit, Marcie! Every fucking time!”
Marcie’s friend Debbie fares better, and we learn the sinister truth of role-playing games when she’s invited to join a witches’ coven because of her immense Dungeons & Dragons skills. That’s not a joke—Jack Chick really thought that some board games might be tests for occult recruitment. Maybe Guess Who? was an entrance exam for psychic druids.
This isn’t a twist ending, by the way—it happens on page four of a twenty-one page tract. The idea of role-playing games being secret Satanic indoctrination devices might seem like a head injury dream to the rest of us, but it was such a foregone conclusion to the average Chick tract reader that they had to get it out of the way early just to move the story along.
Let me remind you again that this was supposed to be a realistic cautionary tale for parents before I explain that Debbie has learned how to use actual fucking magic from her witch coven/RPG fan club. She claims to have cast a “mind bondage spell” on her dad, though judging by the face she’s making that might only be the aneurysm talking.
Trying to convince teenagers not to practice black magic is sort of like the D.A.R.E. anti-drug program: sometimes you fuck it all up and make the thing you’re preaching against sound awesome. Halfway through writing this tract, Jack Chick realized he’d only made the RPGs he was trying to vilify look like a fun way to socialize with friends and telepathically manipulate others for personal gain, so he decided to up the ante the Game of Thrones way: by killing a character.
Marcie hangs herself because she’s still super-bummed about having been kicked out of the game earlier, which suddenly makes every post-Monopoly fight you’ve ever had seem pretty reasonable in comparison.
Debbie decides to leave the cult, and what do you know—here comes a handsome, well-spoken Christian to set her straight! This is as good a time as any to point out that most Chick tracts contained at least one scene of transparent evangelical wish fulfillment where somebody is talked into a new religion faster than most people are talked into a second slice of cake. You start to wonder if maybe Chick included all that bullshit about black magic being real just so this one hokey scene would look more believable by comparison.
Considering the sanitarium fire of madness that makes up the first half of this tract, the second half is predictable and mundane—Debbie abandons the game with the help of her new buddy Jesus and a preacher whose exorcisms apparently come with warning labels:
It’s hard to say what the point of Dark Dungeons was. If it was to warn parents not to let their kids play RPGs, what good will that do if they all have access to mind bondage spells? If it was to reach out to teenagers who fell into the occult via Dungeons & Dragons, that demographic only includes one person, and it’s Debbie from this tract.