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Are there any constructive steps fellow players and GMs can take when a high-school age player's parents express concern at their roleplaying game hobby?

Assume the player is a healthy creative young person, the game is pretty typical D&D, and the parent does not have any fiery agenda - just vague recollections of D&D being associated with cults or something. The GM and other players range in age from early twenties to mid thirties.

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possible duplicate of The evil, corrupting roleplaying games..... not. – Stefano Borini Aug 27 '10 at 15:24
This seems much more tightly focused and productive than "The evil..." The latter seemed merely to be looking for snappy comebacks to a "facepalming, cringeworthy" rube. Especially on this topic, the language of the question is important; constructive steps for dealing with concerned parents is a very different discussion. – kodi Aug 27 '10 at 16:05

17 Answers 17

up vote 33 down vote accepted

Speak with them directly, answer any questions they have, and basically do your best to come across as a well-adjusted, successful adult.

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To better convey being well-adjusted, acknowledge the actual problems the game presents: neglecting homework for play was the only real problem the game presented when I was the teenager in question. Mention that while also noting that it's true of any creative and engaging hobby. Balancing pass-times and responsibilities is no different when it's D&D than when it's a more familiar pass-time. Acknowledging that will reassure them that you're responsible, and also put the game in a context more familiar to the parent. – SevenSidedDie Jun 9 '12 at 19:03

Play in a public place and let the parents watch for twenty minutes.

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simple, effective, practical.. good idea – Jeff Atwood Aug 27 '10 at 23:07
Playing in a public space is particularly important if there's a large age difference among the players. Even parents who have no problem with RPGs may not want their kid hanging out with much older people in a private place. – J.T. Grimes Aug 28 '10 at 15:18
I found that letting them borrow the rule books to look over also went a long way to alleviating fears with one parent way back when I was early into it with the original Basic and Expert sets. – BBlake Sep 17 '10 at 3:01

Play a one-off encounter with the parent, if they're up for it. Most people are open to trying something new if you can tell them it'll take an hour or so and they know about it ahead of time. Roll up a first-level fighter and have them stumble upon bandit goblins on the road. See if they can talk their way out of it, have a little skirmish, and role play the undying thanks of the people who just got saved from brigands.

It'll give them a good understanding of what they game is about (do-good heroes saving the world from baddies!) and also that the interactions with NPCs are just as important as fighting.

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+1, but I'd rather have the parent play with their beloved offspring, and let them play an encounter where ethics and moral choices are to be made, like law enforcement from local robber baron vs hungry peasants caught stealing flour from the local greedy miller. – Tsojcanth Aug 27 '10 at 15:43
@Tsojcanth: "stealing from the miller is still stealing"... so you could end up open one hell of a can of family-dispute worms. As @TALlama says, it depends on the relationship with the parents. – Jürgen A. Erhard Jan 25 '11 at 14:12

Most parents want an honest but simple answer, and will often be reluctant or unable to take the time to play or watch a game.

However, some may be religious objectors. If that's the case, don't argue with them; everyone's entitled to their own beliefs, correct or not. If they're open to discussion, fine; if not, back off and be respectful.

Assuming discussion is possible, you can the game form (in oversimplified fashion) in just a couple of minutes:

  • It's a social pastime. Players sit around a table and talk to each other, building a story together. That's all. Playing a game face-to-face with other people is healthier than sitting alone in front of a computer or TV set.

  • Players use dice to determine a random result when they need it. Do you have to fight or can you scare the enemy away? Roll to see which.

  • Rules are more complex than a board game like Monopoly. They requires a lot of reading and a lot of thought... which, among other things, improves vocabulary and math skills.

  • (For a FRPG:) The topic is fantasy... as in the movies Lord of the Rings or Fantasia. Lots of fantasy stories include magic. Magic is even less real than Mickey Mouse. In the game you can say 'I cast a lightning bolt spell', as simple as that; the game doesn't include occult rituals.

The D&D "Controversy"

There was indeed great concern about this new game 25-30 years ago, and the net result of all the investigation (and several court cases) was this: D&D is just a game. Like candy bars or alcohol, it can be abused, and any obsession (with food or drink or games) can lead to unfortunate results.

Parents who lost troubled children to suicide often need something to blame, and may fixate on anything unusual in the child's life. Thirty years ago, D&D took its turn in the blame game. Yes, a long time ago D&D was unusual -- but after almost 40 years of sales, and now being published by the world's largest toymaker (Hasbro), it's as common as computer games.

