|Places to Go, People to Be||[Next Article] [Previous Article] [This Issue] [Home]|
Role-Playing Games and the Christian Right
Authors Note:This is very much a work in progress and I am continually gaining new insights and data into the material. I am very interested in any feedback, insights and evidence that anyone can provide. This paper is a text friendly version of a paper I presented orally at The Australian Sociological Association annual conference in December 1993 at the University of New England, Armidale.
What are Role-playing Games?
Role-playing games or RPGs are essentially a form of interactive novel in which the protagonists create and control the actions of a cast of characters. The characters operate in a virtual world controlled by a referee/narrator figure called the GM or games master, depending on which variant of game is being played. (some variants include Dungeon Master, referee, narrator, story teller, etc) The GM creates a virtual world and the players make decisions, based on their character's interaction with that world and moderated by a combination of statistics, probability and characterisation. The worlds themselves vary from the traditional Dungeons and Dragons adaptation of Tolkeinesque fantasy realms to Cyberpunk, Gothic Horror, Espionage, Space Opera and Westerns and include some settings that are so surreal as to defy simple definitions. Essentially most forms of literature have an expression as an RPG, some much more popular and mainstream than others.
Dungeons and Dragons or D&D, the first, and one of the most popular RPG variants, was first marketed in 1972 as a supplement to the medieval war game "Chainmail". It was later published as a separate self-contained system in 1974. Through word of mouth and networking the game quickly spread through American university campuses with annual sales doubling in volume throughout the late 1970's and 1980's, rapidly overwhelming the popularity and sales figures of war games. By 1979 TSR, the manufacturer of Dungeons and Dragons, was selling 1000 copies per month and this figure grew to 20,000 in 1985. According to Gary Gygax, the success of TSR was due in no small part to the publicity of the games created by the moral panic. In fact repeatedly throughout the history of RPG's in general accusations levelled against RPG's have typically been followed by a sharp increase of sales. For this reason most of the prominent RPG companies have refused to defend their product, outside of gamer venues and magazines, and preferred to let these accusations run their course.
Whilst overall numbers of gamers are difficult to estimate, a 1990 survey conducted in the US, Australia and Canada estimated that at least 7.5 million people engaged in RPG's at least once a month in those three countries. A 2000 survey by the RPG company "Wizards of the Coast" estimated that approximately 5.5 million Americans play RPGs regularly. Additionally, there are numerous Role-playing game conventions and gatherings held throughout Anglophone nations. There are also sizeable RPG communities in France, Germany, Spain and Italy, amongst other nations. In Melbourne Australia, for example, there are 4 major annual events at which several hundred gamers attend and there are many localised small-scale events held throughout the year. At these gatherings, usually held over a long weekend or school holiday, participants often dress up according to the genre or sub-culture of RPG's they belong to, most notably Gothic, cyberpunk, pagan, vampire Goth, medieval, Matrix chic and geek sub-cultures. Here they discuss, design and play a wide variety of role-playing game scenarios. Often the participants engage in medieval/cyberpunk re-enactments and amateur thespianism. They look at the latest products and paraphernalia associated with the sub-cultures such as Japanime, RPG products, clothing, music and sci-fi or fantasy film and literature. There are also numerous magazines, online zines, websites and publications on RPGs and films based in the RPG worlds. Examples of these are Kindred: the Embraced, Underworld, the Dungeons and Dragons cartoons and film, many japanime cartoons etc as well as RPG's made of existing novels and films such as Buffy, Star Trek, Interview with a Vampire, Star Wars and Lord of the Rings among others. Also based on RPG worlds are numerous novels, graphic novels, underground and syndicated comic strips, animated films and cartoons which satirize the sub-culture from a variety of perspectives and are occasionally published on the a wide variety of magazines and websites. I will discuss the make up and origins of the various RPG sub-cultures and their relationship to the 1980's moral panic against RPG's later in the paper.
Theoretical Interpretations of RPGs in youth culture.
What was particularly new about RPG's, and certainly contributed to their popularity, compared to their progenitors in table-top war gaming, was their potential for escapism. At their most enthralling, RPGs require a multi-layered structure of close social interaction and a mechanism for exploring shared ideals, values, symbols and cultural forms (particularly those derived from literature). They require a unique format that cannot be easily replicated in other games or social activities. RPGs create a flexible mechanism for exploring virtual worlds, identities, social structures, symbols and cultural norms in a social environment that is detached and segregated from daily life. This potential for reflexivity, identity formation, close knit networks of social interaction and escapism was certainly a crucial ingredient in the popularity of RPGs and later their equivalents in computer games, Multi User Dungeons and online gaming.
