I have been feeling an urge to talk about this story for the past couple days. Just like other people I’ve seen comment, I’ll make it clear I can’t have much sympathy that got into jail by smashing someone’s head in with a sledgehammer (it’s just not a very nice thing to do, is all!), and I can understand that convicted criminals have in a way ceded some of their rights, but I do think there are some things that can be discussed here.
The reasons given for taking away the materials are that Dungeons & Dragons “promotes fantasy role playing, competitive hostility, violence, addictive escape behaviors, and possible gambling.” I’m going to work through those backwards:
- Gambling: I’m not sure where this even comes from. I’ve never heard of someone betting on a role-playing game. I kind of wonder whether someone saw that it uses dice and assumed gambling was involved.
- Addictive escape behaviors: I can see this. Just about anything can be addictive, and games have been in a spotlight. I don’t know how much that applies to D&D, though: as far as I understand most addictions don’t absolutely require a social group (even a sex addict can pursue his craving by himself). It is, however, almost definitely a from of escape, and if I were in prison I think I’d like something escapist to do.
- Violence: There is violence associated with the game. There is a reason why the most fleshed-out rule system in D&D and other role-playing systems is the combat system. But I don’t know that it inspires violence any more than any other media. Perhaps someone could think it dangerous to have in a prison, where there will be people who are predisposed to violent behavior. I don’t know enough psychology to pretend to know about that.
- Competitive hostility: Ah, possibly. This one depends entirely on the type of game. AFAIK, most D&D campaigns involve the group working together toward a common goal or against a common (non-player) enemy. There is such a thing as competitive play, and even in a standard game there is sometimes an adversarial relationship between the game master and the players, but that’s not an essential part of the game itself.
- Fantasy role playing: This is the one that I don’t understand at all (and neither did the guys on Fear the Boot). Yes, D&D promotes fantasy role playing, that’s what it’s for! It’s a fantasy role-playing system. But why is fantasy role-playing (or just role-playing) a bad thing for the prisoners? Why, exactly, would occasionally pretending to be a wizard that can throw fireballs have a bad influence on anyone, let alone someone who has actually killed people. Do people really still have that prejudice that D&D is “satanic” or somesuch?
There is one other thing I want to discuss. According to the article, among the materials confiscated by the guards was a 96-page custom campaign. That’s a pretty big work. Art and writing can be used as forms of therapy, creating a D&D campaign can essentially be considered a kind of writing. Would it be the same if what was taken away was the manuscript for a 96-page novella? Note, I’m making no judgement about content or value of the work, I haven’t seen it or played it. But, is it normal for prisoner’s artwork or writing to be confiscated? If so, why? If not, would that fall under “cruel and unusual punishment”? I do wonder about that.
On another note entirely:
If there are any gamers reading this who are charity-minded, I also happened upon this on Drive-Thru RPG. Basically, if you donate $20, they will give you almost $1500 in RPG PDFs. Mostly supplements and lesser-known systems, but that’s (hopefully) not why you’re giving the money (well, not the only reason) — it goes as a matched donation to Doctors without Borders to be used in Haiti.