QUESTIONS & ANSWERS ABOUT ROLE-PLAYING GAMES
Distributed with permission from GAMA,
The Game Manufacturing Association
This pamphlet was written by Loren K. Wiseman and Michael A.
Stackpole, and is copyright 1991 by Game Manufacturers Association,
all rights reserved.
GAMA is a trademark of Game Manufacturers Association.
WHY ARE THE GAMES SO POPULAR?
They are popular because they are a great deal of fun. Ordinary people
from all walks of life can use role-playing games to work off their
everyday frustrations by vicariously becoming something they want to
be. A player in a role-playing game can slay dragons, pilot a starship
through space, save civilization, explore the unknown, or a thousand
other things, from the safety of a comfortable chair.
WHY ARE THEY CRITICIZED?
The games get criticized for one basic reason: they are unfamiliar to
the majority of parents and grandparents who suddenly find a game
enthusiast in their family. Because these games have only been around
since 1974, very few people who were out of high school or college at
that time have played them. As a result, many adults have no
understanding of this hobby that takes up a great deal of their
child's time. All that is really necessary to combat the worry many
parents feel is for them to sit down and share a gaming experience
with their children.
WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS OF ROLE-PLAYING GAMES?
* Role-playing games encourage reading skills. Even the most simple of
the rule books require an 8th grade reading level to understand them
and many require much more than that. In addition, many players go off
and research the era in which a game is set, which develops library
and research skills.
* Role-playing games encourage math skills. Rolling dice, totaling
them, adding and modifying factors, subtracting them, multiplying and
dividing them by something else are common occurrences in these games.
* Most importantly, role-playing games are a social activity. Having a
group of friends to rely upon during the tough years of adolescence is
invaluable, and role-playing games build friendships that can last a
ARE THERE ANY DRAWBACKS?
As with any other activity, it is possible for a player to become
obsessed with games. It is important for a parent to keep track of
this sort of overindulgence and, if schoolwork begins to suffer or
other undesirable behaviors arise, speak with the child. As
role-playing games are build on communication, speaking with a player
and learning about the game can relieve a lot of parental anxiety.
WHAT ABOUT LINKS TO THE OCCULT?
Several games with fantasy settings do contain elements of magic.
However, even supposing real magic exists and works, it would be
easier to pilot a fighter jet after watching Top Gun than it would be
to work magic from the rules in a game. Magic spells are used in the
game by wizards in the same way a mechanic uses a wrench: it is a
Some people object to the presence of magic in games on religious
grounds. These people should know of the large number of games with
non-magical (science fiction, wild west, espionage, etc.) backgrounds.
These games do not include magic, but still have all the fun and
excitement of role playing games.
A few critics of games have tried to make the case that playing a game
will turn an intelligent, well-adjusted child into a blood-thirsty
cultist in a matter of days or weeks. Despite having tried diligently
to find a single instance of this happening since 1974, they have yet
to come up with any supporting evidence to support their theory. In
fact, millions of people world-wide have enjoyed the hobby of
role-playing for years without any harmful or mystical or occultic
CAN THESE GAMES HURT MY CHILD?
Various groups, both religious and secular, are very vocal in their
criticism of role-playing games. Many well-meaning people, law
enforcement professionals and clergy among them, take these game
critics at face value without checking on their claims. Basic research
has shown these claims to be false.
One of the more persistent claims is that role-playing games has
caused teens to commit suicide. The Center for Disease Control
conducted an extensive study of teen suicide and found no evidence to
link role-playing games with suicide. Investigations by the
Association of Gifted and Creative Children (Dublin, CA), the Albert
Einstein College of Medicine (the Bronx, NY), and the American
Association of Suicidology (Denver, CO) have likewise found no
evidence that games encourage suicide.
Moreover, researchers point out that the most heavily weighted factor
in determining a child's suicide potential is whether or not he is a
loner. Participation in a group activity of any sort sharply reduces
that potential. It also provides a circle of friends who can pick up
on any unusual behavior and encourage their friend to get help when
there is a crisis.
SHOULD I LIMIT MY CHILD'S ROLE-PLAYING?
Parents should take an interest in any activity that their children
enjoy and spend a great deal of time pursuing. As noted above, if
games interfere with school or job or family activities, taking steps
to bring this hobby into its proper perspective is an excellent idea.
Discussing the game with your child, or having a trained professional
discuss it with him is a good place to start.
The only simple and direct way to determine whether or not the game is
right for your child is to take a look at it. If you decide, for
whatever reason, a particular game is not the sort of thing your want
your child playing, work with him or her to find a new game that you
find appropriate. Make a list of the things you consider objectionable
and talk them over with your child. Set clearly defined limits on
their gaming and explain why you are doing so.
WHAT ARE ROLE-PLAYING GAMES?
Role-playing games are childhood games of "Let's Pretend" or "Cops and
Robbers" all grown up and governed with rules. They are very much akin
to improvisational theatre or "communal storytelling." They are
generally a group activity in which one person -- usually called the
Gamemaster -- serves the same function as a play director. He provides
the background for the game, has devised a plot for the players to
unravel and plays the role of any secondary characters the players
encounter during their game.
Role-playing games are set against different backgrounds, some real,
some fictitious, in the same way that movies and novels use real
fictitious settings. The number of backgrounds is vast. There are even
games where players can pretend to be animated cartoon characters!
The Gamemaster employs a set of rules that determines all sorts of
things, from how far a player's character can leap to how much of an
overheard conversation in Croatian a character can actually
understand. Dice are used to inject an element of realistic
uncertainty, so the players cannot be completely sure that they will
succeed in any given task.
DON'T MENTAL HEALTH PROFESSIONALS USE ROLE-PLAYING?
Mental Health professionals do employ role-playing techniques in some
therapy. In the hands of a trained professional, who directs the
role-playing towards tightly determined therapeutic goals,
role-playing can help change attitudes and modify undesirable
behavior. Therapeutic role-playing is a highly controlled situation in
which the therapist does not allow for the randomness dice might
inject for the same reason a medical doctor does not roll dice in
determining how much of an antibiotic to prescribe. Role-playing
games, on the other hand, are directed toward the goal of having fun.
WHERE CAN I LEARN MORE?
If you have concerns about a particular game, or you simply want
information about role-playing games in general, we suggest you
contact your local gaming retailer. They will be happy to show you
games, answer your questions, and may even be able to arrange for you
to watch or participate in a game being played.
WHO IS GAMA?
The pamphlet [this document] was written and distributed by GAMA, the
Game Manufacturers Association. GAMA is the trade organization for the
adventure gaming industry. It includes manufacturers of miniature
figures, historical war games, role-playing games and computer games;
as well as distributors and retailers of those games. It promotes
excellence within the industry and fun within the hobby of adventure
If your are a member of GAMA, this brochure is free. If you are not a
member there is a shipping and handling charge of $2 per dozen. For
more of these brochures write to:
P.O. Box 602
Swanton, OH 43558
or call the Executive Director's office at
Phone (419) 826-4262
FAX (419) 826-4242
between the hours of 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. Central Time.
Written by Loren K. Wiseman and Michael A. Stackpole Copyright (c)
1991, Game Manufacturers Association, all rights reserved.