Mazes and Monsters (1982)

We are currently living in a golden age for gamers. I’m talking the more “traditional games,” like role-playing games, board games, card games, miniature games, and the like. Sure, global instability has forced companies to increase their shipping rates to stay alive, sometimes to ludicrous degrees, but the market is wide enough that an incredibly niche game about bird watching sold so well that it’s out of print for, like, the third time since coming out in 2019! And Dungeons & Dragons is doing remarkably well at the moment, but that wasn’t always the case.

Mazes and Monsters, lest a lawsuit from TSR be incurred, is a story about a group of college kids who play a fantasy role-playing game, and it becomes a dangerous reality for one player. That player is Mr. Tom Hanks in his second movie role ever (just after the mostly forgotten horror movie He Knows You’re Alone). Hanks plays Robbie, a new student who is haunted by the disappearance of his brother, Hall, and… that’s really all the reasoning we have for him losing touch with reality, becoming his character, and almost jumping off one of the Twin Towers. The movie is not known for it’s amazing script.

What it’s really known for, in my circle of friends at least, is the scene where Robbie, in a fugue state, stabs a would-be mugger, then hysterically calls his ex-girlfriend. “There’s blood on my knife,” a mid-20’s Tom Hanks sobs into a payphone. “And it’s on my hands! I think I killed somebody! I know I killed somebody!” Just… bravo, you magnificent bastard. That level of overacting deserved an Oscar. Or I guess an Emmy, since this was a TV movie, but still.

The movie ends with Robbie completely disconnected from reality, believing that he’s his M&M character, and that his friends are their characters as well. Such is the fate of those who play those insidious role-playing games! I would say that this is the movie equivalent of the Dark Dungeons Chick tract (those little religious comics that explain how gays are evil and Catholics aren’t real Christians), but there actually is a movie adaptation of that. It just takes some… liberties with the source material…

And the bird watching game is Wingspan, by the way. Haven’t had a chance to play it (mostly because it’s been reliably sold out), but I have heard amazing things about it.


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