If you're reading this, chances are you've played Dungeons & Dragons: a game that involves creativity, quick thinking and a tendency to eat too many potato chips in one sitting.
Anyone can play D&D who can get his hands on a rules book and a set of dice—except for Kevin T. Singer, a prisoner in Wisconsin's Waupun Correctional Institution, who in 2004 had his D&D materials confiscated.
Singer, imprisoned for bludgeoning his sister's boyfriend to death with a sledgehammer, has sued the facility for violating his First Amendment rights. But on Jan. 25, 2010, the U.S. 7th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the ban ... because Waupun believes D&D promotes gang-related activity.
According to the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, when Captain Muraski, the prison's gang specialist, testified:
He explained that the policy was intended to promote prison security because co-operative games can mimic the organization of gangs and lead to the actual development thereof. Muraski elaborated that during D&D games, one player is denoted the "Dungeon Master." The Dungeon Master is tasked with giving directions to other players, which Muraski testified mimics the organization of a gang.
In this fascinating article from Above the Law, Elie Mystal says it best:
Look, I know the title "dungeon master" sounds scary and important. But don't let the words confuse you. We're talking about a guy who sits around all day drawing maps and debating whether a cloak of anti-venom can protect you from a fictional rat bite. (Note: It can't, rats have diseases, anti-venom contemplates poisons, those are two completely different things. Please don't tell my wife about this.)
If you were around in the 1980s, you would recall the public's fear that D&D led to mass criminal activities and/or psychiatric disorders. As with heavy metal music, comic books and videogames, these fears did not come to fruition. But it seems that these prejudices still exist, despite the fact that many of these former D&Ders went on to become happy, productive members of society; and others even created our current technology revolution.
The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals quoted cases in which extreme escapism fostered by D&D led to murder or suicide and resulted in the offenders' imprisonment. However, none of these cases dealt with current inmates trying to rehabilitate. Singer, on the other hand, brought in Paul Cardwell, chair and archivist of the Committee for the Advancement of Role-Playing Games, who testified that "there are numerous scholarly works establishing that role-playing games can have positive rehabilitative effects on prisoners."
Ultimately, the Seventh Circuit ruled in favor of upholding the ban because none of Singer's witnesses could prove that D&D didn't ultimately lead to forming gangs. And if you follow the news, you'd know that gangs are extremely dangerous organizations that are detrimental to prison security and to rehabilitation.
The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals also writes:
D&D can "foster an inmate's obsession with escaping from the real life, correctional environment, fostering hostility, violence and escape behavior," which in turn "can compromise not only the inmate's rehabilitation and effects of positive programming but also endanger the public and jeopardize the safety and security of the institution."
Yes, D&D is about escapism. It can provide a nice mental break from the stresses of life, especially if that life is one without parole. D&D has been proven over time not to lead to violence, and it does not incur extra cost to the taxpayers. So why is it being withheld from Singer and his group?
Mystal again says it best.
[W]hat this is all about is punishment. It's not about rehabilitation, it's not about security, it's about old-school vengeance carried out by state actors. He killed somebody, and we as a society found something else he liked that we can take away. So we're going to take it away. It's Christopher Lloyd playing a Klingon in Star Trek 3 telling Kirk he won't beam up Spock "because you wish it."
I guess that is our right. I guess there is no compelling interest in making the life imprisonment of a murderer a little less horrible. But vengeance, even when legal, is still ugly. The Seventh Circuit just made a Lawful Evil decision here.
To see what really happens when one is exposed to D&D, click here.