The Weird Assumption that Players Can’t Distinguish Between Reality and Fantasy of RPGs

So, let’s start with the RPG witchhunt of mid-1990s in Finland…

It never really went anywhere, gladly. Here’s a personal story around that, which I am not willing to fully divulge (I guess part of me would like to have all of it on record, as long as my memory of the events is even slighly correct, but at the same time I’m also a bit afraid that after almost three decades, much of my memory on this is already skewed – maybe if someone who wants to record this kind of history wants to talk to me about it, I would be willing to do it, but we’ll see), but here’s where I’m going to start.

Around the time I turned 18, one of my friends tried to kill a girl. He had schizophrenia and while I would also like to remind everyone that neuroatypical people are actually more likely to be victims of crimes than to perpetrate them, his version was quite dangerous to both himself and those around him. Obviously, the teenage me just didn’t quite understand what was going on with him at the time and couldn’t really process the whole thing.

When the police searched his home, they found roleplaying books, which then became a part of the prosecution (before he was put into a mental hospital). Gladly the judge put an end to that immediately, when the fucking prosecutor, a man who should be above this kind of shit, tried to use rules from Elhendi (does anyone remember this game anymore? I don’t besides this little tidbit) as evidence.

That did not stop “quality” publications from trying to scandalize the whole thing, including roleplaying games. (One very sleazy national magazine even went so far as to call some of my friends and pretend to be the police in order to phish for information.) One of those publications was a small local newspaper, which put out an article on the situation, which included some very wild and irresponsible speculation about weird things like steroid usage (yes, really) around my friend.

There was also this crisis session for us, our friend group (with none of whom I really socialize these days, I’ve even forgotten the names of many of these people). And that asshole, who wrote the story to the local newspaper attended. We didn’t realize it at first, because she seemed to be there as some sort of aide to the woman who was running the show. In hindsight, and even at the time, it seemed quite inapproriate and unethical, as she had clearly judged us beforehand based on no evidence, but there she was. Like, we were supposed to receive help, but she was there to spy on us.

I don’t exactly remember how, but discussion turned to pentagrams and one of us decided to mess with the interloper. He explained his views on how pentagrams have been used in the past. This seems innocuous, but as she took this as a profession of personal beliefs rather than understanding of religious history, she was horrified. Apparently, based on her behavior and attitudes, you can’t be interested in something without believing in it. Which does mean that I apparently believe in all major and many minor religions, as well as various esoteric traditions and paranormal, not to mention magic, various conspiracy theories, such as the one that says Finland doesn’t exist, and… well you get the picture. Her kind of thinking leads to a weird situation, where understanding the worldview of others is somehow wrong.

This wasn’t even new at the time. In the 80s we had both BADD and Chick Tracts.

BADD was an “organization” called Bothered About Dungeons and Dragons. It was started by Patricia Pulling after her son killed himself. She found that he owned D&D books and, while I would like to be sympathetic to her situation I really can’t, she inferred that those books had to have something to do with her son’s personal problems. I mean, it is kind of obvious that she just needed a scapegoat, but there was no reason to believe that the son had ever even played the game. He was just interested in it, but lacked the social contacts to actually do so. So, maybe his loneliness had something to do with his problems?

Pulling died in the late 90s of lung cancer, so she’s not here to defend herself, but she did do irrevocable damage. She wrote a guidebook, which was embraced by a number of police departments around the USA, even though with any kind of expertise on pretty much anything or even trying to look at the actual RPG books would have immediately exposed her. Still, things got so bad CDC had to step in and say that there is no reason to believe RPGs had any kind of link to suicides.

Chick Tracts is a weird name, but they are a bunch of anti-D&D comics made by a guy named Jack Chick. They are comically stupid, even if you know how harmful they have been. You can find examples easily enough on the Internet, but in general they portray roleplaying as a very seedy hobby, which is all about learning spells like your character and always seems to be one step away from becoming a full-on orgy. They almost have this feeling as if Chick was just jealous of a thing he didn’t really understand, like there was this unspoken desire, which was just forbidden from him. This is of course speculation… Still, these were popular among churchgoers and because they have much more influence then they should, as they are taken seriously as they are seen as mainstream, when they are clearly not.

This influence is not limited to these American groups either. My parents, as dumb as they are, decided to inspect my room when I was away. Yeah, there’s a reason why I don’t talk to them anymore. Sure, my father is now a Jehova’s Witness, but wasn’t back then, and my mother is not religious (except for New Age weirdness). Similar things have happened to a lot of people I know. One of my friends had their Magic decks put into garbage because his mother thought they might be satanic, other friends have had their RPG books inspected by their parents or “inspected” as I doubt they actually bothered to any real inspecting, as that would require reading.

Some time after the inspection of my room, my father tried to explain to me, drunk, that AD&D 2nd ed Player’s Handbook doesn’t hold the truth. No shit. This is the problem. Of course, my father was trying to allude to the Bible, the book he has never read, claims to have read and doesn’t really understand, because he only understands it through the slanted regurgitation of others. He has throughout his life probably read maybe five books.

So, if your understanding is limited to a very limited number of books, which are supposed to be all about some higher truth, you might not see the world similarly to someone like me. Books can be fun and/or interesting, but I don’t expect them to change my worldview every time I read one. I don’t read as much as I used to. These days I read somewhere between 15 and 20 books per year, but in my youth, I used to read at least one book a week, often two, more during the summertime, so maybe around 80 to 100 books a year. I don’t know how many books I’ve read throughout the years, but at least a thousand, probably closer to 1500. So, supposing there’s a reservoir of information in me, which was gathered from books and each of these books holds the same amount of influence on my thinking (which is impossible), a book I’ve just read would only affect this reservoir by less than 0.1%, whereas my father, who has read only a few books, would be completely changed, if he would read and believed a book not already completely supporting his existing worldview.

So, is it any wonder that certain people, who basically can’t read (which is much more common than one might believe, as there is a difference between being able to put letters together into words and words into sentences, and actually understanding those sentences), because they have never put the work in to be able to do it, don’t quite get that when I read something, I don’t expect it to be necessarily true. It is often points of view or just fiction, but if your only book is the Bible, which is clearly mostly just fiction, it is hard for you to acknowledge that maybe other people don’t believe all the fiction they read.

I mean, just by reading a book with wizards doesn’t mean that I believe in the existence of magic, but there have been many situations, where books like the Harry Potter series have been criticized specifically based on this idea. No, I don’t believe that I can do magic just because my character can do magic. Many games even choose not to go into the details of magic, so there is no way you could possibly learn it by just playing the game, but because these people would never actually do the work of actually reading the rules, except maybe a very shallow reading of them (the aforementioned Patricia Pulling was especially critical of games where you would use 3d6 to do anything, because it could possibly produce 666, even though that’s never the way you use the dice), they can’t possibly get it.

And this is a problem. If these people can’t even do the work to understand the hobbies of their children well enough to understand their children, how can they be expected to understand anything else? While I don’t like D&D at all and I do think it’s influence on the hobby as a whole is negative, it has been able to bring at least itself into the mainstream enough that the masses are no longer as afraid of the games as it seemed back in the 80s. It is now just that small, but larger than one would like, portion of the population that still keeps thinking being aware of ideas regarding magic is pretty much inviting the devil into your heart.

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