Tag Archives: role playing games

The myth of the deadly RPG (again)

The quasi-role-playing-game Fugitive earned some negative attention this week after a Phoenix-area teen, Andrew Arellanes, died while playing about a week ago.

While this is awful and tragic — as a parent, I don’t know how I could survive the loss of a child — I’d hate to see this turn into a blame game, with Fugitive bearing the brunt. Unfortunately, the TV news report in the link above is full of finger-pointing turns of phrase, describing Fugitive as “a dangerous game,” a “deadly game,” and a game with “a new element — a twist that caused Arellanes to fall to his death.”

Let’s be clear here: saying Fugitive caused this boy’s awful death is like saying a person who dies of a heart attack while strolling through a garden was killed by the garden.

Kids in other places are apparently playing Fugitive unsafely, but the game doesn’t require reckless behavior. There are many ways to play it wisely and safely. That’s up to the players.

We’ve been down this road before with role-playing games, but it’s clear that, for the most part, play-acting is really good for us. So go; play Fugitive. Be safe. Have fun.

Maine WoW gamer wins seat on state senate

Some of you may recall that I posted about Colleen Lachowicz last month, because the social worker’s history of playing World of Warcraft — and saying some very WoW-appropriate but violent-when-taken-out-of-context things — came up during her campaign for Maine’s state senate.

Well, she overcame that, along with ethics-violation claims, and trounced opponent (and incumbent) Tom Martin in last night’s election.

Hopefully this is a sign that the media-reading public knows better than to buy the idea that a candidate’s gaming passion could be a detriment to her leadership abilities.

How RPGs make you more confident & successful

In light of Monday’s post about the negative flak directed at Maine Senate candidate Colleen Lachowicz and her WoW alter-ego, I thought it would be nice to end the week with his video from the PBS “idea channel” on the benefits of role-playing games — and how they can make you a more confident and successful person.

It gets into all kinds of good stuff, from Martin Heidigger’s concept of thrownness to how gaming can help players overcome shyness, disorganization, and other attributes that don’t fly so well when you’re trying to succeed. Not to mention how to cope with the random chance that life tosses your way.

Remarkably, many of the comments on the video’s YouTube page are thoughtful and coherent (something YouTube comments aren’t known for). Most of them bolster the idea that RPG builds skills that are useful and important in everyday life. What do you think?

Is World of Warcraft good training for politics?

Maine candidate Colleen Lachowicz, left, and her WoW alter-ego, Santiaga.

Politics is dirty business; everyone knows that. It doesn’t have to be, but that’s how it is. As an elections draw near, rivals have the choice to debate each other on the issues, and set themselves apart from their opponents based on stance, or they can begin attacking every angle they can think of.

In Maine, social worker Colleen Lachowicz is running for a seat on the state senate this November. Her opponent is the incumbent, Republican Tom Martin. Over the past week, the Maine GOP sent out a mailer attacking Lachowicz for playing World of Warcraft. In it, the party questioned the candidate’s “disturbing alter-ego” and “bizarre double life.” The mailer quoted her saying in an online forum that she “likes to stab things”; a CBC report called her gameplay “violent.”

The GOP also paid for and is maintaining a blog related to her WoW gaming at colleensworld.com.

Here was Lachowicz’s response:

“I think it’s weird that I’m being targeted for playing online games. Apparently I’m in good company since there are 183 million other Americans who also enjoy online games. What’s next? Will I be ostracized for playing Angry Birds or Words with Friends?”

Oddly, while some of the comments the GOP quotes over at colleensworld.com focus on her (obviously joking) violent retorts, others focus on her politics. In one comment, she says she is “slacking at work” in order to call her Congressperson everyday (which proves what? That she’s a politically involved constituent?), that she considers her guild progressive or even socialist, that she calls conservatives “teabaggers.” She criticizes other politicians’ campaign tactics. She talks about protesting fundamentalist churches. Sure, she’s not the most tactful, but it’s not like she said she didn’t care about half of her electorate. In fact, many of these comments are from several years ago — likely well before she knew she’d run for public office.

It would be a grave mistake to think that someone who enjoys roleplaying in a video game would somehow bring any violent aspects of her gameplay into her daily life. It would also be a mistake to take someone seriously who thought this would actually happen.

