Alright, I'm reading various reports in the aftermath of the slaughter in Colorado… I've heard the shooter described as 'goths', 'paramilitary' and 'white supremacists' - hell of a combination, wouldn't you say - and I've encountered several articles claiming that the killers were gothic outcasts, apparently motivated by revenge against the high-school community that made fun of them.
Tragic, but goths are no more free of psychotic loonies than any other aspect of our culture. You have to take the bad with the good, right? Right.
Then there was the article in today's (4/21/99) SF Chronicle. "Classmates Describe Shooters as Obsessed With 'Goth'" - starting on page A1 and going through to page A4 - or you can read the online version. Please note: Sometime after publication, this article was removed by the SF Chronicle. If anyone has a copy of it - paper or electronic - please e-mail me as I would like to make a copy of it. The subsequent article they published is an interesting piece of back-pedaling. It seems the Chronicle may be admitting they made a mistake in running the piece...
A police sergeant in Dayton Ohio, Dave Williams, was quoted extensively regarding Vampire: The Masquerade. He was discussing how some goths 'act out' the fantasy of the game and claims that V:tM "Requires players to totally immerse themselves in the study of the occult" and that "You are steeped in the occult, you are reading about the occult. You are sucking so much of this in, it's [the game] a huge indocrination. That has a tendency of messing with the mind."
Implication: Vampire messes you up and exposes you to the occult. "Occult" is a big red flag in most people's faces. It's a catch-all word used to describe something that is not only not understood, but - in popular culture - has taken on overtones of being sinister and dangerous. That's incorrect - those who reading this probably understand that - but, well, we're not the majority and we're not even close to it…
The Chronicle article also describes the 'violence' of Vampire roleplaying - citing the Brujah clan in particular - and that players 'act out attacks' - implying that players engage in violent physical contact.
So not only are you being exposed to nameless occult things, by playing Vampire, but you're beating each other up, in the name of this occulty thing. That's a nasty snowball rolling down the mountain-side. Can anybody see where it's going?
Two bits says the end-of-week editorials in the Chronicle are full of anti-RPG sentiments written by hysterical and half-informed members of the public - and it'll all get swallowed whole by readers who don't know any better. What a joy it is to be part of a subculture.
Granted, there are extremists in any activity, from sports fandom to RPG's and beyond, but I smell another anti-roleplaying witchunt ramping up if Sgt. Williams - who isn't even a part of the Colorado investigation - gets more airtime.
The article doesn't come right out and say "These killers were goths. Goths are into Vampire. Therefore, this RPG encouraged two psychotic kids to butcher their classmates", but it comes very close - there's a nasty implicating tone in the article. Particularly with the statement "But occasionally, some who claim to be Goth have harmed people, such as individual acts of violence in the San Fernando Valley of Los Angeles. Still, until yesterday there had been nothing like mass murder in the Goth experience." - the authors of this article have placed the cause and the blame for yesterdays killings within the gothic community - and then tied it's exceedingly-rare violent tendencies to Vampire RPG.
The fact that the slaughter may have been timed to coincide with Hitler's birthday got about two lines of print - despite the fact that the killers were also described as 'white supremacists'. I guess describing the effects of a dedicatedly bigoted belief system on young minds doesn't sell as many newspapers…
Admitting to the affects of paramilitary and over-armed hate-cultures means admitting that to the possibility that we might have to admit that - gasp! - guns are too accessible, too fetishized and way too popular. No, it's much easier to go after a minority culture that, 99% of the time, has never harmed another person, does not advocate real-world violence and, here's a key point, can't defend itself against a media onslaught.
(As an aside, I don't even want to discuss the possibility of a white-supremacist-goth-boy - that just boggles the imagination.)
What's my point? Aside from the need to rant, I think it's time to man the ramparts again, don our 'respectable, well-adjusted roleplayer' hats and prepare for another wave of media-inspired hysteria about RPGs in general and Vampire in particular. The best thing we can do to fight this is educate anybody who wants to know about what LARPing is really about and defend the hobby as needed.
The fact is that anybody who is ready to kill another human being - be it for revenge, for fame, or because they had too many Twinkies - is an insane individual. It really pisses me off to see the media latch onto any catalyst - movies, gaming, whatever - and neatly place the blame upon that. It enables bystanders to remove blame and guilt by finding a minority - the tinier, the better - to blame for death and tragedy, and neatly absolves the bystander of any responsibility or complicity.
When people decide to kill each other like this, we're all responsible, and it pisses me off no end to watch others try to dodge that responsibility. These horrifying episodes aren't going to stop until we all learn to change and move beyond a quick-fix mentality. But that's a subject for another rant, and I've taken enough of your time already.
Thanks for reading this.
Well, it's been a week now, and things have calmed down somewhat. White-Wolf issued a press release blasting the SF Chronicle for their article of 4/21. On 4/22, the SF Chronicle itself ran this piece quoting local Gothic outcry against the association between Goths and the Littleton massacre. While White Wolf, on their site, attributes overwhelming fan response to the article (which they called 'a retraction, of sorts'), given what I know about newspaper deadlines, that piece was being written before White Wolf sent out their response over the fax lines. My own personal - and admittedly cyncial conclusion - is that both pieces by the Chronicle were deliberately planned and run to create public worry and, more to the point, to sell copies of the paper.
Still, it seems that most media has dropped the gaming connection and focused their sight on more appropriate factors - including the psychological affects of the hell-that-is-high-school.
But gamers still have to be on the alert for hysteria and anti-gaming prejudice, and they must respond to it a reasonable way - even when being faced by unreasonable critics. My own tiny effort has manifested in the creation of The RPG Anti-Defamation League, which is a pro-gaming website and webring. It's not much, but it's a start.
Remember, we have to speak up for ourselves, because no one is going to do it for us.