Chances are that you may have heard some pretty unsettling things about Role-playing Games over the years. Through a series of misinformed moral panics, outright lies, false accusations, and media misrepresentation, RPGs have went through a period of very bad and incorrect branding. This page exists to discuss, confront, and firmly show why these myths are false. For general questions related to RPGs, see the RPG FAQs page.
Much of the content on this page was taken from The Escapist, a gaming advocacy site.
The news media and many religious groups have had little good to say about Role-playing Games. The same goes for general word of mouth, which is usually conditioned by both of the above. You may have heard that RPGs promote satanism, witchcraft, or other forms of the occult, or that they can cause kids to commit suicide or kill others. As with most things in life, however, you should never believe everything that you hear. RPGs have become part of many urban legends, or modern-day tales of folklore that usually have very little basis in fact.
One popular legend claims that swallowing Pop Rocks (a type of candy that pops in your mouth) and washing it down with a carbonated beverage will cause the stomach to explode, killing the imbiber - and that this was the fate of the young man who played Mikey in the Life cereal commercial. Most of us know that this is not true. Not only do we have a governmental body to protect us from such unfortunate accidents (the FDA), but "Mikey" (a.k.a. Michael Gilchrist) is alive, and doing quite well. Urban legends often sprout from actual events, but quickly degrade into stories that happened to "a friend of a friend," and begin to become more spectacular as they are passed on. In any case, they are hardly a reliable source of information. These cases are no exception, and are outlined below.
However, all these myths sprung from a pair of isolated events:
Incident 1: Steam Tunnels
The first incident involved a young man named James Dallas Egbert, a 16-year-old boy who was bright enough to be attending college at such a young age. Egbert had much more than his fair share of problems; he was under constant pressure from his parents to exceed, and was hiding his drug addictions and homosexuality from them.
Egbert went into hiding for nearly a year, and was pursued by William Dear, a private investigator hired by his uncle to find him. Dear discovered that the boy occasionally played Dungeons & Dragons, and began searching for him based on the hunch that Egbert was playing the game in the steam tunnels beneath the dormitories. This sparked media stories associating the game with Egbert's disappearance; stories that were never retracted when the truth came out. When Egbert took his own life a year after being found, Dear let the story stand as it was, untrue and misleading, to "protect" the Egbert family from the truth about Dallas' secret life.
Dallas several times told me how much he feared that his younger brother, Doug, would be hurt if the truth became public. He had a deep affection for Doug and expressed the hope and even belief that his brother would grow up under happier conditions than he had. He did not want Doug to endure cruel asides from his classmates and friends about his "faggot brother, the dope addict," and he emphasized this as another reason that I should remain silent. I thought he was right to be concerned, and I held off writing this book until Doug was out of high school.
—William Dear, The Dungeon Master, page 280-281
This event not only began the myth that role-playing can inspire suicide, but it also started the urban legend that gamers like to play in places such as steam or sewage tunnels.
Incident 2: Teen Suicide leads to Allegations of Satanism and formation of B.A.D.D.
The second incident involved a young man named Irving "Bink" Pulling, who killed himself in 1982 with his mother's handgun. His mother Patricia believed that he had become involved in the occult, and that his suicide was due to a curse that had been placed on his character in a Dungeons & Dragons game he played at his school. Her theory was possibly fed to her by a police investigator who questioned her after her son's death; before that time, Pulling had never heard of D&D, and didn't believe that devil worship existed outside of the movies.
(A Hanover County Sheriff's Department Investigator) had found some letters apparently written by Bink. He asked me if I would look at them and identify the handwriting. "But before you do that," he continued, "I have one other question." He paused, then asked, "Mrs. Pulling, are you or your husband devil worshipers?" I was speechless, but finally managed to say, "What kind of question is that to ask me at a time like this? Are you crazy?" I told him to look through my house, to do anything he wanted; he would not find anything connecting our family to something as insane as devil worship. I thought to myself, "Maybe this is a nightmare. Is this guy really a policeman? Is everybody crazy? Devil worship! That stuff doesn't even exist except in the movies!"
—Patricia Pulling, The Devil's Web, page 4-5
Irving's story, however, showed a collection of deeper problems: he idolized Adolf Hitler, had trouble fitting in with his schoolmates, and was often seen running through his backyard while howling at the moon.
