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"Cruel Doubt" on the Net
- "The Crimefighter" Steven Lucas
Liberus Legendarum (Days on the Disc)
- Dogbolter/DcDhol
Returning to the Game
- Selina Kelley
Working in a Group
- Patrick Dughi
Declaring the Rights of Players
- Raph Koster
Help Systems Suck
- Natalia
My Father is a Role Player... Sorta
- Kerry Jane

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Letter 1
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"Cruel Doubt" on the Net

by "The Crimefighter" Steven Lucas

What does your family think of you mudding? For the most part, when I tell someone that I help run a mud, their reaction usually is "What the heck is mud?" If it only goes that far, you should not be thought of as a looney tune. If it happens to go farther than that, where you are showing them how to play it, and the web pages you wrote about it, and some of the people you have met...then it could get real ugly. To make matters worse, if they are not computer savvy, if they remember and fear situations like "Cruel Doubt" from a few years back, and if they feel their religious convictions are being threatened by the mud against their children (that is you and me folks), beware. For those not familiar with "Cruel Doubt", this was a true story where players of a "Dungeons & Dragons" role-playing game allowed their role-playing enter the real world and committed murders of innocent people--a novel and movie were released about it. However, there have been claims that the ones convicted were already mentally ill long before they took up D&D and this allegedly was suppressed. There have been other films dealing with this subject--best known was the one that starred Tom Hanks. For your perusal, I present a recounting of my own experiences with my own family about me playing and administering muds. Also, an examination of the fallout when a "parent" tries to get a mud shut down and the campaign to blame school violence on video games.

Author: Jason Zarubin (jasonz@ix.netcom.com)

Cruel Doubt.

Now this is the third time I have had this article published somewhere, because this story just wonít go away and new things keep coming up. The original printing took place in three parts in my own newsletter, which started sometime in late 1998. The second printing occurred in 1999, following that horrible school shooting in Littleton, CO. Today, the aftermath of Columbine has gone to my own stateís attorney general, Jim Ryan of Illinois wanting to ban retailers and video game publishers from selling "ultra-violent" video games to children. That means, if you were 15 years old and wanted to buy a copy of Unreal Tournament, you would be barred from doing so because of that "M" rating. I shall discuss this latest development toward the end, in keeping with the chronological progression of this issue.

I happen to help run Promised Land Mud and I have been trying to get members of the family over there to either play or visit with me instead of using long distance phone calls (though web phones now exist, performance on anything less than a DSL or cable modem connection makes this option substandard). My father got his Internet access in November 1998, and they wanted me to teach them...although teaching is a pain, cause they kept getting lost on ONE mouse click. I had sent them an email on how to get in the game, they attempt a connect, but fail to log in, and they give up immediately (I discovered later that junky Microsoft Telnet program was starting up with nothing but the title bar, useless garbage program it is)! The next night I am there to "shout" instructions and tell them step-by-step what to do. My dad reads a couple rooms, then wants to bail. After that I show the location of my mud's web page. After seeing what I wrote for an introduction, he went ballistic! He said that my mud was promoting "new age" religious ideology, worshiping false gods, and attempts to turn people away from God and Jesus Christ. Furthermore, they thought my mud would suck people who are already adrift and lost in the head and move them to worshiping phony gods and even into devil worship! The intro paragraph that I did write refers to the original "Promised Land" that Moses led the Israelites toward away from the Pharaoh and slavery. Then I mention another Promised Land in a different reality...the virtual kind. Come now, how many fictional stories have there been written about myths and fairy tales? Quite a number, but I am not aware of anyone actually worshiping Zeus or Odin in the 20th century.

Yes, we have a religion system on our mud, the only one of its kind in the Abermud community, but PLEASE...these "gods" are nothing more than mobiles that power you up when you do enough things that they want you to do. Our four "gods" are not for real, nor do they come from mythology of the Greeks or Norse. We can knock them off the game any time we want. Yet, we have the unreasonable concern. And that makes me uncomfortable; I am not turning away from Christianity; I am not at a different level of involvement in it before the Internet came along. And if this thing called mud was so bad for me and anyone else would not there been stories about people who went berserk in public before they mudded too much by now? I would have expected parents to complain about someone mudding because it was hazardous to their GPA, or perhaps the players on the game were a bad influence, but not their mental health.

