Predictably, I used to play Dungeons & Dragons in high school. Just as predictably, I didn’t lose my virginity until I stopped. It’s an established fact that Dungeons & Dragons is a bigger threat to human reproduction than all the gay marriages in the world.
But I did not know until this day that D&D could also pose a security risk. A Wisconsin prisoner, Kevin T. Singer, sued Wisconsin’s Waupun Correctional Institution after the guards confiscated his D&D materials.
Why did the prison guards take away this guy’s D&D paraphernalia? I’ll let Judge John Tinder of the Seventh Circuit explain:
Waupun’s long-serving Disruptive Group Coordinator, Captain Bruce Muraski, received an anonymous letter from an inmate. The letter expressed concern that Singer and three other inmates were forming a D&D gang and were trying to recruit others to join by passing around their D&D publications and touting the “rush” they got from playing the game. Muraski, Waupun’s expert on gang activity, decided to heed the letter’s advice and “check into this gang before it gets out of hand.”
A gang? A gang that needs to be checked? I’ve never been to prison, but I have watched Oz. I’m forced to believe one of two things: (a) any D&D “gang” member would find themselves tossing salads faster than you can say “saving throw against horrific prison justice … fails,” or (b) if you could beat up the D&D kids in your high school, then you can go to Wisconsin, commit violent crimes with impunity, get sent to prison and live like a God.
Singer sued the prison for violating his First Amendment rights. The district court ruled for the correctional facility on summary judgment, and the Seventh Circuit affirmed.
Does that mean we get to hear the Seventh Circuit argue that D&D is gang-like? Yes it does. Will that be hilarious? More fun than hacking through an encampment of goblins with a dwarven ax of immolation….
Singer collected the affidavits of numerous prisoners and statements by three role-playing-game “experts” (i.e., eunuchs), who all stated that that Dungeons & Dragons is not a gang. The prison had the testimony of Captain Bruce Muraski, a gang specialist, whose testimony makes me wish that we had better gang specialists:
[Muraski] explained that the policy was intended to promote prison security because cooperative games can mimic the organization of gangs and lead to the actual development thereof. Muraski elaborated that during D&D games, one player is denoted the “Dungeon Master.” The Dungeon Master is tasked with giving directions to other players, which Muraski testified mimics the organization of a gang. At bottom, his testimony about this policy aim highlighted Waupun’s worries about cooperative activity among inmates, particularly that carried out in an organized, hierarchical fashion.
Look, I know the title “dungeon master” sounds scary and important. But don’t let the words confuse you. We’re talking about a guy who sits around all day drawing maps and debating whether a cloak of anti-venom can protect you from a fictional rat bite. (Note: It can’t, rats have diseases, anti-venom contemplates poisons, those are two completely different things. Please don’t tell my wife about this.)
But the Seventh Circuit bought Muraski’s logic:
Singer maintains that his fifteen affiants delivered compelling testimony challenging Muraski’s assertion that D&D could promote gang-related activity. His eleven inmate affiants — who collectively served over 100 years in prison — all testified that they had never heard of any gang-related or other violent activity associated with D&D gameplay or paraphernalia. In Singer’s view, this testimony adequately rebuts Muraski’s testimony that D&D gameplay mimics the organization of a gang and as a consequence could lead to gang behavior. In our view, it does not.
Okay, eleven people who have been in prison for a hundred years say that linking D&D to gang behavior is ridiculous. In response, the court ignores them on the “silly criminals” theory of jurisprudence:
The question is not whether D&D has led to gang behavior in the past; the prison officials concede that it has not. The question is whether the prison officials are rational in their belief that, if left unchecked, D&D could lead to gang behavior among inmates and undermine prison security in the future. Singer’s affiants demonstrate significant personal knowledge about D&D’s rules and gameplay, and offer their own assessments that D&D does not lead to gang behavior, but they lack the qualifications necessary to determine whether the relationship between the D&D ban and the maintenance of prison security is “so remote as to render the policy arbitrary or irrational.” … (Of course, many of Singer’s affiants are present or former inmates, but their experiential “expertise” in prison security is from the wrong side of the bars and fails to match Muraski’s perspective.) The expertise critical here is that relating to prisons, their security, and the prevention of prison gang activity. Singer’s affiants conspicuously lack such expertise.
The Seventh Circuit conspicuously lacks expertise in Dungeons & Dragons or role-playing games, but they get to wear the robes. I just hope they’re happy when, stripped of their D&D responsibilities, Singer and his merry band of players join the Nation of Islam, become radicalized, and trade in their multi-sided dice for single-edged blades.
I mean, let’s be clear, it’s not like Singer is a peaceful man. Singer is in jail on a life sentence for first-degree murder. He killed his sister’s boyfriend with a sledgehammer (and now you see why I suggested that Singer probably plays a Dwarf, warrior class). If he’s found an outlet for some of his more violent tendencies, isn’t that a good thing?
The court says that it is not a good thing, not necessarily:
While Cardwell and his other affiants, including a literacy tutor and a role-playing game analyst, testified to a positive relationship between D&D and rehabilitation, none disputed or even acknowledged the prison officials’ assertions that there are valid reasons to fear a relationship running in the opposite direction. The prison officials pointed to a few published circuit court cases to give traction to their views. We view these cases as persuasive evidence that for some individuals, games like D&D can impede rehabilitation, lead to escapist tendencies, or result in more dire consequences.
More dire consequences than what, precisely? He’s already beaten somebody to death with a freaking sledgehammer; what the hell else can he do?
Sorry, obviously, this is where my bleeding heart gets the best of me. Because what this is all about is punishment. It’s not about rehabilitation, it’s not about security, it’s about old-school vengeance carried out by state actors. He killed somebody, and we as a society found something else he liked that we can take away. So we’re going to take it away. It’s Christopher Lloyd playing a Klingon in Star Trek 3 telling Kirk he won’t beam up Spock “because you wish it.”
I guess that is our right. I guess there is no compelling interest in making the life imprisonment of a murderer a little less horrible. But vengeance, even when legal, is still ugly. The Seventh Circuit just made a Lawful Evil decision here.