According to research by Sherry Turkle, RPG's have a greater potential for escapism than many other past-times because they not only allows the players to interact with their surroundings but gives them a venue in which they can create their own socio-cultural identity. In RPG's the role the player adopts is a tool designed to further separate the context of the game from reality. The player is not so much role-playing as persona-playing. By using fantastic and alien characters, players can create sufficient psychological distance to believe they have transcended the constraining features of their own socio-cultural identity. A character has a name, physical attributes and personality distinct from the player but which the player adopts for the game. This allows both an escape from the perceived cultural and social barriers experienced in daily life whilst also serving as a metaphor for exploring these issues in a virtual context. The role of RPGs in youth culture can be evaluated as an example of psychoanalyst Erik Erikson's psycho-social moratorium in which a "time out" is placed on the consequences of actions and identity formation. This provides people with an opportunity to expose themselves to a variety of experiences without concern for the result of those actions and to experiment with alternate forms of identity. Doing so allows the individual to develop a better-informed core self-identity and set of social values which, according to Erikson, is a significant task in adolescent psychological development.
Unlike MUDs and online computer games, RPG's require a close level of face-to-face social interaction. They are usually played in an isolated area, typically a room at a private residence, school, university or community centre, marked off from the outside world with paraphernalia unique to the subculture of gamers and involving a great deal of jargon and symbols which have meaning only to those who are part of the group. There are close parallels here with Victor Turner's concept of the liminoid and communitas. Players actively work to create marked liminal spaces in which they can shake off their mainstream socio-cultural identity and adopt symbols and images deemed inimical to the mainstream cultural construction of the self but which form their own unique anti-structure in opposition to the mainstream socio-cultural order. 35% of men and 20% of women choose to play characters of alternate gender and the 60% prefer to play characters that are non human. These high numbers give credence to the anti-structural nature of role-playing games. Similarly, the game experience lives or dies on the social interaction of its participants. It depends upon the creation of a protected liminoid space in which the social world can be evaluated reflexively and in which a sense of communitas can be created as a crucial component of the success of the game. This sense of communitas is experienced both as a heightened sense of closeness, equality, joy and community within the group but also as a blurring of the imaginative and real world through atmosphere, anti-structural symbolism and depth of play. As one gamer commented,
"Have you ever played a game where the real world has all but melted away, and the feelings and actions of you and your character become indistinct? If you have, you most likely feel that this was one of the best games you've ever played, that gaming is at its most brilliant when the boundaries of fantasy and reality become blurred."
It is this experience of escapism, community and a psycho-social moratorium in which identity, issues and cultural forms can be freely explored, that lies at the heart of gaming and the gaming sub-culture. It is also the source of many attacks against gamers and RPGs on the grounds that they blur the boundaries between reality and fantasy, leading people to engage in immoral or anti-social activities, or in the case of fundamentalist Christian attacks, leading young people to Paganism or Satanism and thus away from the Church.
Before investigating the characteristics of the anti-RPG moral panic of the 1980's and 1990's I'd like to make a few comments regarding the theory surrounding moral panics. The term "moral panic" was first coined by sociologist Stanley Cohen in his research into media, government and public responses to Mods and Rockers during the 1960's. In his book "Folk Devils and Moral Panics" he investigated the phenomenon of the perceived threat to the social and cultural order posed by Mods and Rockers and its impact in the media, government policy, policing and public opinion. In interpreting this material, he devised a theoretical model to describe the origins and effects of these "moral panics". His definition of a moral panic is as follows,
From Cohen's perspective, a moral panic is a process by which a sector of society receives a collective, stereotyped identity imposed from outside their community, characterised by generalised definitions, exaggerated reports and is defined in relation to a perceived threat against the social and moral order. A moral panic is fundamentally a discursive shift and symbolic crisis over what is perceived as deviant in the social mainstream.10 It is unusual for a moral panic to be a completely new phenomenon. Typically, the target of a moral panic is a group or phenomenon that has been in existence for many years but has only recently come to the attention of the mass media and general public via a prominent event or issue which demands media attention. In this sense, the deviancy and threat associated with the target of a moral panic is created by the mass media and cultural mainstream. This is, of course, not to imply that people are forced into deviant behaviour but rather the actions, symbols and socio-cultural identity associated with those targeted are labelled as deviant and become so only through that labelling process, since the group existed before this categorization. Consequently, Cohen describes the development of a moral panic in terms of the creation of folk devils to which a wide array of characteristics can be applied and gains strength as much through its symbolic resonance as through any actual danger or threat posed by those labelled as deviant. 
