[N.B.: Questions about the nature of RPGs themselves are answered on the About RPGs page.]
Rather than make this page far too long by duplicating the Studies & Literature page in the form of citations attached to the following answers, we recommend that anyone seeking scholarly backing for our claims check that page.
1. The Attacks
Do RPGs cause crime?
No. Not only has the so-called “D&D Defense,” where a defendant claims that “RPGs made me do it,” never stood up in court in those cases where a criminal was desperate enough to try it, but there has been no scientific evidence of any such connection; all scholarly research on the subject shows no connection between RPGs and crime.
Do RPGs cause suicide/mental problems?
No. As with RPGs and crime and RPGs and Satanism, there is no evidence supporting this claim, and this lack of evidence has been cited by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and Health & Welfare Canada as proof that RPGs are safe. Additionally, a variety of studies have shown gamers to be psychologically normal. Finally, there have been studies that suggest that blocking fantasy (in the general sense of avoiding daydreams, etc.) is more likely to lead to psychosis than engaging in fantasy activities is.
However, it should be understood that a person who has a pre-existing mental problem (e.g., difficulty distinguishing between fantasy and reality) may find that an RPG interacts with their problem, even though it is not the cause of the problem. This is not unique to RPGs, as any work of fiction, whether novels or television, could also interact with such a problem. This interaction will not necessarily be harmful if properly supervised; role-playing, a general category into which role-playing games fall, is even used as a healing tool in psychotherapy.
Do RPGs promote Satanism/paganism?
No. This claim generally rests upon two items:
- Fantasy RPGs (FRPGs) tend to feature worlds with pantheons of gods. However, it should be realized that RPGs are explicitly works of fiction and make no claims regarding reality. Additionally, worlds with invented gods do not normally include Satan, as they are non-Christian settings, and any supernatural evils that are depicted in them are universally depicted as unpleasant, dangerous beings whose worship is unrewarding if not extremely dangerous.
- FRPG worlds normally feature magic. Once again, RPGs are explicitly works of fiction and make no claims regarding reality. The magic does not work in real life and does not claim to. For a more humorous counterpoint to this claim, see The Escapist‘s “Spellcasting 101” page at http://www.theescapist.com/random011102.htm.
It should be noted these attacks only apply to fantasy settings, not to RPGs in general; there are plenty of non-fantasy RPGs out there as well. RPGs are religiously neutral and enforce a claim of unreality upon their settings. (They would not be called “role playing games” otherwise.) It should also be noted that a few game authors and more than a few players are clergy. Finally, there are a number of studies and reports that show that RPGs have nothing to do with Satanism and would not make a good recruiting tool for Satanists.
2. From Parents, Bosses, et al.
Should I let my child play an RPG?
Maybe. There is no hard and fast answer to this question, as RPGs and individual games are as varied and different as the people designing and playing them; not all are designed or run with children in mind. RPGs as a category of games have no inherent dangers, so you should treat them just like any other recreational activity. Assuming that your child wants to play—we are not advocating forced recreation (and peer pressure counts as “forced”)—the following are the sorts of questions that you should be asking about any of your child’s activities, RPGs included:
- Find out whom your child will be playing with, particularly who will be running the game. (A group may decide to have that responsibility rotate between two or more members.)
- If the child is young enough to require adult supervision, find out who will provide that.
- Ask what sort of game the group will be playing: the setting, the characters’ goals, etc. (Players of a game that is just starting may need a session or more to make those decisions.)
- Find out when the game sessions will be and how your child will be getting to them.
- In the unfortunate circumstance that your child is seeing a counselor or psychologist who has indicated that they should be consulted with before any new social or imaginative activity, do so.
If you are still uncertain after the above, you should discuss your concerns with your child. You could also talk with the person running the game or an adult who will be present. You may even ask to read the rules for the game or to observe a session; no responsible gaming group should turn down such a request. In the end, it is your decision as to whether or not the game will be appropriate for your child and the circumstances reasonable.
Should I let my employee (or whomever) be involved with RPGs?
Unless they are asking the company to support it in some manner, it doesn’t involve you or the company. That being said, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t allow it; RPGs should be treated just like any other non-work-related recreational activity.
3. From Players, GMs, Shopkeepers, et al.
How do I get a parent to let their child play my game?
You might not be able to; whether or not they’re correct in their concerns, it’s the parent’s right to make that decision, and they might not be open to changing their mind. That being said, here’s how to try:
Respond to the parent’s concerns. If you don’t know how, find the parent’s question/concern on this site and give our response to it. (Don’t be afraid to hand out this site’s address, too.) If you don’t know what the parent’s concern is, that’s your first problem; you have to talk to people. Often all someone needs is to have a real person talk to them and reassure them. If you’re a GM, we suggest calling the parent and saying something along the lines of “Hi, my name is [name], and I’m currently [running/organizing] a game of [game]. May I ask what your concerns are regarding [child]’s playing with the group?”
