1984 Article on the Shippensburg Dungeons & Dragons Camp

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I talked about the old-school-nerd-historic Shippensburg Dungeons & Dragons Adventure Camp a couple of years ago. It ran for two separate one-week sessions every summer from 1981 to 1985. So much to talk about here. First, the writer’s description of the “D&D campers,” as opposed to the kids at the sports camps:

They’re the ones sitting inside on sunny days, clustered in classroom desks among some slightly older youth who is their ‘dungeon master,’ setting up the scenario for their fantasy trip into a make-believe land of knights and giants and elves and necromancers.

Says one of the kids, Mike Tinney: “A lot of the people who come here to play don’t really seem like they’re the athletic types… a lot of them are more like the bookwork types.” (I bet this Mike Tinney is the game designer and former President of CCP Games North America [Eve Online] who, irony alert, launched a start-up in 2012 to apply the principles of interactive games to fitness.)

The camp director, Keith Kraus, who comes off as a stereotypical jock here, was actually a “professor of English with a specialization in adolescent literature at [Shippensburg University].” Right after he calls the D&D kids “wimps” and “outcasts”—the words “geek” and “nerd” do not appear in the article—he goes on to say that they’ll end up going to the Ivy League and “running things.” Ben Robbins, who went to the camp all five years, was interviewed at Gaming Brouhaha and talks about Kraus’s indiscreet comments in the Spokesman-Review article, which was published during the 1984 camp:

But in the last week of camp [in 1984] there was a furor because Dr. Kraus was interviewed by a local reporter, and he let his guard down and was quoted as saying “basically, these kids are the wimps.” Oops. Remember he wasn’t a gamer in the first place, just the university facilitator. He was used to running athletic camps like tennis or swimming. The story was printed while camp was still in session, the campers got a hold of it, torches and pitchforks were issued, and he wound up apologizing to the assembled camp while the incensed gamers booed him down. Not pretty.

To Kraus’s credit, he does dismiss the identification of D&D with “devil worship,” even though the media-induced moral panic is probably why the camp was canceled.

Two other press mentions of the camp are below. The first one is a notice from 1981, the camp’s inaugural year (Frank Mentzer was a “guest lecturer,” according to Robbins). I assume the “original dungeon” is a miniature. The second notice is from 1983 and shows all the available Shippensburg camps.

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