Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Why Does the Press Hate D&D?

Between 1979 and 1992 there were at least 80 news articles written about the "evils" of Dungeons and Dragons. Obsession with role playing games as a cause of social ills dates back to the disappearance of Dallas Egbert III and the myths that he and his friends played Dungeons and Dragons in the steam tunnels of Michigan State University.

Role playing games, like video games and rock music, are one of the key media bogeyman when it comes to attempts to find "reasons" for significantly aberrant social behavior. In some respect, this is an understandable reaction. Why people commit suicide or murder is, thankfully, a mystery to most people and we want to find reasons why individuals would behave in a manner so far removed from our own experiences. It is only when we learn of the actual motives, or underlying psychological issues, of a particular case that these things actually begin to make sense. But before we know those real causes, we still look for answers -- quick and easy answers.

Role playing games are often one of the things pointed to first, and it's getting a little boring and stale. When Patricia Pulling blamed role playing games after her son committed suicide, role playing games were a relatively new -- and little understood -- hobby. One can to a certain degree excuse here zealotry and misinterpretation of the hobby.

What one cannot excuse is articles like the one posted in yesterday's Boston Herald. In the article, Laurel J. Sweet uses Amy Bishop's past experiences playing "Dungeons and Dragons" as a framing device to associate the kind of shooting rampage murder committed on that campus with another murder that occurred a decade ago. To quote:

Accused campus killer Amy Bishop was a devotee of Dungeons & Dragons - just like Michael “Mucko” McDermott, the lone gunman behind the devastating workplace killings at Edgewater Technology in Wakefield in 2000.


The Sweet article is awkwardly worded, poorly constructed, and pairs unrelated paragraphs next to one another in a manner that might confuse a reader that statements written about Micheal McDermott were about Dr. Bishop. There is little to no actual research in the piece, only a couple of hyperbolic statements written by Sweet -- and one out of context, but accusatory, statement by an unnamed source. The article is a demonstration of everything that is currently wrong with news reporting.

It's first problem is that it is sensationalist. Like Kirk Douglas in Billy Wilder's classic Ace in the Hole, Sweet is creating a framework that has little to do with actual events -- or in providing any kind of public service -- rather Sweet's intent is obviously to garner hits (and sell papers) through a tangential connection.

Second, the article uses unnamed sources for all of its "evidence" linking Dr. Bishop's alleged crime with her role playing. Add to this the fact that the source's quote is out of context and bizarre, and one wonders how an editor let this article go to print. The proof from the source that Bishop and her husband were "devotees" of Dungeons and Dragons?

“They even acted this crap out,” the source said.


Wow! Now that is a substantive, fact filled, meaningful quote by a respectable source.

Oh, wait. No it isn't. It is a hack job, yellow journalism sentence, that implies sinister doings, but contains nothing substantially informative. What does the source mean that Bishop "acted this crap out?" Did Dr. Bishop play live action role playing games? Was she a member of an improvisational theater that acted out role playing sessions? Is the source a hack and slash role player who found Dr. Bishop's "in character" role playing disturbing during sessions he/she participated in? None of these questions are answered. In fact, no questions one could think to ask about the circumstances or the source are answered. The quote is just left floating in space for the reader to make huge inductive leaps.

Third, the writing of the piece is just genuinely bad -- as in poor. The logic strings from one paragraph to another are nonexistent. It appears as if this article is just a quick filler piece meant to appear topical, by referencing the recent Wisconsin decision regarding prisoner's and their "right" to play role playing games in prison.

One could guess at Sweet's familiarity with role playing games in general, and D&D in particular, by the inclusion of one word. Sweet describes Dr. Bishop as a "devotee" of Dungeons and Dragons. The Oxford English Dictionary definition of devotee is broad enough to include players of a game, but such devotion would have to be "zealous devotion." As such, it would be rare and one would have to build a case to demonstrate zealous devotion. Sweet makes no such case, just provides loosely worded hyperbole.

If I lived in the Boston area, I might invite Sweet to participate in one of my bi-weekly gaming sessions with friends. Alas, I live in Los Angeles were there is a large industry filled with many people who have played role playing games -- most of whom are better writers than Sweet.

Hmm... Sweet's poorly written column gives me an idea for a "predictive" column myself.

The following is a joke, it may not be funny but it is a joke.

BOSTON HERALD JOURNALIST LAUREL SWEET AT RISK OF COMMITTING MURDER

Future murderer Laurel J Sweet is a devotee of Journalism - just like J. Gregory Robertson, a man police say shot and killed 56-year-old Ralph Colon of Hartford, during a confrontation on Robertson's third-floor fire escape.

Sweet, now an Award-winning court and crime reporter who has been featured in the ABC miniseries "Boston 24/7" and the 9-11 documentary motion picture "Looking For My Brother," fell in love with journalism at an early age and has written for a number of newspapers. One source said that she was obsessed with awards and gaining readership by writing scandalous articles, researched or not.

“Sweet will write anything to get more readers,” the source said.

When questioned about it yesterday, Kevin Convey, Editor of the Boston Herald, dismissed tabloid journalism as “a dying medium. In the future, we'll need better researched news since the internet allows stories to be challenged in real time.”

Robertson is a a former Hartford Courant reporter and editor, but Convey said he never met him. Police seized two copies of the New York Times Style Manual from Robertson's house.

The popular profession has a long history of controversy. After a 30 second Google search, this reporter discovered an expose by Iowahawk which stated, "Accounts of media psychopathy, while widespread, have until now been largely anecdotal. In order to provide a more focused and systematic study of the crisis, Iowahawk researchers set out to identify and tabulate criminal arrests and convictions of current and former journalists. While by no means comprehensive, this 10-minute project yielded a grim picture of a once-proud profession now in the grips of tragic, drunk, violent, child-raping rage."
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