> FRPGs as a media - good or evil
FRPGs as a media - good or evil
rec.games.frp.dnd, January 23rd, 1995
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From: firstname.lastname@example.org (Max Pritchard)
Subject: [Long] FRPGs as a media - good or evil.
Date: Mon, 23 Jan 1995 05:08:17 GMT
It is of interest to note the reactions of various groups within
society to Fantasy Role-Playing Games (FRPGs) and in particular
Dungeons and Dragons, particularly with respect to their influence on
behaviour. This article is a brief discussion on some of the issues
raised and a personal look at
the influence of role-playing games on the individual and the use of
role-playing games as a media.
A media, as used in this text, is taken to be a method of sharing
information from a source to a target. In this sense, each media can be
classified by a number of major attributes; the number of people that
can be influenced by the information presented (known here as
the range), the amount of influence on the behaviour of that individual
(the influence), the ability of the target to decide on the information
content/style or to
question the veracity of the information presented (the interaction),
the ability of the source to control the reaction of the target to the
presented (the manipulation) and the extent to which the media is
subject to scrutiny by external, independent bodies (the control.)
This text examines the FRPG as a media and compares it to another media
(in this case television) in terms of how it may effect the behaviour
of the individual.
FRPGs as a media
In table-top role-playing, that typically involving a referee (GM or
DM) and from 2 to 8 other players, the identification of FRPGs
as a media is
clear. The entire game is based around the referees explanation of a fictional
situation and the players description of their character's
the situation presented to them and from their point of view. This
transferral of information between the participants is a clear
indicator of the media
nature of FRPGs.
What is unclear is the source of the information and the target.
Clearly, it is easy to see that the referee holds the key role in deciding exactly
what type of information is conveyed, but it is worth noting that the
players too, hold more than a small slice in the presentation of information. In
such a way, the referee is as much a target of the information as the players
are a source.
Television, to compare, has a clear source (the program maker) and a
clear target (the viewer.) Its media nature is classified by the transferral
of information from the program maker to the viewer.
Clearly the range of FRPGs depends on two factors; the number of
participants, and the number of games being played. However, for the comparison to
work, we must take a single game and thus the range of that particular FRPG is
about 6 on average.
Television has a range of potentially millions. For a popular show in
the UK, an audience of 5 million is not uncommon. And thus we may say that
television has a range in excess of a million times more than that of FRPGs.
The effect on an individual of a particular piece of information is
difficult to define and almost impossible to quantify. What must be looked at is
what light the information is portrayed, how it may be reinforced and
whether there is any cause to doubt the veracity of the information.
FRPGs usually occur between a peer group of friends. It is generally
understood that peers form a major influential group on the behaviour
of an individual and as such can have a lasting and powerful influence
on behavioural modes. However, knowledge of the source of the
(be it referee or another player) can enable the target to modify the
of the information to take into account the known bias of the source.
worth noting that if an incorrect assumption of source motive and
is made by the target, that this can be of variable benefit.
FRPGs as an interactive media can also alter the way that the
information effects an individual. As a part of the information exchange, if a
target believes that they have been part of a mutual effort to create the
(ie. they have been part of a collective source) thay may accept the information more readily.
Television, as a passive media, offers no such effect. The viewer is
not invited to question or participate in any way with the information
presented. There is no knowledge of the source of the information and
sceptical individuals, this will diminish the influence of the media.
However it is to be noted that a state persists that television, as well as
newspapers and other passive media, often is seen to portray the absolute truth
such can be a dangerous to people who don't have the scepticism or
knowledge to refute inaccurately presented views or opinions backed up by biased evidence.
With such a range, television cannot be tailored to suit an
individual's style or taste and thus a piece of information presented in a way that a
viewer cannot, or is unwilling to, understand, has a diminished influence.
In conclusion, it is my opinion that television has less influence than
FRPGs but that the chance for misinterpretation of information presented is
Television is, as explained, a passive media. Viewers are not invited
to exert control over what information they receive. They have limited control
over content (switching channels) but still may receive biased and inaccurate
information. Through the same media, often it is possible to question
the program makers views (programs such as "Points of View" and "Write to
Reply" in the UK) but for the most part, this might cover flagrant bias and
extreme views but fails to address minor discrepencies or even to allow all
viewers of the initial information to hear the counter-arguements.
It is to be noted that with the open-fail type presentation that TV
offers, people, for the most part, are willing to accept that the information
that they are presented is true and without agenda, unless it is a topic
about which they are expert.
The same cannot be said of FRPGs. The referee and the players share in
the creation and dissemination of ideas and information. A particular
situation is open to be questioned by the participants for details on
its veracity. Interaction is encouraged and seen by many to be the main
the media. Although the referee has the majority of control over the
content and style of the information. The message that the media
conveys is as much
a part of the players as it is of the referee.
TV, for the most part, is a carefully manipulative media. It is noted
that adverts are specifically designed to alter the mind-set of the
individual into performing a specific action. News and current affairs are designed to
often, shock or anger, as well as impart information. It is well noted
that programs (presented on the UKs four main channels) are professionally
made and thus it is more likely that the viewer reaction has been carefully
FRPGs as amateur and often, ill-designed, do not commonly share this
manipulative trait of TV. It is worth noting though that this is not
due to there being no ability of FRPGs to be manipulative, simply that
most part, no effort has been made by the referee to ensure some kind
behaviour on the behalf of the players in response to the information.
Also, as an interactive media, it is difficult to predict the results
of such a
In some cases though, with a intelligent and aware referee, and a group
of his peers that he knows well, it is possible to finely control the
type of information presented to effect some state of behaviour on an
the most part, this can be a simple trick of entertainment; fear, joy,
relief, courage etc. in others it is noted that this kind of manipulation can
result in sadness, aggression and paranoia in prone individuals that may
their everyday lives.
TV has a host of independent, external bodies devoted to its monitoring
and control. As a major part of our society, it is subject to
censorship of content and presentation to protect the range of targets
views as, influences that may lead to inappropriate or anti-social
behaviour. (violence and sexual malpractice in the most part)
FRPGs are performed in a closed environment, are subject to no controls
(considering material written by the referee) and have no independent
body overseeing the effect of the hobby on the behaviour of the
concerned. All in all a "free" or unlimited media.
Television is a long range, low influence media. Millions of people are
subject to biased information every day with a moderate amount of
control exerted by independent bodies. Well educated or sceptical
escape, partly, from the subtle manipulation of the media but in some
are all subject to its insidious, although in the most part, well
influence. Although it may well be said that program or advert makers
consider the right things to be benign. This remains open to question.
FRPGs are a short range, high impact media subject to little or no
control over content and able to present powerful and influential ideas
to the targets. As such it not only has the potential to be a superb
tool for learning, expressing and discussing beliefs and opinions, but
also, in a different situation, it could be used to reinforce
inappropriate and/or dangerous views.
The image of FRPGs as satanic, evil, or dangerous is inaccurate. It
reflects the fears of an ill-informed minority about information being presented
that is not being controlled, or monitored by them. This is not to say that
FRPGs cannot have a negative influence on the behaviour of individuals, they
can, just in the most part that, as with all medias, the information that is
being portrayed is intended for benign purposes.
What Can We, As Role-Players Do
The two things that we need to tackle in order to promote the safe and
beneficial use of the FRPG media is to study and improve the content
and openness of our hobby. Every time that I write an adventure, I try
that I am not portraying a situation such that violence is the only
recourse for the players - such an adventure (as well as boring my
offers little in the way of learning and can have a negative influence
on the potential for FRPGs to teach players about tackling real life
I do not avoid difficult moral or ethical situations. Such an
environment, even if the character in the situation is evil, can benefit the players
by making them consider the options of such a situation and causing them to question the behaviour of their character.
I reward, what I consider to be, learning and character improvement. I
do not reward continued use of single behaviour modes (such as constantly
attacking] unless the player exhibits a character reason for that behaviour
(usually low IQ) and as a player is seen to understand and interact with the other
players in their choices and actions on more than that level.
As for openness, I invite non-gamers, parents and friends to attend
meetings and to sit in on adventures and see what is going on. I exhibit all of
my creative work to interested parties for them to offer criticism and
I listen to the views of those that would attack my hobby and rather
than simply try and shout them down, I evaluate what they say. They
reason for their opinions and are entitled to them. It is up to all of
us (them included) to decide if those views are incorrect. We can only
do this by presenting all of the information that we can to them and
As a media, FRPGs must be considered neutral. It is not the media, not
the format of a group of friends sitting round a table and chatting that is
the potential problem, but the views that are accepted by the participants
result of the information spread by the media.
FRPGs have enormous potential for benefit. I have seen people who are
shy and socially awkward brought out of their shells and offered the immediate
and lasting support of a group of friends that they did not previously
have seen people close to despair brought back from the brink by
finding out that they were not alone in their problems and that there are ways to
It is no accident that role-playing is often used by psycotherapists in
treating disturbed and vulnerable children. As a tool for connecting
with other people, it is unsurpassed in its ability.
Added to this are the other benefits of encouraging reading, curiosity,
the desire to learn about history, architecture, politics, ecology,
and sociology of all kinds. To build worlds, you must know about worlds
it is also of no surprise to me that the profile of gamers shows a
marked bias towards high educational standards. (Whether this is due to
gaming is a
The main benefit as I see it is the ability for gamers to question
information from other sources and to evaluate the effects of their
actions on other people. By putting yourself in the shoes of someone
every week, they can explore ways in which, in their everyday lives,
their actions may effect the people they interact with. This, in my opinion,
can only be of benefit.
FRPGs have the potential to be very damaging. The influence of the
media and the lack of external controls means that any inappropriate message that
is accepted by a group, is not questioned and may well be reinforced by
later games or sessions. This can lead, as with any media, to changes in
The content of FRPGs, often portraying violence and quasi-theological
concepts attends the very topics that form a major concern for the
public at large. With the lack of external control, in a minority of
the group has an ill-conceived idea of information presentation, people
be damaged by exposure to these views.
In the few reports on criminal and anti-social behaviour with respect
to role-playing several things are made clear. As a group of people,
role-players do not differ significantly from the mean for our
demographic group. In
in several studies, role-players are seen to be less prone to
self-destructive behaviour and criminal activity than the average.
True, FRPG players differ slightly in personality from the average but
it is seen that this can be accounted for by comparison to any hobby or
interest where there is likely to be slight deviations from the social norm (eg.
Although the potential for behavioural change is there, as with any
media, it is only the fact that FRPGs are not regulated or overseen (and in a way
can never be regulated) that is a cause for concern from some quarters.
In my opinion, FRPGs are, compared to television, safer and more
beneficial. It seems to me more likely to stimulate higher educational standards,
ethical and moral behaviour and less likely to result in damaging behavioral
As with all things though, there is always room for improvement. The
things I hope for most in the next few years are the growth of the
hobby, more non-gamers taking an active interest in exactly what is
going on, more respect, on all sides, of other people's views and
opinions and a
willingness to listen and intelligently question the sources of those
I hope these opinions are of interest and I look forward to responses.
I do not speak for my company.