Sunday, 24 June 2012

Has US conservative media changed its attitude towards D&D?

While we're lightyears away from the time when people who rolled plastic polyhedrons in their basements were apparently dealing in the dark arts reminiscent of that Chick Tract, there has always been a tendency for some forms of media, mostly from the right of the US political spectrum, to continue the denouncement of D&D. Mostly this comes down to playing the murder blame game and bringing up past atrocities and linking it to roleplaying, rather than insinuating that us nerds are diddling Satan and cavorting with his fiery companions.

I wanted to do some research into this, so I fired up Blekko, a search engine underdog that uses crowd-sourcing to sort their wheat from the spammy chaff. Using their slashtags, I was able to look at results in the conservative media with the keywords 'Dungeons and Dragons', both recently and in the past.

As predicted, a general search brings some negative stories about the game. The top result is from Fox News, reporting on how inmates playing D&D could be dangerous. Joining it, Humanevents.com has a story that equates D&D players (or all young men in groups, apparently) to have murderous tendencies. Similarly, American Thinker talks about a female murderer who played D&D (though doesn't explicitly say there's a link, but it's implied). Most of these results are from before 2011, aside from American Thinker, which was written in February of this year. Generally, the most relevant results are negative towards D&D. So what happens when we get the most recent data?

The most prominent story is from Jonah Goldberg, with his article 'The False Modesty of Nerds' appearing on almost half of results (a bit of duplicate content). In the article, Goldberg states how he's a nerd and waxes lyrical about nerds, politics and celebrity types. Nothing negative towards the game there. Furthermore, we have sites like Redstate.com referencing D&D Next in a benignly humorous way and Enter Stage Right actually endorsing the game as a past-time for bright young people. Other results often reference D&D as a political analogy, like "fighting a 'Dungeons & Dragons' battle against moderates" and "playing numerical Dungeons & Dragons". I looked at the first 2 pages for this, which ran from September 2011 and I was surprised to find little to no negative mentions about D&D.

For good measure, I also employed the /liberal slashtag in the same way. The relevant search turned up an article about Ethan Gilsdorf, author of Fantasy Freaks and Gaming Geeks, an open letter from Wizards to Republican Michael Goldfarb and other benign nerd jokes. Setting the date filter, we find a whole bunch of Daily Kos articles mentioning D&D in passing along with the story of online games cracking the AIDS enzyme. 

So what can we tell from this brief media study? From the looks of it, conservative media has embraced D&D as just an aspect of pop culture and isn't afraid to reference it or even proudly proclaim that it's dabbled in the game. Are there other external factors at work here? Absolutely, considering we haven't had a prolific string of murders or suicide by anyone who may have ever played the game before. Still, it's interesting to look at media attitudes from both sides of the political fence.