The Moral Panic against RPG's
The moral panic in the United States (and to a lesser extent in Australia and France) directed against RPG's, especially Dungeons and Dragons, originated in the media response to the suicides of 16 year old college sophomore James Dallas Egbert III in August 1980 and 16 year old high school student Irving Bink Pulling II in June 1982. Despite a wide range of psychological and social factors such as drug addiction, a long history of chronic depression, confrontation with parents over sexual orientation, public humiliation in the school environment and even doubts as to whether they had actually played any RPGs regularly, the media interpretation of the events was that the "strange game of D&D" was a crucial factor in their suicides. Additionally, Patricia Pulling, mother of Bink Pulling, attempted to sue TSR, the manufacturer of Dungeons and Dragons, for the death of her son. The case was thrown out of court in 1984. She then partnered with Illnois psychiatrist Thomas Radecki, director of the National Coalition on Television Violence (NCTV), to form a new organization with close links to several Fundamentalist Christian bodies and the US Republican Party called Bothered About Dungeons and Dragons, B.A.D.D. Pulling linked her belief that there was Satanic influence inherent in RPGs to that of three other perceived threats to the social order: Heavy Metal music, the Pagan revival and the Satanic Ritual Abuse scare. The perceived allegiance between these disparate threats became the centrepiece of the anti RPG moral panic. In Australia, B.A.D.D primarily operated and distributed materials through the Australian Federation for Decency (now Australia Federation for Family) from 1986 onwards, headed by the Reverend Fred Nile.
Her description of Dungeons and Dragons is as follows,
In pursing her campaign against Dungeon's and Dragons and RPG's in general, Pulling utilised a variety of tactics which she pursued, along with Thomas Radecki, with an enormous amount of energy and dedication. These tactics are,
Outside of the claims to Satanic influence the primary threat perceived in RPGs was the perceived break down between the realm of fantasy and reality. In representations of RPG's in the mass media, players were regarded as becoming so involved in their fantasy games that their concept of self and reality began to dissolve to be replaced by the virtual fantasy world of the RPG. Instead of a liminoid consequential moratorium or an example of Bakhtin's carnivalesque,19 players were perceived as breaking down the barriers of the public and liminoid space and thus allowing their play to have "real world" consequence. There was also concern about what youth learnt in their play. In the real world, criminal or immoral behaviour has consequences yet in a game without these consequences there was perceived to be no necessity for gamers to act morally. Underlying this argument was a deep fear of the unfettered imagination of youth having an impact in real world situations. In a game, players can engage in any virtual activities they wish with consequences that are equally virtual. This is reflected in Patricia Pulling's advice to police that,
Lying behind attacks on RPGs is the belief that a certain mindset is required to carry out criminal, self destructive or immoral acts and the negative consequences of those acts are the primary incentive against their execution. In the anti-RPG moral panic it was believed that the lack of real consequences to virtual acts would permit players to experiment with criminal or occult activities and thus display tendencies that in the real world would be repressed. Thus it is in the interests of society to repress perceived deviant behaviour whether virtual or not. In application it appeared that RPGs were perceived to have a greater influence upon adolescent's minds than ties of social, cultural and moral values.
As in the case of Cohen's model of moral panics, two key factors emerged in the anti-RPG campaigns. Firstly, the barricades protecting the social and moral order were manned by "right thinking people". Principals, police, conservative politicians and churches all spoke out against RPGs. Their high position in the community gave weight to their claims, influencing public opinion. Secondly, articles and lectures omitted where Satanic, Pagan or Socialist references or activities could be found. There was no description of the process by which these opinions, linking RPGs with these perceived threats to the social order, had been reached. Additionally, the existence of RPG's was construed as a threat to the welfare of children. With such a clear challenge laid before school boards and city officials there was little alternative action that could be taken without appearing to be unconcerned about the emotional and physical well being of Children. This approach to the anti-RPG campaign is well illustrated in B.A.D.D's profile of teen Satanism and the occult, distributed to policing departments for interviewing suspected occult related youth crime. Also of significance was the construction of the threat in extremely vague terms which could be applied to almost every aspect of youth culture and sector of society via a process of self fulfilling prophecy, as is illustrated here in Pulling's guide to identifying the influence of teen Satanism by police, clergy and educators. Michael Stackpole's "Pulling Report" is particularly succinct in analysing the circular logic, double hermeneutic, overt generalisations and self fulfilling prophecies involved in Pulling's approach to identifying Satanic influences in young people.
