Friday, June 20, 2014

Different Races Exist. So What? -

Wade does admit that "rapid change must be due to culture, not genetics." Just so. And what does he think has been happening over the past two centuries? Once the set of institutions that more or less define open societies came into existence, they began out-competing societies that did not have those institutions. In his 1991 book The World Revolution of Westernization, the Yale historian Theodore von Laue describes how the spread of Western institutions by means of both arms and intellectual seduction has provoked resistance but is displacing other economic and political arrangements. And Western institutions—with fits and starts—have been spreading and adopted by other human groups.
For example, according to the Fraser Institute's economic freedom calculations, the "average level of economic freedom...has increased from 5.30 in 1980 to 5.76 in 1990 to 6.71 in 2000 and finally to 6.83 in 2010." Freedom House similarly reports that the percent of free countries has risen from 25 percent in the 1970s to 46 percent today, and that the percent of not-free countries has correspondingly fallen from around 40 percent to 24 percent. Clearly genetic changes do not account for these significant shifts.
Wade concludes that his book is an attempt to "dispel the fear of racism" and to "begin to explore the far-reaching implications of the discovery that human evolution has been recent, copious and regional." Undoubtedly future researchers will more finely detail how cultural and genetic evolution have mutually reinforced one another to shape human behaviors. And perhaps the implications of their findings will be "far-reaching." But Wade simply hasn’t the data to back up his speculations.
In any case, whatever those future genetic findings might be, they will not be nearly as far-reaching in their implications as the discovery of the institutions of liberty.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

(Mis)reading George Will - The Washington Post

Columnist George Will wrote a column recently that has attracted a tremendous amount of ire, including calls that the Washington Post fire him.  The St. Louis Dispatch has now announced that it’s replacing Will with Michael Gerson. The announcement reads in part: “The change has been under consideration for several months, but a column published June 5, in which Mr. Will suggested that sexual assault victims on college campuses enjoy a privileged status, made the decision easier. The column was offensive and inaccurate; we apologize for publishing it.”
Putting aside for the moment any other concerns that critics may have with Will’s column, the latter allegation, that he specifically suggested that sexual assault victims on college campuses enjoy a privileged status, is false.
What Will did write was the following:
Colleges and universities are being educated by Washington and are finding the experience excruciating. They are learning that when they say campus victimizations are ubiquitous (“micro-aggressions,” often not discernible to the untutored eye, are everywhere), and that when they make victimhood a coveted status that confers privileges, victims proliferate. And academia’s progressivism has rendered it intellectually defenseless now that progressivism’s achievement, the regulatory state, has decided it is academia’s turn to be broken to government’s saddle.
So Will is making two points here. First, that university culture encourages students to perceive themselves as victims, and those that can credibly claim victimhood are sometimes given higher status. I don’t think that’s reasonably debatable, as it’s exactly what the apparently common trope, “check your privilege” is about; students seen as “privileged” by dint of skin color, sex, wealth, etc., should shut up and let the more authentic and wise voices of members of societies’ victim classes proliferate. And the general rule is, if you subsidize something, you get more of it, and there’s  no reason to think this wouldn’t include self-perceptions of victimhood or self-identification as a victim. It’s notable that a recent well-circulated column by a Princeton student taking exception to the “check your privilege” meme took pains to note that the author himself is the grandchild of Holocaust survivors, the quintessential victims.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

How Physician Licensing Hurts Medicine and Helps Pseudoscience : The Freeman : Foundation for Economic Education

How Physician Licensing Hurts Medicine and Helps Pseudoscience : The Freeman : Foundation for Economic Education

In his 1962 book Capitalism and Freedom, economist Milton Friedman speculated about an economic factor behind public acceptance of quack medicine. Friedman argued that physician licensing regulations created an economic incentive for substitutes to conventional medicine. He argued that licensure drastically cut the supply of medical professionals, driving consumers to unregulated alternatives.
“Whenever you establish a block to entry into any field, you establish an incentive to find ways of getting around it, and of course medicine is no exception. The rise of the professions of osteopathy and of chiropractic is not unrelated to the restriction of entry into medicine,” he argued. “On the contrary, each of these represented to some extent an attempt to find a way around restriction of entry.… These alternatives may well be of a lower quality than medical practice would have been without the restrictions on entry into medicine.”
Friedman explained that if licenses accomplish their purpose—keeping out marginal suppliers of medicine—then, for those who cannot afford a doctor, “the alternative is untrained practice by somebody; it may and in part must be by people who have no professional qualifications at all.” Friedman certainly had a point in 1962, but today, demand for alternative medicine comes primarily from people of greater means. Demand for basic care is inelastic and subsidized by the welfare state, while most alternative medical treatments aren’t covered by Medicaid, and the poor have less disposable income to spend on chiropractors, expensive supplements, and so on. In any case, licensing reduces supply, driving up the price of medical care, making substitutes look more attractive. The field becomes filled with quacks and snake oil salesmen, leading to more unqualified suppliers than would have prevailed under a free market with competitive private certification.
What is significant about the faith healer and the homeopath is not just that they tend to be cheaper than licensed doctors, but that they often fraudulently promise greater benefits for their service than even the best that medicine can provide. This situation would seem to indicate that the constraints imposed on the supply of health care by government may exacerbate the constraints placed on it by reality.
In nearly every case, what alternative medicine is actually selling is the placebo response, which is a real phenomenon that results from positive interactions with people you trust, whether they happen to wear lab coats or magic crystals. At the same time, because of the reduced supply, overqualified doctors spend a lot of time treating minor complaints. Their time is extremely valuable and in demand, creating high opportunity costs for talking with patients. Moreover, because third parties such as Medicare and insurance pay for nearly all health care, there is little competition between doctors, and almost none at all between doctors and less-skilled technicians who could treat simple complaints as effectively and at lower cost in a less-regulated environment.
These facts allow us to make two predictions that I believe are borne out. First, given the barriers to entry and cartel status of physicians, the quality of doctors' personal interactions with patients is likely to be lower than it would otherwise be. (For instance, one study found doctors listen to patients for just 23 seconds before interrupting them.) Second, people selling alternative and substitute services will compete on this margin by being friendlier, listening more, and promising extremely optimistic outcomes. The result for the patient is a placebo effect, and for society, a vast industry of well-intentioned but unqualified “alternative” providers.

George Will responds to senators on his sexual assault column - The Washington Post

George Will responds to senators on his sexual assault column - The Washington Post

Editor’s note: On Thursday, U.S. Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisc.) and Robert Casey (D-Pa.) sent a letter to Post columnist George Will objecting to his column published online last Friday about sexual assault on college campuses. Today, Will sent the senators a response. Here is an excerpt:

Dear Senators Blumenthal, Feinstein, Baldwin and Casey:

I have received your letter of June 12, and I am puzzled. You say my statistics “fly in the face of everything we know about this issue.” You do not mention which statistics, but those I used come from the Obama administration, and from simple arithmetic involving publicly available reports on campus sexual assaults.

The administration asserts that only 12 percent of college sexual assaults are reported. Note well: I did not question this statistic. Rather, I used it.

I cited one of the calculations based on it that Mark Perry of the American Enterprise Institute has performed {link}. So, I think your complaint is with the conclusion that arithmetic dictates, based on the administration’s statistic. The inescapable conclusion is that another administration statistic that one in five women is sexually assaulted while in college is insupportable and might call for tempering your rhetoric about “the scourge of sexual assault.”
As for what you call my “ancient beliefs,” which you think derive from an “antiquated” and “counterintuitive” culture, allow me to tell you something really counterintuitive: I think I take sexual assault much more seriously than you do. Which is why I worry about definitions of that category of crime that might, by their breadth, tend to trivialize it. And why I think sexual assault is a felony that should be dealt with by the criminal justice system, and not be adjudicated by improvised campus processes.

