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Dangerous Games

Dangerous Games: What the Moral Panic over Role-Playing Games Says about Play, Religion, and Imagined Worlds. University of California Press.  Available from Amazon and iTunes.

The 1980s saw the peak of a moral panic over fantasy role-playing games such as Dungeons and Dragons. A coalition of moral entrepreneurs that included the Christian Right, psychologists, and law enforcement claimed these games were not only psychologically dangerous but an occult religion masquerading as a game. Dangerous Games explores both the history and the sociological significance of this panic. Fantasy role-playing games do share several functions in common with religion. However, religion—as a socially constructed world of shared meaning—can also be compared to a fantasy role-playing game. In fact, the claims of the moral entrepreneurs, in which they presented themselves as heroes battling a dark conspiracy, often resembled the very games of imagination that they condemned as evil. By attacking the imagination, they preserved the taken-for-granted status of their own socially constructed reality. Interpreted in this way, the panic over fantasy-role playing games yields new insights about how humans play and together construct and maintain meaningful worlds. Laycock’s clear and accessible writing ensures Dangerous Games will be required reading for those with an interest in religion, popular culture, and social behavior, in the classroom and beyond.

"Joseph P. Laycock's book delves into the minds of both avid gamers and evangelical Christians and returns with surprising and unsettling conclusions. Gaming, Laycock shows, teaches social and psychological strategies to resist cultural authority and to view reality from radically new perspectives. This book affirms the transformational power that motivates this increasingly popular activity, and thus it is essential reading for scholars of both contemporary popular culture and American religions."—Bill Ellis, Professor Emeritus, English and American Studies, Pennsylvania State University

“Laycock’s book brings a robust, theoretically informed eye to a topic that has been understudied by sociologists. His case is presented in such a way that other scholars could apply his method and understanding of moral panic to other aspects of popular culture. This is a crucial aspect of scholarship. Laycock writes engagingly, tells a deft story, and advances our understanding.”—Doug Cowan, Professor of Religious Studies and Social Development Studies, Renison University College

“Laycock provides an in-depth, theoretically informed analysis of fantasy role-playing games that will both help scholars interpretively and further allow instructors to provide students with a more sophisticated view of their culture. This book more broadly examines the social construction of reality, particularly religion. Laycock's approach makes a much-needed contribution to the understanding of the human need and capacity for creating and inhabiting multiple realities. A truly novel interpretation.”—David G. Bromley, Professor of Religious Studies and Director of the World Religions and Spirituality Project, Virginia Commonwealth University

Reviews and Press

Nova Religio 21:3 (February 2018).

Black Gate Magazine (May 28, 2016).

Wired.com (January 16, 2016).



Times Higher Education (May 14, 2015).

"Back to the 80s Because We Never Left them," Slacktivist Blog (May 28, 2015).




Amina Inloes, "A Muslim Reflection on Dangerous Games," The American Journal of Islamic Social Sciences 33:3 (2016): 138-149.


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