Whenever I worry what I would do if I was ever sent to prison, I take comfort in the idea that I could while away the time the way I did in my mispent youth: playing Dungeons & Dragons .

So much for that plan. According to Ilya Somin at The Volokh Conspiracy :

In a decision issued today the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals has upheld a Wisconsin prison’s rule forbidding inmates to play Dungeons & Dragons or possess D&D publications and materials.

The prison’s rationale for the ban is that playing D&D might stimulate “gang activity” by inmates. But the government conceded that there is no evidence that Dungeons and Dragons actually had stimulated gang activity in the past, either in this prison or elsewhere. The only evidence for the supposedly harmful effects of Dungeons and Dragons were a few cases from other states where playing the game supposedly led inmates to indulge in “escapism” and become divorced from reality, one case where two non-inmates committed a crime in which they “acted out” a D&D story-line, and one where a longtime D&D player (not an inmate) committed suicide. Obviously, almost any hobby or reading material might lead people to become divorced from reality, or in rare cases commit suicide. And disturbed individuals could potentially “act out” a crime based on a scenario in almost any film or literary work. Should prisons ban The Count of Monte Cristo on the grounds that it might encourage escape attempts? Moreover, the “escapism” rationale conflicts with the gang argument. People who become engrossed in escapism and retreat from society are presumably less likely to become active gang members.


What crime could they have committed by acting out a D&D storyline? Did they use a quarterstaff to club a chaotic good druid and steal his cloak of invisibility? Because I could definitely see why you wouldn’t want that sort of behavior going on in Folsom Prison.

Update: Oh wow. Ilya Somin totally outnerds me :

Carter writes that he played D&D during his “misspent youth.” He obviously didn’t misspend enough of it, however. Otherwise, he might have known that Druids are not allowed to be chaotic good. They must be of “true neutral” alignment (or some other alignment with a neutral dimension in later, more permissive, editions of the game). If a druid became chaotic good, he would immediately lose his druidic status. Thus, we don’t need to worry about prison inmates killing chaotic good druids, because there isn’t any such thing.

A tip my Hat of Obsession to his awesome recall of D&D lore. Somin is obviously a Level 25 Epic Sage.

Articles by Joe Carter

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