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Thanks for merging your answers @ExTSR! – C. Ross Feb 9 '11 at 19:58

Switch Games

What's your goal here? Are you trying to make it so that their kids can play? Or are you trying to convince them that there is no threat?

I've been playing RPGs for over 30 years now, and I've been an "RPG ambassador" on multiple occasions. So I'm not speaking theoretically here, I'm speaking from experience.

If you're trying to change their minds, don't bother. It's not going to happen. You can argue all you like - you can explain the differences between players and characters, you can make analogies showing that D&D doesn't teach magic any more than it teaches fencing, you can talk yourself hoarse, and it's not going to make any difference. Trust me. I've tried it all.

But if your goal is to create a situation where their kids are allowed to play, the answer is probably simple:

Try a different game.

If D&D (or magic, or fantasy elements) is a trigger for parental fears, abandon it. D&D isn't the only or the best game out there. You don't need magic for a fun game.

Tell the concerned parents (I can't help you with people so nosy that they care what OTHER people's kids are playing) that you are sensitive to their concerns and you don't have any desire to argue with them about what's appropriate for their children.

Tell them that role-playing games are a fun, imaginative pastime that involves social interaction, math, reading, problem-solving skills and more; and that magic doesn't have to be a part of it at all if that bothers them. Then offer them a wide selection of magic-free genres, like the following:

  • Superheroes
  • Pirates
  • Spies
  • Space
  • Westerns
  • WWII

And anything else you can think of. Then pick a game to run and invite the parents to play, or at least to stick around and watch. They might be bored, but they won't be threatened or fearful any more. Be open, honest, polite, mature, sensitive, calm, and reasonable.

You can't convince everyone. But you'll convince more with concern and communication than you will with defensive arguments or anger. Try to remember that no matter how silly the "threat" of RPGs may seem to you, these people are genuinely concerned for their kids.

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This bears repeating over and over ... "no matter how silly the "threat" of RPGs may seem to you, these people are genuinely concerned for their kids." – KorvinStarmast Jul 27 '15 at 0:52
Don't forget Toon :) How could silliness inspired by Chuck Jones possibly be a problem? – Codes with Hammer Oct 21 '15 at 15:19

Give this PDF to the parents to look over "RPG Fact Checker Sheet" then, if they require more information, show them "The 5 W's of RPG's"

If that isn't enough, perhaps relaying to the parents that plenty of intelligent, successful, famous people grew up playing D&D and managed to turn out okay: Bill Gates, Vin Diesel, Robin Williams, Stephen Colbert, Mike Meyers, Matthew Lillard, Gerard Way, Rivers Cuomo, Dexter Holland, Patton Oswalt, the list goes on, and on...

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+1 for the excellent links! – Pureferret Dec 30 '11 at 2:35

Let the parent sit in. Also, make sure they realize its a social activity, and the player is using his or her brain, instead of sitting in front of a tv screen or computer monitor pushing buttons. Most parents are very gratified to get their kids away from the playstation or Xbox, so any activity in contrast will look great to them.

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Boy this is a long thread, I hope I didn't miss someone mentioning this, but let them watch a podcast of D&D being played. One of the ones that Chris Perkins runs with the robot chickens guys would likely be fine. WotC has broken their play session into fairly manageable chunks which could easily hold someones attention long enough to see that D&D is harmless. Plus, since its a video, they don't have to feel awkward sitting in on your game. And honestly, if any reasonable person can watch one of those sessions and still think its a "devils" game I'd be surprised.

Speaking of devils game, you might try having them listen to that old cheeto's, mountian dew, skit. So funny yet so true. Here I found a reasonable youtube video of it.

Here is one of the Chris Perkins DM's games:

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Find a way for them to observe a game session.

  • The parent could participate in a session. Their child might be cool with this, or might not.

  • The parent could observe unobtrusively as the game session takes place in a public place. Good if the group and parents are cool with appearing in a public place, but there are lots of reasons why this might not work.

  • The parent could host one session of the game at their home. This has many advantages if it can be arranged, and it's going to make them feel a whole lot safer seeing what their child is doing while they have the authority of the venue.

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Talk to them about how educational RPGs are. Gaming really saved me as an underachieving adolescent and now I'm old and have degrees in education and a job and everything. It's not some kind of magic bullet, but it sure helps some people.

