I was recently recruited by M. Alan Thomas II into The Committee for the Advancement of Role-Playing Games (CAR-PGa), one of CAR-PGa’s Regional Directors and CAR-PGa’s webmaster. I’ve communicated frequently with Alan since about the plight of role-playing games which have recently come under attack in the media. Alan took some time to introduce the organization and share his thoughts about the current state of RPG-advocacy.
MT: What is CAR-PGA, exactly?
MAThII: To be honest, I’m not sure that I can give you an accurate answer to that question. The Bylaws state that the organization’s purposes are “including, but not limited to” an open-ended list of activities, and the organization itself is simply a network of individuals who each do whatever they want to from that indefinite list. That being said, here’s the key activities that I see the organization being currently involved in that the members wouldn’t be capable of doing on their own:
- Gathering information and literature such as scientific studies or court cases or news of the latest attack. Members might do this individually, but the collection is far more complete when we work together.
- Redistributing that information and literature to members and non-members via the archives, the Newsletter, the e-mail list, and the website.
- Providing a credential for those speaking or writing about role-playing game research and defense; anyone who is a member is presumably active in their area of interest and has access to all of the information that we have compiled over the years.
MT: So it’s safe to say you’re a gamer…
MAThII: I am a second-generation gamer who started playing as a kid after finding his parents’ old D&D and AD&D materials.
MT: Do role-playing games still come under attack like they did in the 80s?
MAThII: Yes, although the attacks are not as frequent or high-profile as they were back then. Among the attacks that come to mind are an individual being threatened with being fired from his job for playing, a pastor attacking role-playing games from the pulpit, a major newspaper publishing a barely non-libelous story suggesting that role-playing games make you into a mass shooter, and a court upholding a ban on role-playing games in prisons because they are supposedly dangerous and promote gang activity.
MT: How has CAR-PGa’s focus shifted over time?
MAThII: This is just my personal opinion, but I think that it is less important these days for CAR-PGa to be an organization of members who do original research than it is for CAR-PGa to (1) make sure that gamers know about public attacks when they occur and (2) arm gamers with the facts and advice that they need to defend themselves against public and private attacks. We’ve always done those things for our members, but these days it’s important to do them for other gamers as well; the e-mail list and website, both of which started after I joined CAR-PGa, help with that.
MT: Has CAR-PGa been consulted in any court cases?
MAThII: To the best of my knowledge, no-one has ever written a CAR-PGa officer and said “We’d like your input on this case.” That being said, the Chair has gotten his name in the record of a couple of cases after offering his assistance. Also, the 7th Circuit’s recent decision in the Singer case made me decide that I really need to study the RPGs-in-prison cases and make myself available to help with this sort of thing as well.
MT: What, in your opinion, is the biggest threat to gaming from a legal standpoint?
MAThII: The bans on role-playing games in prisons, definitely. Within the U.S., there’s never been a serious legal threat to gaming outside of the RPGs-in-prison cases; while there have been a number of times a criminal has blamed RPGs for their crimes, no judge or jury has ever accepted that argument, and the same goes for attempts in the courts to blame RPGs for suicide. To the best of my knowledge, the only non-prison-related case that the gaming industry has ever lost is one of the three counts in Steve Jackson Games, Inc. v. United States Secret Service, and that had nothing to do with gaming.
Outside the U.S., there have occasionally been attempts to pass laws banning RPGs altogether, but at least some of those laws have also been struck down by courts.
 The Secret Service was after a Steve Jackson Games employee for reasons not having to do with the company. They raided SJG in case the employee had used the company’s e-mail and BBS systems, seized GURPS Cyberpunk while they were at it, and made some stupid comments afterwards. SJG sued, alleging violations of the Privacy Protection Act, Title II of the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA), and the Federal Wiretap Act as amended by Title I of the ECPA, but they only won the first two. This is very important in terms of law regarding the internet and was one of the cases leading to the formation of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, but it’s got nothing to do with gaming. For more information, I recommend the Wikipedia article on the case and the 5th Circuit’s opinion in the case.
MT: How can someone help the cause of gaming advocacy?
MAThII: Let me address my reply directly to gamers: The most important thing is this: When you encounter an attack, respond. You don’t have to be a member of CAR-PGa to make yourself heard. Subscribing to our e-mail list, studying the information we’ve made available, and joining CAR-PGa are all going to help you know about attacks when they happen and help you know what the facts are and how to use them, but in the end it comes down to whether or not you’re willing to speak up. The second most important thing is to be proud of being a gamer and not hide it; people need to know that we’re basically ordinary good people whom they meet every day, not the stereotype that we all know is out there.
For more info: The membership form is available on the CAR-PGa website; just send the information it asks for to the the Chair. Regardless of whether or not someone wants to join CAR-PGa, they can also join the e-mail list.