Is there a connection between playing D&D and Satanism?
While the “Satanic Panic” of the 1980’s may have died down to some degree, a small portion of conservative and religious groups still believe that playing Dungeons & Dragons turns people into Lucifer’s servants of eeeeevil.
When The Heavy Metal GM originally suggested that I conduct a study on table-top role-players, he suggested that I try to debunk this claim. I did a quick literature search and found that (sadly) there have not been many studies on table-top role players since the ‘80’s, but then I came across a study by Stuart Leeds in the 1995 edition of the Cultic Studies Journal addressing my original question.
1. The Question
Leeds wanted to investigate whether or not the claims that Dungeons & Dragons caused Satanism and higher susceptibility to beliefs in the paranormal. Leeds administered a personality questionnaire assessing participants on psychoticism, extraversion, and neuroticism, a scale assessing belief in the paranormal, and another scale to measure participants’ involvement in gaming or Satanic practices.
2. The Sample
He recruited 217 test subjects in total to participate in his study, and these were comprised of three groups. One hundred and twenty five participants were control subjects who were not dabblers in the occult nor players of table-top roleplaying games, 66 were players of RPGs, and 26 were Satanists and/or “occult dabblers” -- his definition of which is a liiiiitle bit wibbly wobbly, so bear with me. Participants ranged in age from 18 to 31, and were matched to controls by age, marital status, ethnicity, and highest level of education. The sample was 95% Caucasian and 100% of participants were male due to the “overwhelming preponderance of males in gaming and satanic practice groups.”
3. Stats And JUICY FINDINGS!
Leeds used a one-way ANOVA (analysis of variance) to compute between-group differences on the personality and occult beliefs scales.
4. Finding #1: Spoilers: Gamers Aren’t Any More Psychotic Than Joe Non-Gamer Schmoe
Participants in the Satanic dabbler group scored significantly higher on the psychoticism scale than the gaming group and the non-involvement group with a 95% confidence rate. (Just FYI 95% confidence means that there’s a 5% chance that the results are due to random chance, and this is usually the gold standard for significance in psych studies.)
5. Finding #2: Gamers Aren’t Introverts? Say What?!
On the extraversion scale, there were no significant differences between the gamers and the controls, but the Satanic dabblers scored significantly lower on this scale than the other two groups. No significant differences between groups were found for the neuroticism scale.
6. Finding #3: Gamers Can Separate Fictitious Play From Reality!? WHO KNEW?!
In terms of the belief in the paranormal, once again, gamers and non-gamer controls scored about the same as each other, and the Satanic dabblers scored significantly higher on this scale than the other two groups.
So, in short, this study found that for white, mostly college-educated, young adult males, there are no differences in personality characteristics between gamers and non-gamers, and playing Dungeons and Dragons is not associated with increased beliefs in the occult. However, the results of this study should be taken with a small palm full of salt for a few reasons.
However, 3 Reasons To Be Skeptical Of This Study
1. Sample Size
The sample size is pretty low, but given that this project was probably a master’s thesis, I can’t really blame Leeds for not having funding/resources to get more participants. Because there are so few people in the Satanist group (and the definition is so weird), the variance within that group is limited, and we can’t prop them up as being representative of Satanists as a whole. Same deal goes for the gamers, albeit less so. It’s easier to get a significant result when sample sizes are smaller, so someone, somewhere down the line should try to replicate these results with larger samples from each group.
2. Generalizability Is IMPORTANT
The sample might not be representative of gamers or Satanists or Joe Schmoes as a whole. I still have yet to see a comprehensive study on the demographic characteristics of table-top role-playing gamers, but there’s a lot of vague “well women don’t play so we’re not going to recruit them” bologna that seems to go on whenever someone decides to do a psychological study on this population. Same deal goes for race and ethnicity and geographic location (since all participants were from New York), and these criticisms also apply to the sample of Satanists. The results might not generalize to these populations as a whole, so getting a more diverse sample when replicating this would go a long way to lending more credibility to these claims. But this is a problem that occurs regularly within psychological and medical research and instead of going on for another five paragraphs about my biggest research pet peeve I’ll let you go do some digging on your own.
3. Do You Even Have Power, Bro?
The correlations they found for the personality factors were pretty small (generally anything between .1-.3 is considered a small correlation, .4-.6 is medium, and .7-.9 is large) which is to say that while the results are significant (read: probably not due to chance), belonging to any one of these groups probably doesn’t have much influence on personality.
So, there you have it folks! Next time Uncle Jim tries to get on your case about being an obedient servant of the devil because you play D&D or that you must be some kind of social pariah, you can show him this study and proclaim with the power of SCIENCE that this is simply not the case.
FancyDuckie is a 20-something researcher by daylight, and mahou shoujo cosplayer by moonlight! She’s also known to play murder hobo elven clerics with a penchant for shanking twice a week. Also known as “science girlfriend” of The Heavy Metal GM. When she’s not chained to her sewing machine or doing other nerdy stuff, she enjoys watching ballet, musical theatre, pro hockey, and playing with any critter that will tolerate her presence. You can find her on Twitter, Tumblr, Cospix, ACParadise, Facebook, Instagram, & Wordpress.
Leeds, S. M. (1995). Personality, belief in the paranormal, and involvement with Satanic
practices among young adult males: Dabblers versus gamers. Cultic Studies Journal,
12, 2, 148-165.
I am become death, destroyer of worlds.