Pulling went on to form Bothered About Dungeons & Dragons(B.A.D.D.), a group that sought to ban Dungeons & Dragons from schools and have a label placed on the covers of game books warning that the contents could cause suicide. She and her group were moderately successful in the former, but failed at the latter. During her involvement with B.A.D.D., Pulling would often distribute newspaper articles that had been edited to help prove her point - she would change the order of paragraphs to put an anti-game slant on the story, and remove anything that did not support her beliefs. This is not only dishonest and misleading, it is illegal. This illegal practice is even named after her by journalists today, where it is known as the "Pat Pulling Editing Method."
Fallout from Incidents
Ever since these two events occurred, many have associated gaming as a possible cause in any crime committed by, or even against, a gamer, or someone who is assumed to be a gamer. In this manner, gaming has been associated with every crime imaginable, from robbery, burglary, and drug abuse to rape, suicide, and murder. This certainly has been assisted by people such as Mrs. Pulling who have done all that they can to propagate such untruths.
Yet in every case, a saner, more realistic, and more probable cause can easily be found. That is, when games are even involved at all; 20% of all "game related" cases do not involve any form of game, but are assumed to by investigators and reporters. The Columbine massacre is possibly the most famous example of this.
Tom Hanks Roleplays
On December 28th, 1982, the television network CBS aired a made-for-television moves staring Tom Hanks called Mazes and Monsters. It was based on a novel of the same name by Rona Jaffee. The movie managed to reinforce some of the negative stereotypes about gamers - that we are weird, eccentric social outcasts obsessed with a child's game - but that doesn't appear to be it's true intention. Jaffee was allegedly more interested in writing a novel based on a topical news story of the time, and wasn't using the book as a centerpiece for an anti-game campaign. Sadly, the topical news story at this time was the now-proven-false Steam Tunnel incident.
Jack Chick & Friends Lie
Jack Chick is an infamous maker of christian tracts under his company of Chick Publications. These tracts are widely criticized, especially among the Christian base, for their often incorrect and always hateful content. They are made in a way to misinform and scare individuals into Christ, and sadly they have been successful to a degree at times. One of their tracts from years ago centered on the game Dungeons & Dragons and was called Dark Dungeons.
Dark Dungeons is possibly the most widely distributed piece of anti-game propaganda in the history of gaming. It was first produced by Chick Publications in 1984, during the heyday of anti-RPG paranoia, and print copies were available on request from Chick as recently as the mid-90s. Chick Publications, headed by reclusive comic author Jack T. Chick, also brings us booklets on the evils of everything from Catholicism and Buddhism to Halloween and reincarnation. Chick takes no prisoners, and isn't interested in playing nicely; they'd much rather convert you to their narrow world view, and possibly get you to sprinkle the world liberally with more of their pamphlets.
Dark Dungeons has only been updated once since its first appearance in 1984, and then it was to remove a reference describing the works of J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis as occult books - a move that was possibly due to threats by the estates of both authors. The pamphlet has been out of regular print for several years - Chick Publications has made it available on their site here, and for a sizable donation ($750US), you can have your own custom batch of 10,000 printed up, complete with the name of your church or organization on the back of each.
Because they do not normally print it, or have not issued further anti-RPG materials to warn people away from other popular role-playing games (Vampire: The Masquerade would have been a perfect candidate), one could conclude that they have eased up on the hobby - but nothing could be further from the truth. Chick Publications is still active against role-playing to this day. Two columns by William Schnoebelen appear on their website - Straight Talk on Dungeons & Dragons, written in 1984, and Should a Christian Play Dungeons & Dragons? - the latter written in 2001 (and as a followup to the first). In Straight Talk, Schnoebelen claims to have once been the witch high priest of Lake Geneva, and contacted during that time by alleged employees of TSR, who requested that he reality check the spells in Dungeons & Dragons... several years after it had already been released. In Should a Christian..., he claims that the Cthulhu mythos and Necronomicon are real, and that bookstore shelves "literally groan" from the massive amounts of books on wicca and the occult - books that were few and far between when D&D first came along (which can only mean one thing, right?).
Schnoebelen has since been criticized by many, especially Freemasons, for his false assertions of his previous roles in different items in order to seem more informed on a subject. He has often even slipped up and confirmed his own lies, but sadly Jack Chick continues to push him to his easily gullible audience.
Both authors have outright lied about gaming (as well as numerous other items), and the Organization of Gamers & Roleplaying Enthusiasts only have two real things to say about this. The first, is that Role-playing Games are not in any way like Chick and Schnoebelen would lead you to believe for their own vile purposes. The second is that the two should not be considered representatives of the Christian faith, and Christianity as a whole should not be considered to have their same views and habits.
Disproving the Myths, Lies, and Misconceptions
The truth is, as proven by the Center for Disease Control, the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, the American Association of Suicidology, and Health & Welfare Canada, is that Role-playing Games do not cause their players to kill themselves. With this knowledge in hand, all of the remaining accusations against games and gamers become dubious.
In fact, when one compares the 80-plus cases of crimes where gamers were involved versus the millions of people who enjoy games on a regular basis, an abysmally small percentage, way below the norm for people of any specialty group, is the result. Could it be that playing D&D or Magic actually prevents crime?
What anti-gamers like Patricia "Pat" Pulling didn't realize was that the numbers they once tossed around, if they had any basis in reality, would actually prove the opposite of their claims - that role-players had an abysmally small suicide and crime rate among their members, small enough to consider the hobby as a possible deterrent to violent and criminal behavior, rather than a cause of it.
Direct Quotes Disproving RPG Myths
No evidence of game/suicide connection...
—James Mercy, Chief, International Injuries Section, Centers for Disease Control, Personal Communication
...of over 700 adolescents who had committed suicide, not one case cited D&D or any RPG as a possible cause.
—Dr. S. Kenneth Schonberg, Albert Einstein College of Medicine Study
No evidence of any game as a possible cause of suicide.
—Company Statement, American Association of Suicidology, Denver, Colorado
No evidence of game/suicide connection
—Mental Health Consultant Thomas J. Lips, personal communication to Jennifer Clarke Wilkes for Health & Welfare Canada
Occasionally, due to misunderstanding of how Role-playing Games work, a individual may make an honest assumption or have a genuine question that concerns them about RPGs. Some of the more frequent of these are discussed below. Again, for general non-concerning questions, see the RPG FAQs page.
Concerns on RPG Violence
At their core, role-playing games are about telling stories by acting out the roles of characters who interact with each other in various ways. As in real life, one of those methods of interaction is combat. Combat in most games, card games included, is quick, unrealistic, and mostly bloodless; in fact, it could be compared best to the swashbuckling styles of an Errol Flynn movie.
No one ever seems to be overly concerned when their children play cops & robbers or cowboys & indians - games that many of today's parents grew up on. RPGs are very much the same thing.
Role-playing Games, like any other game of make-believe, are very much a blank canvas. The players and game master decide what gets painted on that canvas, and what course the story takes. If they choose to play a game filled with blood and gore, there is nothing short of parental intervention to stop them from doing so. As with any activity, a parent needs to supervise what their child is doing, and ensure at all times that they approve of what is going on.
Concerns on Magic and Spells
Magical spells only exist in games that support such a thing in their game world; in other words, Dungeons & Dragons has spells that can be cast by the characters, but the Men In Black RPG does not, because characters in that setting do not normally have magical powers.
Spells in a game are not something that can be used in real life, by any stretch of the imagination. Instead, they are tools that the characters (not the players) use to perform some sort of action. One spell may open locks, allowing a character to free a trapped ally, while another may allow the character to fly or heal the wounds of others.
While there are a few games on the market that attempt to simulate the effects of "real world" occultism and witchcraft (such as Nephilim or Authentic Thaumaturgy), none of these games could ever be considered a lesson in how to use real spells. Just as a player cannot learn horseback riding or blacksmithing from playing these games, they also cannot learn how to throw fireballs around.
Concerns by Parents & Teachers
On occasion, a parent or teacher may tell a gamer that he or she should not participate in Role-playing Games because it may be detrimental to the gamer's personality, mind, or soul.
First - parents, teachers, and members of the clergy can (and will) be mistaken about things from time to time. We all can. It's part of being human.
If you are under eighteen (or thereabouts) and/or still living with your parents, you must respect their rules and wishes. If they say no gaming, then you have no choice. Your respect for your parents must come above any leisure activity. (This is not to say that you shouldn't try to educate your parents about the hobby, as long as you do it in a respectful manner). It's just a game, after all, and it's certainly not something worth driving a wedge between you and your parents over.
The same goes for your teachers. Many schools have banned RPGs and other games on the basis that they are "bad" for the people who play them. If this is the case where you go to school, please respect their rules... but don't be discouraged from trying to show them the truth.
Your best course of action when attempting to show anyone the real truth about role-playing games is to stay calm and open-minded to their concerns. An argument will never accomplish anything worthwhile. Instead, offer to set up a demonstration of an RPG or LARP for people who have never seen one before. Let them look through the rulebooks and ask you about anything that causes them concern. Explain terms and jargon as you go along, and let them interrupt you with questions. If they seem open to it, send them the link to this FAQ so that they can find out more. During all of this, make sure that they understand that you know they always have the authority to say "No" if they still haven't changed their mind. Even if that is their final word, you will have done your absolute best, and possibly even earned a little more respect in their eyes for giving them so much respect yourself.
If all else fails, and you'd really like assistance, contact the Committee on Gaming Advocacy. The Ogres are always willing to educate an individual on the positive lifestyle of role-playing gamers, and would love to not only get the individual to understand and release their misconceptions - but to play with you!
Concerns by Pastors
Often times, a pastor (priest, father, reverend, minister, rabbi, etc.) may be affected by the misconceptions given to him or her by the proven-false Chick Tracts or other urban legends relating to Role-playing Games. Using these misconceptions, the pastor may steer you away from RPGs as he or she is concerned for your soul, and as your spiritual guider, doesn't want to see you come to spiritual harm. Please understand that your pastor is in fact working for what he believes is the best for you, but just doesn't have all the information available that you do.
No person other than yourself can truly determine if gaming, let alone any other hobby or activity, is determinable to your soul. As former-gamer and christian writer David Fisher famously put it, "each of us should weigh everything we do with how it affects our spiritual life." Not just gaming, but everything. If you can honestly say that something you do as a hobby has changed you for the worst, made you unhappy, or damaged your relationship with God (or Budda, or Allah, etc.) then you need to give it up. This is your own decision based on your own feelings and experiences, and should never be decided for you by someone else - especially someone babbling about it on the internet (and that includes the O.G.R.E.s).
However, if you believe that gaming is not in any way harmful to your personal relationship to God, but your pastor believes otherwise - enlighten him. Pastors spend their entire life helping others in the spiritual world, so take some time and help them in the physical world. Many gamers are very active in their spiritual life and church, and if you are lucky enough to have such a member near you ask them to sit down and relieve your pastor of the misconceptions about RPGs. Some chapters of Ogres include ordained ministers, like the Quilt City Ogres, who run "faith games" solely with their church in settings that not only don't harm their relationship with God - they facilitate it! Perhaps your pastor would love this great outreach to the gaming population, and you may have found a new way to fellowship with him or her.
The Harm Myths Cause
RPGs have been banned from schools, clubs, and libraries. Usually, misinformation is behind the ban. In one case, the owner of a Texas gaming store was told his establishment attracted undesirable types of customers, and he was not allowed to renew his lease. A child custody case in Delaware attempted to prove a father was unfit because, among other reasons, he allowed his son to play a computer D&D game. In one of the more extreme situations, a young man was beaten by his father after he returned from a police seminar on the dangers of role-playing games - apparently in the hopes of driving some of the demons out of his son.
These are the types of things that result from misinformation, lies, and paranoia. The bottom line is that the accusations made against games are false. That in itself is enough to warrant all of this effort.
Seeing the Light
Thankfully, through years of gaming advocacy and increased public awareness, many misconceptions are being washed away and the number of individuals affected by them dwindle continuously. The only real widely accepted statement about Role-playing Games these days is that it is "Geeky" or "nerdy," and well, that just may be so.
However, every so often, another incident will pop up that will somehow get attached to RPGs. In 2002, the brother of Stephanie Crowe and his friend were found innocent of her 1998 murder when new evidence linked the crime to someone else - until that day, the only evidence against the boys was a coerced confession by police that revealed that both were D&D players. As one news story put it:
Prosecutors portrayed the slaying as an open-and-shut case against three boys warped by an unhealthy passion for dark role-playing games like Dungeons and Dragons.
That same year, the DC Beltway Snipers were incorrectly profiled as possible Dungeons & Dragons players, based solely on the fact that they left a Tarot card behind (even though Tarot and D&D have practically nothing to do with each other). In 2005, a town in Brazil passed a law banning the sale of RPG books after rumors began to fly about a possible connection between an RPG and a triple murder case.
There are still misconceptions, misinformation, and downright lies about role-playing and role-players. It's just not as common as it used to be.
Don't believe us, or are you just that type that has to know? That's okay! So are we. Here are some links to the actual research that disproves these myths, as well as related articles and websites you should take a look at: