Strangers Things‘ penultimate season is streaming now on Netflix. While we are waiting for the confirmation that Jamie Campbell Bower (Friendly Orderly) is indeed Vecna, we can state that this season is entertaining and has a lot of remaining steam. It is a good omen about the final season five. Today, I want to share the double pleasure I experience watching the show. Yes, double! Just think about it, what can be better than mixing retro computing and roleplaying in the same TV show?
Season 4 takes place in 1986, which means we should expect to see serious retro-computing. Like Connor in Highlander remembering Mozart’s Great Mass in C minor or the Montgolfier brother’s first balloon flying around a Brandy bottled in 1783, I could not wait to see references to the founding of Ubisoft, the passing of Heinz Nixdorf, or the first 386-based PC introduced by Compaq. Not quite, but I didn’t stay hungry either. Let’s begin, shall we?
Our retro pallet is refreshed in the first episode with a Commodore Amiga 1000. Good pick, and although unlikely, it is plausible. Indeed, the A1000 was introduced in 1985 but was not available widely before 1986. The production team had the OS right as well. Certainly, we can spot references to Workbench 1.0, which matches the A1000 1986s birthday. However, the original blue & orange livery of the OS is replaced with an unusual green-heavy livery.
Note that it is not a monochrome monitor that we see. We can spot a colorful interface when Suzie Bingham (Gabriella Pizzolo) tries to bump up Dustin Henderson‘s (Gaten Matarazzo) Latin D- grade into an A. No one can miss the excellent WarGames fan service, referencing when David (Matthew Broderick) fixes Jennifer’s (Ally Sheedy) school grades with an IMSAI 8080!
Nonetheless, the writers took some liberties with reality on the software side. Indeed, Borland Turbo C++ was introduced in May 1990, the Web in 1993, and Workbench 1.3 in 1988. Too bad, it was always faultless. Are you wondering where these are referenced? Check out the snapshots I took of the scrolling listings. It is a nice collection of anachronisms.
It gets worst on the telecommunications side. V.22bis was developed in 1984, and Commodore had the 1680 Modem 1200 in his catalog in 1986. So why use an antic acoustic coupler? I am not complaining, I love acoustic couplers, but if you own an A1000, you can afford a modem using an RJ11 plug.
As for the plat de resistance, we are served a beautiful Kaypro II, released in 1982 by Non-Linear Systems. It is operated by Murray Bauman (Brett Gelman) and Joyce Byers (Winona Ryder). The set shows a nice portable setup used from the luggage Murray brings. Luggable meant precisely that! The Kaypro II is gorgeous, and everything in the spread is credible (cassette tape recorder, phone, etc.). Here too, the heroes are using an acoustic coupler, but in this case, it makes more sense. After all, it is a mobile setup, and you cannot expect to have access to a telephone jack everywhere you go. To be honest, this retro setup makes way more sense than the A1000.
For the desert, we can spot three additional retro-computers. One is a pristine IBM 5160, introduced in 1983. It has no particular purpose besides throning in the smug Warden Hatch‘s (Joel Stoffer) office. Nonetheless, it is a nice touch, and there was no way the PC wouldn’t make this season.
That said, there is another PC. It is a Tandy 1000, introduced in 1984. Or maybe a 1000EX/TX, both introduced in 1986, but I could not identify the model with certitude. It serves Robin Buckley (Maya Hawke), Steve Harrington (Joe Keery), Max Mayfield (Sadie Sink), and Dustin Henderson in the video club to identify one of the customers based on the rental history stored in the computer.
The last computer in our desert is a mystery to me, and I doubt it is a real one. If anyone can shed light on my ignorance, you are welcome. As we know them today, it is a laptop used by Dr. Sam Owens (Paul Reiser) to send a mail – or message, should I say – to Dalynac: “Asset compromised. Pentagon involved – has not located dispatch field team – attempting immediate retrieval and extraction. Implement communication lockdown and prepare for acceleration.”
Memba, I wrote double pleasure? To the second, then. Without surprise, it is related to roleplaying games and AD&D (Advanced Dungeons & Dragons) specifically. Since the first season (here), we have known that AD&D holds a central place in the narrative. Although a face-to-face with Vecna is a really, really bad thing, it doesn’t explain my post’s title – which would be lousy spelling. It is about the backstory of America’s satanic hysteria – a.k.a. the Satanic Panic – in the late ’70s and early ’80s. Although some think it never ended, the panic viciously targeted AD&D’s creator Gary Gygax and its company TSR Inc. Indeed, a series of troubled teenagers and young adults committed suicide. The police and the parent blamed it on AD&D; they qualified as a depraved and satanic game.
In particular, Patricia Pulling, the mother of one of the defunct children, founded BADD (Bothered About Dungeons and Dragons) to regulate roleplaying games in America. BADD described D&D as “a fantasy roleplaying game which uses demonology, witchcraft, voodoo, murder, rape, blasphemy, suicide, assassination, insanity, sex perversion, homosexuality, prostitution, satanic type rituals, gambling, barbarism, cannibalism, sadism, desecration, demon summoning, necromantic, divination and other teachings.” Wao! Gygax was dressed for winter. And along with him, all the geeks – or highly intelligent and imaginative kids, as the presenter of 60 Minutes states it in the episode featuring Patricia Pulling and Gary Gygax (here). These were the times when TIME magazine made its cover on Satanism, Rona Jaffe‘s novel Mazes and Monsters launched Tom Hanks‘s carrier.
It is during this very satanic panic that season 4 takes place. Eddie Munson (Joseph Quinn), who is excellent in the role of the rebel Dungeon Master of The Hellfire Club, is immediately accused and declared guilty of Chrissy‘s (Grace Van Dien) murder. Faster than Judge Dredd would ever carry out a sentence, the pleasant population of Hawkins, California, engages in a proper witchhunt – they are just missing the torches and pitchforks.
In this context, the authors did something remarkable. They made a nice parallel between the basketball game and AD&D. In particular; they use a nice cinematographic sequence to demonstrate the resemblance between the two entertainment experiences. After all, regardless of whether you are a basketball or AD&D player or fan, it is the same inspiration and excitement. One step more, we could claim that Geeks or Jokes are alike. I won’t say that as I don’t want to start another civil war. But sure, I am looking forwards to the last episodes of the season. Enjoy your WE.