Roll to Escape Your Cell. DC is 25.

Last week, AP reported a wacky story centering around a controversial decision to not allow an inmate convicted of murder to play Dungeons and Dragons. After his books and a 96-page adventure he wrote were confiscated, he sued the prison officials. He claimed that the ban violated his rights to free speech and due process. The courts upheld the decision since it is perfectly reasonable to punish the inmates, especially when they are in prison for killing someone with a sledgehammer.

The details leading to the decision to confiscate his books were interesting:

Singer was told by prison officials that he could not keep the materials because Dungeons & Dragons “promotes fantasy role playing, competitive hostility, violence, addictive escape behaviors, and possible gambling,” according to the ruling. The prison later developed a more comprehensive policy against all types of fantasy games, the court said.

These points have elicited a variety of responses throughout the internet, but I think most of the court’s decision is valid. Certainly, the phrase “promotes fantasy roleplaying” is silly. It’s like saying watching movies promotes watching more movies, and it implies that roleplaying is an awful thing that only criminals do. It also seems like a stretch to say that the game inspires addictive escape behavior and violence. That is a subject that would be infinitely debatable, but I imagine that merely being imprisoned leads to “addictive escape behavior.”


via Penny-Arcade

The gambling accusation seems to be uninformed, but I could understand how someone from the outside could watch a game and make a “dice = gambling” connection. In a prison setting, I imagine the prisoners must bet on everything they can with anything they can with annoying frequency for the guards.

Other inmates accused the players of forming a gang around the game. When I first read the concept of a D&D gang I thought it was ludicrous and hilarious, but I realized it was understandable in context. In any prison movie I’ve ever seen, nothing but bad news happens when a group of prisoners have scheduled meetings around a mutual interest. Even though these inmates are nerds, they are all still dangerous men, and I imagine the other prisoners who are prohibited from forming a gang of their own could be legitimately fearful. Or maybe they don’t like the fourth edition rules.

This story reminded me of when the Nintendo 64 released, and there was an inmate who wanted one brought into the prison. I don’t remember the result, and the story is too old to Google. However, I did find a similar article on Kotaku that mentions how inmates convert N64 rumble packs into tattoo guns. It also mentioned how inmates are allowed to purchase PS2s with the money they make working in the prison. If these are allowed, shouldn’t roleplaying games be allowed?

That depends on whether you believe prison is punishment or a chance at reformation. Some people might feel that the only recreation prisoners should have is smashing rocks, but others could feel that if they can play video games or read books then they should be able to “fantasy roleplay.” It would have been nice if the original article mentioned the inmate’s behavioral record. If he was well behaved, then maybe there could be an argument to the prison unfairly confiscating his books. If he had a poor record, it was probably wise of the courts to uphold the decision — do you really want to see a brutal prison gang with flaming d20s inked on their backs?

This should be an important lesson for all the 4E fans out there. If you don’t want any one to take your Dungeon Master’s Guide away, just don’t kill anyone.

2 Responses to “Roll to Escape Your Cell. DC is 25.”
  1. John-Michael Gariepy says:

    Ugh. This just reminds me of when I was 15. Did the prisoner do anything to deserve having his books taken away, or did the warden just decide this would be an easy thing to do? Has there been any studies of prisoner’s relationship to D&D? Many psychological evaluations point that role-playing of any sort breeds intelligent and socially responsible individuals. The fact that this prisoner had a 96 page adventure means that he must have gotten past the initial shock value that this game can foster and was into cathartic story telling. The justice system’s view of this game seems to have stopped after flipping through the pages.

  2. David says:

    That’s why I wish it showed his behavior record. If he was never in trouble, I think him writing an adventure shows him being pretty productive. But if he got into other types of trouble, then maybe it wasn’t a good idea for him to be huddled around with some other guys drawing maps.

    Its just one of those examples of lousy reporting where they focus on the game and not the circumstances of the crime.

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