Photo from a prison in New Mexico by Flickr user Dana Gonzales.
It’s not like prisoners have a lot to do when they’re behind bars. You’d think playing a game or two to pass the time and stimulate the imagination would be pretty innocent, but the United States Court of Appeals doesn’t think so. The court ruled that prisoners in Wisconsin’s Waupun Correctional Facility can’t play the game.
Why? Because it promotes “gang-like” activity. Tuan Mai at Tom’s Style explains:
[The game] helps prisoners organize themselves into gangs that inhibit prison security. As ridiculous as this may sound, the Courts argued that the structure of the game mimics the organization of a gang and therefore promotes gang activity.
Bruce Muraski, disruptive group coordinator for the Waupun Correctional Institute in Wisconsin stated, “During D&D games, one player is denoted the ‘Dungeon Master.’ The Dungeon Master is tasked with giving directions to other players, which Muraski testified mimics the organization of a gang.”
The prisoner involved in the case, Kevin Singer, argued that the confiscation of D&D was a violation of his first amendment rights and that the game in no way promotes or encourages gang activity. Singer argues that it does the opposite and deters prisoners from joining gangs.
One way of looking at this is: D&D helps gamers form strong, cohesive social groups. Prisons don’t mind if prisoners get along, but they don’t want that camaraderie getting in the way of enforcing rules. On the outside, though, you’d want your D&D-playing kid to have a strong, loyal group of friends, right?
The gamers I have interviewed said that role-playing games were a social lifesaver. Many were loners who had no close friends until gaming helped them find like-minded people to play with. Connecting within the game led to connecting in real life, providing friendships that have lasted decades.
Of course, parents may worry that the close-knit social groups formed within RPGs might lead their kids into friendships with unsavory types who wind up being “bad influences.” Given that approximately 110% of gamers are hardcore nerds with (at best) half-developed social skills, the likelihood of kids falling in with a “bad crowd” in these games is pretty minimal.
I can’t speak to the kinds of prisoners who play RPGs — or whether those kinds of close friendships in prison ultimately cause trouble to lead to recidivism. But it does sound a bit silly for the courts to block the game on the grounds that it helps foster friendships.
Questions for those of you who play (or played) RPGs: did these games help you make friends? If so, do you think they were the “wrong crowd?” And were the games to blame?
And for parents: Do (or did) your kids play role-playing games? What, if anything, worried you about this hobby?