Tuesday, March 4, 2014

D&D's Dark Past (Part 2 of 2)

In last week’s article, I talked about two of the most harmful and unnecessary blows to D&D’s reputation in history, as well as how the after-effects fueled by the media and certain religious groups made the game appear to be satanic, harmful, and a general waste of time with no real benefits. This week we’ll see the counter argument and how the gaming community fought back against this wrongful stigma.

One of the earliest defenders of D&D, and rightly so, was its chief creator, Mr. Gary Gygax. In an August 26, 1985 New York Times interview, Gygax said, "Accusing the D&D games as the reason for teenage suicide is a cross between McCarthyism and the Salem witch hunts. I have not seen one iota of clinical evidence linking role-playing gaming with a teenage suicide.  This is only a coincidence because, unfortunately, teenage suicide is an epidemic in our country.  Unfortunately, what we have here are religious fanatics who object to the mentioning of mythical gods, demons and devils in the game.  From a game aspect, who else do the good guys fight?"  And he was perfectly correct. Both the American Association of Suicidology and Health Canada conducted studies in the late eighties that found no link between roleplaying and suicide (GAMA). Further, from the mid 1990’s to present, several clinical reports have emerged that not only classified roleplaying as safe to play but also praised them for their ability to “boost the ego” of many players. You can read many of these reports on www.rpgstudies.net and this is also a wonderful resource for any of you doing a psychology or sociology degree!  

Most vocal of all was a man by the name of Michael A. Stackpole. (Yes, the writer of Star Wars novels as well as his own original story lines) In 1990, Mr. Stackpole wrote and released a document entitled The Pulling Report (See Here). This document examined the arguments and “facts” listed by B.A.D.D. and Patricia Pulling step by step and systematically refuted their claims and debunked their evidence as false. He essentially exposed their arguments as ridiculous and did not have a hard time doing so. After this report became widely available to the public, both Patrica Pulling and B.A.D.D. began to lose attention and followers. B.A.D.D. effectively became extinct in 1997, after Ms. Pulling succumbed to lung cancer. Despite her misgivings, I wish her soul well and thank her for her efforts. Ms. Pulling exposed a real fear about D&D that needed to be addressed and examined. If it had been left to simmer, it would have become the elephant in the room and we might still be dealing with the issues left unsaid to this very day. In my opinion, Mr. Stackpole gave many who were having second thoughts about roleplaying a clear conscious that told them it was alright to play.    

Lastly, I would like to take a moment to speak about my own personal experiences. I have first-hand experience seeing D&D raise people's confidence, improve their ability to function in both small and large groups, increase their critical thinking skills, improve their imaginations, and have fun at the same time. D&D, and roleplaying games in general, are the only games I can think of that combine the skills of storytelling, improvisation, teamwork, communication, diplomacy, compromise, and decision making.  As a parent, if someone was to tell me that my son or daughter could learn all of those skills while attending just one event, I would sign them up in a heartbeat. And how can any of those skills be seen as detrimental or a waste of time?

Now, to play devil's advocate, I do understand that bad apples exist in the roleplaying/D&D world and I'm certain that there are groups out there that take the game too far and into some very dark places. I can even imagine several scenarios where people may get physically hurt or suffer severe mental/emotional damage. As an advocate, academic, and active participant of D&D, I can only say this: If these people were not using roleplaying to manifest their negative actions, they would simply find another outlet. And who knows, maybe that alternative would result in something worse. It seems to be an unfortunate fact of life that any activity engaged in by thousands of people on a regular basis will eventually produce a scandal of some sort. It happens quite frequently in sports, in religion, and especially in politics, all three things we encourage our children to participate in without a second thought. So why should roleplaying be singled out?

In conclusion, D&D has definitely had its champions and its critics over the years. Some of those critics have been justified but the majority have manufactured their facts to serve ulterior motives. I personally chalk it up to growing pains. But I'm not so near sighted as to fully dismiss the idea that D&D, and roleplaying in general, cannot be dangerous. If I were to say that, I would be effectively saying that it has no real power to influence or change people and I know that's not true. It has tremendous power to influence and change people. But the fault lies not in the tool, it lies with the wielders. So, for those of you who are out there right now, running games, playing in games, or even learning games for the first time, I implore you to be responsible players. I implore you to not only be positive examples but to also have the courage to speak out against those who would be harmful to others. If we work together, we may just prove to the world that roleplaying isn't something to be afraid of, it is something to celebrate. If that is ever fully accomplished, then maybe in a few years when a mother and her two children walk through the door of my local gaming shop and are told that people are playing D&D, she can happily tell her kids to join in and go have fun.    

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