Note all of the great character-building aspects of gaming: prosocial, cooperative, mathy, encourages reading and research; and the subculture values intellect instead of the opposite.

Also, compare gaming to other things their kid could be out doing. D&D might be Satanic, but to most parents, it sure beats pot and crime.

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No! Don't concede things that are false! D&D is not satanic by any stretch of the imagination, so don't give that inch. – Adriano Varoli Piazza Nov 16 '10 at 22:44
Yeah, I didn't mean that you should concede that D&D is Satanic; I was merely pointing out even if the parents have that concern, they're also faced with the more pragmatic concerns of day-to-day life and keeping their kids safe. – clweeks Feb 18 '14 at 17:00

Yes, either let the parents watch (although the players might get self-conscious), or sit the parent down and go through the rulebook with them, explain the goals of the game, perhaps even run them through an example combat.

They still may not understand the attraction of it, but if you honestly show them what it is their kid does during a game, then they'll see there's nothing suspicious about it.

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I've had to deal with general situations that resemble this a lot, and this exact question a few times. These are the points I try to make:

Roleplaying exitsted before the term was co opted by this hobby. It was and is used theraputically with great effect. So the roots of the term and of the practice are grounded deeply into very healthy outcomes. It is also used regularly in educational enviroments.

In it's incarnation as a game, RPGs are an incredibly pro-social, pro-intellectual hobby. In a time when kids are sitting on their computers and hiding from their peers, RPGs still engender getting together, meeting people, sharing information, and cooperating with other people in a long-term fashion. Millions of succesful people play RPGs, and it is a rare hobby that many people keep from youth into adulthood.

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If the parent remembers vague cult associations and cares to do some research on their own (outside of the other excellent suggestions of letting them play or observe), direct them to Mike Stackpole's Pulling Report, which talks about the controversy that gained so much press in the 1980's with the vague connections with Satanism. Or read it yourself to be able to defuse any concerns they may have from these memories.

As to letting the parents play or observe, that's what my mother did when she bought me a copy of the original Red Box Basic D&D back in the 1980's. That way, when people asked if I was a Satanist for being interested in RPG's, she was able to tell them about the historical and mythological sources it pulled from (which actually fascinated her) and how it made me more likely to read history for ideas.

A friend of mine is actually running a historical D&D game for a group of 12-year olds in New York. They're playing D&D in an Ancient Rome setting, which he uses as a way to get them interested in the actual history and make the sessions informative.

(If anyone's interested, search YouTube for "Coolest Geek Job Ever" and you'll find an interview with him on this...)

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Try to talk explicitly to the social contract in place for your gaming table. For example: what are the kinds of topics your game shies away from, and what topics will you touch on; how will you deal with topics that start to head towards the boundary; where will you play and what do you expect from the players; what should the players expect from each other, and so on. Give the parent you're talking to an opportunity to make requests around your social contract -- that is, if there's specific things they don't want talked about or played about, they should mention it.

Asking them to sit in on a session is useful, but beware that the observer effect can cause adjustments in what happens at the table while play is observed.

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All good answers! I have, in the past, found it useful to go down the "it is just a game route". In that, the evil can't come from the game any more than monopoly can be evil. It is the peopel involved in the game that are good or evil and the parent needs to make thier descision based on what they think of you and your players. Point them at some of the good sites like the escapist and let them look at the books but don't let them continue to believe that there is any morality, good or bad, in the game itself.

Role-playing is as amoral as football or chess and thats important to pass on. Nothing in the game itself is going to be a danger to thier offspring but get a cult recruiter at chess club and there will be trouble, same goes for role playing. :)

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I find that the Escapist is the site to go to when this comes up.

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Let them read the rule books.

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Any chance of expanding on this tiny answer? – Pureferret Jan 6 '12 at 11:37
This is really a comment, not an answer to the question. Please use "add comment" to leave feedback for the author. – Runeslinger Aug 14 '12 at 9:33
@Runeslinger: I feel this is an answer. It's unsatisfying and needs expansion, but it is an answer. – Tynam Aug 28 '12 at 8:20
@Tynam, I know what you mean, but after all this time it should have been expanded into an appropriately satisfying response, or removed, shouldn't it? It gave me a chuckle, but it has farther to go. – Runeslinger Aug 28 '12 at 9:00

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