Saturday, February 20, 2010

Dungeons & Dragons Not to Blame for Mass Shooting: Gamers Tell Their Stories

This past week, Amy Bishop, a professor at the University of Alabama - Huntsville went on a shooting rampage and killed three people. As she was an avid Dungeons & Dragons player, some folks are trying to blame the game for her actions. In order to counteract this unwarranted bad publicity, Matt Staggs at Suvudu asked prominent fiction writers to describe their formative experiences with the game. Novelist Jay Lake responded:

"The alternate worlds and wild imagination of D&D gave me and my fellow misfits an outlet, and we had dozens upon dozens of hours per week to spend on it. Where else were we going to go? We lived in our high school. Think about that for a minute. Six or eight ferociously bright kids-Choate is one of the most academically competitive schools in the nation-with nothing to do but make things up to amuse one another, and D&D providing the framework."

Although those years have since passed, Lake still credited the game with providing a foundation he has built upon as a successful writer.

"Those three years playing D&D at boarding school did more to ground me in storytelling, plot construction, and sheer, raw imaginative throughput than any other single activity of my life. Today I'm a successful fantasy and science fiction novelist with ten novels and over two hundred short stories in print or on the way. I might have gotten to this point by a different path, but it would not have been the same journey,"

This was something akin to my experience. Role-playing games, perhaps the most intrinsically social of all hobbies, provided human contact in its otherwise near-total absence. And it gave me a creative outlet to engage in storytelling in collaborative context.

I remember more than a decade ago joining an informal community of Watership Down role-players. We had no fixed starting rules and pretty much just spontaneously created a game with a rich and elaborate storyline. With minimal editing, one story arc that lasted over two years could have easily been turned into a novel.

Obvious copyright issues prevented us from proceeding. But ordinary people, in a community of people who never met face-to-face, were able to create something quite extraordinary. And that game is, by the way, still going on.

I haven't played with them in many years, but sometimes I visit and just look at the front page. In the midst of all of the things that have been chaotic and shifting in my life in the past decade, I never would have though that an Internet message board would stand the test of time. But it has. And that it has done so gives me a sense of comfort in its stability.

That's my story. What's yours?

via Make

UPDATE: James Rummel adds his thoughts, reminiscing that the argument against gaming dates back to the 80s. Here you can read Michael Stackpole's elegant and researched takedown of that movement.


bob said...

I only played face to face with my brother in-law and some of his friends. This was more than 25 years ago so excuse my lack of detail. We played D&D and I remember it as a time of drinking beer til morning and laughing with cohorts. At least it expands vocabulary I never would have used cohorts in the past.

bob said...

My daughter also plays various role playing games at college through a role playing game club. Her stories of the other players help me to understand how they could say D&D caused the professor's rampage. Because many of the players are total social outcasts almost to the point of not being able to function normally. This might lead to the conclusion that the game causes problems but in reality some people are just going to go off no matter what.

John said...

Bob, I, too, remember laughing far too loudly in my gaming sessions. Oh, the fun we had!

I remember once my character was a cook. She made someone a meal, and rolled an absolute botch. The diner began choking. I rolled first aid, and again rolled an absolute botch. He went into cardiac arrest. I made a saving throw, and failed it. He died.

Thereafter, no one would eat my cooking. It was hilarious.

James R. Rummel said...

I started gaming in 1977, and have played every week since. The only vacation I have been able to schedule for more than a decade were gaming conventions, when I would play with total strangers.

What is more, RPG's are incredibly popular amongst out troops serving in combat. A few dice, a piece of paper, and days of frustration and boredom while waiting for something to happen pass all too swiftly.

I thought the idea that RPG's cause madness was laid to rest in the 1980's. These people are bitter clingers to dead concepts.

The Thief said...

I grew up playing D&D with my brother and my friends. I remember many last night (or all night) games and the daily game at the lunch table in school.

It helped develop my vocabulary, my storytelling ability, and my love of literature, and it helped me hone my creativity (especially through following through to logical conclusions based on certain actions).

Jeff the Baptist said...

I also enjoy gaming find it to be a very enjoyable social activity. Many of the people I've played with have been borderline social misfits. It was generally a healthy thing for them to do to interact with people.

But I also see the outsiders perspective. Role playing is pretending to be someone else. I can see how people would find that an odd idea for socializing outsiders.