The More Things Change …

26 01 2010

I haven’t played for several years (my original group is scattered across the continent, and starting a new group doesn’t appeal to me), but I played Dungeons & Dragons (D&D) through its manifold iterations from the mid-1970’s to the early 2000’s. The people I gamed with were all smart, clever, and generally fun to be with, and we have formed deep and lasting friendships based upon our common experiences through high school and the games we played.

Back in the late 70’s, a group hilariously misnamed the Moral Majority decided that D&D was evil, because it mentioned demons and devils and magic and the names of other gods. The fact that those demons and devils were intended to be enemies for the players to vanquish apparently never registered with the religious pinheads, and they labored mightily to get the game banned whenever and where ever possible (along with rock and roll, motorcycles, alcohol, and probably dancing).

Despite their hysteria, the Moral Majority utterly failed to destroy D&D, and legions of kids and adults play it to this day- albeit in lesser numbers since the advent of powerful personal computers and the high-quality games which can be played therewith. The lasting legacy of Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson- who created the game- is itself testament to the inoffensive nature of role-playing games in general and D&D in particular (Jack Chick to the contrary notwithstanding). Those gaming friends from high school are all stable, successful members of society, with jobs, families, and homes. I am the sole exception to this otherwise infallible rule, being not only a Gummint employee (and therefore by definition evil incarnate), but also a taciturn curmudgeon with few redeeming qualities- just ask my wife.

It is with no little surprise, then, that I read the decision by the US 7th Circuit Court of Appeals upholding a Wisconsin prison’s decision to prohibit inmates from playing D&D.

One would think that keeping the inmates mentally stimulated would help prevent boredom and the attendant discipline problems, and that this would be a Good- or at least desirable- thing. The prison sees it differently. Based upon an anonymous inmate complaint that the inmates who played the game were actually a gang, the prison’s alleged expert on gang activity- Captain Bruce Muraski- searched the cells of the inmate gamers and confiscated all of the D&D material he could find. Note that these materials (books, dice, and character sheets) were all purchased by the inmates and delivered to their cells after being examined by the prison officials for contraband. Capt. Muraski even confiscated an extensive hand-written manuscript detailing a D&D campaign which had been written by one inmate.

Despite- or perhaps because of- his long experience as the prison’s Disruptive Group Coordinator (gang expert), Capt. Muraski declared that the inmates’ pastime represented a threat to prison security, and issued an order banning all fantasy games at the prison.

The inmates tried to seek redress through the prison complaint system, but that proved less than useful. The complaint examiner ruled that the complaint should be dismissed, and so it was. One inmate then filed a pro se suit against the prison, Capt. Muraski, and the Wisconsin official in charge of prisons. The inmate presented fifteen affidavits from other inmates, relatives, and three role-playing game experts that there was no connection between D&D and gang activity. The various affidavits contended that D&D had the opposite effect- helping rehabilitate inmates and keeping them out of gangs or other mischief. The prison’s response to this was an affidavit from Capt. Muraski, citing his 20 years of experience as a gang expert in making his decision that D&D- and other role-playing games- “have been found to promote competitive hostility, violence, and addictive escape behavior, which can compromise not only the inmates’ rehabilitation and effects of positive programming, but endanger the public and jeopardize the safety and security of the institution.”

Displaying yet more utter ignorance about the game, Muraski drew imaginative (not to say imaginary) parallels between the authority of Dungeon Master (DM) over a gaming group and the power wielded by a ganglord over his subordinates. I fail to see any resemblance to objective reality in this assertion, since the members of my gaming group showed me little respect and next to no obedience. A better description would be more like the relationship between a screenplay writer and the actors in that play, but even this analogy falls apart because the players are under no obligation to follow the “script” (the campaign or adventure created by the DM).

Let us not ignore the ruling by the Court. In the ruling found here, the Court held that the collective 100 years of prison experience represented by the inmates who filed affidavits were completely over-ruled by Capt. Muraski’s 20 years- solely because they were on the wrong side of the bars. The Court also held that- despite the prison’s concession that D&D has never been associated with gang activity in the past or at any other prison- the concerns by prison officials that D&D might possibly do so in the future was good enough for the judges. In their citations of precedent, the Court used a wide variety of lower court filings (not judgements, just cases filed in lower courts) about D&D supposedly causing various people to go nuts and commit murder or other crimes. I can just imagine the judges passing around a Jack Chick tract or watching some of the hysterical 1980’s TV shows on the subject before reaching a verdict.

In short, despite my 30+ years of playing D&D, the fact that I have not yet murdered hundreds of people, raped their pets, and sacrificed their children to Zorkon the Space God is merely a strange anomaly among the millions of D&D-inspired serial killers who apparently roam the streets, blinded by the insidious menace of the so-called “game” to the harm they do. I guess I’ve fallen way behind the curve, so I’ll have to run out and butcher a few families to start catching up. The Court has issued a ruling, and therefore objective reality has no bearing on the matter.

Or perhaps the Court is composed of drooling old dotards in black mumus,  and the prison officials are humorless idiots-in-uniform who are more interested in maintaining their petty dominion by petulantly prohibiting a harmless pastime.

Current status: Shaking my head in amazement

Current music: Goodbye Stranger by Supertramp



4 responses

27 01 2010

D&D is a game that almost all religious types would fear. It requires an ability to think & make good-quick decisions, decrease your fear of demons, gods, and magic. If working in ‘gangs’ it teaches cooperation and trust. And this could lead to white-brown-yellow-pink-red-orange-& green people realizing they are all pretty similar and can get along.
It is hard to believe there are groups out there that really fear the above occurring.

27 01 2010

CybrgnX: I agree, but I’m pretty sure this particular bit of your comment would also cause distress to most God-botherers:

It requires an ability to think

Being capable of rational thought seems to be a cardinal sin these days amongst the religiously pinheaded.

31 01 2010
Survey Magnet Carnival of Opinions 1/31/2010 |

[…] presents The More Things Change ? posted at A Dark and Sinister Force for Good, saying, “The times, they AREN’T […]

31 01 2010
The BoBo Files » Blog Archive » The BoBo Carnival of Politics – January 31, 2010 Edition

[…] presents The More Things Change ? posted at A Dark and Sinister Force for Good, saying, “Anything not mandatory is prohibited. […]

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