A Philosopher's Blog

Prisoner Denied D&D

Posted in Ethics by Michael LaBossiere on January 30, 2010
A D&D game session in progress
Image via Wikipedia

In a rather odd story, a prisoner in Wisconsin has lost his appeal to keep his D&D material (that is Dungeons & Dragons).

This is the result of an anonymous letter sent in 2004 alleging that the prisoner, Singer, was forming a gang around the D&D game. Of course, anyone familiar with D&D will know that while D&D players seem a bit gang like (strange lingo, obsession with loot, and so on) they are rather far from the sort of gangs that people need to worry about.

The reason given by officials is that  D&D “promotes fantasy role playing, competitive hostility, violence, addictive escape behaviors, and possible gambling.”

The first part of the charge is obviously true. D&D is all about fantasy role playing. Saying that it promotes this is like saying that track promotes running.

The other claims are far more debatable. They are also, as Socrates might say, the old charges that have been trotted out against gaming for decades-despite the complete lack of adequate evidence for such claims. My own experience has been that while gaming does tend to attract people with a desire to escape reality, gamers seem to be no more prone to violence or gambling than non-gamers. These matters are, of course, subject to empirical testing but the burden of proof rests on those who claim that gaming has these effects.

As I see it, it would actually be a good thing to have prisoners playing D&D.  After all, time spent playing D&D would be time in which they are not doing things like using drugs, raping each other, engaging in real violence, or engaging in other activities that create real harms.

D&D also tends to encourage reading, an interest in numbers, as well as the development of the imagination. It can also help people develop social and cooperative skills. True, players can elect to be evil and do evil things to one another, but that usually teaches the lesson that being evil does not work very well.

A more reasonable justification for not allowing prisoners to play D&D is that prison is supposed to be punishment. Therefore, the officials argued, prisoners should be denied what they enjoy.  This, of course, assumes that keeping prisoners bored is a form of punishment and that this has desirable consequences.



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7 Responses

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  1. magus71 said, on January 30, 2010 at 8:37 am

    My biggest argument for gaming is literacy, knowledge of history. It seems a far better use of time than merely watching tv. It exercises the mind and promotes a social experience.

    On the other hand, it does seem to attract people who were beat up in high school and want to find ways to exercise power.

  2. magus71 said, on January 30, 2010 at 8:57 am

    But I do see gaming s entertainment and he should be denied entertainment.

  3. T. J. Babson said, on January 30, 2010 at 9:38 am

    Sounds pretty harmless to me. Prisoners no doubt get some time for entertainment, and it should be allowed then.

    The idea that somehow we don’t have enough rules and regulations in our society is completely insane.

    • magus71 said, on January 30, 2010 at 3:06 pm

      “The idea that somehow we don’t have enough rules and regulations in our society is completely insane.”

      Yes, I agree. I think about this quite often. I think back to the 80s and compare it to now, and I realize how many more rules there are. Nothing is very easy to get done anymore. By the time you reach your goal, you’re wrapped in a cocoon of red tape.

  4. kernunos said, on January 30, 2010 at 11:06 pm

    What!?!?!?….no D&D? Time to take a fake Katana and chop people up. :P

  5. Travis said, on February 2, 2010 at 8:07 pm

    I found this article both sad and humorous at the same time… I can’t imagine D&D being the most violent thing that a prisoner could possibly do, but humorous in the sense that some D&D players get quite aggressive over their game.

    On another note, if prisoners aren’t allowed to play D&D because it promotes enjoyment, what about all the time they spend out in the “yard” lifting weights and exercising? I’ve always thought that was a MUCH bigger threat. You can have regular sized prisoners walking around, or you can have large, muscular prisoners walking around. Which is more threatening?

    • kernunos said, on February 3, 2010 at 4:42 pm

      That’s what shotguns are for.


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