Thursday, August 20, 2009

Satan's Game

Thought I'd not rant about how the health care saga continue to turn into bizarro world, but rather on something that comes from a place rather closer to my heart.
I'm an avid fan of Jerry "Tycho" Holkins and Mike "Gabe" Krahulik and their long-running comic strip Penny Arcade. Today they linked to a story about a man who attempted to kill two friends of his with a hammer. The story describes how the man apparently got into some form of violent rage, and in the article motive was assigned to two things: 1) a Dungeons and Dragons game gone wrong; and 2) a girl. Horrific to be sure, but mundane in a sense -- people kill each other for much, much less. The story is a month old, the original article reporting financial issues as part of the motive. The guy it seems, has a pretty rough life, is a missionary of some sort, which can be hard on people, and it was claimed completely uncharacteristic of him. Pretty standard really.

What seems to have Holkins incredulous is the apparent blaming of the attack on Dungeons and Dragons. The comments section seems to be following (or preceding, I haven't checked the time stamps rigourously) Holkins' lead. Now, the moral panic over Dungeons and Dragons seems to be a particular piece of American history, and something I'm not personally familiar with (apart from this hilarious depiction). But I can't see the implication. The piece explains that motive was established as involving D&D. That's a correlation, certainly, and there are causal elements to it, but it certainly doesn't follow that the implication is that D&D causes people to bash each other in the head with hammers. What does follow is that this particular individual, by a particular game, was lead to do this. He's still culpable, and it doesn't line D&D up for the burning. If you replaced every instance of D&D with "card," we'd have a poker player gone mad. That's not something we'd blame poker on.

What D&D does cop is its status as an involved game. D&D is an involved pursuit. No more than philosophy (recall Popper and Wittgenstein), football, or finance. I can understand the concern at the future construal of D&D as "Satan's game" considering the events of the past, but I don't believe that this article presented that facet. In fact, the comments seem to indicate that the people most concerned about this are D&D players. The rest of the comments were along the lines of "this guy is a crazy person, chill out!" As to the status quo comment response that follows the line: "I play D&D, I haven't brutalised anyone, therefore D&D doesn't make you brutalise people," -- that doesn't follow either. D&D can lead to you brutalising people. It can be a direct causal factor in leading to someone snapping. How do we know? Because this is the motive established. But it is just that - a motive. It doesn't follow that arguments like the one Langton has used on pornography (more specifically, sexualised violence in pornography).

Why is this of so much interest to me? Because in liberal society we seem to suffer this problem. Hell, forget liberal, as people we suffer from this distinction's nuances tripping us up. As it is, most of my thesis revolves around a non-D&D (unfortuantely, it'd be so much fun to write a thesis on the ethics of gaming) version of this. Scientists claim that they haven't exploited or subjugated a population with science, therefore science doesn't cause this. It may not cause in the sense that it alone creates the disposition to subjugate, but it certainly fulffils a causal process. Its parsing this that interests me, because humans are notoriously bad at cause/correlation and necessary/sufficient distinctions, and we get wrapped in them very easy.

Maybe the article is stating that D&D is once again Satan's game. I don't believe so, I believe it is stating that this person had it as a causal contributor to some pretty horrific stuff. I approach it with the same level of interest that I do science, football and philosophy being causal factors in terrible things. But that's the mens rea. That's what it is all about.


EDIT: My apologies, that's a Legal Fail. Motive and Intent are distinct in modern law, with mens rea covering the latter. Carry on.

Oh, PPS, I'm thinking I'll change the drapes on this site soon. The brown is getting to me.

No comments: