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Title: No, I Didn't Slam Fantasy Games, Folks

Source: Montgomery County Herald, 03/29/01

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For the record, I couldn't care less what you do for fun, as long as you don't hurt anyone.

You can pretend to be a vampire or a werewolf. Have phantom sword fights. Pretend to disembowel your enemies. Vanquish dragons, become invisible, or fly through the air.


In other words, I have nothing against the thousands of people whose passion is fantasy live-action role-playing games. As long as it remains a fantasy, hey, knock yourself out.

Last Sunday, I wrote a story about two young Marines accused of the random and brutal stabbing of a young woman in Pacific Grove. Highly placed sources said the two men, Jessie Carson and Jason Blad, played the popular games, and some investigators speculated that they may have carried their fantasy to a very dark depth.

The story made it as clear as possible that the "vast majority" of game players do so simply for fun, and that there is no violence. It DID NOT imply that the games themselves were to blame. It said there have been no more than a few isolated cases of gamers committing crimes.

To no avail. The story dropped like rain on the fertile imaginations of "gamers." Within a few days, I had more than 30 e-mails from as far away as Holland, South Africa and across the United States. Some were thoughtful, but many spit venom at my "irresponsible" reporting.

Here are a few choice excerpts:

"... you have no recourse but to print a retraction as well as an apology," wrote Ryan Ludlow.

"... journalistic fantasy," wrote J. Gordon Olmstead-Dean, president of the Live Action Role Players Association in Washington, D.C.

"The feel I get from this story is that this may be a small town," said Barbara Bartlett of Dallas, Texas.

"... clearly yellow journalism," said Corbin Russell of Houston, Texas.

"Run a story about the ordinary, everyday, hardworking, law-abiding folks who just happen to have role-playing as a hobby," suggested Dennis J. Halnon. "But, I'm under no illusion that you'd run this sort of story. It wouldn't be sensational enough." Halnon couldn't have known that The Herald published at least two stories exactly like that in the past few years.

One gamer even said his group conducts Easter egg hunts for underprivileged kids.

I tried to explain to a few, but I might as well have tried to make peace in the Middle East.

"I'm not sure you read the article," said William Haddon, writing from Colorado. "Perhaps you should look it over."

Thanks, Bill. I'll be sure to read my work from now on, before it goes into print.

Many of the writers alleged discrimination. Substitute any other group, they said, for example "African-Americans," "basketball players," or "Catholics," and my bias would be obvious.

"When a chess player kills somebody, nobody would get the idea that chess was the cause, right?" asked Martin Kliehm.

Well, if Shaquille O'Neal kills someone by slam-dunking them through the hoop at the Staples Center, the NBA will be relevant. If an altar boy stabs someone with a crucifix, we'll note Catholicism, and if that chess player uses a queen's-knight-upside-the-head mode of murder, the game will get a mention.

In a sense, I understand some of the ultra-sensitivity. Jeffrey Waters, who runs a game called "Afterholm" at Fort Ord, said gamers often face abuse. For example, when they attend conventions, they frequently run a gantlet of Christian-right picketers.

It's all in fun, they say, and for the most part, I agree. But try divorcing yourself from fantasy for just a minute.

If these guys played the games and decided they wanted to take down a real victim instead of play-acting, that's part of the story.

If it turns out to be untrue, we'll write that, too. I promise.


For the record:

- It did turn out that the Blad & Carson case had nothing to do with roleplaying, but had more to do with the Marines - see this story for more.

- Neither Andy Rose nor the Monterey Herald retracted their headline of "Stabbing may be linked to role play" (which is supposed to NOT be a slam on RPGs, remember).

So much for promises, I guess...

- wjw, 12/21/08

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