RPGs officially a threat to the state

Okay, people, we have a problem: 9th Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled that an Oregon prison inmate can’t receive roleplaying materials in the mail. Firstly, it’s White Dwarf that’s at issue (so to speak), so there aren’t any roleplaying materials in it… but the court doesn’t draw that distinction, and maybe it isn’t fair to ask it to split hairs as finely as we do. Apparently, the same prisoner had earlier been denied a subscription to the superhero comic Green Lantern, on the basis of an obscure law that’s been overturned, but the real motivation behind that was probably the same as that of this ruling: “to prevent inmates from placing themselves in fantasy roles that reduce accountability and substitute raw power for legitimate authority.” Uh, yeah: who’s got the raw power here, hoss?

It would be easier to decry such a stereotype about gaming materials if there weren’t (more than) a grain of truth in it. But my bigger concern is something else: the computing and Internet industries have been struggling in a similar fashion with judges that appear unwilling or unable to grasp all the subtleties of that which they’re passing legislation for. Have our subcultures become so complex that they outstrip the complexity of the law – that is to say, too complex to be healthy? Or are we just looking at the classic American schizophrenia of the mainstream versus the intellectuals/geeks/bohemians/whatever? This is just depressing – I mean, I don’t relish the thought of some con ordering up a box of bloodlusted Orks either, but still.


  1. This guy was in jail for molesting a 13 year old girl. I am not surprised that the judge did not want him to have anything remotely sexual.

  2. Still, I can’t imagine being in that situation, locked up away from society and any opprotunity for real interaction, and now they’ve taken away your best means of mental escape. Do they ban violent literature, too? God forbid he get his hands on a fantasy novel, or worse, a book of myths, and be able to place himself in a imagined place of power.

  3. I’m not clear on what’s sexual about White Dwarf. (And I don’t think I want to be.) Anyway, this guy could probably fuel a power fantasy with half of what’s in the prison library. Limiting his magazine intake is the cheap way out – which I suppose comes as no surprise, given our overburdened prison system, but that’s another argument.

  4. I’m concerned that the ban will extend to all prisoners, and at the same time have a ripple effect that the government have been trying to tell society that playing a roleplaying game is outside the norm. That means we are deviants because of our hobby.

  5. The mainstream already thinks that, they just don’t think it’s of any consequence. However, if there’s a legal precedent specifically establishing RPGs as undermining authority and leading to power fantasies, that’s a problem that will come back to haunt us. Of course, it’s not as if we have the financial power to fight it… because we don’t have high sales or participation, thereby reinforcing the mainstream’s lack of concern. So, situation normal… for the time being.

  6. The Ninth Circut??? Isn’t that the appearently uber-liberal court that the right-wingers keep bitching about?

  7. I wonder if this is the same 9th Circuit Court of Appeal that ruled you cannot have the phrase “Under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance. If that is so, it might be. Of course, as a liberal (although leaning toward the right), I don’t mind saying “Under God” (I’m Christian) so telling me I can’t say it just pi-, err angers me. BUT let’s not get sidetracked here.

  8. Mark:
    Yep: that’s the one. Most of the conservatives who bitch about the Ninth Circuit do so because it’s a flagrantly political court composed largely of political appointments who have been selected by the Democratic Party for their “political reliability.” Several of the justices on that court are, for example, married to left-wing political activists. Often their rulings are based more on the current goals or ideals of the California faction of that party rather than Constitutional law. In short, they are an authoritarian court with a liberal slant. This ruling should surprise no one.

  9. While role-playing may be a separate issue in this particular case, it seems to me that the jail system should encourage any normal social interaction through game-playing if possible; it’s a positive interaction that involves no violence (well…in most games). Perhaps they should stock the jail library with German games!

  10. To be honest.. if you are in Jail the only thing you deserve is a tube of lube and 3 square meals a day.. Most people are in prison for a damn good reason.. and access to comic books, TV, RPGs and the like are for people who AREN’T in jail.. Its supposed to be punishment..

  11. Most, but unfortunately not all. And while jail is supposed to be punishment, it should also give them a chance to rehabilitate themselves. After all, doing nothing in jail is the same as doing nothing in the street.

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