THE WHO WHAT WHEN WHERE AND HOW OF TEEN SATANISM WHO
It is difficult to precisely evaluate the extent to which the anti-RPG moral panic permeated the social order. At its peak, numerous schools banned the game, shops were closed, several smaller companies were forced out of business and many gamers experienced harassment ranging from minor disapproval and restrictions of behaviour from educators, police, churches and parents to more severe actions. I will discuss the experience of gamers shortly.
B.A.D.D documents were distributed to police departments across America and in many schools, churches and local governments in Britain, Canada and Australia. (There was also a substantial moral panic and anti-RPG campaign in France but I have little information on its characteristics as yet) Anti-RPG documents, articles and cartoons were distributed throughout Australian, British and Canadian churches, police departments, welfare agencies and schools but there is no evidence to suggest the moral panic ever became embedded into educational, government or policing institutions of other nations to the same extent as it did in the American experience (with the exception of France which will be investigated further in forthcoming research). Several films were produced with support and consultation from B.A.D.D and other anti-RPG organizations, most notably "Mazes and Monsters", "Cruel Doubt" and "Honour thy Mother". Perhaps the most bizarre event was the raid by the American Secret Service on Steve Jackson Games on the premise that the RPG Cyberpunk contained secret coding on how to become a computer hacker and encouraged participators to commit cyber-crime. The Judge found that the agents in charge had acted without proper investigation and "in his zeal to obtain evidence for criminal investigation, simply concluded that Steve Jackson games was involved in illegal activities because of the wording on the "Illuminati" bulletin board menu." However, the moral panic did follow three clearly identifiable stages. The first was the claim that students were using occult paraphernalia included in RPGs to curse or hex fellow students, parents and teachers. This was the claim made by Pulling in her attempt to sue TSR for her son's death and presented through many anti-RPG forums such as then infamous 'Dark Dungeon's" cartoon by Jack T Chick. The second phase began in the mid 1980s and claimed that the fantastic and morally dubious world of RPG's would lead students to suicide, murder and violent crime. The final phase, which started in the late 1980's and early 1990's, was the claim that RPGs would lead gamers to become Satanists or Pagans and then to engage in immoral and violent activities.
Whilst the moral panic against RPG's was pervasive and there is still, in some quarters, the stigma of RPGs being linked to Satanism, youth suicide and the occult, the campaign against RPGs collapsed in the early 1990's and lost much of its support amongst the judiciary, police, educators and government. Unlike the moral panics against Mods and Rockers and Heavy Metal music, the collapse of the anti-RPG moral panic has a clear and traceable cause. Due to the collapse of B.A.D.D as a political force, media attention was no longer being continually drawn to spectacular claims of deviant behaviour surrounding RPG gamers. The collapse of the credibility and effectiveness of B.A.D.D can be traced to several causes.
Response by Gamers to the Moral Panic
So how did gamers respond to being targeted by a moral panic? According to Kenneth Gagne in his dissertation on moral panics, fully-fledged and politically oriented subcultures such as Punks and Hippies became polarised when targeted, giving them strong clear identity, culture and politics. By contrast, he argues that pseudo subcultures like RPG gamers, comic book fans in the 40s and computer gamers have typically responded by toning down their activities, reducing the anti-structural association of their cultural products and engaging in apologetics. However, in my research through field work at RPG conventions, searching through newsgroups and online forums and an investigation of editorials, forums, letters to the editor in the magazines Dungeon, Dragon, Breakout, Critical miss and Places to go People to Be, and the satirical magazine Knights of the Dinner Table between 1979-2001, I have found a variety of responses by gamers targeted by religious, educational, police, parental and government authorities for their gaming practices.
