Do you watch the show Community on NBC? I don't, but when I heard they had an episode about Dungeons & Dragons, I couldn't miss it! It seems I wasn't alone in this, and Scott Bennie, a member of one of the Yahoo Groups I frequent, had some interesting thoughts about the episode as well. His comments, after the episode (embedded video from Hulu.com):
The neatest thing about the episode is that its premise is a conscious repudiation of the 80s D&D scare. This is a Dungeons and Dragons game designed to *prevent* a suicide, as opposed to the "Radecki/Pulling D&D causes suicide" tripe of the 80s.
The group, instead of "trying to snap Neil" back to reality, which is the usual trope of a mainstream handling of an "escape is for the weak, RPG is evil" episode, is actively trying to use his fantasy to bolster his self-esteem, even when many of them don't particularly get it. Jeff may think the game is silly, but he understands the importance of the sword to Neil, though Neil's agenda dovetails with his own when it comes to Pierce. The one person who tries to make Neil "see reality" is Pierce, who ironically is far better than adapting to the milieu than the others, despite saying the game is "gay" and "stupid', showing contempt for the trappings of the genre (his obscene acts with Neil's sword, his eventual pathetic descent to using the "rape button", at the end, when confronted with the banality of his evil).
Neil's triumph isn't his repudiation of fantasy (as in most anti-RPG media depictions), nor is it his victory in a fantasy that's solely escapist (as one might expect in a blindly pro-RPG piece), but, when presented with a fantasy antagonist that's using the game as a passive-aggressive attack on him in the real world, he manages to recognize its pathetic qualities and, via an act of pity and grace, use it to achieve a victory in both worlds. The show's not damning escape nor lionizing it, but recognizing it as having value as long as the individual is capable of dealing with the real world.
It also plays into what I've said for years is the true capacity for evil in our hobby, not content -- these players are not going to become more violent or drawn into the occult from playing this game -- but in the capacity of being a tool that someone can use to be a creep and do people serious psychological harm, to act as a vessel to give reign to our darker (as the show would call it, most dickish) impulses. The group coming together, however, is a demonstration of what I think is RPG's greatest strength: It's potential to draw people into a communal experience that cements friendship, and reinforcing values of compassion that go beyond what's at the game table.
What are your thoughts?