I felt I needed some help and advice--and fast. I raised the issue over on the Mud Connector's General Discussion forum over the subject and got a wide range of responses. Some were by other Christians, some were by people who thought it was a ticket to bash Christianity, and some were corny jokes. Eventually, it developed into a fight over Christaphobia and whether separation of church and state was actually in the Constitution. From atheists, we get the point that your parents should not force their beliefs on you, and that you should get to think for yourself. Disagreement was whether it should be tolerated even if you were still living under their roof. Sadly, the forcing of views by family actually MADE people become atheists. From another Christian father, he thinks many parents are trying to put blame on someone or something else for their actions...the object is not bad in itself, it is the actions done in association with it. One scene that was brought up...the woodsmun role:

Create a class, call it the "woodsmun" (yes, mUn, I like it better than "woods-man/woods-woman") ... give them hunting, fishing, find water, find food, build fire, build shelter, axe skill, knife skill, trapping, and so on. Give them woodsmun only equipment, or make them not be affected by anything magical/supernatural. Start them out in a zone that is low level, nature setting with natural creatures. And ask your parent to play it. Ask them what is wrong with it. Then say, "Now, if there were to have say, a magic axe, that let them cut wood faster, would that be bad? Why or why not?" Then take it a bit further, "If they could use herbs to heal minor wounds, is that bad?", then a bit further, "If they had a natural gift for finding water, is that bad?", then, "If they had the natural gift to mend wounds, is that bad?" Find out what it is they think is so bad with it.

What was considered bad with it was the reference to it progressing toward something. My father used the example of Jack Parr of the Tonight Show being thrown off the air for telling a joke that by today's standards would not be considered offensive. Today in television shows (soap operas, drama series, etc.) we have people cussing every four-letter word that exists, doing sex acts, violent acts, etc. and of course, very few of these people doing it are being punished. In video games, every way possible to blow up and dismember people with the most destructive of weapons are prevalent (Unreal Tournament, Quake 3), you can play the role of a vicious criminal Mafia boss (Gangsters), simulate running in a street gang ala the Bloods vs. the Crips (Beat Down), and race to run over as many people as possible intentionally with cars (Carmageddon). Desensitizing people to the point that NOTHING irks you and EVERYTHING deviant is normal. But now, times change, and not always for the better. Even if Iím desensitized, I would not commit the acts of sex and violence.

The goofiest response was this: "I would start doing drugs, start sticking bits of metal through your face (I hear that is quite popular now), join a cult, buy a gun, if female, get yourself pregnant, if male, get some poor girl pregnant, hold midnight orgies involving blood letting and barnyard animals. If, after that, your parents still have a problem with you using the computer, send them to a shrink."1 Thankfully he was not serious, but the point was made--there are worse things to worry about. Yes, there are worse things--getting someone to worry about those things instead is not always an easy thing to do.

Sometime in 1999, someone decided instead of telling their child to stay off the mud, theyíd mail a letter to the hosting site, a certain university (the name of the mud or university was withheld). The letter begins, "I am writing to you in regards to the fantasy game that is run on port xxxx of 'xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx.edu'. I am the mother of a 14 year old who up until last week was an avid player of your game. However, after observing him play one evening it became apparent that this game is not appropriate for young adults." YOUNG ADULTS? How old is that? Eighteen? Twenty-one? I consider it between 18-25 but some people refer to teenagers incorrectly as young adults. It continues, "According to mudconnector.com, (which is where my son found a link to your game), it is a fantasy based medieval environment. It is not listed as an 'adult' game. However, some very inappropriate, demeaning and morally offensive language was being broadcasted through the public communications there, as well as some racial insults and sexually explicit conversation. I found this display highly offensive and have thus refused to allow my son to continue to play there. I believe that this 'virtual playground' for the students and public to be able to access is inappropriate and poorly reflects the administration of your establishment." So does alcohol consumption and wild parties, which is what is all too common at many colleges and universities. But, shockingly this letter was NOT from a mom-type, it in fact came from an ISP of which no one has ever tried to play this mud from. Which led to the conclusion that it must have been from someone who was a disgruntled player or former administrator that decided if they can not play here, then no one else can.

