I've spoken in depth before of the prejudices against those who play video games in our culture. In some people's minds (read, assholes), gamers are all wasting their time when they should be doing their homework. If they are too old for homework, then they are peter pan-types who desparately need to grow up and/or become miserable like the rest of the country. Most of you can agree that this line of thinking is complete bullshit. Of my circle of friends, I may be the most voracious gamer but I am not alone.
But there is one game for which I receive plenty of scorn and derision. My wife Mephistopholes, god bless her, is the worst culprit. She practically holds up a cross every time I tell her that I'll be playing that night. But even my dorkiest friends shudder when I mention that I play *gasp* Dungeons and Dragons.
I don't get it.
I mean, I suppose that most of this bad reputation comes from the whole D&D backlash in the early 80s. Two suicides, 1 in 1979 and 1 in 1982, were blamed in the press on the victim's obsession with D&D. Never mind that these 2 kids were extremely sick mentally, were drug-addicts and exhibited all of the warning signs typical of suicides months before their deaths. No, let's blame it all on a game that not many people knew about at the time, that makes more sense than placing any kind of responsibility with the parents.
One of these mothers, Pat Pulling, did more for damaging D&D's public perception than anything else by forming Bothered About Dungeons and Dragons (BADD), an effective propaganda machine. Of course, the tactics employed by this radical group are just as much in question as their stance against role playing games. They were thrown out of courtrooms throughout the 80s and even committed mild brainwashing of an accused murderer, Darren (not Paul) Molitor, into releasing a statement which blamed D&D for his actions. PS. I got all this from a quick Google search which brought up this page.
While BADD was eventually discredited and dissolved, the attitude of the Christian conservatives and nervous mothers across the country were irrecovably aligned against a game where the players pretend to be fantasy fighters and elves. I'm not sure how religion got mixed up into it but you need only read this Jack Chick pile of shit to figure out how easy it is to damn something you know nothing about. (The advocation of burning books in that comic is more creepy than D&D if you ask me)
Growing up in an extremely Catholic environment (I was forbidden to watch the Simpsons, MTV, Steve Martin), I was never able to play D&D as a hobby. Having been an avid reader of fantasy since my introduction to the Hobbit, I was fascinated with a game that would let me be a part of the great epic stories I was reading. I guess it was the writer in me wanting to imagine wonderful, complex worlds and create characters which would have compelling stories to tell. At any rate, my mother, being the impressionable Catholic she was, listened to all the warmongering of the above-mentioned crazies and did everything she could to discourage my interest.
I can understand my mother having a attitude predilection against D&D, my mother is nothing if not predictable, but I don't understand my recent conversations with my peers. The trickle-down effect from people like my mother to New York City hipsters is quite surprising.
Let me try to explain what exactly happens when one plays D&D, to avoid any confusion. One dude is a DM and he's the one who, in effect, writes the story. He figures out what challenges we will face over the course of an adventure. The players, which have invariably formed some kind of team like The Fellowship of the Ring and have as many disparate parts, then go about solving the mystery, defeating the monster or finding the treasure, whatever the case may be. This is done by saying stuff like, "I search for secret doors" or "I attack." Whenever something like that comes up where there is a chance for failure, a die is rolled. That's it. The players must continue to communicate, work together, and problem-solve until the goal is reached.
It's important to keep in mind that D&D is just a game. It is no different than poker, or chess, or Monopoly, or Pictionary, or fucking anything made by Milton Bradley. Sometimes there is a board or map which you can place miniatures, but that is really just an aid to help the players visualize their relative positions. The majority of the game is played in your imagination, like a book.
Which is what appeals to me about role-playing games, really. It is different from its computer or console counterparts which show you exactly where your chracter is at any given moment. Traditional pen &paper D&D forces you to imagine what the DM is describing to you, which, if he is worth his salt, can be as interesting as any novel. But unlike a book, I am able to act in this imaginary world as if I was a character.
When I talk about playing D&D with my peers, I invariably get the same response. They think it's somehow terribly uncool. "Only dorks with no friends play D&D. You don't want to associate with some pimply-faced nerds, do you?" My own Mephistopholes has gone so far as to accuse all roleplayers as gay faggots who all want to penetrate my virgin ass. Why would I want to spend my time with such losers? "Why are you such a loser?" "It's weird." "Do you all prance about in costume casting spells at each other?"
The closemindedness is somehow frightening to me. Have we not graduated past all of that prejudice when we graduated from high school? Are you all as impressionable as my Mother and the Christian right?
Let me dispell a few demons: The handful of people I've met who play RPGs in New York have not been weirdos or rapists or devil-worshippers. They have been mostly male 20-40, professionals, about 50% are either married or married with children. One works in the administration of U.S. congressman. One was a teacher in a Manhattan school for 20 years before becoming a live-at-home Dad. Two were illustrators, one just staring out and one accomplished. In short, they are kinda like me. They are on average more intelligent, better spoken, and more well-read than the kind of people I meet at my boring job full of people who "are normal."
We don't sacrifice animals while playing. There are no occult symbols drawn on the floor or demon summonings going on. There is no mind-controlling or brainwashing from death cults or homosexuals. D&D is just a bunch of guys sitting around playing a game they are all interested in.
Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to finish making my half-elf ranger.