The issue arose out of a decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit upholding a prison regulation at a maximum security prison in Wisconsin that banned Dungeons and Dragons on the theory that it would promote gang activity. The legal standard at issue is the "rational basis" test of constitutional review of free speech right claims.
I can certainly imagine rational basis reasons for the ban. For example, "prison shouldn't be fun, and the only reason to allow Dungeons and Dragons in prison is to allow inmates to have fun," or "dice and other Dungeons and Dragons materials could be used to conceal contraband," or "Dungeons and Dragons materials could be used as a cover for gambling which is banned in prison." But, the notion that Dungeons and Dragons could conceivably promote dangerous gang activity in prison is absurd, and the testimony of the supposed "gang expert" whose opinion was the basis of the prison's defense of its policy was embarassing to the state and the expert witness involved viewed by anyone with a remote familiarity with the game.
Moreover, from a public policy view, there is evidence that Dungeons and Dragons is likely to improve, rather than harm, the maintenance of good order in prisons. For example, a study of mildly mentally retarded individuals (close to the average in maximum security prisons where more than a third of inmates are typically high school dropouts) showed that playing Dungeons and Dragons helped improve self-control, reading and math abilities.
Full disclosure: Yes, I did play dungeons and dragons and other role playing games actively for most of my junior high school and high school years. The word the Japanese would use to describe someone with my level of interest in the game is Otaku.
The best quote of the VC thread that received notice from the NYT:
Upton Updike says:
Gays can play D&D and not get married.
Inmates can get married but can’t play D&D.
I suppose we’re even...
January 26, 2010, 8:25 pm