Every kid’s craze has to have a parental backlash. For every Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (or Teenage Mutant Hero Turtles if you watched in England where ninjas were banned in kid’s entertainment), there has to be a Helen Lovejoy to shout, “Won’t somebody please think of the children?!” One of my favorite moral panics was for Dungeons & Dragons back in the 80s. People feared that D&D was corrupting children, turning them towards evil (and of course, SATAN).
Capitalizing on the mass hysteria, movies were quickly churned out about people losing grasp of reality due to role playing games. The most recognizable of the films starred a young unknown (fresh off a failed sitcom) named Tom Hanks. The script was loosely inspired by the last days of James Dallas Egbert III, who was incorrectly reported to have wandered in to sewers to live action role play before committing suicide. The movie’s title: Mazes & Monsters.
The name of this episode, “Mazes & Mutants,” is definitely not a coincidence. With the exception of some Lord of the Rings references (and Rob Paulsen’s great Gandolf impersonation) the episode eschews lightning bolts and attacking the darkness D&D jokes in favor of referencing a 32-year old made for TV movie. Both stories featuring a group of four friends that play a D&D-esque game with one of them (Raph in TMNT and Hanks in M&M*) that is reluctant at first. While LARPing inside a cave, Hanks has a mental episode, loses grasp of reality and hallucinates the game world is real. The turtles take their roleplaying to the next level, moving from rolling dice in the kitchen to LARPing in the sewers. During their game they have a group hallucination where they believe that they’re trapped in real mazes (& mutants).
*That might be the first time anyone has ever compared Raphael to Tom Hanks.
Mazes & Monsters ends with (spoiler alert for a CBS YV movie that you’re probably never going to see) Hanks living the rest of his life trapped in the imaginary world. The movie wanted to show the destruction that fantasy roleplaying can and WILL cause. “Mazes & Mutants” surprisingly (slightly) agrees.
At first it appears that the only way to defeat the Leatherhead-dragon and Sir Malachi is by believing that the game (and items) is real. When Sir Malachi tells them that he will continue to make mazes for them, they realize that the only winning move is not to play. The Turtles refuse to play, removing the power from the Dungeon Master and causing the hallucination to go away. “Sir Malachi” is revealed to have been a lonely M&M player that was mutated in to a sparrow that went solo-LARPing in the sewers. The turtles take pity on him (he was only looking for friends that also liked M&M) and let him leave. The episode ends with Mikey dropping the +1 Ring of Awesome he was “my precious”-ing over and leaving it behind without a care.
The episode doesn’t say that the game is bad, but it does advise against obsessions. Obsession destroys anyone’s grasp on reality. The Turtles’ obsession over the game led to the LARP which led to the induced hallucination. Malachi’s obsession with the game hinders him from connecting with others in positive ways.
That’s why the Turtles are able to abandon the game. They use the game as a way to bond and have something to do in the lair; by the end they realize they don’t need it for fulfillment. They have each other and that’s all they need to have adventures; no d20 required.
– I’ve got mixed feelings on that. Part of me agrees that just being with friends is enough and obsession is bad, but another part of me is busy reminiscing about that time Donne, my beguiler gnome, outsmarted a house full of soldiers, incapacitated more of them than the rest of my party combined, and ALMOST captured the big bad when the DM wasn’t even expecting us to interact with him.
– So that’s what Leonardo would look like if he was designed by Jack Kirby.
– Malachi is voiced by Paul Reubens; I would not be surprised if he got this role based on his amazing performance as Bat-Mite in Batman: The Brave and the Bold.
– “Like a turkey do!”
– There’s been a lot of D&D/LARPing in TV and film over the past year or so. This year Community did their second D&D episode (and in the two-part series finale, Abed wears a Dead Alewives shirt), The Big Bang Theory had an episode featuring a game, Knights of Badassdom also featured a LARP gone real, and Zero Charisma agrees with TMNT that obsession can be dangerous.
– “M&M” has some great lessons for DMs. Don’t railroad your players in to a story they aren’t interested in and don’t be a creeper. Otherwise you’ll drive away players and sour them on RPGs.
– Splinter receives a cheese pop from Ice Cream Kitty; it’s nice to see tolerance between rats and cats-fused-with-ice-cream.