Despite public fears, kids who play Dungeons & Dragons don’t go crazy or kill people. Mostly, they grow up to be adults who hold down jobs, have families, and … play D&D. Photo by Flickr user super-structure.
As sales of console and PC games fall, gamers are turning increasingly to cheaper alternatives, including online games and role-playing games.
RPGs have never enjoyed the blockbuster success of video games, but they have maintained a steady following since their emergence in the 1970s with games such as Dungeons & Dragons. That game alone has sold some $1 billion in merchandise and has entertained more than 20 million people. Compare that to the Call of Duty video-game franchise, which has sold more than 55 million copies and raked in upwards of $3 billion.
And yet, there was as much panic in the heyday of RPGs as there is now. Campaigning by Bothered About Dungeons & Dragons (B.A.D.D.) coupled with scary fictionalized films like Mazes and Monsters — based on a sensationalized account of a single gamer who committed suicide — frightened many parents into believing that RPGs were a gateway to occult practice, psychosis, suicide, or homicide. While it’s true that a handful of RPG fans explored the occult, suffered mental-health issues, took their lives or killed someone else, the vast majority didn’t.
So what happened to them?
Well, some are still playing. Now in their late 30s to mid-40s, the original D&D generation has grown up, settled into jobs and careers, gotten married, raised kids, and are still enjoying a campaign now and then. Today, as in the 1980s, one of the primary reasons people enjoy such games is that it gives them a chance to spend time with like-minded friends:
That socialization is key, gamers said.
After spending all day on a computer at work, gamers Brandy Hamblet and Travis Fricke said that sometimes the last thing they want to do is go home and stare at a screen for entertainment.
“It’s nice to be able to sit down with several friends at once,” Hamblet said. “I probably wouldn’t get to see some of these people very often outside of the game. I get social-ed out pretty quickly, but that doesn’t happen with D&D. I always want to keep playing.”
People are sticking with — or returning to — RPGs for a variety of reasons: they’re less expensive than video games, for starters. Self-publishing has put many more games on the market, giving gamers an astounding number of choices. And new guidebooks for the old standbys have made them more accessible; some are aimed, specifically, at people who are burned out on video games. It seems to be working.
Still, you can find corners of the Internet — particularly religious corners — where opponents warn against the dangers of RPGs. By now, a longitudinal study of role-playing gamers, had one been conducted, would have found little statistical evidence of long-term harm.
Looking at these gamers, all grown up, disproves the fears that sparked a moral panic in the 1980s. What can we learn from this that can be applied to current and future moral panics? And will we ever be able to end such panics once and for all? Where kids are concerned, I suspect the answer will be no.