As a result of the "parent mailing the university" incident, the Mud Connector has had posted its the front page a parental warning sheet informing everyone to keep their kids "mud-safe" ever since. The Mud Connector certainly did not get a letter accusing them of not listing any certain mud as "adult-oriented". In all reality, the Internet is a filthy place to be. There are thousands of people who may be adults but have the maturity of three year-old children online. If you think the kids should not be exposed to bad things on the Internet, they should not be on it at all. Course the kids think, I am old enough to deal with it, all my friends and rivals at school say this stuff too! And they are right. Kids at school are filled with S, V, & D (thatís sex, violence and drugs for those in Rio Linda) and want to teach it to other students, who are just as willing to learn it--cause they want to experience what adults do here and now.

So, on April 20, 1999 in whatís become a yearly near end of school-year trend, two of these S, V, & D types in Littleton, Colorado decided to go shoot up an entire school in a mass murder-suicide of which its full ramifications are STILL being played out. As typical with the inside the beltway pundits, the blame is almost NEVER placed on the two individuals that committed this crime, anything and everything they were exposed to or gained possession of has to be fingered as the REAL cause of this tragedy. As for the adults who are "watching" over these children, their paranoia of a similar thing happening in their school has gotten to be almost intolerable. A little two inch KEYCHAIN shaped like a gun has gotten at least two students kicked out of school in Illinois and Wisconsin. A student somewhere in the east coast region was kicked out of school for drawing and cutting out a picture of a gun. Another student was kicked out of school for writing a horror story that was deemed too violent. And another student was kicked out of school for ten days in Cobb County Georgia for having a keychain that was too long! Today the faintest of rumors of someone wanting to shoot up a school causes classes to be cancelled when there is no legitimate reason to do so which happened multiple times at schools within a 100 mile radius of my home. At this rate, sooner or later all kids entering the school system will be taught in buildings that look like, and have the security of, federal prisons--never mind we think we are serving a 13-year prison sentence anyway. What is WRONG with you people??? This makes school vouchers and home schooling VERY attractive compared to all this total nonsense going on.

Despite the overall rate of school violence incidents on the decline, the shock value of these incidents prompted a number of knee-jerk legislative measures that were mostly based on pure emotion and very little common sense. This happens all too often with situations like this, they go for the quick-fix and do not try tackling the underlying long-term problem. From what Iíve seen, first there were a number of gun-control measures proposed. These I oppose, since a number of them were ALREADY law, and Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris broke close to twenty existing laws to get their firearmsómeaning the problem has not been enough gun-control laws, itís the laws not being enforced. Second, a proposal to allow schools to put signs with the Ten Commandments back in the hallways. This I do support, because I feel the message of the Ten Commandments would influence people not to go on a mass murder spree and no, it does not violate the establishment clause of the first amendment, if youíre going to say it does, then you should be able to point me to where I can attend the Federal Church of the United States. Lastly, what I will focus on for the remainder--since this is a mudding journalóa proposal to regulate video games and the entertainment industry.