Read the senators’ letter here, and Will’s response in full here.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Jon Stewart says those who watch Fox News are the "most consistently misinformed media viewers" | PolitiFact

• February 2007 Political Knowledge SurveyPew asked respondents 23 questions, such as who the vice president is, who the president of Russia is, whether the Chief Justice is conservative, which party controls the U.S. House of Representatives and whether the U.S. has a trade deficit. The ability to answer 15 of these questions correctly earned the respondent a place in the "high knowledge" category.
Pew then categorized various media sources by the percentage of their followers who earned a high knowledge rating. The media outlets fell into three categories -- those that had 50 to 54 percent in the high knowledge group, those that had 40 to 49 percent in the high knowledge group, and those that had 34 to 39 percent in the high knowledge group.
In descending order, the 50-to-54 percent group included The Daily Show and its Comedy Central cousin, The Colbert Report; major newspaper websites; the PBS News Hour with Jim Lehrer; Fox News’ The O’Reilly Factor; National Public Radio; and Rush Limbaugh’s syndicated radio talk show.
The 40-to-49 percent category included national newsmagazines; television news websites; local daily newspapers; Internet news sources like Yahoo and Google; and CNN.
Finally, the 34-to-39 percent group included the network evening news shows; online news discussion blogs; Fox News Channel; local television news; and the network morning shows.
Now, let’s analyze the data.
Fox isn’t last on the list, although it’s close -- 35 percent of Fox viewers earned a high knowledge rating, which was tied with local television news and was one point ahead of the network morning shows.
However, Fox’s 35 percent score places it exactly at the national average. This seems paradoxical -- Fox ranks near the bottom of a long list of media outlets, yet it sits right at the national average. But there’s an explanation. Lots of respondents reported following none of the media outlets they were asked about, and those respondents did quite poorly on the knowledge quiz -- not surprisingly. That meant that the non-media-using respondents brought down the national average, but they didn’t constitute a separate category that ranked lower than Fox on Pew’s chart.
Since Stewart was referring to "media viewers," this doesn’t undercut his point. However, the data includes an important counterpoint to Stewart’s claim: Viewers of at least one show on Fox scored quite well -- The O’Reilly Factor, of whom 51 percent made it into the high knowledge group. That made it equal to National Public Radio -- a longtime target of conservative complaints about liberal media bias -- and only three percentage points behind Stewart’s own show, at 54 percent.
• April 2008 Media Survey. Compared to the 2007 survey, the 2008 survey looked at a wider variety of media outlets but used a narrower selection of questions designed to test the respondent’s current-affairs knowledge. The pollsters asked three questions: "Do you happen to know which political party has a majority in the U.S. House of Representatives?" "Can you tell me the name of the current U.S. Secretary of State?" And "who is the current prime minister of Great Britain?" Anyone who went three-for-three earned the high knowledge designation.
Here, the range of results was much wider. Once again, Fox News was just about at the national average -- 19 percent of Fox viewers scored in the high knowledge category, compared to 18 percent of all respondents -- but this time a handful of news outlets scored lower than Fox did. With scores ranging from 17 percent all the way down to 9 percent, they were CNBC, local television news, network news, morning news shows, television newsmagazines, personality magazines, religious radio, the Weather Channel, CBS News, Access Hollywood and similar shows, and in last place, the National Enquirer.
And once again, particular Fox shows scored well above the average. Hannity & Colmes was one of only four choices to exceed 40 percent -- the others were the New Yorker/the Atlantic, NPR and MSNBC’s Hardball -- while The O’Reilly Factor scored 28 percent, or 10 points above the national average. (Hannity & Colmes even exceeded Stewart’s Daily Show in this poll, 42 percent to 30 percent.)
In all, this poll undercuts Stewart’s position even more than the 2007 poll did.

After a Year of Delays – IRS Says They Lost Lois Lerner’s Emails in Computer Crash | The Gateway Pundit

After a Year of Delays – IRS Says They Lost Lois Lerner’s Emails in Computer Crash | The Gateway Pundit

The IRS Conservative Targeting Scandal involved:
Now this…
After a year of delays the Obama IRS says it lost Lois Lerner’s emails in a computer crash.
From the Ways and Means Committee website, via Human Events:
Today, Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp (R-MI) issued the following statement regarding the Internal Revenue Service informing the Committee that they have lost Lois Lerner emails from a period of January 2009 – April 2011.Due to a supposed computer crash, the agency only has Lerner emails to and from other IRS employees during this time frame. The IRS claims it cannot produce emails written only to or from Lerner and outside agencies or groups, such as the White House, Treasury, Department of Justice, FEC, or Democrat offices.

The fact that I am just learning about this, over a year into the investigation, is completely unacceptable and now calls into question the credibility of the IRS’s response to Congressional inquiries. There needs to be an immediate investigation and forensic audit by Department of Justice as well as the Inspector General.

Friday, June 13, 2014

CNN reduces school gun violence by 80% « Hot Air

CNN reduces school gun violence by 80% « Hot Air

Well, not really, but what CNN did do was determine that 80% of the claim made by Michael Bloomberg’s anti-gun group is bogus. Erika noted yesterday that other analyses show that it’s more like 90%, but give credit where it’s due. CNN decided to do what most media outlets skipped, and looked at the actual data:
So on Wednesday, CNN took a closer look at the list, delving into the circumstances of each incident Everytown included.

Everytown says on its web site that it gleans its information from media reports and that its list includes school shootings involving a firearm discharged inside or on school grounds, including assaults, homicides, suicides and accidental shootings.

CNN determined that 15 of the incidents Everytown included were situations similar to the violence in Oregon — a minor or adult actively shooting inside or near a school. That works out to about one shooting every five weeks.

Some of the other incidents on Everytown’s list included personal arguments, accidents and alleged gang activities and drug deals.
While 15 school shootings is still 15 too many, it’s a far cry from Everytown’s claim of 74. Those were violent incidents as well, but they had other causes and weren’t the kind of mass shootings seen at Sandy Hook. Furthermore, the Santa Barbara massacre was not just a shooting either, and didn’t all take place in a school.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

‘Wow’: Journalist Attempts to ‘Debunk’ Anti-Gun Group’s List of ‘School Shootings in America Since Sandy Hook’ — Here’s What He Found |

‘Wow’: Journalist Attempts to ‘Debunk’ Anti-Gun Group’s List of ‘School Shootings in America Since Sandy Hook’ — Here’s What He Found |

Everytown for Gun safety, an anti-gun group formed by former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and prominent gun control advocate Shannon Watts, released new data on Tuesday suggesting that there have been an average of 1.37 school shootings every single week in the U.S. since the deadly 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut.

The anti-gun organization cites a total of 74 school shootings since Dec. 14, 2012. However, several of the shootings have come under scrutiny as some of them appear to have occurred off-campus and at least one may have been an instance of self-defense.

Journalist Charles C. Johnson dug deeper into Everytown’s data on Tuesday and published his findings on Twitter. He also criticized the fact that the group classified violent disputes and gang-related violence as “school shootings.”

“It’s not a school shooting when someone goes and shoots a specific person on campus. It’s a shooting that happens to take place at school,” he wrote.
And in the comments we can find....
zapparules -Jun. 11, 2014 at 1:23am
“It’s not a school shooting when someone goes and shoots a specific person on campus. It’s a shooting that happens to take place at school,”

Does this guy do stand-up comedy? If that comment wasn’t so sad it’d be funny.

