Sunday, January 07, 2007

Role Playing Games

Dungeons and Dragons, Vampire: The Masquerade, and other games that have players act out the adventures of fictional characters are all sinister tools of the devil that produce maladusted, sociopathic, Godless young adults. Right? Maybe not. Still, some people fear that fantasy role playing games (FRPGs) are bad for young people and thus FRPGs are a bad thing for society. We can respond to this fact in one of three ways:

  • We can point out that we, or people we know, were big FRPG fans and they turned out just fine. (Conversely, we can repeat an anecdote about a Dungeons and Dragons fan who commited suicide.)

  • We can investigate the social and psychological consequences using real research methods.

  • We can invesittgate the character of FRPG fans to see if they really differ from the population at large in some particular way, such as a quantitative measure of social adjustment.

(Graduate students who are looking for an area to research can feel free to use that second idea!)

We can take a couple of sociological lessons from the existence of FRPGs. Anything that is strange in any sense is likely to attract negative attention from people. When a game becomes associated with things like black magic, drug abuse, suicide, (God help them!) heavy metal music, or (Gasp!) athiesm that game naturally becomes a special cause for concern among parents, preachers, and ... who knows. Maybe manufacturers of conventional like Monopoly secretly fan the flames of suspicion to protect their games' market share. Hmm, is that a conspiacy theory?

Never mind the conspiracy theory for now. I'm supposed to be blogging about the sociological lessons we can learn from thinking about FRPGs. When thinking sociologically about something we want to think about the social impacts. I already noted some of the real or imagined negative impacts of FRPGs. But what about the positive impacts? Are there any positive, sociological impacts? A few possibilities do suggest themselves:

1. Cushy Jobs Grow -  More people are working in management, marketing, and creative jobs thanks to the opportunities created by FRPGs.

2. Social Skills - People need to interact effectively with others to get ahead in this world. Not a profound thought, but one you probably never associated with sitting around and pretending to be a wizards, warriors, and such. Could FRPGs provide, for some young people, a way to hone their social skills? What if thousands of young people aren't going to get this sort of practice without their weekly FRPG sessions?

3. Mental Development - The rules of FRPGs are complicated. Coordinating our efforts with other people takes mental effort. Imagining all sorts of far-out things takes mental effort. Might FRPGs contribute to players' intellectual development. Might these people, collectively, be able to contribute a little more to society than would be the case had they taken up other hobbies?

So, next time you think about Dungeons and Dragons fans try not to think bad things!

(Disclaimer: The author is still a big fan of FRPGs and science fiction RPGs too.)

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