Be prepared to be flexible if necessary. This goes for your GMing style, your adventures, and your player base. One parent worried about the violence level may just need reassuring that the violence will not be graphic. Another may need an assurance that the characters will be able to solve many or most of their problems nonviolently, even if that means that you’ll have to rewrite the adventure or campaign. If a parent makes a demand that you aren’t willing to meet, you need to be willing to not have their child in your game; it’s better to be one player short than to risk the parent taking legal action against you, not to mention the PR damage it would cause gaming.
How do I get my parent to let me play a RPG?
This is really the same question as above except that you may need to divide the talking between yourself and the GM. Also, don’t burn any bridges; you will get too old for parental interference soon enough, no matter how long it may seem now, but family ties are difficult to repair once damaged.
Should I mention RPGs during a job interview?
Doing so may cost you a job offer due to employer bias or ignorance, but in the case of bias it may be better to find out about it before you’re hired. Thus:
If you are expecting multiple job offers or expect that your hobby will be evident at work, feel free; this may help you avoid working for an intolerant boss, especially one that could sabotage your future career through bad performance reviews or worse.
If you need to do everything possible to find a job and your hobby won’t be evident at work, it’s best to avoid it. This is particularly true when answering questions that are not about your hobby, as it is not very impressive to answer a question with a reference to RPGs and then discover that the interviewer has no idea what you’re talking about.
4. Why Care and How to Help
Why care about attacks on RPGs when there are so many more serious problems out there?
It is perfectly correct to say that there are a great many more important issues than role-playing games. There are a variety of arguments to be made as to why the existence of large injustices does not mean that it’s okay to ignore the small injustices, but perhaps those are the wrong arguments. Let’s start with this, instead: What makes you think that our members don’t work to correct the large injustices as well? And if we do work to correct the large ones, what is wrong about our getting together to correct a small one in our spare time?
None of us particularly feel the need to flash our activism credentials about, and even if we did, CAR-PGa is not the place to do it; CAR-PGa tries to remain politically neutral on non-RPG subjects to avoid alienating half of our potential audience. Furthermore, we shouldn’t have to justify our attempts to help others to anyone. If we want to help others defend their hobby against charges that it causes murder, suicide, and Satanism, that’s our choice. Someone has to do it. And someone does have to do it.
Gamers have been libeled in a major newspapers and in the movie theaters and on national television. Police conducting a murder investigation once questioned a child in a marathon interrogation without allowing access to his parents or a lawyer—which is unconstitutional on several counts—on the sole evidence that he played a role-playing game despite the fact that there were already reports of a better suspect. People can lose their jobs for being involved with a role-playing game. All of this causes us no little amount of disgust and moral indignation, and if we can do something to prevent those things from ever happening again, we’ll consider it time well spent.
Finally, of course, there is the fact that part of the point of this website is to give other people the tools to defend themselves so that we don’t have to do quite so much of the work ourselves. After all, we can’t let this issue take time away from more important ones.
Why care about people in prison being denied RPGs?
[The following is a slightly-edited version of a reply to this question on CAR-PGa’s mailing list:]
If the question of prisoners and RPGs could be decided entirely separately from any of the necessarily interrelated issues, I might be inclined to agree with you; I’m not particularly concerned with the specific forms of entertainment allowed prisoners. Of course, as you have yourself seen, the issue cannot be decided without reference to bias, dangerous legal precedent, and a million other things that I do care about:
As a person who wants to be able to enjoy RPGs and not be persecuted, I object to it being held as a matter of law that RPGs are dangerous.
As a citizen desiring of police protection, I object to permitting the criminal justice system to be biased without cause and to act on those biases, because law enforcement harassing the wrong persons both is the opposite of the protection I desire and can help criminals get away.
As a librarian, I am ethically required to fight censorship. (This one doesn’t apply to most people, obviously.)
As an activist, I think that teaching people that it’s not okay to be discriminatory even in small matters will make them less likely to be discriminatory in large ones and that the reverse isn’t true.
As a believer in the rule of law, I object when the legal underpinnings of a specific ruling are not merely ethically wrong but legally incorrect.
I fight this fight because if I don’t, who will? It’s not like this is a large cause where there are plenty of activists, many of them with a better understanding of the system than me; I’m needed here more than elsewhere.
If you find yourself in any of the above categories, I would encourage you to change your opinion–not about the issue, but about the fight.
M. Alan Thomas II
How can I help?
Join CAR-PGa. We don’t charge dues, just work for the cause (i.e., helping out).