University shooting coverage resurrects 1980s D&D hysteria

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Amy BishopThe Boston Herald is blaming a deadly shooting spree at the University of Alabama last week on the suspect’s love of Dungeons & Dragons.

The report says biology professor Amy Bishop (pictured) met her husband, James Anderson, in a D&D group at Northeastern University in the early 1980s — when anti-RPG paranoia was at its zenith. It cites an anonymous “source” who says “They even acted this crap out.”

Aside from the sketchiness of un-named sources in general calling the Herald’s report into question, he or she seems to have mixed up roleplaying games like D&D with LARPs — live-action roleplaying. Both hobbies are full of perfectly stable people you work next to every day who have families, go to church and are no more likely than any other to pick up a gun and mow you down. Implying otherwise would be akin to profiling hunters or sports fans as ticking time bombs.

Bishop is accused of killing three colleagues and wounding three more in a shooting rampage Friday during a faculty meeting. Students in the past reportedly signed a petition and complained about her effectiveness in the classroom as well as her “odd, unsettling ways.”

“We could tell something was off, that she was not like other teachers,” a nursing student told The Associated Press.

Whatever problems Dr. Bishop may have — going back to the shooting death of her 18-year-old brother in 1986 that was called accidental — they’re unlikely to be related to the simple escapism of D&D, a fantasy roleplaying game that gave rise to many of the computer games and stories enjoyed by millions the world over without a drop of actual bloodshed.

In the ’80s, D&D was blamed for promoting practices such as witchcraft, devil worship and even suicide. The perceived encouraging of interest in demons prompted TSR to change references to demons and devils as adversaries (yes, adversaries) in their 1989 release of Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 2nd Edition and skirt they issue by renaming the fictional creatures — and this actually had the effect of forcing the game’s writers to become more creative. After the righteous fervor subsided in the ’90s, Wizards of the Coast, which purchased TSR and published the game’s 3rd Edition, restored much of the previously forbidden infernal and abyssal nomenclature. It remains in the more recent 4th Edition of D&D.

Dungeons and Dragons DiceThe Alabama rampage is not the only recent example of D&D being mentioned in the news in a negative light: Last month, a Wisconsin prison inmate lost his lawsuit against the corrections system over its ban on D&D behind bars. A federal appeals court said the prison’s policy, which came about after an anonymous snitch expressed concern that the man’s gaming group constituted a “gang,” was reasonable and did not violate the sledgehammer murderer’s rights.

Officials told Kevin Singer he couldn’t keep his gaming materials — including dozens of D&D books and magazines as well as a 96-page homebrew adventure scenario. The court’s ruling agreed, noting that the game “promotes fantasy role playing, competitive hostility, violence, addictive escape behaviors, and possible gambling.”

Photos: Associated Press

Via io9

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