With that kind of logic I guess one could argue something like: It’s not domestic violence when a spouse goes and abuses the specific other spouse or specifically their children. It’s violence that happens to take place at home, within the family unit,”

Amazing. Simply amazing.
fortherecord -Jun. 11, 2014 at 3:23am
It’s also a “school shooting” when some gang banger shoots a rival gang banger using a gun that was smuggled in illegally from South of the border.
No new anti 2nd Amendment laws, will ever have an effect on that, but strict enforcement of the protection of our borders, would.
So would a crackdown on gang violence.
mikechga -Jun. 11, 2014 at 8:14am
zapparules – I love the way you prove the OPPOSITE point. Although your example rambles, it seems to say, “It’s domestic violence if it takes place in the home.” Well, a burglar comes into your house and you beat them down, it is NOT domestic violence. You and your friend get in a fight over the Spurs game … that is NOT domestic violence. Just because it takes place in your domicile does NOT make it domestic violence.
Likewise, if Al Qaeda shoots up a school yard, it is NOT a school-shooting. If a B-1 accidentally drops a bomb on a schoolyard, it is NOT a school-shooting. And gangsters shooting at each other at 9PM is NOT a school-shooting. This Bloomberg group is trying to imply that someone shoots up a schoolyard 1.37 times a week and that is NOT what’s going on. And you need to know, they are aiming at people like you who can’t tell the difference.

Robert Bryce: Dreaming the Impossible Green Dream - WSJ

Robert Bryce: Dreaming the Impossible Green Dream - WSJ

Mr. McKibben is among the world's most famous environmentalists. He's written or edited 15 books and been awarded honorary degrees from 18 colleges and universities. He is also the founder of, whose goal is to reduce atmospheric carbon-dioxide levels to 350 parts per million from the current level of about 400 parts per million. To achieve that goal, he's written that "we need to cut our fossil fuel use by a factor of twenty over the next few decades."

But what are the actual implications of cutting fossil fuels 20-fold? Let's "do the math," as Mr. McKibben is fond of saying.

Global hydrocarbon consumption is now about 218 million barrels of oil equivalent energy a day, according to the BP Statistical Review of World Energy, which includes 83 million barrels of oil as well as about 75 million barrels of oil equivalent from coal and about 60 million barrels of oil equivalent from natural gas. Reducing that by a factor of 20 would cut global hydrocarbon use to the energy equivalent of 11 million barrels of oil a day, roughly the amount of energy now consumed by India, where 400 million people lack access to electricity.

In 2012, the average resident of planet Earth consumed about 1.3 gallons of oil-equivalent energy a day from hydrocarbons. If Mr. McKibben's plan were enacted—and we shared those available hydrocarbons equally—-each of us would be allotted about eight fluid ounces of oil-equivalent energy from hydrocarbons a day. Today, the average resident of Bangladesh uses about half a liter of oil equivalent—slightly less than 17 ounces—a day. Under Mr. McKibben's prescription, the average Bangladeshi would be required to cut his hydrocarbon use by about half.

Like many others among the green left, Mr. McKibben insists that the prospect of catastrophic climate change means we must rely solely on renewable energy (and no nuclear power, either). What would that mean? Again, let's "do the math." And to keep it simple, let's ignore oil (even though it accounts for about a third of all energy consumption) and focus solely on electricity.

Over the past three decades, according to the BP Review, global electricity demand has been growing by about 450 terawatt-hours a year. And the International Energy Agency expects power demand will continue growing by about that pace for the next two decades.

What would be required if we relied on solar energy to keep up with expected growth in electricity demand? Let's look at Germany, which has more solar capacity than any other country, about 33,000 megawatts. In 2012 those solar facilities produced 28 terawatt-hours of electricity. Thus the world would have to install about 16 times as much photovoltaic capacity as Germany's entire installed base, and it would have to do so every year.

Wind? Merely to keep pace with the global growth in electricity demand would require the installation of about 280,000 megawatts of new wind-energy capacity every year. According to several academic studies, the areal power density of wind energy—that is, the amount of power that can be derived from a given amount of land—is about one watt per square meter. This means that installing the requisite additional wind capacity would require covering about 280,000 square kilometers (108,000 square miles of land)—an area nearly the size of Italy—with wind turbines, every year. (For comparison, the areal power density of nuclear power is more than 50 watts per square meter. The productivity of oil and gas wells vary, but even marginal wells have power densities of about 27 watts per square meter.)

Late last month I emailed Mr. McKibben, asking for his calculations regarding the energy-supply, land-use, or economic implications of his 20-fold reduction plan for hydrocarbons. His response included no math on the quantity of hydrocarbons available, nor any numbers for expected land use, or costs. Instead Mr. McKibben pointed mainly to a report earlier this year by Mark Jacobson, an engineering professor at Stanford University, which claims that wind, water and solar could meet all U.S. energy demand by 2050.

That document, in turn, refers largely to a 2010 paper Mr. Jacobson published in the journal Energy Policy, which rests heavily on the assumption that some type of electricity-storage system will be invented so that we can store the intermittent energy harnessed from the wind and sun. How reasonable is that assumption? Energy storage, Mr. Jacobson writes, "is a critical area for new research."

My email to Mr. McKibben also inquired about the need for refined petroleum products in transportation and aviation. His response ignored aviation but replied that "we've made great strides in electrifying vehicles." The energy he collects from the solar panels on his house, he wrote, can power his Ford C-Max on "most days."

Here's a suggestion: As a test of his scheme to cut hydrocarbon use 20-fold, Mr. McKibben and his allies making the pilgrimage to the September climate-change march, should be required to travel to New York City in solar-powered cars. If there aren't enough of those, they should be required to walk to the Big Apple.

It will be a good test. For if policy makers implement Mr. McKibben's energy plan, we'll all be walking. A lot.

Gun Homicide Rate Down 49% Since 1993 Peak; Public Unaware | Pew Research Center’s Social & Demographic Trends Project

Gun Homicide Rate Down 49% Since 1993 Peak; Public Unaware | Pew Research Center’s Social & Demographic Trends Project

In the months since the mass shooting at a Newtown, Conn., elementary school in December, the public is paying close attention to the topic of firearms; according to a recent Pew Research Center survey (Pew Research Center, April 2013) no story received more public attention from mid-March to early April than the debate over gun control. Reducing crime has moved up as a priority for the public in polling this year.

Mass shootings are a matter of great public interest and concern. They also are a relatively small share of shootings overall. According to a Bureau of Justice Statistics review, homicides that claimed at least three lives accounted for less than 1% of all homicide deaths from 1980 to 2008. These homicides, most of which are shootings, increased as a share of all homicides from 0.5% in 1980 to 0.8% in 2008, according to the bureau’s data. A Congressional Research Service report, using a definition of four deaths or more, counted 547 deaths from mass shootings in the U.S. from 1983 to 2012.2

Looking at the larger topic of firearm deaths, there were 31,672 deaths from guns in the U.S. in 2010. Most (19,392) were suicides; the gun suicide rate has been higher than the gun homicide rate since at least 1981, and the gap is wider than it was in 1981.


U.S. Firearm Deaths
  • In 2010, there were 3.6 gun homicides per 100,000 people, compared with 7.0 in 1993, according to CDC data.
  • In 2010, CDC data counted 11,078 gun homicide deaths, compared with 18,253 in 1993.5 Men and boys make up the vast majority (84% in 2010) of gun homicide victims. The firearm homicide rate also is more than five times as high for males of all ages (6.2 deaths per 100,000 people) as it is for females (1.1 deaths per 100,000 people).
  • By age group, 69% of gun homicide victims in 2010 were ages 18 to 40, an age range that was 31% of the population that year. Gun homicide rates also are highest for adults ages 18 to 24 and 25 to 40.
  • A disproportionate share of gun homicide victims are black (55% in 2010, compared with the 13% black share of the population). Whites were 25% of victims but 65% of the population in 2010. Hispanics were 17% of victims and 16% of the population in 2010.
  • The firearm suicide rate (6.3 per 100,000 people) is higher than the firearm homicide rate and has come down less sharply. The number of gun suicide deaths (19,392 in 2010) outnumbered gun homicides, as has been true since at least 1981.
U.S. Firearm Crime Victimization
  • In 2011, the NCVS estimated there were 181.5 gun crime victimizations for non-fatal violent crime (aggravated assault, robbery and sex crimes) per 100,000 Americans ages 12 and older, compared with 725.3 in 1993.
  • In terms of numbers, the NCVS estimated there were about 1.5 million non-fatal gun crime victimizations in 1993 among U.S. residents ages 12 and older, compared with 467,000 in 2011.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Here are 33 Questionable Entries on the ‘Viral’ Everytown Map of All School Shootings Since Newtown

Here are 33 Questionable Entries on the ‘Viral’ Everytown Map of All School Shootings Since Newtown

Here's the map...

After listing the cases that really don't fit,

Whether or not one wants to dismiss all this and say these cases “technically” fit, gang-related violence and suicides are not really what people have in mind when it comes to “school shootings.” In other words, this list was compiled to give the public an exaggerated impression of how many school shootings have taken place.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Modern feminism has got it wrong about men - Telegraph

Modern feminism has got it wrong about men - Telegraph

Similarly, I'm horrified with the regularity and ease with which the word "misogynist" is flung about online. Recently, I wrote an article for a feminist publication on the importance of prioritisation and pragmatism in social progression and suggesting these were often sadly absent from feminist campaigning. During the subsequent inevitable Twitter storm (during which "feminists" threatened to "rip me apart", called me a "piece of s---" and a "brainless bimbo" in an incredibly sisterly fashion) a male tweeter calmly pointed out several historical instances where negotiation had resulted in progression. As a result, he was publicly called a "pendantic misogynist" by the mob.

A pedant he might have been, but it's worth noting the official definition of misogynist as "someone who hates women" rather than "anyone who dares question the popular feminist status quo".

In the same article, I dared to suggest that we should take into account men's feelings and viewpoints on key feminist issues. "Men have had their voices heard for FAR TOO LONG! IT'S OUR TURN!" came the online battle cry, as though even garnering some male opinions would be a threat to womankind's empowerment, so toxic and self-serving they would inevitably be.

The Everyday Sexism movement is a fantastic idea - an opportunity for an open debate on the ways in which genders mindlessly form prejudices against each other. So why have its followers largely excluded men from the conversation? "You can't be sexist towards men!" was a university student's response to this question at another debate I attended (she was studying feminism, by the way). Which is a bit like saying black people can't be racist.

In Britain in 2014, girls are entitled to the same education as boys, they can then go on to get any job they want and be paid the same as a man. Not only is this not true for millions of women throughout the world, it wasn't true for our foremothers. I'd much rather say to young women, "these rights were hard won. Go and make the most of them" than "no wonder you can't fulfil your potential! Men whistle at you and there are boobies in the newspaper, you poor helpless little things".

Today's feminism teaches British women to see themselves as victims and victims cannot exist without a villain, in this instance – men. In order for this thesis to have any kind of logic, feminists have made sweeping, inaccurate judgments about an entire demographic, based on nothing more than their gender. Ironically, the exact practice they claim to be fighting. Gender equality requires co-operation on all sides. As a humanist, I'd like to see today's feminists give men a bit more credit - they might just be surprised.

Monday, June 09, 2014

Ethics in Fantasy - Part 3

Ethics in Fantasy - Part 3

by Tracy Raye Hickman


In the first two parts of this series, we have explored communication techniques which can help bridge the gap between critics and proponents of fantasy games. We also addressed the common concerns many people have about such games and, hopefully, have invited these concerned people to look into fantasy role playing for themselves. Now that we have brought them in, it's time to make sure that our games are as positive as we claim them to be.


Jeff's father is worried about his son being involved in this role playing game thing. Hey, there's been a lot of talk about it and not all that he's heard is good. Still, Jeff has talked with his dad and now, it seems, the two of them are going over to a friend's house to play the game together.
Doug is Jeff's friend and dungeonmaster. He's going to run their campaign, just like he does every other Friday night. Everything looks toward a promising evening.
The only question is, what kind of game will Jeff's father find when they reach Doug's house?
This isn't just a public relations question. While it may seem important that Jeff's dad find a wholesome activity it is more important that the game Doug runs really is wholesome. Role playing games, as we have said before, have a great potential for good. They also have a great potential for misuse.
Doug, the dungeonmaster or referee of the game, is the one that bares the burden and the responsibility for his game. Will Doug's game be real epic fantasy or will it be a lazy imitation filled with dark deeds? It's important the Doug knows how important this difference is.


In the beginning of time, the first entertainment form was the storyteller.
As the family or clan sat around the fire at night, the storyteller would weave magic and history for his audience. He kept the ancestry for his people and their deeds and stories and beliefs from generation to generation.
Time passed and the clans became civilizations. With such progress came the theater and the tragedies of ancient Greece. Now a story was told by a chorus of people rather than by a single narrator. Places were build for such presentations and many people came from far away to experience them.
Traveling storytellers soon moved across the land. They would bring stories from places that people had not heard of and news from countries far away. These Bards could sing the songs of many countries and entertain with wonderful stories gathered from everywhere on the road the took.
Print changed that. Plays could be sent far abroad to be seen by people wherever the sea lanes crossed their path. For that matter, you could read the play without every producing it. Books were easier to carry than a Bard.
Technology soon took a hand. Movies brought the shadows of plays to places that rarely experience anything but local theatricals. Tales were soon told by radio. You could enjoy all the wonder and history right their in your living room. Radio with pictures soon came along and now we can watch it in living color.
Yet with all these technological advances, something was left behind. The thrill of the storyteller got lost in the translation. The personal experience was somehow missing.
Then, in the 1970's, a new entertainment form emerged. Fantasy role playing began to revive the social art of storytelling.
Now, the referee of such a game, or dungeonmaster, is the modern bard. With him lies the ability to bring a group of people together and, with their help, weave a tale that is wonderful and exciting.

Game Master is many things

The referee -- or gamemaster if you prefer -- is many things. He is primarily an entertainer who should be watching his audience carefully for signs of boredom or excitement. He is a referee who impartially interprets the rules of the game according to the current situation. He is an actor playing a thousand parts in the course of the drama. He is a game designer as he modifies his game to suit his players or drafts one from scratch.
He is also something he never wanted to be but must accept. He is a teacher.
The Game Master as a Teacher
This is a role which the game referee usually does not want and of which is most unaware. Yet it is perhaps the one role the game referee plays of which he needs to be most keenly aware.

People learn whether we want them to or not.

From the time we are born until the time we die, the experiences we have teach us. Much of who we are is based on a some of our God given talents, our life time of experiences and the choices we made on the basis of our talents and experiences.
While we may, from time to time, concentrate on mastering tasks and information, our impulse to learn is not something which we turn off and on. Schools and Universities provide us with concentrated data and experience. While there we are offered the opportunity to absorb data (facts & theory) as well as experience (lab & field work). However, this does not mean that we turn off our minds once we leave the classroom.
Think of a student returning home after a hard day of study. He comes exhausted to the door with all his books precariously balanced in one hand. He realizes that the door is locked and that his keys are buried deep in his tight jeans. He stacked the books he is carrying carefully and doesn't want to take the time to put them down. Pondering a moment, he traps the books between himself and the door, reaches for his keys and unlocks the door. Hopefully he will be able to catch the books before the door opens.
While this student may have come home thinking he was tired of learning, he still has learned something. He's learned how to unlock a door while carrying too many books. He didn't list that lesson along side his trigonometry, history and political science classes when he woke up that morning. It was simply another experience from which he learned during the day.
When a small child touches a hot plate of food for the first time, the child learns that they shouldn't do that. The baby didn't set out to learn about heat and pain -- it was simply that the experience itself taught the lesson.
Experience, as the saying goes, is the Great Teacher.

Game Masters teach whether we want to or not.

Role playing is one of the most powerful of experiences. People project their imaginary characters into the games. Most people who play the game, when they talk about it, do not distinguish their character from themselves. Ask a player what happened in the game. They will tell you the story by saying, "I stepped through the door ..." or "I drew my sword ..." They rarely say, "My character stepped through the door ..." or "I had the character I was playing draw my sword ..." While part of this is semantic (it's easier to say "I" than "My character"), a large part of it is because the player was pretending that they really were there.
Because of this heavy identification, players in role playing games learn lessons from their games as though they really were experiencing the adventure. They don't set out to learn anything. It's just a game, isn't it?
No, they learn from their experience in the game.
Some of this learning represents only game play experience without any real world application. How often, after all, do you 'listen at the door' before opening it? You rarely have need to know the attack and defence difference between a mace and a morning star. Do you work out a 'marching order' when you walk with your friends? Of course not: these things are lessons which you apply only to your games.
Yet there are other lessons which are taught that are not so obvious and which do apply to life.
I often think about an experience I shared with the players in one of my own games. I was the 'dungeonmaster' for a D&D game. We were playing 'Ravenloft', an adventure written by my wife and I about a vampire.
On the surface, this seemed like a typical old movie plot; Eerie eastern European location with lots of fog and fallen leaves. There was the obligatory castle high on the craggy cliff with the wolves howling in the woods. Sure enough, the vampire was up there in the castle.
To most of the players it seemed like a straight forward task: find the vampire and kill him.
However, Ravenloft had more to it than that. The plot of the story behind the game dealt with why Strahd von Zarovich, the Count of Barovia had fallen from grace to become the first vampire. As the game progressed, one of the players began discovering this background.
The vampire had once been a great and noble warrior. When he conquered Barovia and established the castle there he sent for his family to join him. There was a particular girl in the town that he wished to marry. In the end, however, the girl fell in love with the Count's younger brother. Strahd blamed his age for the girls rejection and vowed to live forever through the dark arts. He believed if he could rid himself of death that the girl would somehow find him attractive.
Of course, the brother was killed by Strahd. The girl threw herself from the cliffs of the castle but her body was never found. Strahd found that his pact with darkness had caused that he should not die but that he should not live either. Thus did he become a vampire.
At the end of the game, my friend held the sword which could destroy Strahd. As his companions fell upon the vampire, my friend found that he couldn't kill the monster. He saw all the sadness and tragedy which the mans life had once been. Ultimately his companions in the game were forced to finish the job.
After the game, we spoke. "He deserved to die better than that," my friend said.
"Yes," I replied, "But that is how it is with people who fall from greatness. He chose his end when he first chose to kill his brother. How could it be any different?"

Just what are we saying here? (Unwanted lessons)

What we are saying is that people are going to take something from your games and incorporate them into their lives whether you want them to or not. The experience of your game is going to teach them something: perhaps not big lessons but subtle ones. Do thieves always get away with their crimes in your game? Do player character assassins murder at will? Do your players use torture without being tortured themselves? Are towns being ravaged by players without fear of retribution from the king?
If you answer yes to any of these or similar questions, then you are not only misusing the game but you are teaching false and negative lessons to your players. These lessons are false because they do not properly represent the nature of consequence in the world. They are negative because they elevate bad behaviors above good ones.
Games that allow such things are not only teaching the wrong lessons, they are bad games. The entertainment experience and enjoyment is far less than in a game with conflict, consequence and a firm handle on good and evil, notwithstanding anything you may have heard to the contrary.


Science-fiction, Cyberpunk, Fantasy and Epic Fantasy are all part of what I will call 'Fantastic Literature' Within Fantastic Literature, there seems to be a clear range of moral ground where these categories fall.
Cyberpunk as a literary medium is clearly counter-moral. It challenges our viewpoint with a depressing view of society and the future. Drugs in Cyberpunk are an accepted release from problems and heros (or non-heros) are those who do the worst violence. Not exactly a viewpoint I would want to advance in our society.
Science-fiction comes a bit closer down the line with its broad themes ranging from depressing dark futures to utopian inspirations. While moralistic science fiction has been written, the genre itself is amoral -- that is, it can as easily be written to portray a counter-moral viewpoint as it can portray a moral viewpoint. Science fiction spans the middle ground with a wide range.
Fantasy, however, and particularly epic fantasy has traditionally dealt with the conflicts of good and evil is fairly clear terms. Theirs little doubt about who's wearing the white hats in the Lord of the Rings.
Epic fantasy has heros who must conquer the foe. We all want to see ourselves as heros of some kind, vanquishing the bad things around us. We identify strongly with the hero or heroine in these adventures because we want to be them. It is this desire that makes fantasy such an appealing genre.
I believe that the notion of fantasy as purely escapist fiction is false. Epic fantasy deals with real questions of good and evil. Escapist fiction is only a distant relative.


At the heart of the epic is the struggle of good against evil. There are good reasons for this. Conflict is what makes a game work. It is the overwhelming of resistance in the game by the force of our play that makes a game such a pleasant sensation.
Years ago, there was a great deal of effort put into designing a game that was totally cooperative. The desires in this were very noble. When one person 'wins' a game, the other players tended to all 'lose'. Wouldn't it be nice if we could all play a game where we weren't pitted against each other.
What we soon found out was that games without conflict are -- well, boring. Without some obstacle to overcome, the essential feeling of mastery and accomplishment just wasn't there.
Take most popular board games, for example. In Monopoly you must combat your fellow players in a contest to see which of you can bankrupt the other first. Sorry! asks children to not only race around the track but to continuously send their playmates back to their starting positions in order to win the game.
Even in board games which have no obvious conflict or resistance it is still there. Life, for example, does not require much participant interaction but does determine a winner at the end of the game based primarily on who has the most money. The conflict in this game is represented by the rules themselves. Once again, we have one winner and a host of losers.
Role playing games themselves have often been portrayed as 'cooperative' gaming. This is, however, misleading. The game is filled with conflict -- between the players as a group and the referee of the game. The players pit the force of their characters scores and their own wits against the game design and the wits of the referee. The adventure itself, then, provides the conflict for the game.


As fantasy as a genre is basically a moral medium, so, too, should be the conflict within fantasy role playing games. This makes the adventure true to the fantasy form, but there are more important reasons for using this basic conflict.
Good against evil is an easily recognized form of conflict. When you say, "We go to fight the Garg, Lord of Evil!", everyone knows where they stand. When you say, "We go to fight Garg, Lord of Situational Ethics!" you may find your players at something of a loss.
By putting such conflict into the plots and backgrounds of your games, you give your players high ideals for which to fight rather than self interest alone.


Games which allow action without consequence are, at best, lazy. At the worst, such games teach a false view of the world to their participants.
The nature of conflict requires consequence.
We expect things to work a certain way. If they don't, they should at least work consistently wrong. If this weren't true, we wouldn't be able to plan anything. Imagine a world where every time you tried to use a hammer, it worked differently.
In role playing games, we expect our mace to do a certain amount of damage when we strike an opponent. If it didn't, we'd suspect there was some magical or other reason for it. Otherwise, we would all start complaining to the referee that he was being unfair or not following the rules.
This simple rule of action and consequence seems to be an obvious one. Unfortunately, the rule is seldom extended to the adventure or campaign. Pillage a town? Sure, as long as you don't mind the Baron and his army riding in hot and unending pursuit. Poison the King? O.K., so long as your prepared to deal with his brother, the paladin, and his army. Kill hostages? Fine, if you remember that each of those hostages has nearly a hundred relatives who will be willing to pay any price for your hide.
The characters actions in a role playing game must have lawful consequences just as surely as we expect a mace to do damage. Anything else would be a lie.

Games without consequence cheat their players

But it's fun to play an evil character, you say? I suppose it would be fun to be a bank robber if there were no police and other people didn't mind my taking their money. You threaten people with a gun and they give you money. You go down to the store and buy a stereo. You go to another bank, threaten people with a gun and they give you more money. You buy a car. You go to another bank ...
Is this real? You wave a gun in a bank and you might not live long enough to wave anything else again. Assuming you do get out of the bank, how far can you get before the police seal the roads? Escape on foot? Steal a car? It didn't work in Denver, folks. A T.V. News helicopter followed the guy wherever he went. Assuming you live through that and somehow do manage to get away, the money you have is most likely marked. A guy at the car dealership is going to sell you that nice new car for $24,000.00 -- all paid in crisp, new twenty dollar bills -- without reporting the transaction to the police?
An evil characters life in a properly run fantasy campaign should be a colorful, short one.
Interestingly, you are cheating players of evil characters by letting them get away with so much. Any thrill associated with doing dastardly deeds is dulled when you get away with it all the time. Where's the challenge? Where's the excitement?
Your evil thief character walks into a city. He goes to the richest neighborhood. He locates the house of a wealthy merchant. Picking the lock on the gate, he enters the front door. Everyone is asleep except the butler who's blind and deaf. The thief kills everyone in the house. He finds the treasure and walks out with a bizillion pieces of gold.
In this example, the character has pulled off some horrible crimes including senseless murder. Not a single character run by the referee has made any effort to prevent it. In doing so, not only has the referee given a horrible lesson to the player (killing is o.k. if it is expedient?!?) but has also cheated the player out of any challenge that playing his evil character might have given him.
In a game with consequence, the story might be a good deal different.
Your evil thief character walks into a city. The guards in the city probably will not allow him entry, since his reputation seems to have preceded him. The thief is forced to enter the city by climbing the wall at night. It only takes him four nights to do this since he was caught on the first three nights, beaten with staves and tossed rudely out the main city gates. Eventually he makes his way into a wealthy neighborhood in the city. There are more guards here and his ragged dress would give him away to them in an instant. He is required to take on a disguise as a beggar. Eventually he locates the house of a wealthy merchant. Late at night, he picks the lock only to be confronted with two guard dogs. He manages to kill these, but not before there is a terrible combat. The thief now limps from the bite wounds on his legs. Entering the house, he finds everyone asleep except the butler who is blind and deaf. The thief managed go find the strongbox and gets the bizillion gold pieces. The butler may be deaf and blind, but he is not stupid and his sense of smell has been greatly enhanced over the years. The thief, still in beggars costume, smells to the rafters. The butler sounds the alarm. The thief struggles with the butler but hears the rest of the household awakening and the local constables are breaking down the front door. The thief begins to flee, but the bizillion gold pieces weigh him down. A bizillion gold pieces weighs quite a bit. The thief is forced to leave the gold and leap out the back window. Loud cries from the authorities seem to fill every street. He disappears down into the sewers to make his escape. There he wanders for several days, the wound in his leg festering in the disease-filled environment. Having had his fill of roasted rat, he finally emerges from the sewers -- into the waiting arms of a guard. They all saw him going into the sewers and knew it was only a matter of time before he came out.
We leave our thief hanging by chains on a high wall, stripped of his weapons and clothing. His execution will be in the morning.
What a challenge for the thief!


A fantasy campaign without an ethic is devoid of direction. The question which then confronts us all is what kind of ethic should our games and campaigns portray?
Some ethics on which we may agree
There are many different cultures and ethics which exist in the world. Everyone has their own view of these ethics and their relationship to them. Still, there are some common elements to many of them on which we may be able to agree as a basic ethic for fantasy games.

The Omniscience and Omnipotence of God

That there is some order to the universe is a central theme of fantasy. Such order implies thought and conscience.
I have often been asked, how can I, as a Christian, write fantasy games with pantheons of different gods. Writing fantasy is the easiest of the genres for a Christian because of fantasy's moral basis. God is implied in all my writings and games. He may not be there in white flowing robes; He may be represented by intermediaries; but He is there nevertheless.
Putting someone in charge of your universe lets you set up the rules by which your universe is run. It insures consistency so long as you remember who is in charge.

The good redeems its own

This does not mean that the good guys will always be saved at the last minute by the cavalry. Bad things happen to good people from time to time. Good redeems its own in that good acts add to the better state of all humanity. When we help someone, we improve all life in some small measure. Ultimately, those who practice the principles of good -- even to their own discomfort from time to time -- are ultimately rewarded for their work.

Evil feeds on itself

This does not mean that evil will always fail right away. Hitler ruled most of Europe for years before he was finally beaten. Evil characters will, from time to time, be victorious.
However, those who are evil either make a mistake in their arrogance or, once they have conquered, find their fellows suddenly turning on each other. Devoid of sufficient outside threat, the self-centered evil nations quickly fragment themselves in contention with each other.

Man may choose for himself good or evil (Free Agency)

Central to the conflict of good and evil is the idea that man has the ability to choose for himself between the two. Free will allows men to see both the light and the dark around them and to gain perspective from the contrast of the two.

Consequences for our choices are mandated by nature

All actions have consequence. Establish this as a law. It should be the basis of all families, villages, towns, cities and kingdoms which your characters enter. Towns have laws and rules. Disobeying them should have consequence.
The god in your campaign will also have laws. That god, too, will require consequences for those who disobey the divine law.
Your own ethic is best.
As to the details of your game ethic, you know your own beliefs best of all. It is easiest to convey your own belief in a game setting, if for no other reason than it is far more convenient than trying to research out a philosophy different than your own.
If you believe in nothing at all, then I am sorry. Faith and hope are the wellspring of dreams and imagination. I cannot conceive of life without these things. I would encourage you to find those things. It won't just better your game -- but it will better your life as well.


Fantasy is not escapist fiction; it is a morally based genre. Good fantasy demands ethics and good fantasy role playing demands ethical play and design.
Ethics is not something which is outmoded; truth is not situation nor relative and we shouldn't pretend that it is. Our games are teaching people around us not just about a fantasy world, but about how we deal with each other. If we cannot learn to deal with each other honestly in our imaginations, how can we hope to deal with each other face to face in the real world?
Basing a fantasy world or character on evil is lazy: it's a cop out and a cheat. Creating a fantasy world that requires true heroism may not be as easy -- but it's a whole lot more fun.
There's one more benefit to Ethical games: when Jeff brings his dad to watch your game you can open the door wide. 'Come in and have fun. I think you're really gonna like this game!'

Ethics in Fantasy -- Part 3 / The Moral Imperative of Fantasy
Copyright 1989, 1996 by Tracy Raye Hickman. All Rights Reserved.

Ethics in Fantasy: Part 2 Concerned About Role Playing

Ethics in Fantasy: Part 2

by Tracy Raye Hickman


In the first installment of this series, we explored some of the techniques of communication which can help bridge the understanding gap between people who play role-playing games and those who are concerned about morality and perceived evil influences in such games. As promised, this month leads with an example of how one might address those concerned about role playing games.


Are you concerned about Dungeons & Dragons1 or D&D as it is commonly known? If you are, then you are not alone. Many people over the last ten years have become alarmed at what they have heard from their televisions, friends and neighbors on this subject.
I, too, am concerned about role-playing games and how they are being used. I am a Christian. I accept Christ as my personal Savior.
So why am I taking a moment, now, to write to you about role playing games? Are role playing games so important?
No. Certainly they are not when compared to so many other things in this world. The question of whether to play these games or not pales in comparison to such issues as nuclear war, the homeless and taxes. Families are more important than any game; so, too, is friendship, love, and taking a firm stand on your moral and spiritual convictions.
I am taking a moment to write about role playing games because it is an activity in which so many people are involved. Due to much misunderstanding on the subject -- both by those who play such games and those who question their play -- much harm has been done to relationships and, sadly, to how Christianity and religion in general is perceived by the players of such games.
In short, I write because people and their relationships are important.
I write primarily to the Christians who are reading this article but what I have to say also has great implication for those of other faiths, be they Jewish, Islamic, Hindu or otherwise.


