D&D a “threat” says Court of Appeals

A few days ago the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals decided that Dungeons & Dragons presented a “threat” to prison security. Kevin T. Singer, an inmate at Wisconsin’s Waupun Correctional Institution, was so devoted that it raised concern among the guards. He wrote, by hand, “a ninety six page manuscript outlining the specific details of a “campaign setting” he developed for use in D&D gameplay.”

For well over two years, no one thought twice about Singer’s regular incoming stream of D&D mailings. This changed when Bruce Muraski, Waupun’s “Disruptive Group Coordinator,” received an anonymous letter from an inmate expressing 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.” (3)

Maruski decided to “check into this gang before it gets out of hand,” and ordered a search. After reviewing all the materials (21 books, 14 magazines and Singer’s manuscript), Maruski concluded that all of it related to D&D. Nonetheless, he informed Singer that

““inmates are not allowed to engage in or possess written material that details rules, codes, dogma of games/activities such as ‘Dungeons and Dragons’ because it promotes fantasy role playing, compet- itive hostility, violence, addictive escape behaviors, and possible gambling.” This prohibition was later reiterated in a daily bulletin that was posted throughout the prison. It was also incorporated into a broader policy prohibiting inmates from engaging in all types of fantasy games.” (4)

Singer and his friends protested, of course, but the assigned examiner dismissed their complaint. Instead, Singer argued, D&D helped to “rehabilitate inmates and prevents them from joining gangs and engaging in other undesirable activities.” (5)

In response, Waupun had Maruski (“a gang specialist”) testify that RPGs like D&D

“have been found to promote competitive hostility, violence, and addictive escape behavior, which can compromise not only the inmate’s rehabilitation and effects of positive programming, but endanger the public and jeopardize the safety and security of the institution.” (10)

A key statement in this case was Maruski’s comment 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.” (10)

Singer’s motion was denied.

PDF here.


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About Waffler

Joost is fascinated by games and human behavior. His research explores video games as an entryway to contemporary media culture. After completing a Master's degree in Media studies in Amsterdam, he continued his research in New York. There he was project manager on a landmark investigation of three decades of ownership trends in the American media landscape, the results of which were part of a congressional testimony, a series of articles and a book. In 2010 he received his doctorate from Columbia University for his dissertation titled "Social Gaming and Communicative Exchange." Joost currently teaches at the NYU Game Center.

In addition to his academic pursuits, Joost is also founder and CEO of an online games research firm called SuperData. In early 2010 the company secured multi-year seed funding, and today employs five people. Clients include publishers such as Electronic Arts, SEGA, Wargaming.net and Pokémon as well as all the major Wall street firms.

Joost lives in the East Village with his wife Janelle and son Maximus.

Selected Presentations
  • Video Game Data & Trends, Ottawa International Game Conference, Canada, 2013.
  • Business Principles and Market Trends for Multi-Platform Games, Festival of Games, Amsterdam 2013.
  • 2013 Game Changers: How Will Devices Impact Your Future Growth? (keynote), Game Developer Conference, 2013.
  • Free-to-Play State of the Industry, Game Connection Paris, 2012.
  • Online Games Research: Getting Publishers to Play Nice, New Media, New Demand Measurement Methodologies, 2012 Columbia University.
  • The Great Unboxing: Major Trends in the Transition to Digital and Free-to-Play Gaming, DCM East, 2012.
  • The Rise of Free-to-Play, moderator and co-organizer, Re:Play - The Theory, Practice, and Business of Video Games, 2012, NYU.
  • Trading Card Games: Delivering the Digital Promise, PAX East, 2012.
  • From Asteroids to Zynga: Three Decades of Game Design and Revenue Models, GDC Online, 2011.
  • Video Game Industry, 2010 Fordham University, 2010.
  • Social Media and TV, LATVfest, 2010 Los Angeles.
  • Top 5 Trends in Gaming, NY Games Conference, New York, 2009.
  • Kids, Tweens & Teens, State of Play IV, New York Law School, New York, 2009.
  • Game Theory, Play Money, Columbia Business School, New York, 2008. (event organizer)
  • Media Economics: The Question of Ownership, Hunter College, New York, 2008.
  • On Game Mod Communities, 106th Annual Meeting of American Anthropological Association, Washington, DC, 2007.
  • Game Mods & Post-Industrial Play, CITI Visiting Scholar’s Brown Bag Lunch Seminar Series, Columbia Business School, New York, October 2007.
  • The Video Game Vocabulary and the Production of Meaning, MiT5: Creativity, Ownership and Collaboration in the Digital Age, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, April 2007. (abstract)
  • Cities, Games and Media: Playing with and in the Urban Setting, Time|Space Dynamics in Urban Settings, Technishen Universität, Berlin, May 2007.
  • The Aesthetic Vocabulary of Video Games, Seventh Annual Convention of the Media Ecology Association, Boston College, Chestnut Hill, November 2006.
  • Haussmann’s Media Environment (revised), Sixth Annual Convention of the Media Ecology Association, Fordham University, New York, May 2005.
  • Media Technology & Society: Video Game Theory, Dissertation outline, Columbia University, New York, April 2005.
  • Good Day New York, Fox Television, aired August 20th, debate with Attorney Sanford Rubenstein on videogame violence, August 2004.
Contact: joost at waffler dot org

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