Eric and Dylan were avid fans of the old classic PC game "Doom" and they would play this game for hours and hours on end. Even though there were other games like Doom that came out later--Strife, Duke Nukem 3D, Shadow Warrior, Hexen, Quake, Unreal, Blood, and othersóthis five year old game was named as the destructive force that "caused" these two kids to shoot up the school. Henry Hyde, longtime Republican congressman from Illinois came up with legislation to regulate the content of video games. To be fair and accurate Rep. Hyde was not the first, a pair of congressmen from Florida--one of each party came up with a similar bill that went down to defeat in 1998, and former Democratic senator Paul "Donít call me Pee-Wee" Simon came up with a bill of his own in the final year of his term. Supposedly, following the aftermath of the "Immoral Kombat" flap over the game Mortal Kombat, we said hello to a game ratings system which was supposed to "take care" of the problem. Yet, the sellers of the games refused to block any sale of a game rated "M" for Mature to a teenager that made it all pretty worthless without the parents forcing their will on the child not to play or look at one of these more violent games. Most recently though, my state's attorney general Jim Ryan of Illinois has been campaigning very publicly for retail stores to quit selling "M" rated games to those deemed under age and places like Wal-Mart and K-Mart have went along! He had the gall to say that video game makers COULD face the same type of litigation that tobacco and gun companies have. Let us see, tobacco causes lung cancer, guns launch live projectiles which do great physical harm to the aimed at target, but deaths from playing video games have been extremely rare.2

So to come back to how this relates to mudding, sooner or later we will be getting some goof coming along to point the finger at muds being responsible for one of the coming mass school-shootings of the 1999-2000 or later school year if some student who does a copy cat crime was found to be playing muds prior to his act. And thus, we have "Cruel Doubt" again where people are influenced by the role-play and the mass murder of players and NPCs to commit the actual crimes. Thankfully, the only crimes Iíve seen so far associated with muds have been hacking sites, deleting or stealing material, stealing computer equipment, and harassment. Now I donít see the feds moving to regulate muds themselves, cause many arenít even based in the United States and muds arenít as popular as your Nintendo, Sega, or Sony video game.

Final comments, ten months out of 1999 I had to search for new employment and put my mudding activities down to the minimum level, maintain the web sites and keep Promised Land afloat. Unfortunately, the results of the search were disastrous, and because they were disastrous, my father, who I have been talking about for the first half of the piece let out his frustration (I live on my own by the way, but I visit often) and claimed the mud I run is a "crutch" and that I did not take my job hunt seriously enough. The truth is, the highly touted I.T. labor shortage of 1999 was one of the greatest frauds put forth upon the computer industry in which people like me thought they were in such high demand that periods of unemployment would be brief as long as you had some amount of programming experience. So, I was job hunting so long not because I was not trying, but because these jobs were not so abundant.3 For those fleshing out a resume, programming a mud gives you experience in C programming (or some other language if it was written in it--C++, Java, Perl, etc.) and HTML if you maintain a web site for the mud. The debate on whether to include that experience at all rages on, with one side saying do not put it in because an employer would think you are doing mudding activity at work, and the other side saying put it in because it is valuable free lance experience to use against the minimum number of years of work experience employers demand. I chose to claim it as experience, though not featured prominently, since one of the areas I am trying to get into is Web Development. As soon as I gained employment, this aspect of "Cruel Doubt" went away.

Ladies and gentlemen, this is what we have to deal with, be prepared to defend yourself when confronted with claims influenced with paranoia, and be ready to help your friends whose family attacks them for playing muds. Poor understanding, poor public awareness, and a lack of trust with the person playing has been a too common thread with these problems. It also seems whenever one guy is having fun, someone else has to come along and make sure he gets punished for it.

The views expressed by Crimefighter are of his own, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Imaginary Realities, his friends, family or associates...in other words, if you did not like what you read, you KNOW who to complain to. The original compositions of this article appeared in Abermud Announcements #7 and #8 on The COMPLETE Abermud List, was later rewritten for now-defunct The mud Journal, updated again for the year 2000 in Imaginary Realities.

1 Alex Kallend provided this comment.

2 In 1982, a teenager suffered a heart attack while playing a certain game at a video arcade. Do you know which game this was? The first three persons to come up with the answer will receive 4000 free points on my own mud, Promised Land.

3 For those curious about how I could say the I.T. labor shortage was one of the biggest perpetuated frauds of 1999, please read AA#9, 10, and 11.