April 18, 2004

Beware the Dwarf

I'm going to be very honest. I decided to research this topic because of my parents. I come from a very, VERY conservative household with equally conservative parents. So it caused some alarm when I began reading fantasy novels. Over half of my small library is devoted to authors such as Anne McAffrey, Mercedes Lackey, and Brian Jacques. My parents let me go with only a little reprimand. Once they learned I was participating in an fantasy based, online role-playing game, the gloves came off.

My father (who is a paster and looks like Kenny Rogers), surprised me and showed interest in what I was doing. When I explained that it was, essentially, co-authoring a story, he let me go with only a little ribbing. (the title of this presentation and my paper both come from one of his jokes about my gaming). My mother, on the other hand, showed a lot of resistance to the idea. Granted, she let me go about my business, since I was 18 and I would do it anyway, but she often cautioned me about getting too "ensconced" in what I was doing.

When Murray talked about Immersion, I became interested. This was what my mother was afraid of. Of my immersion in the imaginary world of the game. So, I began to look at what some of the critics had to say about role-playing games and what the psychologists said about fantasy and immersion.

The critics were varied. Some were actually very benign, presenting both sides. Others, however, ranged from caustic to ridiculous. The major complaints were that role playing games, specifically Dungeons and Dragons, caused murder, suicide, crime and Satanism.

The National Coalition on Television Vilence, or NCTV, has liked Dungeons and Dragons to 29 murders and suicides between 1979 and 1985 (Lancaster, 71). One such case was the subject of the book, The Dungoen Master, wich talks about Dallas Egbert. Egbert entered college at 14, and later ran away from home. William Dear, the author The Dungeon Master, was hired to find Egert. A year after being found and returning home, Egbert commited suicide. His parents blamed the suicide on the fact that he used to play a live action version of D&D, despite the fact that Dear found out Egbert was a part of a gay student organization and a drug user (Lancaster, 71). NCTV, along with BADD (Bothered About Dungeons and Dragons) are the two most prominent organized critics of D&D.

Carl Raschke, the author of Painted Black, called D&D an "elementary-level home study kit for 'Black Magic'" (Lancaster, 72). In his book, he states that four percent of a given population are "fantasy prone personalities" who "tend to experience their fantasies as real" (Lancaster, 73). According to this formula, of the seven people who had played a Dungeons and Dragons-like game, 1-2 of those people might commit suicide because their character died.

The problem is that almost 10 million people have played or been exposed to Dungeons and Dragons. Michael Stackpole, a game designer, explains that if Raschke's formula is true, 400,000 people cann't distinguish between reality and fantasy. Therefor, there should be more game related incidents that what has appeared (Lancaster, 73).

There are many different kinds of players, representing different genders, age groups, students, teachers and professional work fields (Lancaster, 69). Though it is a predominantly male game, female players exist. The average player is usually a male in his late teens or early twenties, though since the D&D came out, players are getting both older and younger.

Many critics claim that players become lost in the fantasy world created by the game. Janet Murray calls this immersion, "a metaphorical term derived from the psysical sensation of being submerged in water" where we are surrounded by a completely other reality (Murray, 98). Murray goes on to explain that a good text or game encourages immersion, as does our own mind. We experience immersion through novels, films, games, and television.

According to Gary Allan Fine, the author of Shared Fantasy: Role Playing Games as Social Worlds who studied both games and gamers, the ability of some players to become their characters, this experience is too temporary to completely subsume the players own identity in the characters. "Players engage in role embracement rather than role merger" (Fine, 206-7).

So, according to the research, immersing in a game is natural, and really too brief to cause much lasting damage. What about indulging in fantasies that normative society discourages? In The Power of Fantasy, Lucy Freeman and Kertisn Kupfermann explain that "fantasy is part of our spontaneous reaction to an experience... it is how our mind reacts to an ameotion... Fantasy may lie at the root of either happiness or anguish" (Freeman, 14).

Sigmund Freud, who is still the primary basis for psychoanalytical theory, states that "if phantasies become over-luxurient and over-powerful, the necessary conditions for an outbreak of neurosis or psychosis are constituded" (Freud, 49). In his other works, Frued explains that fantasy comes from the unconscious part of the mind which holds the primal urges, such as sex, hunger and aggression. While these urges are usually repressed by the conscious mind, not providing them with some form of release results in neurosis or psychosis.

Murray tells us that a good story will give us "something safely outside ourselves (because it is made up by someone else) upon which we can project our feelings" (Murray, 100). While some people find these outlets in accepted pastimes, such as television, sports or novels, players find their outlets in the games they play. "Games use their fantasy to supplant accepted pastimes, and their denial of the workaday world and mass entertainment leads others to perceive them as 'misfits'" (Fine, 47).

Dr. John Suler, a professor at Rider University, suggests that "under optimal conditions, translating troublesome issues from one realm to the other can be helpful, even therapeutic" (Suler). Such is the case of Fred, the 19 year old who slit his wrists. During therapy, Fred began playing a game of D&D with other "frings people" as he called them. He often worked out agressions and negative feelings through the game, which allowed him to discuss them with his therapist during the session, where they would go over transcripts from the game (Blackmon).

Studies done on the possibility of Dungeon and Dragons role playing games causing suicide found that this was not the case. Players have the same likeliness of commiting suicide as non players. It is, rather, what the players bring to the game. Like all hobbies, such as golf, there are people who become extremists. Role Playing games may attract people who have suicidal fantasies and occult viewpoints, because they provide an "accepted" outlet for their own fantasies that normative society does not.

Gamers often have responses to some of the more ridiculous criticisms. For instance, the Jack Chick cartoon seen earlier was both riffed and MST3Ked.

Works Cited

Blackmon, Wayne D. "Dungeons and Dragons: The use of a fantasy game in the psychoterapeutic treatment of a young adult". American Journal of Psychotherapy. Fall 94. p264.

Fine, Gary Allan. Shared Fantasy: Role Playing Games as Social Worlds. University of Chicago Press. Chicago: 1983.

Freeman, Lucy and Kerstin Kupfermann. The Power of Fantasy. Continuum Publishing Co. New York: 1988.

Freud, Sigmund. On Creativity and the Unconscious. Harper and Row, Publishers, Inc. New York, NY: 1958.

Lancaster, Kurt. "Do role-playing games promote crime, satanism and suicide among players as critics claim?" Journal of Popular Culture Fall 94. p67.

Murray, Janet H. Hamlet on the Holodeck. The MIT Press. Cambridge, MA: 2001.

Suler, John PhD. The Psychology of Cyperspace. Rider University. <>

Posted by RachelCrump at 11:28 PM | Comments (6)