31 May 2005

Fantasy and reality

I first played Dungeons & Dragons in 1978 or so, when a friend organized a group at work. Most of us had a good time with it, due to an excellent dungeonmaster, but one member, a Mormon, quickly became the bane of our (virtual) existence. He insisted on always playing a paladin, of course. Eventually we tired of taking him for walks when, for example, a captive who was slowing our progress had to be killed. So we all ganged up and killed the paladin. The Mormon came back as a monster, but we quickly dispatched him as well — the game is heavily weighted against the monsters.

The Mormon quit his job the next morning.

I've always used that story as an example of why it's important to keep fantasy and reality separate. But now I have a much more horrific tale:
Ronald Ribeiro Rodrigues, a 22-year-old glass worker, and Mayderson Vargas Mendes, an unemployed 21-year-old, confessed to the murder of 21-year-old physics student Tiago Guedes and his parents, Douglas and Heloisa, in Guarapari, a seaside city of 230 miles northeast of Rio de Janeiro.

They said the killings were part of a role-playing game whose rules required the loser to let the winners kill him and his family.
If this really was part of a game — there seems to be some doubt — it's a symptom of the continuing breakdown of the distinction between fantasy and reality. Constructing fantasies is well and good, but they should not be confused with actual experiences involving real people. I've seen many relationships break up because the attraction was based on a fantasy, not on the living breathing person. We went to war in Iraq based on many fantasies, among them that the Hussein regime was a threat to the US, and that the Iraqis would welcome us with flowers. Unfortunately, confusing those fantasies with reality has led to the real deaths of tens of thousands.

That's what happens when you're not reality-based.