Daniel: Hey, it's all imagination.
Lieutenant Martini: Is it?
A Made-for-TV Movie from 1982, Mazes and Monsters is the story of four college students who are heavily involved in the titular fantasy role playing game. All four students play the game as an escape from their own various personal problems. Jay Jay's mother redecorates his room at the drop of a hat and tends to ignore him. Kate is still reeling from her father walking out on the family and her struggles as a woman and a writer. Daniel's parents repeatedly pressure him to switch schools to MIT and become a programmer despite his yearnings to be a game designer. Finally, Robbie flunked out of his last college and still can't cope with his feuding, alcoholic parents nor the disappearance of his older brother Hall. At first the four bond over their shared experiences within Mazes and Monsters, and Robbie and Kate begin to go out. However, when Jay Jay manipulates the group into a LARP in a local cavern, Robbie's mental state shatters and he believes himself to actually be his priest, Pardieu. Eventually, he runs off to New York seeking The Great Hall, forcing his friends to try and track him down when the police prove useless. While they get him home safely and the three other students abandon Mazes and Monsters in favor of true adulthood, they learn that Robbie's delusions have yet to vanish and they end up indulging him in one last game of Mazes and Monsters.
If the above description doesn't make it clear, the film was an attempt to play up to the anti-Dungeons & Dragons moral panic still gripping the nation at the time of the film's release. It was adapted from a novel by the same name written by Rona Jaffe, who very loosely based it on the story of James Dallas Egbert III, a college student who disappeared in 1979 amidst media rumors of a Dungeons & Dragons role-playing game driving him into insanity. The truth of the incident had nothing to do with the game, but both the book and film were rushed out to capitalize on the media frenzy from the news reports. The film tries to portray the game as negatively as possible, suggesting that people that played had severe psychological problems. That three of the characters stop playing the game as a symbol of maturity says much about the film's pejorative view. On the other hand, the movie oddly dodges the Satanism conspiracies that were also popular at the time, instead focusing on the psychological effects the game supposedly has.
The other notable element to the film, besides its place in gaming history, is that Robbie was played by a 26-year-old Tom Hanks, still in his early television days before he'd truly broken out as a major star.
Mazes and Monsters provides examples of the following tropes:
- Alliterative Title.
- Ascetic Aesthetic: Jay Jay's mother turns his room into an example of this. Jay Jay compares it to a hospital room.
- Broken Aesop: The film tries to portray role-playing games as the cause of psychological problems and shows that the three students who stopped playing are completely happy now that they refuse to play anymore. This is ruined both by the evidence at the start of the film that they were already having problems at home that had nothing to do with their choice of entertainment. On top of that, in spite of their home problems, all of them had large, supportive networks of friends if Jay Jay's social circle is anything to go by. Finally, Robbie is still suffering from mental problems at the end of the film despite not playing the game anymore.
- One has to wonder if this was done intentionally by the author of the teleplay, Tom Lazarus. Think about: one of the main fundamentals for writing is being creative so being commissioned to make an anti-D&D movie would be enough to cause some messing about. It's also strange that a film so vehemently against the idea of using one's imagination had a sequence early in the film where the struggling Kate's mother actually encourages her to use her imagination in her writing.
- Cannot Tell Fiction from Reality: Robbie's delusion.
- Child Prodigy: Jay Jay is a college student at the tender age of 15. This is likely an attempt to mirror the 16-year-old James Egbert that inspired the book and film.
- Covers Always Lie
- The image on the DVD release of the film depicts a dark castle surrounded by a hedgemaze, with a dragon flying overhead and a significantly older Tom Hanks.
- The VHS release (see above) shows the actual characters in the film, dressed as their game characters, implying a fun Sword and Sorcery picture.
- Demonization: To Dungeons & Dragons
- Disappeared Dad: Kate's father walked out on her family, now having remarried. Kate is still bitter. Meanwhile, Jay Jay's father is never seen or referenced, leaving a strange unexplained absence when the other three kids have the whereabouts of their parents accounted for.
- Downer Ending: The movie ends with the group playing one last game, with Robby completely lost in his delusions, never to return.
- Driven to Suicide: Jay Jay, feeling left out of the group when Robbie and Kate start dating and spending more time together, plans on a suicide in a local cavern, expecting it to make him famous. When he actually goes to the cavern, however, he stops his suicide attempt when he realizes it would be the perfect place for a Mazes and Monsters LARP. He's not even truly suicidal, he's bored.
- Fantasy-Forbidding Father: Daniel's parents, especially his mother, take a dim view of his role-playing hobby, insisting that he focus all his attention on his computer science degree.
- Foreshadowing: In the novel, Daniel's father offhandedly quotes "April is the cruelest month" while Daniel is visiting over Christmas. April is when Robbie ends up having his psychotic break...
- Gamer Chick: Kate averts this trope — despite being the token girl, nobody finds it unusual for a girl to play role-playing games (this was years before gamer chicks became commonplace). However, she does have issues with men and laments early on in the film that men are frightened of women with intelligence, maintaining the gender-issue angle on the trope.
- Hollywood Psych: Numerous examples.
- Jay Jay spontaneously decides to commit suicide, despite showing no real signs of depression, and changes his mind when he thinks of a new way to play his favorite RPG.
- The LARP session in the cave makes Robbie crack for no clear reason.
- Robbie appears to be switching from delusion to reality whenever the plot demands.
- Robbie also does things that make no sense, even by the standards of his delusion.
- Finally, his friends decide to encourage his delusions!
- LARP: Jay Jay's radical new idea: go to a real cave, dress up, and have a campaign in live-action! Even though true LARPs had been documented since 1977.
- Killer Game-Master: Daniel, apparently. No chance for a saving throw for poor Frelic?
- Magic Ampersand: The title of the movie.
- Meaningful Name: The head detective on the case is named Lieutenant Martini. No wonder he's so useless in actually finding Robbie.
- Moral Guardians: The reason the movie was made. However, the writers and actors seem to have as much contempt for the idea of D&D being dangerous as the gamers who are as likely to be the ones to watch it this day.
- New Media Are Evil: The (then-) newflangled hobby of roleplaying games is portrayed this way, as is to be expected of a movie made smack in the middle of the "Satanic Panic" of The '80s.
- Off the Rails: Jay Jay spontaneously decides to have his character jump in a spike pit, killing him and ruining the campaign. This is, of course, part of his Xanatos Gambit to get all the group to do a proto-LARP with him.
- Police Are Useless: After being alerted to the situation by Robbie's panicked call that specifically states that he's in New York, the police latch on the Mazes & Monsters element and focuses entirely on that and searching where the game was played without following up the obvious clue at all.
- Pretty in Mink: Robbie's mother wears a mink coat when they drop him off to college.
- "The Reason You Suck" Speech: Well the reason the game sucks. "Mazes & Monsters is a far-out game."
- Ripped from the Headlines: Both the book and the film were molded after the media's misinformed version of the disappearance of James Egbert. Jaffe openly admitted skipping on in-depth research because she wanted to get her book on the shelves before anyone else could.
- RPG Episode: Both the book and the film.
- Satanic Panic: A pointed take on the association between Satanism and tabletop games, which was made numerous times throughout the Satanic Panic. Whether or not it's serious is highly debated.
- Serious Business: Both Daniel and Jay Jay take being the "Maze Controller" far too seriously. Not to mention the candlelit room in which they play in somber voices.
- The Smurfette Principle: Kate is the sole female character in the main cast.
- Stealth Parody: Something many people believe the movie to be since the kids are by and large normal, well-adjusted, and cool with the exception of bad home lives. Which sends up Moral Guardians more than gamers.
- Talking Animal: Jay Jay's Myna bird, Merlin, who repeatedly claims "Birds can't talk."
- There Are No Therapists: All four of the protagonists could probably benefit from therapy to some degree, Robbie most of all. Kate, at least, seems able to get emotional support and advice from her mother, but the rest of them pretty much appear to get by through their friendship and bonding over the game. The strange part is that therapists apparently do exist, since Robbie is stated to be seeing one in the film's epilogue.
- Thousand-Yard Stare: When Jay Jay gets his character killed via his own stupidity, the DM gives one of these.
- Too Dumb to Live: Robbie after he starts losing it. Apparently, the writers thought insanity and stupidity were the same thing.
- Unlimited Wardrobe: All of Jay Jay's hats.
- Urban Legend Love Life: Daniel is implied by the cast to be a lady killer, but we never actually see his supposedly active sex life or any of his partners. The best he manages on screen is hooking up with Kate when she's on the rebound from Robbie.