The religious fervour that seems to be occurring in the United States (I'm from Australia myself) surrounding almost every element of society to me is astounding. Although I'm focusing on Roleplaying in this write-up, the same principles apply to everything from Harry Potter to gothic-style music.
Before I continue I would like to make it clear that this is from an outside perspective and is about the differences between Australia and the U.S and there is one specific social difference between the two nations that I want to make clear before I continue;
40% of the total population in the U.S attends church "every" Sunday.
Less than 5% of the population in Australia attends church "regularly".
The reasons for this could be that we are simply less religious that our U.S. counterparts, or more lazy. Though I think the issue runs deeper than that I'll save it for another write-up.
In June 1982 16 year old Irving Pulling committed suicide. It was revealed he played fantasy roleplaying games, which his mother blamed for her sons death. After an unsuccessful attempt to sue the developers, his mother Patricia formed 'Bothered about Dungeons and Dragons' BADD, an organisation dedicated to combating what she saw as an 'evil influence on children'. Since the early eighties many religious groups have witch-hunted everything from Computer games to Clothing labels.
For those who do not know what 'Roleplaying' is, it's a special form of storytelling where the players make an imaginary character. The Dungeon Master or 'DM' then creates an adventure for the players to send their characters on. In the case of Dungeons & Dragons you could be a Dwarven Fighter, an Elven Wizard, a Halfling Rogue or any number of other things. Soon they're battling monsters and plundering treasure.
Irving Pulling was a disturbed young man who was having trouble fitting in at school. He'd been having difficulties finding a running partner for school office which had likely contributed to his depression. In the weeks leading up to Irving's suicide nineteen rabbits he'd been raising along with a house cat were found disemboweled. After Irving's death his mother immediately blamed the D&D session that had occured that day, claiming a curse had been placed on him, though none of the players he was with could remember any such curse.
After this tragedy, many people believed that Roleplaying was a form of devil-worship and blamed it for corrupting youth, turning them into the agents of Satan. Religious organisations claimed that the spells in D&D were real, and that children hexed their parents and teachers with this 'black magic'.
Later towards the end of the 1980's the focus shifted from the 'occult influences', to the delinquent behaviour that these games allegedly caused. New gothic-style games such as Vampire: The Masquerade came out, and the controversy underwent a revolution.
Vampire: The Masquerade is a game where players pretend they are damned predators of the night that manipulate society to suit their dark purposes. This game was made for adult gamers and popularised world-wide because of the contemporary style of Roleplaying known as 'Mind's Eye Theatre'.
Mind's Eye Theatre (MET) games involve players dressing up and acting out their own characters rather than sitting around with pen and paper. Of course no actual bloodsucking (or even touching for that matter) takes place but zealots saw this form of 'emulating evil' as a new and more serious threat. Although some mishaps have occurred occasionally, such as at a recent international convention in the U.S. where a couple of players were overheard by a cleaner discussing the vivisection of a hotel worker. Naturally disturbed at what she'd heard, she contacted the police, and S.W.A.T raided the building. Of course no such activities had actually taken place, but it was easy for the outside world to misinterpret what was happening. Such probably explains the outrageous rumours surrounding roleplaying games by mainstream conservatives.
Religious evangelism against Roleplaying games lessened during the 1990's when violent computer games, gothic rock stars such as Marilyn Manson, and children’s fantasy such as Harry Potter have greatly shifted the focus of blame for today’s 'evil' youth. Combined with school shootings and terrorism, the modern inquisition against contemporary youth is at an all-time fever pitch.
It seems that the only people that criticize the normal behaviours of modern youth are those that have never role-played themselves, touched a computer game or actually read Harry Potter. This attitude is akin to the middle ages where science was seen as dangerous Heresy, and Europeans still prayed to their saints for healing rather than accepting 'diabolical' medicines to treat their illnesses.
It is my very strong belief that roleplaying in fact is beneficial and healthy for modern youth. Teenagers and young adults with wild imaginations can channel that talent into a form of harmless entertainment. Children who might otherwise take violent urges out on their fellows take out their frustration on imaginary monsters and virtual foes.
Australia has the same roleplaying games, video games, movies and music as the United States. We don't have the school shootings, street gangs or mass occult-related crime. Perhaps then it's the religious groups that are causing American youth to go crazy? Perhaps role-players have the antidote.