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Role Playing (Games)

Dungeons & Dragons and the Ethics of Imaginary Violence ( 321

An anonymous reader writes: Are people just naturally inclined to be destructive when there aren't any real consequences? Should we be worried about people who imagine such violence? Writer Clem Bastow spoke to D&D experts, psychologists and others to answer these questions. It turns out that playing out violent fantasies in D&D is not only healthy, but could even teach players how to be a better person. “Rather than playing an extension of who you or I are within the game, I see it more as playing a fantasy character who can do whatever they want, and who doesn’t feel inhibited by social anxiety or fear of punishment or rejection. It’s an exaggerated version of how [the player] would like to be, but can’t. The game is a safe way to be this other person,” says Clinical psychologist and games designer Dr. Owen Spear.
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Dungeons & Dragons and the Ethics of Imaginary Violence

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday November 04, 2015 @04:33PM (#50865961)

    Will still get parroted by the press - whether it's D&D or GTA or Halo.

  • Tuesday evenings are usually our AD&D nights. Last session, we met some friendly halflings. Later, we encountered them fighting a bunch of monsters and without question, we jumped into the fight trying to help the halflings. Turns out the halflings had been hunting for these monsters, which were just minding their own business.

    Whoops. Since I'm a priest, my god will probably not like it. Now I have to figure out how to make it up :)

    I'm almost 40, but since we picked up AD&D with some colleagues, I a

    • That has been one of the lessons our GM tried to instill in the players, not every monster is evil. He actually had us fall through a portal where we encountered "dragons" which turned out to be a good adventuring party which encountered us as dragons. We defused the fight, but not rushing into every fight is a good thing to learn, as not every encounter is about bashing things with a sword.

  • If you have an issue with people using graph paper and pencils to pretend to kill magical creatures no one can see in a world all players agree is a shared fantasy, I hope you remain ignorant of the degree of photo-realistic violence video games have been achieved in the last twenty years.

    • by arth1 ( 260657 )

      The imagination is still far more accurate than any game, or movie for that matter, both in graphics, details and mood.
      And that is why it needs to be protected.

    • by Sowelu ( 713889 )

      Well, there's a difference. CounterStrike puts you in a situation where killing is your only option. Choosing to play the game might be a moral decision, but it stops there. Tabletop RPGs put you in worlds where (depending on the GM) there may be many non-lethal solutions, and choosing to resort to violence above other choices is more morally meaningful while you're playing.

      • Sorry, but that argument is a straw man at best. FPS games can actually also put you into a moral decision. In P&P games it depends on your GM. Yes. In FPS games, it depends on the FPS game. FPS games don't necessarily put you in a situation where killing is your only option, just like GMs don't have to. And likewise in both scenarios you might CHOOSE a violent option.

  • Table-top role-playing games are fine. No harm there. It's all in the head, after all.

    But computer games? Whoa! Hold on there. That's far too violent.

    • This is something I've wondered about for years.

      Why are computer games, with their over the top gratuitous gore, etc; "OK" by modern American cultural standards, but table-top RPG's are "weird"?
      I've encountered this attitude many times, and I play video games as well as table-top RPGs!

      table top RPG gamers are always viewed through a much different lens than the average XBOX or PS player.
  • by bjdevil66 ( 583941 ) on Wednesday November 04, 2015 @04:37PM (#50865991)

    Dungeons & Dragons...

    Cool - hopefully it'll be...

    ...and the Ethics of Imaginary Violence...

    Oh shit - here we go again.

  • Not news (Score:4, Insightful)

    by taustin ( 171655 ) on Wednesday November 04, 2015 @04:38PM (#50866009) Homepage Journal

    This wasn't especially news in the 80s during the "Satanic Panic" years, and it's far less news now. Peer reviewed studies were done then, showing that roleplaying games build social and problem solving skills. There's nothing new or obscure here.

    • I remember those days. If you played a country record backwards, the guy got his truck, his gun and his dog back. If you played a country record forward, all these bad things will happen.
    • You also get higher verbal/word scores on the SAT ... enough that there have been studies about it.

    • []

      "Intense occult training through D&D prepared Debbie to accept the invitation to enter a witches' coven"

      If only I understood the dangers before I started playing! Pretty sure my DM isn't nearly this cool.

      • by taustin ( 171655 ) on Wednesday November 04, 2015 @08:06PM (#50867523) Homepage Journal

        I met a reporter from a local fishwrap once, in the early 80s, doing an article on D&D. We patiently explained what roleplaying games were all about, the social aspects, the requirement for cooperative action, the problem solving challenges, etc. The final article had supposedly first hand accounts about miniatures screaming as they melt when thrown into a fireplace (no, that's the guy who threw it there screaming as the owner of the mini beats him to death with a 50 pound miniatures case) and gamers summoning actual, physically manifesting demons in pentagrams drawn on naked women's stomachs (heh, no gamer I ever knew could concentrate well enough to do the ritual in the presence of a naked woman!).

        The reality is that gaming does tend to (somewhat) attract social outcasts, who are generally more accepting of weird than most people (RPGNet excepted, of course), but you just can't play an RPG alone. It's inherently a social activity. In my experience, people who show up at a gaming club that have real emotional issues end up better for being around other people who have been there. And are more likely to get professional help if they continue to deteriorate.

        • Well, P&P RPG ain't no spectator sport. As can easily be seen here [].

          (German TV, but still funny even if you don't understand it)

  • There are lots of ways to play, play as an extension of yourself, play as someone you might wish to be if you weren't constrained in some way, play seriously as someone you would never wish to be, play as a parody of someone you would never wish to be. It is fine to have a mental shortcut to understanding why people might play but understand also it may not be fully representative.
  • Offtopic, but WTF is the point of shit like [] ?
    D&D board games? Isn't D&D supposed to be roll-your-own type shit?

    I've never played, but I think if I did I'd be seriously offended at the idea of a board game version.

    • by Sowelu ( 713889 )

      Yeah, you nailed it, D&D the roleplaying game is about rolling your own stuff. This is something else that just happens to be in the setting, but isn't a roleplaying game and is designed for a different experience, one that doesn't focus on character development and which can be "won" in a night. Same with "Lords of Waterdeep", which is a more traditional competitive board game--in one of the main D&D settings--about building stuff, hiring heroes, and spending them to complete quests. It's fun in

    • by Xenx ( 2211586 )
      It's for people that are more into the dungeon crawl aspect than anything else. It's a bit watered down, but caries the basics of D&D 4e combat. It gives basic scenarios to accomplish with a quasi-random dungeon layout. It's not meant for the RP heavy crowd, or at least not meant to replace a regular P&P.
  • by alvinrod ( 889928 ) on Wednesday November 04, 2015 @04:51PM (#50866117)
    If you ever encounter someone who insists on banning some form of media because it supposedly causes those who consume it to become violent/sexist/etc., say that you wholeheartedly agree with them and ask when they will be banning the Bible (or better yet Quran) as that's been responsible for all sorts of violence/sexism/etc. It seems that most of the people who try to make an argument in favor of banning media for such reasons are either religious-hardliner nut-jobs from the Christian conservative camp that will flip shit at the thought of any attack on their Jeebus or wacko authoritarian cultural-Marxist leftists who would never want to appear to say anything bad about Islam.

    The mental contortions that follow are spectacular to watch.
    • A college roommate and I were in the campus ministry when we were playing Magic: The Gathering and minister showed up announced. This was a card game to me, so I didn't feel uncomfortable explaining how the game worked. My roommate took it more personally (probably because he spent all his money on booster packs to score rare cards), squirming like a schoolboy caught with a porno magazine in class. I've know several church members who behaved like that when confronted about model railroads and international
      • by taustin ( 171655 )

        I met a (Catholic) priest once who used D&D (specifically) as part of his bible study classes. He felt it was a wonderful tool to teach certain moral lessons, and the students loved it (and paid at lost closer attention.)

        • My campus ministry had a group of Jedi Christians in the mid-1990's, where the Bible and Star Wars were taught together. A short-lived offshoot until the leadership reasserted the Bible over popular media.
      • Mod parent up. 'God told me to do it' is one of the lamest excuses ever for acts of war or violence. We, as a race, need to grow out of this nonsense. Also, people who want to 'ban' things? It never ends; the list of things they want to 'ban' grows perpetually. It's just like racism and discrimination, you let them get away with excluding one group of people, and it'll just go on and on.
    • religious-hardliner nut-jobs from the Christian conservative camp that will flip shit at the thought of any attack on their Jeebus or wacko authoritarian cultural-Marxist leftists who would never want to appear to say anything bad about Islam.

      Couldn't have said it better.

  • Commentary on D&D by a Dr. Spear? That's a pretty suspicious last name, if you ask me.

  • Undertale (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Sowelu ( 713889 ) on Wednesday November 04, 2015 @05:08PM (#50866239)

    So the relatively new indie fad PC game Undertale makes some pretty interesting statements in this arena. It gives the player every chance to kill monsters along their path, but puts you in a world that is reasonably shocked and horrified if you actually do that. I've never seen a game so expertly make me feel guilty for resorting to violence instead of searching for another path, and it's pretty emotionally rewarding to finish a pacifist run. If you go the other way, it bends the fourth wall to explore the motivation behind a serial murderer.

