Sunday, 1 August 2010

Mazes and Monsters, and the Healing Power of RPG's

For my first post in a while, I'm going for something thats close to my heart. The actual benefits of RPG's.

There are the obvious ones - 

Literacy & Numeracy Skills - no one who plays RPG's regularly (or even sporadically for that matter) ever has problems with reading, writing, or simple (or in the case of some games complex) maths. The educational benefits of playing an RPG are undeniable, yet those who berate RPG's always ignore them. Perhaps they would prefer it to be like the Dark Ages, where the Churchmen are education and the general populace aren't.

Social Aspect - I have made more friends via RPG's than from any other source. My oldest and dearest friend became that way because of regular contact playing AD&D. I have an enourmous amount of respect for him, not just as a Human being - but as a gamer. I've encountered kids who really find it hard to make friends, and because of playing RPG's have bonded with others and made firm friends. Again, the "RPG" haters ignore this - citing the evils of becoming an RPG'er and selling one's soul to the Devil.

Then there are the less obvious ones - 

Arts and Crafts Skills - though not as popular during play these days. I've seen some really elabourate Dungeon setups. Wonderfully crafted and painted, an old aquantance of mine wouldn't DM a game unless he had everything built in 3D and painted monsters for every encounter! A lot of DM's/DM's (myself included from time to time) make their own props. Treasure Maps, Chests, Magic Items, and Scrolls - all meticulously crafted. I seen some Amazing work over the years.

Health - yes, health reasons. From the kid who suffers with allergies and asthma so badly they can't play sports or even go outdoors that much during the summer months, to the poor sod who suffers with depression.

I've been demoing Castles and Crusades a lot recently, one of my Gamers has been suffering badly with depression - his Mother told me that his roleplaying outlet has helped him medically (his Doctors actually told her this, that his attitude has become more and more positive) and his recovery has been definitely helped by these gaming sessions - helped with perspective, facing up to problems etc.

 He's now DM'ing for his own group now, before he had very few friends - and wouldn't have had the confidence to set up his own group and be the main DM!

In my own experience - people who victimize/persecute roleplayers and vilify rpg's generally have problems of their own - and should put their own "houses" in order before causing problems and casting aspertions.

It makes me smile it really does, surely Jesus's message was one of tolerance, generosity, and acceptance - and a lot of "so called" Christians simple don't exhibit those traits at all!

In this day and age, of supposed enlightenment and tolerance (yea right - a local supermarket staff member has recently been "moved" because he's racist - very tolerant, but not very enlightened - the wanker should have been sacked IMHO) why are there still people with such an archaic attitude to RPG's.

It reminds me of the scare over Mazes and Monsters. Though some people think Mazes and Monsters was a "spoof" movie, it really wasn't.

Mazes and Monsters was based upon a novel of the same name by Rona Jaffe. Jaffe had based her 1981 novel upon certain wildly inaccurate newspaper stories about the disappearance of James Dallas Egbert III from Michigan State University in 1979.

The working title for the film was actually Dungeons & Dragons, but CBS dropped it in favour of the orignal novel's title - I would imagine to avoid the inevitable lawsuits over use of the trademarked name.

I had a friend back in those days who's girlfriend was very religious - he ended up letting her minister BURN all his D&D manuals and notes.

On a slightly ironic note - they are now divorced.

I actually love the film Mazes and Monsters, rather than a lesson in the "evils" of D&D (which is how simple minded bigots like to interpret it) its actually a lesson in dependancy and addiction and how too much of a good thing can present really big problems for anyone.

Robbie (Tom Hank's character in the film) had a co-dependant personality (needing the aclaim and affection from his parents that never came - leading to his obsession with his Brother, his girlfriend, and Mazes &  Monsters) his problems could quite easily have led him to become a religious fanatic, an alchoholic, or even a drug addict - to whatever solution he felt most comfortable and "in control" of.

When "abandoned" by his Brother, his Girlfriend - he resorted to retreating into his RPG persona; the only thing in his life he felt in control of and supported by. Retreating into his character took all responsibility away from Robbie, he was a different person - it was all Robbies fault, not the "characters".

Had his friends actually been aware of Robbies problems, rather than caught up in their own - they might have been able to help him via their Games. Turning them into a beneficial "healing" experience, rather than letting Robbie turning them into an addictive and destructive one.

In reality Egbert was a 16 year old child prodigy who was battling intense academic pressure, drug addiction, and personal issues. So he was actually two characters in the film Robbie and JayJay.

He had entered the school's utility tunnels with the intent of committing suicide and went into hiding after that attempt was unsuccessful.

Different from the sensationalist story, no insanity, no retreating into his character. Just pain and embarrasment for the poor kid.

After learning that Egbert had played Dungeons and Dragons - William Dear (a Private Investigator hired to find Egbert), because he was unfamiliar with the game, suggested that Egbert "MIGHT" have entered the tunnels to play a live action version.

This theory was taken as fact by the media (ooh, what a freaking surprise) and caused intense controversy over the psychological effects of role playing games.

After several weeks, Egbert gave himself up to William Dear.

HOWEVER in 1980 (less than a year after the incident) Egbert successfully committed suicide by a self-inflicted gunshot wound. Investigator Dear kept the true circumstances of the disappearance a secret until four years after Egbert's death, due to a promise he made to the boy not to reveal them.

If you want to check out the actual events, in William Dears words - try reading "The Dungeon Master: The Disappearance of James Dallas Egbert III" written by William Dear in 1984 - it gives his explanation of the 1979 "steam tunnel incident" which he feels was misrepresented by the news media.

The book recounts his experience investigating the 1979 disappearance of James Dallas Egbert III, a student at Michigan State University and is well worth the read.

OK rant over, normal Gaming Blogging will be resumed with the next Post :D


  1. Good post. I would say though that the biggest problem Tom Hanks's character had in M&M is that he was in a schizophrenic prodrome (his reality-testing abilities were beginning to blur) and he finally has his psychotic break. College age is actually around the tme that tends to occur in the real life, as well.

  2. ODDLY enough, that is one of the long term symptoms of a co-dependant personality. If not detected, and held in check - it just gets worse and worse and more divergent conditions and symptoms emerge. I really like the film (much more so than the book, the book comes over as austere and judgemental to me) but people generally miss its levels (something you obviously haven't done)