Overall, the number of articles, letters, editorials and forums dealing with attacks on gamers peaked between 1988 and 1992. In fact, after 1992 I have been unable to find any letters, articles or editorials on the topic except for several retrospective examinations of the history of gaming between 1997 and 2000 and an article dealing with prejudice against Christians from within the gaming community in PTGPTB in 1999. During the most intense periods of correspondence on the issue, almost every edition of the magazines I reviewed contributed portions of their material to debates by gamers regarding experiences and responses to anti-gaming activity and perceived prejudice in the community. Prior to 1988 the first mention of attacks on gamers from within gaming publications is a letter regarding concerns about behavioural changes in campaigns run with evil characters in the match 1985 issue of Breakout. Similarly, the last piece I found was an editorial in 1993 reflecting on Dragon Magazine's 17th anniversary, its "Baptism of Fire" after being attacked by Christian fundamentalists, reflecting on the hatred of fantasy, science fiction and horror by many fundamentalist Christians. The experiences described by gamers varied from minor harassment by teachers, police and clergy to that of more substantial issues of seizing property, bashings, loss of privacy, expulsion from school for continuing to play after a ban had been put in place and harassment/arrest for supposed satanic desecration of graves and churches etc. The most common complaints by gamers were,
Overall, most correspondence reflected a profound sense of frustration from gamers at their inability to be heard in the face of what, they felt, was an astounding level of ignorance and superstition amongst the mass media and public authority figures. Many letters and comments described feelings of betrayal against teachers and parents. There was an overall realisation by many contributors that the games were more than a hobby but were a major social and creative outlet and were an important vehicle for personal expression. Finally, many of the contributors described a sense of bewilderment. Many had no previous difficulties with public authority figures, maintained solid grades and maintained what they had thought to be good relationships with their parents. Suddenly they found themselves perceived as a major threat to the social order.
This sense of betrayal and rift between students, teachers, religious bodies and parents is reflected in David Bromley's article on the Satanic cult scare of the 1980's in which he argues that the Satanic Cult scare, including its manifestation in the anti-RPG moral panic is a "counter subversion ideology" in which contractual-convenantal tensions, such as that between parents, children, child care centres, schools and youth sub-cultures have been exacerbated by the encroachment of the economic sphere into the realm of familial relations. The ideology surrounding the permeation of Satanism and threats to children are thus a metaphorical construction of a widely experienced sense of danger by western families in the wake of profound socio-economic transformation. In this sense RPG gamers, as youth, are profoundly affected by this cultural and ideological shift, experienced as a bewildering change in familial relationships, the feeling of being torn between competing roles as students, friends and children (which makes the role of RPGs as a psycho-social moratorium all the more important) and becoming the target of psycho-social projection based on a social drama they are only peripherally aware of in their socially ascribed roles as students, "youth" and progeny.
Some typical responses the experiences of gamers who felt targeted by the moral panic are,
Overall I found several patterns of response by gamers.
The reaction of the gaming community is illustrated in one of our earlier aticles -- Ed.
Cultural Shifts in the Wake of Moral Panic
The most obvious impact of the RPG moral panic is widespread hostility to Christianity, presented as a bigoted, oppressive and violent religion. Gary Pellino in his article on prejudice within the gaming community argues that the response by gamers to Christians, particularly committed or conservative Christians, is akin to the comments reserved in mainstream society for Nazis. Another important effect of the anti-RPG campaigns was the major shift in gaming culture towards an open embracing of Gothic derived cultural symbols and increasingly subversive themes in games. Most prominent in this shift was the popularisation of "Vampire: The Masquerade" and "Werewolf: The Apocalypse" by the game publishing company White Wolf and to a lesser extent the increased popularity of "Call of Cthulu" based on the works of H.P Lovecraft produced by Chaosium. These games directly dealt with issues considered taboo for RPGs during the 1980's such as sex, horror and the occult. These games also openly embraced cultural forms deemed inimical to funamentalist Christianity, such as Paganism, homosexuality and occult imagery and recast them as oppressed and misunderstood victims who are pursued by a bigoted, fearful and ignorant public. Whilst the pseudo-goths or vampire Goths, as they are often referred to in the gaming community, are usually described as part of the Gothic music and fashion sub-culture, research by Paul Hodkison into the Gothic sub-culture in Britain found that, despite some crossover, they actually formed a distinct group of their own with closer links to gamers than to the Goth subculture and philosophy. Like Goths, tattoos, piercing, face and body paint are common, as are variants of clothing derived from horror literature with 19th century styled clothing and black leather predominating.
