Explain Your Letter: This Guy Wrote Us a Letter About Dungeons & Dragons When He Was 12

Dungeons and Dragons
In 1985, David Bobzien wrote to 'Newsweek' about the role-playing game Dungeons & Dragons. He was 12 years old. Flickr/Marc Majcher

Welcome to "Explain Your Letter," a feature wherein we choose an interesting letter published in Newsweek decades ago and track down its writer to ask for an explanation of what he or she wrote. In this installment, we talk to a Nevada politician who wrote us a letter about Dungeons & Dragons when he was 12 years old.

In 1985, a 12-year-old in Virginia read a Newsweek article about Dungeons & Dragons, the long-enduring role-play game, and then wrote us a letter. His letter gently chided the media for misrepresenting role-playing games, and it was published in the September 30, 1985 issue of this magazine. Here it is:

10_29_NewsweekLetter_01
A letter from the September 30, 1985 issue of Newsweek. Newsweek

Still dabbling in nerd culture after all these years, David Bobzien is now in his 40s and has traded his role-playing games for Nevada city politics: He's a member of the Reno City Council and previously served in the Nevada Assembly.

We tracked him down to talk about this unusual letter from his youth.

Take me back to 1985. Why did your 12-year-old self write Newsweek a letter about Dungeons & Dragons?
I remember the general theme of the day with role-playing games and how I perceived the adult world as not quite getting it right. They were covering the excitement of role-playing games and the kids that were playing them. It was all in the context of heavy metal music and video games and all sorts of supposedly bad influences on kids. [I was] feeling like the article didn't get the complexities of the issue right. I felt the need to speak up and try to encourage people to recognize that the issue was far more complex than, "Oh, role-playing games are bad for kids."

You were 12. Did you send the letter yourself or did your parents help you?
If I recall, my mom may have helped me put it together. I'm pretty sure they looked at the draft. I don't know what they were thinking when I told them I wanted to send this letter to Newsweek. But they weren't going to get in my way. They might have helped me put a stamp on the envelope.

Do you remember seeing your letter in the magazine?
Yeah. It's interesting to look at the context of media then versus media now. I remember growing up that Newsweek was my lifeline. I was so excited when my parents got a subscription to Newsweek because all my friends, their families either had a subscription to Newsweek or TIME. I remember being satisfied when my parents said, "OK, we're going to get Newsweek and every week we're going to get this magazine." I was quite the current affairs junkie, even at a young age. I remember sending [the letter] in and looking every Tuesday or Wednesday and then seeing the letter. It was pretty exciting.

What does the letter express about your 12-year-old self?
It seemed to be a frustration about people trying to reduce an issue to something far more simple than it is. I think about what I do with my life now and my public service in government and politics—I still have the same lack of patience for those who try to reduce every issue, every position on an issue, to a simple black or white.

But do you still play Dungeons & Dragons?
I've not played Dungeons & Dragons in a long time. And I haven't played Top Secret in a long time. I think I still have the game materials. I certainly have an affinity for James Bond movies and action stuff. If anything, as a father of two six-year-old boys that are starting to be exposed to video games and movies and media, I think of my 12-year-old self as I try to help them navigate that kind of content and help them interpret what they're hearing in the news about shootings or wars or violence overseas. It's tricky stuff.

What else comes to mind when you look back on that old letter?
There's allusions to violent acts and gun violence that has eerie echoes of things that we hear about today. I find that somewhat chilling, as people try to reach for meaning and root causes of why those horrific acts happen today and happen with such frequency.

Explain Your Letter: This Guy Wrote Us a Letter About Dungeons & Dragons When He Was 12 | Culture