It’s been a long time since role-playing has been shamed in such a public way. Long enough that it seemed like we were past this kind of misrepresentation of people’s hobbies. Back when people thought games were causing kids to commit suicide, it was understandable, even if it was false hysteria. This, however, is simply a smear campaign — and it says a great deal about the incumbent. Is he so insecure in his ability to win re-election that he has to drag his opponent through the mud on such irrelevancies? Are there no legitimate issues on the table in Maine this year? Like, say, same-sex marriage?

Meanwhile, Lachowicz has worked to the very top of World of Warcraft, and has done so as part of a team; arguably, this proves her ability to work alongside others to get things done. At least one commenter on a WoW forum thought so, too:

“I actually think being an Orc Assassination Rogue is great preparation for diving into American politics.”

Can RPGs bridge the Israel-Palestine conflict? Norway’s newest minister thinks so.

Heikki Holmås, Norway’s new minister of international development, believes role-playing games can solve real-world political problems.

Since the Israel-Palestine conflict began many decades ago, there’s one solution that probably hasn’t been tried: role-playing.

Heikki Holmås, Norway’s new minister of international development, is a lifelong D&D player and LARPer — and believes such games could help make headway in that longstanding struggle. He recently spoke with Imagonem, and mentioned a Norwegian LARP project taking place in Palestine this year:

I don’t know all the details, but there’s no doubt that you can put Israelis into the situation of the Palestinians and vice versa in a way that fosters understanding and builds bridges. Those things are an important aspect of role playing games which makes it possible to use them politically to create change.

His comments sound right in line with Jane McGonigal’s gospel about how gaming can solve real-world problems. Could it work?

Many remember when role-playing games were demonized after a pair of high-profile suicides by young men who played RPGs. Many of us laugh now at the idea that these games can harm people. In fact, they’re used in psychological settings, and in the classroom, because they’re recognized for powerful tools that teach players empathy. Given the chance to step into someone else’s personality and situation for a while, we learn a lot about them, whether they’re a treasure-hunting orc — or a lifelong political enemy.

Holmås had more to say about the benefits of role-playing games:

RPGs can be extremely relevant in putting people in situations they’re unfamiliar with. Save the Children have their refugee games. I have friends in Bergen who’ve run human rights-RPGs. But you have to be professional. You create real emotions when you play role playing games, real emotions that stick, he says.

That’s kind of the slightly scary aspect of role playing games, which has to be considered. At the same time, it’s what makes it possible for RPGs to change the world. LARP can change the world, because it lets people understand that humans under pressure may act differently than in the normal life, when you’re safe.

Keeping girls away from online games won’t protect them from anything — except success

It was all over for 33-year-old Ashlee Courtney Leibert when police found him naked, on top of a 12-year-old girl he’d met playing the online video game World of Warcraft.

He’s now being held in a Michigan jail on charges of third-degree sexual assault and sexual abuse by a person in a position of trust.

According to the Charleston Daily Mail, Leibert and the girl met while playing the highly popular online role-playing game, and were in contact for about 5 months before the assault. He continued to pursue her even after she told him she was 12. He told deputies he continued the relationship because “their love was so strong.”

The night of the assault, Leibert drove several hours from his home near Detroit to the girl’s home in Buffalo. They left in his car. She was reported missing Sunday morning, and that’s when police found them, parked on a side road in Buffalo.

While this incident is in every way awful, the police led the reporter (and readers) to exactly the wrong conclusion:

“People need to be aware that this is something that goes on every day,” [First Lt. Eric] Hayzlett [of the Putnam Sheriff’s Office] said. “We encourage parents to monitor their children’s activities on the Internet and make sure their children are aware that there are people out there with bad intentions.”

These kinds of incidents do occasionally happen, but they’re not that common — that’s why they’re newsworthy. But an isolated incident like this, blown out of proportion, can make parents (especially technophobe parents) unreasonably frightened about what their kids are doing online. While there are many users on World of Warcraft — 10.2 million, as of December 2011 — the vast majority of them are not child predators, just as most people in everyday society are not child predators.