In pseudo-Gothic games, complex rules and a focus on violence are eschewed in favour of role-playing, characterisation and amateur thespianism. In these games, protagonists deal with overtly dark themes and have become the new target of media antagonism against RPG's but this is done through linking them to the Goth subculture rather than describing them as gamers. This has tended to increase the division between fantasy gamers and pseudo-Goth gamers. There is also a significant amount of rivalry between pseudo Goth gamers and high fantasy gamers (labelled hackmasters/munchkins over issues of gender and cultural identity.) Whilst the number of women in games has risen from an estimated 3% in 1985 to possibly as high as 37% in 2000, by far the majority of women have joined the pseudo Goth sub-category as illustrated by white wolf's estimation of a 45% female market for Vampire: The Masquerade. Additionally, the construction of feminine identity by female pseudo Goth gamers violates the symbolic construction of femininity held by fantasy gamers leading to conflicts and rivalries as illustrated by the following anecdote,
A key feature of Pseudo-Gothic RPGs is that they are overtly counter-cultural in symbolism. Werewolf: The Apocalypse for example features the characters engaged in a struggle against big business and corporate capitalism to prevent environmental catastrophe and preserve pristine wilderness. However, this appears to seldom relate to any form of political activism. Rather the Vehicle of RPGs seems to have a normative function akin to Bakhtin's notion of the carnivalesque. They represent a space in which people can explore alternate forms of identity and reconcile tensions in real world scenarios without real world consequences. The virtual world of the RPG acts as an outlet for societal tension rather than encouraging behaviour in real world scenarios.
Essentially, games like Vampire the masquerade, Werewolf the apocalypse and other pseudo-Gothic games are a vehicle for expressing the alienation of youth. They feature characters that are outcasts from society who must preserve their secrecy and fight against mainstream society for survival. Many of these games, and their associated literature, cinema, television programs and computer games, feature identities in which the protagonist is perceived as a monstrous outcast but is, in reality a powerful, noble and beautiful creature that is misunderstood and hounded by a bigoted and ignorant bourgeoisie humanity. These virtual worlds and identities, reflect the experience of youth targeted by moral panics, powerless in the face of apparent ignorance and hostility from authority figures, desperate for personal space and needing to develop models and symbols associated with empowerment and personal strength.
The crusade against RPG's is particularly insightful as it contains elements that are clearly symptomatic of a moral panic yet remains atypical, as far as experiences of moral panics go, which set it apart from campaigns against Mod's, Rockers, Hippies and Punks. The RPG moral panic was indeed the product of a generalisation against an existing sub-culture implanted from outside according to overt generalisations, publicised through the mass media, based on anecdotal urban myths rather than verifiable evidence and was pursued by "right thinking people" who used their social standing to attack perceived sites of deviance. However, unlike most moral panics the anti-RPG crusade was almost entirely the product of campaigning by a group of like-minded political organizations with little general support outside of the publicity organization like B.A.D.D could generate. This is clearly illustrated by the extent to which anti-RPG sentiment amongst the general public collapsed in the wake of the discrediting of B.A.D.D in 1992. (At the TASA conference I presented this paper a colleague from New York researching into campaigns against Gays argued that that campaign collapsed in mid 1992 as well, a phenomenon she attributes to the coming into power of the Clinton administration and the subsequent loss of funding and political/mass media support to fundamentalist Christian organizations. This is a claim which, in relation to the crusade against RPG's requires significant further investigation.)
Another aspect of the RPG moral panic is that unlike Punks and Hippies there was little common cultural identity, and certainly little political agenda, by gamers. Until the shared experience of moral panic and high publicity brought them together as a sub-culture with a shared cultural identity RPG gamers were simply hobbyists. To a large extent a common political and cultural identity was a product of being targeted by a moral panic. Even today there is little evidence of a "gamer politics" or polarised socio-political identity as demonstrated by other sub-cultures such as Punks, Hippies and Metal heads etc.
The shift to the Gothic in the wake of the collapse of the moral panic is particularly interesting. Essentially, this can be interpreted as a response to years of self-censorship and concerns about negative publicity by gamers regarding counter cultural imagery and mature themes through the impact of moral panics. This reasoning can also be applied to the resurgence of LARP's in the mid 1990's. It is also indicative of the shifting age demographic of gamers and the desire to explore more adult themes that resonate more closely with the issues of an older gaming population. Another crucial issue regarding the shift to the pseudo gothic in gaming is the extent to which the experience of being targeted by a moral panic created an environment in which gamers identified with images perceived to be inimical to a Christianity caricatured as a rampant cultural conservatism, saccharine morality and fundamentalist dogma. This reversal of darker images into an empowering "anti-hero" model of cultural values is, in this light, not dissimilar from the popularisation of witchcraft in the 1980's as the innocent victims of church and mainstream persecution. One can also see these models in the popularisation of comic heroes such as the "X-Men" and "Hulk" as an expression of empowerment, alienation and isolation from the cultural mainstream.
