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James Dallas Egbert III




For many people, their first introduction to Dungeon & Dragons was when James Dallas Egbert III went missing in the summer of 1979. Egbert was a 16-year-old sophomore at Michigan State University. He was a computer genius. At age 12 he was repairing computers for the United States Air Force.

Egbert was involved in many things: computers, drugs, bisexuality, and Dungeon & Dragons. When his disappearance was reported by his friends, many theories were offered. However, the media seized on one possible theory: Egbert was down in the university's labyrinth of steam tunnels playing a real life game of D&D.

In reality Egbert was suffering from severe depression. He was under extreme parental pressure to succeed (when he reported to his mother he got a 3.5 in a computer course, his mother chastised him for not getting a 4.0), he was heavily into drugs, he was grappling with his bisexuality, and as a young teen genius he simply felt like he didn't fit in on campus. (Apparently, he was so socially inept many judged him retarded.)

A massive search of the campus tunnels was conducted but no evidence of Egbert turned up. In reality he had simply run away and stayed with a succession of friends. However, the media frenzy and his fear of parental retribution prevented him from returning home. Egbert eventually made contact with a private detective hired by his family and he was reunited. (It's been suggested that the private detective hired by the family to find Egbert was feeding the media D&D frenzy in an attempt to keep the fact Egbert was a drug user, suicide prone, and was experimenting with gay sex out of the media eye.) Unfortunately, his family failed to get him the help he truly needed. A year after being found, Egbert committed suicide on August 11, 1980. He shot himself in the head in his parents' living room.

The Egbert case inspired a horrible made-for-TV-movie called Mazes and Monsters that the role playing community has spent decades trying to live down.


 -- Karl Mamer







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