James Dallas Egbert III
|James Dallas Egbert III|
October 29, 1962|
Dayton, Ohio, United States
|Died||August 16, 1980
East Lansing, Michigan, United States
On April 15, 1979, at age 16, James Dallas Egbert III (October 29, 1962 – August 16, 1980) disappeared from his student dormitory room at Michigan State University. This engendered a popular theory that Egbert's playing of the fantasy role-playing game Dungeons & Dragons led to his entering the University's steam tunnels. The notion that Egbert disappeared while acting out the game has since been used in various works of fiction. In actuality, Egbert entered the steam tunnels during an episode of self-harm. In 1980, in a third and successful attempt Egbert died from a self-inflicted gun shot wound.
Born in Dayton, Ohio, Egbert was a child prodigy who was studying computer science at university level at the relatively young age of 16. Personal problems cited in the reporting of his disappearance included depression, loneliness, parental pressure, homosexuality and drug addiction.
August 15, 1979 disappearance
Having written a suicide note, Egbert left his dormitory room at Case Hall tidy and entered the university's steam tunnels. He consumed some Quaaludes (a brand name for the synthetic barbiturate like drug, methaqualone) intending to end his life. The suicide attempt was unsuccessful and when he awoke the next day he went into hiding at a friend's house.
A police search for Egbert began. The story was followed widely in the news media after Michael Stuart, a journalist for The State News (Michigan State University's daily student newspaper) published. Egbert's parents hired private investigator William Dear to find their son. Although knowing little about fantasy role-playing games, Dear theorized that the Dungeons & Dragons game was at the center of Egbert's disappearance and this idea was further promoted in the news media. The search for Egbert continued unsuccessfully for several weeks, while Egbert had fled the area.
Egbert made a second suicide attempt in New Orleans by consuming a cyanide compound. After this attempt also failed, he moved to Morgan City, Louisiana and was employed as an oil field laborer. After working in this job for four days, Egbert called Dear and revealed his location. Dear traveled to Louisiana (other reports say Texas) and recovered Egbert. When the two finally met, Egbert asked the investigator to conceal the truth of his story. Dear agreed and released Egbert to the custody of his uncle, Dr. Marvin Gross, on September 13, 1979.
Egbert died of a self-inflicted gun shot wound on August 16, 1980. In 1984, Dear revealed Egbert's story in The Dungeon Master.
In 1988, during an investigation into his stepfather's murder, Christopher Wayne Pritchard told the police he and his friends had mapped the steam tunnels of North Carolina State University for the purposes of incorporating them into their Dungeons and Dragons role-playing.
- In 1981, Rona Jaffe fictionalised the case in her novel, Mazes and Monsters. The book was adapted for a made-for-television movie (see Mazes and Monsters) in 1982. In Mazes and Monsters, a group of college friends play the role-playing game 'Mazes and Monsters', using an abandoned mine near their college campus for a live-action version of the game. One of the students (played by Tom Hanks in the movie) suffers a psychotic breakdown while playing the game.
- In The Greatest American Hero, (season 3 episode 10, titled 'Witches and Warlocks"), live action role playing takes place in a fictional university's steam plant.
- In 1984, Neal Stephenson wrote the university satire The Big U, where several live action role playing gamers head into their university's sewers to play a game called "Sewers and Serpents".
- The 1985 comedy movie Real Genius portrays a genius former student, Lazlo Hollyfeld (played by Jon Gries), who has been lurking in the tunnel system for years since he cracked under pressure in the early 1970s.
- Several sections of the 2004 novel The Rule of Four involve the use of campus steam tunnels, sometimes for games, but not for Dungeons & Dragons per se.
- "United States Social Security Death Index," index, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/pal:/MM9.1.1/V3JX-XZJ : accessed 25 Oct 2013), James Egbert, August 1980; citing U.S. Social Security Administration, Death Master File, database (Alexandria, Virginia: National Technical Information Service, ongoing).
- Kushner, David (May 4, 2003). "'Masters of Doom'". The New York Times.
- Kushner, David (March 10, 2008). "Dungeon Master: The Life and Legacy of Gary Gygax". Wired.com. Retrieved 2008-10-16.
- La Farge, Paul (September 2006). "Destroy All Monsters". The Believer Magazine. Archived from the original on 2008-10-04.
- Dear, William C. (1984). Dungeon Master: The Disappearance of James Dallas Egbert III. Houghton Mifflin.
- "Police Seeking Genius", UPI, September 6, 1979, Lansing, Michigan
- Fine, Gary Alan. (1983). Shared Fantasy: Role-playing Games as social Worlds. the University of Chicago Press. p. 254. ISBN 0-226-24943-3.
- Shannon Appelcline (2011). Designers & Dragons. Mongoose Publishing. p. 13. ISBN 978-1-907702-58-7.
- McGinniss, Joe (1991). Cruel Doubt. Simon& Schuster. ISBN 0-671-67947-3.
- Ian Caldwell and Dustin Thomason. The Rule of Four. ISBN 0-385-33711-6.
- "The Disappearance of James Dallas Egbert III" by Shaun Hately
- "The Attacks on Role-Playing Games" by Paul Cardwell, Jr.
- "The Truth Behind the Disappearance of James Dallas Egbert III" at Geek6.com