Wednesday, January 27, 2010

The game's the thing

Now, I'm clear on the concept that being in prison means not getting to do all the stuff you want to do.

It's part of what incarceration is all about.

And, as a principle, I don't think there's anything wrong with that.

Still, I'm having some difficulty following the specific reasoning of prison officials in Wisconsin and, more particularly, that of the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals: as reported in the New York Times, the latter have upheld a ban imposed by the former on the venerable role-playing game Dungeons & Dragons. (Via PZ)

As the Times helpfully explains to those readers who had better things to do with their adolescence:

Dungeons & Dragons players create fictional characters and carry out their adventures, often working together as a group, with the help of complicated rules.

The court rejected the appeal of Kevin Singer, 33, who is serving a life sentence for intentional homicide (he killed his sister's boyfriend with a sledgehammer, the magical properties of which were not specified), against the ban on all D&D materials in the prison.

The D&D ban is based upon security concerns:

Prison officials enacted the ban in 2004 after an inmate sent an anonymous letter expressing concern about Singer and three other inmates forming a ''gang'' focused around playing the game.

Singer was told by prison officials that he could not keep the materials because Dungeons & Dragons ''promotes fantasy role playing, competitive hostility, violence, addictive escape behaviors, and possible gambling,'' according to the ruling. The prison later developed a more comprehensive policy against all types of fantasy games, the court said. [Emphasis added.]

That list of negative side effects sounds rather similar to the reproaches I recall being leveled by Concerned Adults against the rather fervid devotion of my own 'gang' to such games during my wayward youth.

However, D&D's well-known advocacy of Satanism is a curious absence on this list of Very Bad Things.

(Source and discussion.)

Maybe they dropped this feature of the game in the third edition, which came out after my gaming activities has subsided. Shame, really: the human sacrifices were always the best part.

In any case, it would be hard to top a fondness for 'addictive escape behaviours' as a summation of my teenage mentality.

And I can see why you wouldn't want to promote that sort of thing to someone actually, you know, living in a dungeon.

But I would think that as long as prison officers stipulate that any party (sorry, 'gang') has to contain at least one lawful good cleric, I'm sure Mr. Singer and his fellow inmates wouldn't get up to too much mischief.

Those guys always were a drag.

Still, if Mr. Singer or other inmates in his position need any encouragement....

I recall that back in the day we managed to invent our own role-playing game, which we referred to as 'insanity in a box'--rather ironically, as there was no box. In fact, there weren't any rule-books and all we needed was a single six-sided die. (Some kind of randomizer is important in these contexts: should prison rules outlaw any kind of dice as well, I suppose one could get away with flipping a coin or drawing a card from a shuffled deck.)

The 'rules', such as they were, were a bit vague (no more than a short set of shared principles) and shifting (the game master had an inordinate amount of discretion to use at his whim). However, the only important thing was the creation of a good basic story in which our creative (and Dr.-Pepper-fuelled) interaction could unfold.

We managed to have a good time, even in spite of all the 'competitive hostility' (not to say Satanism) that resulted.

Die Gedanken, after all, sind frei.

No comments: