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Mazes and Monsters : Anatomy of a Scapegoating

The enemy. There is no single greater motivator in human history than having an antagonist. The US would have taken years if not decades longer to land on the moon without the threat of the Russians getting there first and setting up a giant mind control device to turns us all into Marxists.

Somewhere, at this very moment, there's a defense laywer sweating bullets. Out of options and out of time, he does what many others of his ilk have resorted to --

"Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, the defendant is not a murderer. He is a victim of our modern technological age. His involvement with the game Grand Theft Auto has stripped him of his ability to distinguish fantasy from reality."

Elsewhere, a newspaper writer is feeling the heat from her editor. The readership is falling due to the rise of internet news outlets, and everything she writes needs to grab eyes and move units off the newsstands. With the slider slowly creeping from objectivity to sensationalism, she writes her next headline --

A Digital Tragedy : Suburban Family Victimized by Video-Game Playing Son

Old tricks are the best tricks, eh?

When it comes to confronting our own demons, be they societal or individual, it's always a softer option to project our own fears onto the outside world. If we can identify an enemy that doesn't lie in our own mind or heart, then we can comfortably forego the decidedly more difficult task of looking inward to affect change. It is a seductive form of passing the buck, and most times we aren't even aware that we're engaging in it.

A successful projection requires two things. One is a target which can be sufficiently demonized without the target having the ability to adequately defend its own image. The second necessity is a way to convince others to engage in the same rationalizations. This means propaganda.

All in the name of righteousness, many activities have been attacked over the years. In the past, everything from dancing, to jazz, to alcohol, to heavy metal have been blamed for the degradation of moral values and the collapse of modern society. The problem with this tactic is that eventually enough people get to know the scapegoat in question, and when people truly understand a thing it is no longer possible to demonize it.

Video games have not yet reached the level of Public Enemy #1 despite their growing popularity as a scapegoat, but it's gotten me thinking about what the coming years may have in store for our favorite pastime before the world at large really gets to know it like we do. Let's take a glimpse at what video games might be in store for by looking at some of the propaganda attacking the last form of games to feel the wrath of a society looking to blameshift -- Dungeons and Dragons.

As a Level 26 Nimrod, you gain access to the spell Warp Reality.

When I was in 4th grade (1984), I had been playing D&D for about a year when a "concerned individual" began passing out some literature at our school. They were small comic booklets, designed to inform us of the evils of role-playing games and how we could break free of their Satanic influence. In this case, the scapegoat was literally demonized.

I never thought I would find this comic again, but when I googled D&D propaganda, it was literally the first result to pop up. The comic was entitled Dark Dungeons, and inferred that D&D was responsible for teen suicide and prepared players for recruitment into real life occult groups where actual magic and witchcraft were practiced. I encourage you to click the link and check it out -- it's a real mind trip.

The end message of the comic was that redemption through Jesus was the only way to overcome D&D's insidious influence, and that all D&D materials should be burned. Burned. The last cell of the comic shows the preacher standing in front of a raging bonfire of D&D manuals (he must really prefer v3.5 rules, ba-dum-tish!). The Nazi regime was also well known for book-burning, and they were the most egregious blame-shifters in history.

Now, I don't want to infer that the message of this comic reflected the views of all or even most Christians out there. However, I feel it is worth noting that the fantasy elements present in D&D such as spell-casting and polytheism, among others, would not have been so open to such revulsion in a culture not saturated with a Judeo-Christian worldview. It is important to note this because a significant percentage of the video games we play have similar fantasy elements, and this may explain at least some of the knee-jerk reactions that our current hobby seems to garner.

Roll a wisdom/lore check to successfully communicate with volleyballs.

I recently watched an old movie about the perils of role playing games and, in-between fits of unrestrained laughter, I found myself with a lot to think about. Mazes and Monsters was a movie made in 1982, starring a 26 year old Tom Hanks. He plays a college student who begins to lose grip on reality and permanently takes on the persona of his Mazes and Monsters character, eventually leading him to attempt a leap off the top of the World Trade Center.

It was based off of the book of the same name, which in turn was (inaccurately) based on the story of the disappearance of a Michigan State University student named James Dallas Egbert. Egbert was reported in the press to have died while playing D&D in the steam tunnels underneath his school. It is true he was in the steam tunnels; not to play D&D, but rather to commit suicide. The fact that D&D materials were found among his possessions led people to infer that D&D was the cause of his disappearance.

This is the primary weapon of any propaganda : the blurring of the lines between correlation and causality. Logic dictates that just because two trends are found together does not mean that one caused the other. If that were true, then you could just as easily argue that the underwear they found in his room was responsible for his death.

Unfortunately, propaganda does not aim to appeal to reason. Rather, its goal is to elicit an emotional reaction, and pointing out the correlation of two things is enough to insinuate that one caused the other without having the bothersome nuisance of providing proof. Like the comic book, all that is needed is to put the image of the scapegoat next to the image of any number of negative consequences and let the inferences do all the work from there.

You've probably already thought about any number of recent news stories where correlation was used to suggest causality between violence or deviant behavior and video games. Our media is saturated with this kind of faulty logic. The Columbine shooters played Doom, ergo Doom causes you to shoot people. The 9 yr. old child was killed by a teenager and her boyfriend who were supposedly re-enacting a move from Mortal Kombat, therefore Mortal Kombat makes you kill children. (I also love how the fact that these two teenagers were shit-faced drunk was conveniently left out of 95% of the coverage, because it was obviously Mortal Kombat's fault)

The list goes on and on.

Glenn Beck failed his saving throw vs. sideboob.

It's a hard world out there sometimes, and none of us are perfect. It's comforting to think that there's something concrete outside of us that's the source of our problems. It's the government, or the heathens, or the corporate office, or those damn video games.

Why do we as a society fall into this trap over and over? Because deep down, we just don't want to admit that most of our problems are actually caused by our individual ignorance, or prejudice, or laziness, or unwillingness to really connect with our children. It's easier to burn a book than it is to find ways to take personal accountability for the world we live in.

So how do we as gamers weather the storm yet to come before our beloved gaming comes out on the other side like heavy metal and D&D? How do we keep the chanting of the blameshifters from hypnotizing the majority until the mob moves on to a new monster?

The answer is simple. Propaganda relies on demonizing its target. When people begin to understand something, they can no longer match-up the evil caricature they're being presented with to what they know to be true in their minds. Then the propaganda loses its power to persuade.

The most important thing we can do is to keep our side of the debate civil. Since we're up against propaganda, when we respond with hatred or irrationality, we play right into our opponents' hands. Those attacking video games can say, "See? Look at the anger displayed by people playing video games. Video games therefore promote violent behavior."

When someone uses such blatant falsehood to attack something you care for, you're bound to have a negative emotional response, that's just human. However, when you choose to calmly share your passion and your reasons for indulging in our amazing pastime, then people will be open to listening and begin to understand. That's when the masters of self-delusion and mass-deception will have to find themselves a new patsy.
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About Sean Careyone of us since 1:29 PM on 04.15.2009

This community rules. Thanks to wanderingpixel for the above!

Greetings, Programs!

I am a 34 year old cubicle monkey living in Austin, TX. with my lovely wife of 2 years, Dawn. And yes, we are acutely aware of the cheesiness of the rhyme scheme. And no, it doesn't bother us when people make fun of us for being so saccharine, because we are both huge dorks in our spare time. Being happy in life gives your character +1 million XP towards the "not caring about other people's opinions" skill.

Above : Me from my theatre days. Puppy Licks says it makes me look like Kefka.

Likes : sense of humor, intelligence, creativity, the ability to argue without fighting, not taking one's self too seriously.

Dis-Likes : console crusaders, people who are cruel on the internet because they are too timid to express themselves in real life, people who cannot separate facts from opinions, Fox News, onions.

Twitter : https://www.twitter.com/walk_your_path/

Video Game Writing :

Destructoid Front Page Articles! --

Read them here if you'd like!


I am an editor and writer over at Gamer Limit.
Feel free to pop over and check out what we're up to!

Systems Owned :
XBox 360

(Some Of) My Favorite Games of Times Past :

Pitfall (Atari)
Legend Of Zelda (NES)
Quest For Glory I-III (PC)
Star Control II (PC)
Civilization I-IV (PC)
Vampire : The Masquerade -- Bloodlines (PC)
Psychonauts (Xbox)
Okami (PS2)
Mario Kart 64 (N64)
KOTOR 1&2 (PS2)
Psi-Ops (PS2)

(Some Of) My Favorite Games of the Current Gen :

Fallout 3 (X360)
Portal (X360)
Flower (PS3)
Patapon (PSP)
Persona 4 (PS2, but made during the current gen)

Currently Playing :

Uplink (PC)
Puzzle Quest 2 (XBLA)
Robot Unicorn Attack (iPhone)
Bit.Trip.RUNNER (Real Life)
Crackdown 2 (As soon as it comes out)
Xbox LIVE:walkyourpath
PSN ID:walkyourpath


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