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Title: Questions and Answers About Role-Playing Games

Source: The Game Manufacturing Association, 1991

NOTICE: The following material is copyrighted as indicated in the body of text.  It has been posted to this web page for archival purposes, and in doing so, no claim of authorship is expressed or implied, nor is a profit being made from the use of the material.


Distributed with permission from GAMA, The Game Manufacturing Association

This pamphlet was written by Loren K. Wiseman and Michael A. Stackpole, and is copyright 1991 by Game Manufacturers Association, all rights reserved.

GAMA is a trademark of Game Manufacturers Association.



They are popular because they are a great deal of fun. Ordinary people from all walks of life can use role-playing games to work off their everyday frustrations by vicariously becoming something they want to be. A player in a role-playing game can slay dragons, pilot a starship through space, save civilization, explore the unknown, or a thousand other things, from the safety of a comfortable chair.


The games get criticized for one basic reason: they are unfamiliar to the majority of parents and grandparents who suddenly find a game enthusiast in their family. Because these games have only been around since 1974, very few people who were out of high school or college at that time have played them. As a result, many adults have no understanding of this hobby that takes up a great deal of their child's time. All that is really necessary to combat the worry many parents feel is for them to sit down and share a gaming experience with their children.


* Role-playing games encourage reading skills. Even the most simple of the rule books require an 8th grade reading level to understand them and many require much more than that. In addition, many players go off and research the era in which a game is set, which develops library and research skills.

* Role-playing games encourage math skills. Rolling dice, totaling them, adding and modifying factors, subtracting them, multiplying and dividing them by something else are common occurrences in these games.

* Most importantly, role-playing games are a social activity. Having a group of friends to rely upon during the tough years of adolescence is invaluable, and role-playing games build friendships that can last a lifetime.


As with any other activity, it is possible for a player to become obsessed with games. It is important for a parent to keep track of this sort of overindulgence and, if schoolwork begins to suffer or other undesirable behaviors arise, speak with the child. As role-playing games are build on communication, speaking with a player and learning about the game can relieve a lot of parental anxiety.


Several games with fantasy settings do contain elements of magic. However, even supposing real magic exists and works, it would be easier to pilot a fighter jet after watching Top Gun than it would be to work magic from the rules in a game. Magic spells are used in the game by wizards in the same way a mechanic uses a wrench: it is a tool.

Some people object to the presence of magic in games on religious grounds. These people should know of the large number of games with non-magical (science fiction, wild west, espionage, etc.) backgrounds. These games do not include magic, but still have all the fun and excitement of role playing games.

A few critics of games have tried to make the case that playing a game will turn an intelligent, well-adjusted child into a blood-thirsty cultist in a matter of days or weeks. Despite having tried diligently to find a single instance of this happening since 1974, they have yet to come up with any supporting evidence to support their theory. In fact, millions of people world-wide have enjoyed the hobby of role-playing for years without any harmful or mystical or occultic results.


Various groups, both religious and secular, are very vocal in their criticism of role-playing games. Many well-meaning people, law enforcement professionals and clergy among them, take these game critics at face value without checking on their claims. Basic research has shown these claims to be false.

One of the more persistent claims is that role-playing games has caused teens to commit suicide. The Center for Disease Control conducted an extensive study of teen suicide and found no evidence to link role-playing games with suicide. Investigations by the Association of Gifted and Creative Children (Dublin, CA), the Albert Einstein College of Medicine (the Bronx, NY), and the American Association of Suicidology (Denver, CO) have likewise found no evidence that games encourage suicide.

Moreover, researchers point out that the most heavily weighted factor in determining a child's suicide potential is whether or not he is a loner. Participation in a group activity of any sort sharply reduces that potential. It also provides a circle of friends who can pick up on any unusual behavior and encourage their friend to get help when there is a crisis.


Parents should take an interest in any activity that their children enjoy and spend a great deal of time pursuing. As noted above, if games interfere with school or job or family activities, taking steps to bring this hobby into its proper perspective is an excellent idea. Discussing the game with your child, or having a trained professional discuss it with him is a good place to start.

The only simple and direct way to determine whether or not the game is right for your child is to take a look at it. If you decide, for whatever reason, a particular game is not the sort of thing your want your child playing, work with him or her to find a new game that you find appropriate. Make a list of the things you consider objectionable and talk them over with your child. Set clearly defined limits on their gaming and explain why you are doing so.


Role-playing games are childhood games of "Let's Pretend" or "Cops and Robbers" all grown up and governed with rules. They are very much akin to improvisational theatre or "communal storytelling." They are generally a group activity in which one person -- usually called the Gamemaster -- serves the same function as a play director. He provides the background for the game, has devised a plot for the players to unravel and plays the role of any secondary characters the players encounter during their game.

Role-playing games are set against different backgrounds, some real, some fictitious, in the same way that movies and novels use real fictitious settings. The number of backgrounds is vast. There are even games where players can pretend to be animated cartoon characters!

The Gamemaster employs a set of rules that determines all sorts of things, from how far a player's character can leap to how much of an overheard conversation in Croatian a character can actually understand. Dice are used to inject an element of realistic uncertainty, so the players cannot be completely sure that they will succeed in any given task.


Mental Health professionals do employ role-playing techniques in some therapy. In the hands of a trained professional, who directs the role-playing towards tightly determined therapeutic goals, role-playing can help change attitudes and modify undesirable behavior. Therapeutic role-playing is a highly controlled situation in which the therapist does not allow for the randomness dice might inject for the same reason a medical doctor does not roll dice in determining how much of an antibiotic to prescribe. Role-playing games, on the other hand, are directed toward the goal of having fun.


If you have concerns about a particular game, or you simply want information about role-playing games in general, we suggest you contact your local gaming retailer. They will be happy to show you games, answer your questions, and may even be able to arrange for you to watch or participate in a game being played.


The pamphlet [this document] was written and distributed by GAMA, the Game Manufacturers Association. GAMA is the trade organization for the adventure gaming industry. It includes manufacturers of miniature figures, historical war games, role-playing games and computer games; as well as distributors and retailers of those games. It promotes excellence within the industry and fun within the hobby of adventure gaming.


If your are a member of GAMA, this brochure is free. If you are not a member there is a shipping and handling charge of $2 per dozen. For more of these brochures write to:

P.O. Box 602
Swanton, OH 43558
or call the Executive Director's office at
Phone (419) 826-4262
FAX (419) 826-4242
between the hours of 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. Central Time.

Written by Loren K. Wiseman and Michael A. Stackpole Copyright (c) 1991, Game Manufacturers Association, all rights reserved.

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