Hayzlett is right in one respect: it’s important to teach kids to watch out for people with bad intentions, and how to deal with such people. It’s not clear whether the Buffalo girl was taught such things. But World of Warcraft — and the Internet — are not to blame.

Moreover, there could be a temptation here to keep girls away from computers, the Internet, and video games. Science overwhelmingly agrees that this would be the wrong thing to do. Numerous studies reveal that this can harm girls’ willingness to embrace technology — and can close off many opportunities to them later in life. A report by Innovate’s Richard Van Eck finds:

Game play in schools can impact attitudes toward technology and possibly influence career choices. If girls in particular are exposed to a variety of games, they may find that there are games they enjoy, and this perception alone may convince them that technology is relevant to them. Similarly, game design in the classroom shows both boys and girls that technology-related careers, like those in the fields of science and mathematics, often involve a wide variety of activities and skills. As a consequence, both boys and girls may begin to believe that there is room for them in these fields.

There are many other benefits for girls as well. A Rutgers study finds:

From their observations of girls playing computer and video games, Inkpen et al. (1994) concluded that “the confidence levels of [selected study participants] affected their playing abilities and their willingness to solve problems through trial and error” (p. 396). When the girls in their study doubted their abilities, they were less likely to tackle math problems embedded in games, and they had less success in completing the games. In a similar vein, Wilson (2002) found that computer comfort level was the single best predictor of a high grade in an undergraduate computer science course.

That describes some of the benefits of video games in general, but what about World of Warcraft in particular? WoW is the most popular game today in which kids can role-play — they can be various heroes, or even villains — to see what that’s like. The psychological benefits of role-playing are well-known by now, and include such things as the opportunity to problem-solve and learn what different personalities are like; perfect explorations for the adolescent mind.

WoW isn’t perfect, and it probably isn’t for everyone. But it would be wrong to forbid girls from playing it on the grounds that they might encounter a sexual predator there. Instead, we must give girls the tools they need to recognize such predators and deal with them appropriately, as this Georgia girl surely was:

Popular live-action zombie game accidentally summons ghosts of school-shootings past

The idea of playing zombies is a popular one. But did a group at NCSU (not pictured) take it too far? Photo by Flickr user rodolpho.reis.

Last week, officials at North Carolina State University went on alert after two students reported seeing someone with a gun on campus.

The sightings happened during a game of Humans vs. Zombies, which took place on campus grounds. The campus did not go on lockdown. Also, nobody located the “gunman” or the item witnesses thought was a gun. Was it a toy weapon? Or did they mistake some other object for a gun? In a slideshow of HVZ games at the New York Times, some players are wearing and carrying toy weapons, so it’s possible.

According to the Humans vs. Zombies web site, the game was founded at Goucher College in 2005. It spread quickly, and is now played at more than 650 colleges and universities, high schools, military bases, summer camps, and public libraries worldwide.

The NCSU game was probably planned weeks in advance, but it had the misfortune to come off the day after nearby Wake Technical Community college went on lockdown after a man threatened a student there.

Still, the game’s leaders are sensitive to the fears surrounding school shootings. This Washington Post piece details some of HVZ’s groundrules in the wake of the Virginia Tech shootings:

Weed and the other game organizers, who are known as moderators, or “mods,” turned serious. They’d called this meeting to make sure each player had signed two legal forms instituted in the wake of the Virginia Tech shootings, and to emphasize the most important rules of the game: Don’t shoot nonplayers [and] don’t use or carry guns visibly in academic buildings.

Of course, some will wonder why kids would want to play such a horrific game. Like any roleplaying game, HVZ lets people try on new roles and personalities — and band together to become heroes for a little while. From the HVZ web site, again:

Many players report that Humans vs. Zombies is one of the most meaningful experiences of their lives. The game creates deep bonds between players, instantly removing social boundaries by forcing players to engage as equals and cooperate for their survival.

The whole situation raises some interesting questions, and I’d love to hear readers’ thoughts on them:

Given the frightening gunman-involved massacres on college and high-school campuses, are students today right to be vigilant and report problems to authorities?

Should students playing games like “Humans vs. Zombies” forego using toy weapons in order to avoid frightening their peers?

Should students be able to tell the difference between a real gun and a Nerf weapon?