A controversy has struck the old school gaming community – that is, those who have formed a community dedicated to playing D&D and 1st-2nd edition AD&D. It started when a DM who routinely runs games for fully-clothed porn stars created a video of a session, with some racy language. This was posted as part of a news update to the blog of an old school organization. Some people found the video not child-friendly and wanted Something to be done about it. Others spoke in the defense of the video and its links. Arguments raged across blogs, mailing lists, and private correspondence, with the end result that at least three popular and thoughtful old school blogs have shut down.
I find the whole situation sad, as many people who love these games might be abandoning their discussions of them, or even the games themselves. Then again, if you found the above description silly, actually reading what happened will only confirm your opinion tenfold. So that this might sink back into the oblivion it deserves, no links will be made to any of the above sites, individuals, or organizations.
Nonetheless, I wanted to weigh in for those parents from the old school community who might be concerned about their children.
1) As an information professional, I can assure you that the best way to make sure your children never view any sort of objectionable content on the Internet is to keep them off the Internet. Seriously. Pages can be hacked, domains can be taken over, and even filtering software is often inadequate (or worse, contains keywords influenced by certain religious or political views the software company didn’t tell you about). You have no way of being certain that a link you click on goes to a site that’s “safe” for children.
2) Many gamers are independent-minded, and thus strong advocates of freedom of expression. Given the unpopularity of previous attempts at standards (by TSR, Wizards of the Coast, and others), many of these individuals are well-informed and very much on guard against any encroachment upon these principles.
3) Examining the Dungeon Master’s Guide and the Monster Manual alone will establish that prurient material is part of the hobby’s heritage. You don’t have to like it, or use it, or think it’s anything but silly or exploitative. Still, we’re in an odd situation where some of the core books of the hobby you’ve chosen wouldn’t pass your standards. Some of the people involved will see this as part of the experience.
4) A line needs to be drawn between the ideas “I want to run this cool game for my kids” and “Because I want to run this cool game for my kids, sites which promote these games should not include material I don’t want them to see.” You can choose not to go to those sites, or not to let your children view them. Or you can build your own sites, bearing in mind that Statement 1 might eventually come back to bite you.
5) Insisting that your gaming community adopt standards to protect children is an exercise in futility. Statements 2 and 3 show that any such efforts will create an ongoing feud with bad blood with other members of the community, and 1) ensures that you won’t succeed in the long run anyway. In the end, everyone’s angry, and you haven’t accomplished what you set out to do.
6) A good roleplaying gaming session may only need a rulebook, dice, pencils, paper, and imagination, and all but the last can be optional. Online fora, blogs, and the like are supplements – nice, but not necessary to having a great time with the kids.