Geoff's Rant about Games and the Media

Warning: The following is my opinion, and I get a bit steamed about things like this. It is all my opinion, and not anyone else's, unless by their choice. If you don't like it, that's your opinion - you are as entitled to it as I am to mine. I respect other's opinions, an expect you to do the same.

A lot of people have the opinion that games such as Dungeons and Dragons (D and D), Magic: the Gathering, and such are either evil or the bane of today's society. The complaints range from "Encouraging Demon Worship" to "Inciting violence and lack of respect for human life".


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These games are games, nothing more. If one were to look through any D and D book, they would find that there is no encouragement anywhere for anyone to try and summon a demon or take a life. In fact, recent editions of the game don't even mention the word "Demon" or "Devil" in them, due to bad press! Yes, the game does include supernatural nasties and a combat system in its works - but no where does it tell people to do such things in real life.

You see, it's a game. It's supposed to be for recreation only, and when it's done you put it away and deal with the real world. Is Tom Cruise really a vampire because he played one in a movie? No! Is Arnold Schwartzenegger really a cold-blooded killer because he kills in his movies? No! The problem is that people don't distinguish between what is fantasy and what is real. This mistake is made by two kinds of people - those who commit crimes that are linked to the games, and those that over-zealously blame the games for the problem in the first place.

Yes, I admit atrocities happen. I will not deny it. But the problem is not the games, it is the person who cannot tell the game form the real world. The game does not cause the problem, but is something used by the person. If a kitchen knife is used to kill someone, do we blame the knife, and go after the knife company? No! The knife was not the killer, the person was. In the same way, a game is not the culprit, but the person using it is.

The problem comes down to what a lot of problems in America, and the world in general, come down to: People. People look for something to blame other than themselves. People never think their friend / son / boyfriend could do something this bad, so some thing else had to do it to him. And people who don't know anything about a game target it as a scapegoat, because it's easy and they don't know any better. If they bothered to actually read it, or (Heaven Forbid!) play it, they would see it was just a game.

This may sound odd, but Guns and Drugs don't hurt people. It's people who use them who do. A gun is incapable of killing someone unless someone pulls the trigger (Accidents do happen, but even those are usually because someone didn't use it right or treat it properly). Drugs wouldn't be such a problem if society didn't pressure people into using them. These things cannot hurt people on their own - they need someone to use them. Should we get rid of them? If we do, where do we stop? What about the above kitchen knife? And your letter opener? What about a razor? And the aspirin you have in your cabinet - you could overdose someone with it. And what drugs are to be banned? Some help cure people. The answer is not removing these items, but using them correctly. And that means getting people to use them correctly, and not wanting to use them the wrong way.

I'm not saying that all guns, and drugs, or games are pure and innocent. Fully-automatic Assault Rifles loaded with Cop Killer Bullets is overkill for deer hunting. Similarly, Crack has no medical value. Some games out there are horrid, but they are rare and can be easily spotted for what they are. But the mainstream of role-playing games is meant for fun, not for corruption, like so many people believe.

So how can we tell? How can we prevent problems? By looking at the people. Is Joey depressed? Does he have problems telling TV from school? Does he not have a healthy social life, interacting with other people? There's a hint that he might have a problem. Why is he reading those gaming books all the time? Most likely, because no one else gives him any attention, and he's using the books as an escape. He's using them the wrong way.

What can we do? Hopefully, people will notice something is wrong. If not his parents, then a teacher, or a neighbor, or a friend. Get Joey to interact. Fix his problem in the real world, and don't blame the symptoms. Is he emotionally disturbed? Bullied at school? Domestic abuse? Parental neglect? This last one is a BIG problem - how many parents actually care about what their kid does in his spare time? How many get involved? Do they ask what he is reading, or do they just drop $20 on the table when their kid cries for a book? Go into a hobby shop and look some time. You'd be amazed how many parents have no idea what they are buying. Not because it's hidden, or disguised as a game, but because they never bother to look.

On the subject of "Good" and "Evil", it's a different story. These games often deal with occult or "bad" things - demons, vampires, corrupt corporations, etc. But these things are included for a very conscious reason. They balance out the game, and give it a goal - to defeat the evil. Where would St. George be without a Dragon to defeat? Where would Luke Skywalker be without his arch nemesis, Darth Vader? Movies such as The Exorcist would not have a point without demons and devils. My point is, these games include "bad" things so that players can defeat them. If one looks at a D and D book, they will find a majority of the player's options geared towards defeating evil - in fact, most games include a heavy dose of "good", too. Paladins (Holy Knights with clerical abilities) are a mainstay of the D and D game. Magic: The Gathering includes Angels, quotes from the Koran, and cads for Piety, Fasting, and even the Wrath of God. If opponents of such games skip this and point out only the bad things they see, one should mention to them that The Bible contains detailed descriptions of Demons and Devils, sinners, and acts of evil. Let's face it - Christianity would not be so geared towards going to Heaven if Hell did not await below. And most of today's literature would be boring and pointless if there was no conflict between good and evil, right and wrong. That conflict needs to be there for the game to be a challenge, to have a purpose. What fun is there in protecting the kingdom if there is nothing to protect it from? Granted, you can have a game that is purely based on "accidents" and coincidences, but it loses its appeal, as the struggle is not as great. Lots of literary works deal with this struggle - from fairy tales about the big bad wolf to epics such as Dracula, The Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, and the Bible, the ultimate struggle of Good vs. Evil.

The Media is another culprit when it comes to games - they want a story, and so they cover the side that sells the best. Have you ever seen a positive news story about games? The Media tends to ride, and reinforce, popular beliefs. In the case of games, they don't bother to see what it is they are actually doing an article on. They find a picture of a demon, get some lead miniatures of half-naked women, and air their story. They pass by the rest of the fabulous art that has been inspired of saints and angels, and knights in shining armor, and the masses of figures that are a fun hobby to paint and in no way provocative. One of the worst cases I've seen is a local paper stating that Magic: the Gathering encourages racial strife because of stereotypes for White and Black. They didn't even realize (or maybe omitted, for the sake of their argument) that there are other colors in the game. To make matters worse, they were wrong - White is not "passive" - it's theme is healing and life, but it has some of the most devastating attacks in the game. Black is not "Aggressive" - it's theme is darkness and things that go bump in the night, and worse. And wile this may sound conspicuously like "Demon Worship", consider the cards that involve Angels, the Wrath of God, Holy Light, and other biblical acts.

Yes, I have a grudge here - I've had people insult me and assume I'm weird because of news stories. If I ever see a positive story run by a news show or paper of it's own will (i.e. - not backed by a company), I'll apologize for this paragraph. Hell, I'd be grateful even if it was sponsored by a company. As long as the truth is shown, not for the story, but because it is right.

I've been playing D and D since I was 10. I have had a LOT of fun. But I have never, ever, willingly hurt another person. I do not believe in Devil Worship (D and D), drinking someone's blood (Vampire), Sacrifices (Magic: the Gathering), and so on. I play the games, and when I am done, I put my imagination away and deal with the real world.

In fact, a lot of these games can be used for good, constructive purposes. Want to get a kid reading? I read J.R.R. Tolkien's The Hobbit on my own by the time I was 10. I devoured every book on Greek and Norse Mythology my school had. Is a background in classical mythology bad? Math became an interest to me when I began using dice - I needed math to play the game, and I found it interesting now that I had a reason to learn it.

These reasons pale in comparison to the true reason these games are written: social interaction. Role-Playing games are meant for people to get together, and interact. It encourages group efforts - if you work together to have fun, it's more fun for you. People interact to solve problems, and communicate to share ideas and experiences. Most games are like writing a play - you write a story about a character, but in this case it's a group effort. Is that so bad? In fact, it even helps a lot of people socially. I never would have met many of my friends if I had not played a game and met a new person.

What has to happen is people have to care, and interact. My parents asked me what I was reading, and read it for themselves. My dad still plays to this day. Teachers use Magic: the Gathering to teach math, probability, creative problem solving, economics and negotiation (trading cards with your friends), and even computer science (building a database to track cards). Know someone who is shy? Play a game with them, one on one. When they like it, bring a friend in. And son on, until they meet more people.

What it all comes down to is this: Games are not the problem, but a tool in the hands of people. People are the problem. If people would stop blaming their tools for their problems, it'd be a much more honest world, and those of us who want to have fun playing a game can do so without being harassed by the media and those who cant' see the game for what it really is.

Send Geoff your thoughts or comments. (No flames please - reasoning only!)