The most recent NY Times Retro Report details the history of the famous tabletop roleplaying game, Dungeons & Dragons, and its alleged ties to satanism and the occult. Sparked by the disappearance of a gifted young college student who happened to be an avid D&D player, evangelical Christians spearheaded a witch-hunt and “moral panic” against the game in the 1980s. As the popularity of D&D skyrocketed throughout the decade, the game was blamed for several violent crimes such as the suicide of Irving Pulling and the murder of Mary Towey. Much like the criticism against the Harry Potter novels, the wizardry elements of D&D were seen as promoting the occult in addition to the violent scenarios presented in the game.
The article touches upon a much larger issue: violent media’s link to real-world violent crime. It is a persisting controversy that is not unique to gaming. It wasn’t too long ago that violent comic books were being banned, rock albums were being burned, and Tarantino was aggressively defending Kill Bill. As widespread of an debate as it is, it has a much more specific relation to interactive experiences. The root of the issue lies in the medium, is the psychology of giving a player agency to perform violent acts going to carry over from the digital world to the real one? This question is made more difficult to answer due to the age of the medium. In just the past few decades, interactive technology has evolved so rapidly that it’s near impossible to accurately study its effects. The APA released a highly debated meta-analysis of dozens of studies ranging from 2005-2013, concluding that video games were tied to an increase in aggressive behavior. However, as the NY Times reports, violent crime in youth has been in a consistent decline since the 1970s. Over 200 academics wrote an open letter to contest the APA findings, stating in part that the research was never peer-reviewed. “Determining cause and effect is often not simple,” they wrote; “and that has been the case throughout the history of games.”
As time goes on, interactive technology has become more immersive. Virtual Reality has been making headlines recently as more commercially available devices are being released. Virtual reality is a fledgling art form that is still finding its footing. It’s being heralded as a way to give users the most immersive experience as possible, but one can easily foresee the inevitable controversial games.