In the final analysis RPG's, though virtual, are intrinsically a reflection of the socio-cultural issues and tensions of life in the real world. As the experience of gamers in relation to mainstream culture has shifted so too have the symbols, images and identities utilised by gamers to express themselves through the medium of gaming. As Kyna Foster argues,
Ultimately, the formation of a shared gamer identity is ultimately due to the experience of moral panic and thus the cultural identity created forthwith is intrinsically linked to that experience translated metaphorically through the medium of the game world and its expression in play.
 Buetell, Jack. "Adventure Games are on a roll." pp 1-12. Dancey, Ruan. "Adventure Game Industry Market Research Summary." Wizards of the Coast Corporation. Available online at http://www.thegpa.org/wotc_demo.shtml[back]
 Erkison, Erik. Childhood and Society. Norton: New York. 1958. pp 222 & 262. Fine, Gary. Shared Fantasy Role Playing Games as Social Worlds. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. 1983. pp181-204. Turkle, Sherry. Life on the Screen. Simon & Schuster: New York. 1995. pp 180-203.[back]
 A reasonably comprehensive study of jargon and slang amongst gamers is available in the essay "Folkspeech by Role playing gamers." Available online at http://www.upl.cs.wisc.edu/~woodelf/mystuff/essays/RPGlingo.html[back]
 For more information on Turner's theory of liminal, liminoid, anti-structure and communitas please see, Turner, Victor. From Ritual to Theatre: The Human Seriousness of Play. Performing Arts Journal Publications: New York. 1982. pp 20-70[back]
 These results come from a survey I conducted whilst during fieldwork at gaming conventions and stores. This was inspired by, and received approximately the same results as, a survey and analysis conducted by Dr Kathryn white on online RPGs available online at http://www.womengamers.com/articles/gender.html See also Turkle, Sherry. Life on the Screen. pp 212-226 regarding online roleplaying and gender swapping.[back]
 Dear, William. The Dungeon Master. New York: Ballantine. 1985. pp 17, 20-22, 163, 316; Hately, Shaun. "The Disapearence of James Dallas Egbert III. Pt 1 & 2. Places to Go People to Be. Issue 6 & 7. February & April 1999; Hicks, Robert. In Pursuit of Satan: Police and the Occult. Buffalo: New York. 1991. pp 287-288. Stackpole, Michael. The Pulling Report. A report compiled on the activities of Patricia Pulling and B.A.D.D by the Game Manufacturers Association of America (GAMA) pp 19-21. Available online from http://www.rpgstudies.net/stackpole/pulling_report.html[back]
 Stackpole, Michael. The Pulling Report. A report compiled on the activities of Patricia Pulling and B.A.D.D by the Game Manufacturers Association of America (GAMA) pp 19-21. Available online from http://www.rpgstudies.net/stackpole/pulling_report.htm[back]
 Abyeta, Suzzanne and Forest, James. "Relationship of Role-playing Games to Self Reported Criminal Behaviour" Psychological Reports. Vol 69. 1992. pp 1187-1192; DeRenard, Lisa and Kline, Linda. "Alienation and the Game Dungeons and Dragons". Psychological Reports. Volume 66. 1990. pp 1219-1222; Douse, Neil and Manus, I.C. "The Personality of Fantasy Gamers". British Journal of Psychology. Vol 84. 1993. pp 50[back]
 Paulos, John. Innumeracy: Mathematical Illiteracy and its Consequences. New York: Vintage Books. pp 168-169; Freeman, Jeff. "The Truth: On Sale Now." The Skeptic. Volume 9. No 5. May 1995. pp 1-11. Phelan, Steven. "Psychological study on fantasy role-playing gamers."[back]
 Bromley, David. The Satanic Cult Scare. Culture and Society. Vol 28. May 1991; Clifton, Chas. The Three Faces of Satanism: A Close Look at the Satan Scare. Gnosis. Vol 12 Summer 1989. pp 9-18; Cardwell, Paul. The Attacks of Role-Playing Games; Hicks, Robert. In Pursuit of Satan: Police and the Occult; Hicks, Robert. None Dare Call it Reason: Kids Cults and Common Sense. Law Enforcement Section Department of Criminal Justice Services. Virginian Department for Childrens 12th Annual Legislative Forum, Ranoke. September 22, 1989; Hicks, Robert. Satanic Cults: A Sceptical View of the Law Enforcement Approach. Criminal Justice Analyst. 11th Annual Crime Prevention Seminar[back]
 Gagne, Kenneth. Moral Panics Over Youth Culture and Video Games. Unpublished dissertation submitted to the Worchester Polytechnic Institute. 27-4-2001. p 22. Available online at www.gamebits.net/other/mqp.html[back]
 See Dragon Magazine in particular. Issues 111, 122, 125, 134, 138, 146, 148, 151, 158, 160, 162, 171, 181, 182 & 194 for examples on the debate within the RPG community regarding perceived harassment and prejudice[back]
 Various sources including: Kenzerco forums (accessed 30 October 2003); RPGnet open forums (accessed 11 May 2003); Cardwell, Paul. "The Attacks on Role-Playing Games." The Skeptical Inquirer. Winter 1994. pp 161-162; Letters to the Editor. Dragon Magazine. August 1990. p36.[back]
 Bromley, David. The Satanic Cult Scare. ; Cardwell, Paul. The Attacks of Role-Playing Games; Hicks, Robert. In Pursuit of Satan: Police and the Occult; Hicks, Robert. None Dare Call it Reason: Kids Cults and Common Sense. 1989; Hicks, Robert. Satanic Cults: A Sceptical View of the Law Enforcement Approach.; Stackpole, Michael. The Pulling Report; Nathan, Debbie. Inside the Satan Scare Industry- The Devil Made them do it While nations cops chase Demons taxpayers get burned. http://www.theroc.org/roc-mag/textarch/roc-08/roc08-06.html ; Freeman, Jeff. The Truth: On Sale Now.[back]
 A copy of Chess: The Subtle Sin - Should Christians Play Chess is available online at http://elephanticity.250x.com/xianches.html. A copy of Should Christians play Dungeons and Dragons? is available online at http://www.chick.com/articles/frpg.asp[back]
 A copy of Jesus Kills is available online at http://www.pvponline.com/rants_jesus.php3 Other satirical variations of Dark Dungeons can be located at http://www.planetadnd.com/humor/DD-MST3K/index.php and http://www.rpg.net/252/quellen/darkdungeons/pp02-03.html (defunt) and http://www.fecundity.com/darkdung/setup.html the Jack T Chick publication Dark Dungeons is available at http://www.chick.com/reading/tracts/0046/0046_01.asp[back]
 For more information on James Wyatt and Tracy Hickmans approach to morality and RPGs please see James Wyatts homepage on http://www.aquela.com/roleplaying/r&r/index.html and Tracy Hickmans essay on games and Christian morality on http://www.trhickman.com/Intel/Essays/Ethic1.html[back]
 A reasonably comprehensive study of jargon and slang amongst gamers is available in the essay Folkspeech by Role playing gamers. Available online at http://www.upl.cs.wisc.edu/~woodelf/mystuff/essays/RPGlingo.html[back]
 Whilst Dancey, Ruan. (Adventure Game Industry Market Research Summary. Wizards of the Coast Corporation. Available online at http://www.thegpa.org/wotc_demo.shtml ) argues that the number of women gamers is 20% Kyna Foster argued that her research indicated 37% of gamers were women and that Dancys research is flawed by his non acknowledgement of women over 35. She instead claims the number that should be indicated in the Wizards of the Coast study is 37.5%. Foster, Kyna. Dungeons, Dragons and Gender: Role-playing Games and the Participation of Women. Paper presented at the 42nd annual meeting of the western social sciences Association in Washington D.C April 26th 2000.[back]
 Horror writer and film reviewer Feo Amante makes someinsightful, if hyperbolic, comments regarding the close parallels between the representations of Vampire and Werewolf horror and the experience of alienated youth in American Secondary schools especially as represented in Vampire: The Masquerade and in films such as Underworld[back]
Dr David Waldron is a lecturer in social science and the humanities at the University of Ballarat in Victoria Australia. Normally he specialises in paganism, witchcraft, medieval history, youth studies and health sociology but for this article he is also a closet role-player and has been since he first purchased Dungeons and Dragons basic set when he was 10 years old.
David is actively researching in this area and is keen to hear any comments on this article.
[Next Article] [Previous Article] [This Issue] [Home]