Wednesday, January 27, 2010

In Prison, There Is no D&D

This news story is a few days old but I figured, if you haven't heard about it, you probably should.

The gist goes as such:

-Man serving life sentence in a Wisconsin prison plays D&D with other inmates
-Supposedly, another prisoner (non-gamer) sends an "anonymous" letter to prison Warden expressing concern
-Under the guise of breaking up "potential gang activity" and "gambling", D&D-playing prisoner has all his gaming material confiscated by the guards
-Prisoner sues in court to have gaming materials returned, citing violations of free speech and due process
-7th US Court Of Appeals upholds ban, siding with prison officials' explanation

Though I'm conflicted on the morality/usefulness of denying a prisoner access to his hobby, I do believe the viewpoints expressed by both the warden and the judge in this case are a good insight into the continuing demonization and misrepresentation of gaming as a whole in society at large.

Prison officials cited that the game "...promotes fantasy role playing, competitive hostility, violence, addictive escape behaviors, and possible gambling." My questions for the judge and prison officials (and US citizens in general, since we all participate in the incarceration of others who violate the law) are thus...

First, what games don't promote "competitive hostility" and "escape behaviors"? Every game from Hungry Hungry Hippos to Monopoly to Chess to 40K is established on the basic premise of competition and imagination. Without these two factors, there is no game. Furthermore, how does denying a prisoner the exercise of mental escapism prevent or decrease his ability to do so (a deeper argument could be had about whether "locking down" prisoner's minds, as well as their bodies constitute 'cruel and unusual punishment').

Second, I find it interesting that, having totally eradicated illegal drug smuggling, weapons, inmate violence and drugs, that prison officials can now concentrate on curtailing the scourge of game-playing and the possibility of gambling it entails! Of course, I'm speaking sarcastically but the argument stands - has the prison eliminated these issues or are they singling out a small group of inmates to punish them?

Third (and most importantly), what's so terrible about "...promot[ing] fantasy role playing"? The opinion of prison officials in this case seems to be that role-playing itself is inherently bad. Why is that, I wonder? The US public is continually told by the media and special interests that certain forms of gaming promote violence and anti-social behavoir. The question is now why do so many people view role-playing, or any type of gaming, as somehow "bad" - is it a product of mass media or is there a deeper reasoning behind it, something more visceral perhaps?

I'll try not to hinder these topics with my own personal viewpoint except to say this - We have a criminal justice system in this country, not a criminal revenge system. As such, our prisons should be focused on rehabilitation and combating recidivism, not inducing a system based around summary punishments meant to make 'examples' of criminals. Capriciousness on the part of those in law enforcement only breeds a deepening resentment and mistrust of true justice, not only by criminals, but the citizenry as a whole.

Whatever this prisoner's crime, what good does it do to rob him of something he has enjoyed after taking away his liberty? And, if the answer to that is simply 'he commited a crime, therefore he has no rights or privledges', then why don't we just throw every criminal in this country into a 4'x4' cell underground and never let them out until their sentence is complete?

Personally, I'd rather have the guy rolling D10s, than shanking another inmate in the prison cafeteria.

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