I offered to run a Dungeons & Dragons game for the youth group in our church last month. Believe me, if there was ever a group of young men who needed to play this game, these were it. They were disorganized, unkind to each other and generally uncooperative. They weren't bad boys -- they just hadn't learned how to value each other yet.
I was honestly surprised when my Bishop gave me a call to cancel the game.
"Someone's objecting?" I was stunned. I had been writing these games for over five years. It had certainly been no secret to my fellow church members. Now someone, it seemed to me, was calling into question my very faith and worthiness.
"I'm sure it's just that they don't understand," said the Bishop. "I honestly don't know anything about the game. I haven't played the game, so I can't very well tell them it's all right. I think it would be best to just cancel the activity."
And do we just cancel me? I thought. I've tried to forward good teachings in every game I ever put a hand to -- do we just cancel that?
I had to swallow a lot of initial anger. Good Christians work hard at being Christ-like and nothing rubs their fur the wrong way more than intimating that they aren't acting their faith. Why had someone who had known me for years suddenly found fault in how I had been making my living for years in all good conscience?
The answer, of course, was that they didn't understand.

Why so much misunderstanding

Ours is a complex age. There is such a diverse number of influences on us that it often becomes a mind-boggling task just to keep track of the things we have to avoid. We long for 'simpler times' though we are sometimes hard pressed to remember just when those were. We would like the world to be a simple place.
Unfortunately, when we are confronted with a complex problem we often also look for a simple answer. Drug abuse, promiscuity, Satan worship and a host of other sins have complex roots in a society as diverse as ours. We are bombarded, it seems, at every turn with the winds of influence that try to blow us here and there like chaff. It can be very tempting to collect up all those terrible things and nail them to a single cause.
There's been a lot of misunderstanding about role playing games. It is a very new activity, quite different from traditional board games. Things that are new are, naturally, suspect. Somehow, the game became the 'convenient cause' for a host of the problems that our youth must face.

Honest men have been misinformed

When we see the events of the world portrayed in a slick thirty-minute newcast each night, we are often comforted. The world really SEEMS that simple.
When Ed Bradley enters your home Sunday night and, right there on '60 Minutes' tells you that role playing games have been 'alleged' to cause Satan worship and teen suicide, how can we question it? If it's on '60 Minutes' it must be true or they wouldn't say it, would they? We would never suspect that Ed Bradley would withhold important information (though he did) just to get a good story. If there were new facts which surfaced after their investigation aired (which occurred) they would let us know (which they did not).
We often rely on others to do our work for us. We cannot take the time to investigate everything we come across in our life -- we trust others to take in all the facts and give us the 'digested' version of the truth. Sadly, this all too often means that we make our decisions based on a collection of other peoples opinions -- informed or otherwise.
The search for the 'easy' or 'simple' cause for complex problems has led honest men to be misinformed about role playing games. This is sad because such games, when used properly, are powerful tools for teaching good, solid principles of life and faith.


Suffice it to say that people are concerned because it is their children that are involved. We all want what's best for those who are nearest to our hearts. We've heard that these role playing games are evil and harmful. If they are we want to know about it.
While there is a host of subjects we could talk about, we'll limit ourselves for now to two of the most common evils attributed to role playing games. Here's the other side of the coin.


Many are concerned these days about Satanism. They see the influence of the Occult has permeated much of our society and is bringing spiritual ruin. All one seems to have to do is go to any record store and look through a few covers to see images of demons and witchcraft.
Most fantasy role playing games include monsters from many of the worlds mythologies, including demons, devils, witches and the like. Traditionally, these creatures are the enemy or 'bad guys' in such games. It is usually the player's goal to vanquish these evil characters (defeat evil) in order to win the game.
However, because such enemies are present and described in these games, people have mistakenly believed that the games are recruiting for satanic worship.
Is Satanism and magic as it appears in literature the same? No. I certainly wouldn't want to lump dark occult worshippers and pagans in with Cinderella's Fairy Godmother or Sleeping Beauty's Flora, Fauna and Merryweather. Should we stop watching the 'Wizard of Oz' because Glinda, the Good Witch of the North waves her wand? Of course not.
The 'magic' in role playing games is purely literary in nature. There is no more power in role playing 'magic' than in saying 'Bibidi-bobidi-boo!' When a player of a role playing game 'casts a spell' he is doing something as dangerous as saying 'Shazam' out loud. It's as imaginary as a game of cops and robbers.
Still, people have looked at the role playing rules books and seen various things which certainly do look evil. At least part of this was due to the fact that players taking their characters into combat had to fight something.
The Bible itself contains words about demons, dragons and sorcery. The Lord talks about it there so that we might know how to combat it in our lives. In a much smaller sense, fantasy role playing games bring up such subjects so that players can combat these creatures in the game.
It is also interesting to note that TSR, Inc. just finished revising their Advanced Dungeons & Dragons game. In part they were determined to removed any and all possible illusions to any real occultism. The result was astonishing. When all was done, no big changed in the game were needed. The occult was never part of the game to begin with.

Teenage Suicide

One of the most tragic statistics in the United States is the terrible rate of Teenage Suicide. The premature death of so many of our youth is cause for great alarm.
Unfortunately, Dungeons & Dragons® has wrongly become the scapegoat in many such suicides. Despite the 'media attention' given to such alleged connections, there was NOT ONE instance where playing a role playing game was the cause of such tragedy. Of course, while the 'allegations' got national attention in the press, the refutations were somehow always buried on page 5 if they were printed at all. Interestingly, there have been studies done which show that players of role playing games are far less likely to commit suicide than the national average.
Careful examination of suicides rumored to have been caused by role playing games always discloses some other dark reason behind the death. I sorrow for those who have suffered through such tragedy and do not wish to compound it by discussing the cases which I am familiar with. If it is important to you, the information is on public record though it will take you some effort to get past the front page head lines to find the real story. 'GAME KILLS BOY' is a snappy headline -- 'LONELY BOY KILLS SELF' is, sadly, too common to be news.
This is doubly tragic: not because of the bad name it has given to that game but because by blaming the game the real causes for these terrible disasters as swept under the rug. It is much easier to say "John killed himself because of D&D" than it is to say "John killed himself because none of us would pay attention to him." In doing so we not only wrongly place the blame for the tragedy -- we also fail to learn from it, thus, condemning ourselves to repeating our mistakes.


Have you ever looked closely at a newspaper photograph? When you glance at it over breakfast, all you see is the apparent gray shades of someone's face. If you look closely at it, however, you see that what looks gray from a distance is really black dots of various sizes on a white field.
Good and evil have much in common with that newpaper photo. In a world today morals and integrity have come to be seen as 'gray areas' subject to 'situational ethics'. We may find, looking more closely, that these 'gray areas' are really just made up of small parts of evil black dots mixed into a righteous field of white. It's just hard to pick out those dots with a simple glance.

Are Games Evil?

Like movies, music and television, role playing games can be used for both good and evil. We've all gone to movies that were good -- hopefully we have also walked out of movies that were bad. Just like movies, there are both good and bad games.
The test of any form of entertainment is the message which it conveys. Good programs on television give us thoughtful messages and insights. Bad television sends messages that are false and misleading.
The real test is the same for games: what messages are we getting from the games we play. Monopoly, for example, has probably been played by most people in America. Think about the message of the game for a moment: To win (succeed) you must ruthlessly bankrupt all of your neighbors. What about the other games you play with your family? What kind of lessons do they teach?
Even among your own family games there are good messages and, perhaps, bad messages.

Turning the Medium to good.

We have often heard it said, "It isn't whether you win or loose; its how you play the game." Never has this been more true than with role playing games. As with all other forms of entertainment, a well thought out and morally based role playing game can be a positive and an uplifting experience.
It is sad that Christians have not made more use of role playing games, for no single medium shows as much promise for teaching moral concepts and beliefs.



