Twenty three years ago I left my just-purchased copy of the Dungeons & Dragons Rules Cyclopedia in math class. I went back for it at the end of the day, and found that my teacher wanted to have a Very Serious Talk about D&D.

I was primed for this discussion, ready to fight. I’d been an avid reader of Dragon magazine, which in those days was filled with letters from soldiers in Iraq for Operation Desert Shield. They were writing in defense of D&D — how it taught them leadership, teamwork, even a little math. Most of all, they were pushing back against the moral panic that D&D had inspired in the ’80s. The Christian right had been campaigning against this role-playing game: it was a danger to the youth of America; the weak among them lost the ability to distinguish between fantasy and reality.

My teacher (let’s call him Mr. Johnson) jumped right in to talk about the demons featured in the game, which in the early days of D&D had become an easy mark for the 700 Club.

No, sir, I cut him off. I’m a good Christian and I know the difference between this game and reality. I am not confused about whether or not demons are real and anybody that is confused is probably mentally unstable in the first place. Soldiers play this game, American heroes.

No, son, Mr. Johnson told me. You misunderstand. Demons are real and this book of yours turns them into a game. You need to be more careful. I left in a hurry.