    • I know that Undertale is the game that all the cool kids are playing, so I thought I would give it a try. I was told it would change my life.

      I found it boring and heavy handed. Yup, killing bad, being nice good. How is this supposed to be a grand, innovative revelation?

  • This is not an unknown thing. We know exactly how hard it is to change. We all know that "You can't teach an old dog...", "Leopard can't change it's spots", and a scorpion will sting the frog even if it drowns.

    It's not impossible. Cults, addictive drugs, new children, 12 step programs all can create massive changes in personality.

    Note the only one of those events that doesn't require a massive willing, commitment, intention and effort on the participant is drugs, and well that's why they call it 'addi

    • This is not an unknown thing. We know exactly how hard it is to change. We all know that "You can't teach an old dog...", "Leopard can't change it's spots", and a scorpion will sting the frog even if it drowns.

      Helms of Opposite Alignment.

      They're pretty effective, too (very high saving throw, unless it's critical to the plot of the module, then of course, the character stays reversed until the end). It's really funny to be playing a neutral character, know about the module, and volunteer to put on the hat. Did that once, and the DM had me trip, fall, and the hat flew threw the air and landed on one of the other players. We were all [not] surprised.

  • Arguably, the most 'deviant' thing about generic D&D, as played by those who have never bothered to go beyond the Tolkien Convention on Hackneyed Absolutist Morality, isn't the relatively unexciting amount of destruction that happens; it's the game's moral framework:

    You've got 'Good' and 'Evil' and those just are. Most NPCs will have little or no development that explains why they fall into a given category; but that's just how Orks are(PCs, especially clerics and paladins, will typically be called u
    • Good GMs will easily bypass "Absolutist Morality", will create interesting NPC backstories and motivations, and generally run a game that encourages thoughtful pcs instead of just another hack and slash dungeon crawl.

      Unless of course that is all you're after...

    Stop trying to cloud the issue with scientific studies and hate facts.

  • If your players have no fear of punishment, or rejection if they decide to do unethical things they they are doing it wrong. Murdering the black smith for his weapons is basically asking the DM to write you a ticket to abusive DM land.

  • I have seen first hand what damage D&D can wreck on unsuspecting kids.

    All-of-a-sudden they get confused. They hear you talk of a game and yet there is no screen to see the game. Then they talk about some RPG games for a computer or console and don't understand how you can do something better with pen, paper and dice.

    You begin by describing an alien world that exists only in the mind with a user interface that looks very different to facebook. At this point most compeltely give up...but some are susc
  • "Quozl", Alan Dean Foster: An alien race claiming to be totally non-violent . . . turns out they use complete simulation technology to be ULTRA-violent in privacy, and get it out of their systems. One of the arguments in favor of playing violent fantasy and/or video games. Problem is, in real life, some people will find it a substitute and some will find it an incentive.
  • It turns out that playing out violent fantasies in D&D is not only healthy

    Well, no, it doesn't "turn out" that way. You've got an expert who asserts this, but that doesn't make it fact.

    I'll be the first one to defend D&D and other role playing games (got my dice taken away in school numerous times). I'd never call them "unhealthy." But I really don't like the way people assert opinion as if it were objective truth.

  • This wasn't about the ethics of D&D. This was one person's opinion about how alignment should be handled in an RPG, presented as factual, objective instructions.

    For the fun of it - and countering his /suggestions/ - how about these definitions:

    "Alignment is how you treat everyone who is not in your party."
    "Alignment is a rough pigeonholing of your moral and philosophical outlook, used to qualify for magic spells and effects, and can change on a day-to-day basis based on your actions or justifications f

  • They spend far too much time in town bartering for supplies, crafting items, and decorating / renovating their keep.

  • There's a lot of different RPGs out there. Of course it depends on the group, but there's a lot of them that are designed to be less combat-y. The World of Darkness games (for all their flaws) often turn out that way, and sure they might be mostly the purview of whiny teenagers, but there's a lot of existential stuff and plotlines that focus on defining who you are and what your place in the universe is. Many of them outright punish you for killing people (without a very good reason) by tying immoral act

    • by Sowelu ( 713889 )

      weird, Slashdot took out some of my line breaks but left others in.

    • by GuB-42 ( 2483988 )

      The call of Cthulhu is all about avoiding combat, avoiding everything in fact. In this game, fighting usually means death, just entering a potential combat situation may be enough to drive you mad.

"This is lemma 1.1. We start a new chapter so the numbers all go back to one." -- Prof. Seager, C&O 351