A role playing game, properly designed and run, can be a powerful tool in teaching the concepts of good to youth. Many institutions, including churches have used role playing techniques for years. "John, what would you do if someone asked you to use drugs?" In this simple question, we ask John to pretend for a moment that he is acting in an imaginary situation. This is role playing at is simplest form. It also helps John learn how to say no.
There are several ways that role playing games can teach good principles. These are just a few.
Lessons through Example
In role playing games, the participants pretend to be someone else. They don't do this by running around the house; they sit around kitchen tables or wherever it's comfortable. There they describe -- like telling a story -- what their pretend character is doing. A referee in the game then interprets what the players tell as part of the story they weave together.
Positive lessons can be taught by the referee of the game if he chooses. Pharaoh, an adventure written by my wife and I early in our careers, dealt with the curse of wealth. In the story the cursed spirit of an ancient desert ruler could not pass into Heaven because he had attempted to buy his way in with his ill gotten treasure. The apparent misery to which this figure was condemned by his own lust for wealth continues to teach the value of deeds over possessions to all who play that game today.

Lessons through Allegory and Parable

Allegory and parable are two important forms of moral instruction. Grollier's Encyclopedia defines allegory and parables as follows:

An allegory, in poetry or prose, is a narrative in which the characters, events, and setting represent deeper truths or generalizations than those suggested by the surface story. Allegory can thus be understood on more than one level. The more profound meaning, however--religious, moral, political, or personal--is usually of greater importance than the fiction itself. The meaning conveyed may be obvious, subtle, or virtually concealed by the writer.

A parable--from the Greek parabola, "a setting beside"--is a brief moral tale that uses the devices of allegory. The parable resembles the fable, but whereas a fable is a realistic narrative, a parable is an extended metaphor that alludes to spiritual truth through a simple story.

Christ taught through parables and allegory.

"And the disciples came, and said unto him, Why speakest thou unto them in parables?
He answered and said unto them, Because it is given unto you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it is not given.
For whosoever hath, to him shall be given, and he shall have more abundance; but whosoever hath not, from him shall be taken away even that he hath.
Therefore speak I to them in parables; because they seeing see not; and hearing they hear not, neither do they understand."
Matt 13:10-13

Christ here explains His use of parables as a teaching tool. Through His parables, He plants the wisdom and knowledge of the story in the mind of the listener. If the listener is ready to receive that knowledge, then the seed finds fertile ground and flourishes. Others, however, may not yet be ready to hear the wisdom and the seed falls on rocky ground. However, the great wonder is that these seeds often wait in the mind of all who hear them, dormant, it may seem, for a season only to spring to life when the listener is ready to hear.
The allegory and parable have another teaching advantage: the person who hears the tale is far less skeptical toward such a tale than they might be to direct preaching. This allows the seed to get planted in the first place.
An adventure game becomes an even more powerful teaching tool when allegory or parables are used because the participant is actually part of the parable. In a role playing game, such an adventure might sound like this:

REFEREE: "You and your party of adventurers finally reach the village just as twilight is fading. Making your way to the center of the village, you see a man lying on the ground."
PLAYER #1: "Probably a homeless drunk."
PLAYER #2: "Is there anything unusual about this man?"
REFEREE: "You look closer and see that he is lying naked in the square and has been beaten nearly to death. Several villagers can be seen milling around the shadows of the square but none are going out into the square to help the man."
PLAYER #2: "I talk to one of the villagers. 'Excuse me, sir, but ...'"
REFEREE: "The villagers quickly runs away, a look of fear in his eyes."
PLAYER #1: "Must be your aftershave. I wonder what all these people are afraid of?"
REFEREE: "The man in the square is sobbing in his pain."

Will the players of the game overcome their own fears and allow their character to help this man? Will the players not only learn about -- but actually pretend to be a 'Good Samaritan'? What a powerful tool for good!

Direct learning of scriptures

The scriptures themselves can be incorporated into role playing games, if such is the desire of the game's writer. An entire adventure, for example, could be written in allegorical form around the Beatitudes.
In rough outline, such an adventure might run like this: The players are confronted by two men. One is a warrior in shining armor and bristling with weapons, the other his servant. The warrior says he will show them the way to Haven (Heaven). The servant, however, says that he can show the players the true way. (Matthew 5:3)
Following the servant, the players walk across a great field of battle. A woman stands among the thousand dead and weeps. If the players help the woman with kindness, she shows them the invisible path to the castle in the clouds. (Matthew 5:4)
Reaching the castle, the players are confronted with a great talking gate flanked by two fists atop massive arms. Any attempt to force the door open results in the player's characters being attacked by the fists but if they will ask politely and lay down their weapons, the door will open on its own. (Matthew 5:5)
Would it be difficult to show 'hunger and thirst' (Matthew 5:6) or a situation where mercy would be better than fighting (Matthew 5:7)?
An adventure based on the Beatitudes? Of course! And not only have we learned what the Beatitudes say but have felt as though we have participated in them.

Positive, uplifting activity

There is much about role playing itself which is wholesome and good. The game encourages people to interact socially during the course of play -- something ignored with few exceptions in board and video games. It allows young people especially to try different ways of relating with each other without as much fear of rejection.
It also exercises the imagination. Again, imagination is not exclusively a bad thing. Our achievements in printing and satellite communications (both powerful tools in telling the gospel) would never have come about without inspired imagination.

Family Unity

In a family setting, role playing games can bridge the gap between parents and children. When father takes on the role of Hugh the Halfwit Barbarian and son takes on the role of Hurg, Hugh's Twin Brother, the two get more than just a wonderful time playing the game together. Dad and son can relax their differences. Many of their problems can be worked out together -- side by side -- and, with patience, the bridges built in the game may soon extend to mutual respect in their lives as well.


As concerned parents, ministers and educators, we should not try to 'stop role playing.' Instead, we should become involved -- really involved -- with the activities of our youth; including role playing games.

See for yourself

Is your son playing role playing games? I encourage you to take time out of your life and make an investment in your son and family. Go with him to one of his games. I know, this may sound crazy at first and perhaps your son will object. If you make it clear that you want to play or observe rather than criticize you may be surprised at how willing your son would be to have you come along. You also may be surprised at just how much fun it really is.

Be a Watchdog

We've talked a lot about how good role playing games can be. Can such games also be misused?
Sadly, yes. As with many things in the world, there are always those who, for reasons of their own, want to misuse or abuse good things -- twisting positive forces into destructive ones.
Parents should watch out for games in which evil is glorified. Good is not weak and should never be portrayed as such. There are, I am sorry to say, some game products which do this and mislead game players who perpetuate these ideas. You may not want your children involved in such games. Talk with your children about such problems and help them understand your concerns.
Just remember: don't 'throw the baby out with the bath water.' Most games are positive experiences and are activities in which your children can learn much.
The ultimate assurance, of course, is that you, the parent, actually run the game. Doing so give you control over the content of the game. It's rather like being able to make up your own TV show when you finally get fed up with what's on TV. Running a game is a lot of work but there are many rewards to a father or mother who takes the time.
Finally, teach your children the difference between 'good' games and 'bad' games by their message and content. When you go to a movie and find that it's vulgar or crude; you walk out. When music comes on the radio that's obscene; you turn it off. Our children need to be taught the same rule with games -- including role playing games. If the game is getting morally questionable; get up and get out. Just say 'No'.


Whatever you decide to do, remember that your family is the most important thing you can do with your life. A good relationship in your family isn't something you can buy and it isn't something that you can put off until later. What it does take is time, commitment and action: the time to be involved; the commitment to carry through with your involvement and the act of participating in your families life.
Role playing games are being used to better people's lives. Whether you decide to play role playing games or not is not important. What is important is that you see for yourself what's going on in your friends or childrens lives and why they play role playing games. No other activity provides such an opportunity for bringing people closer to understanding each other.
What could be more important than that?
In the final article, we will explore why your game should be morally based and a positive experience for your players. You'll be surprised at how much more fun your games will be as a result.

1D&D, AD&D, Dungeons & Dragons, Advanced Dungeons & Dragons and Dragonlance are trademarks of TSR, Inc. and are used here without their permission.
Ethics in Fantasy, Part II: Concerned about Role Playing
Copyright 1988 by Tracy Raye Hickman