Comment on Leeds

Cultic Studies Journal, 1999, Volume 16, Number 2, pages 197-202 Comment on Leeds (1995)

Comment on Leeds

Paul Cardwell, Jr.


This article relates research conducted by the Committee for the Advancement of Role-Playing Games (CAR-PGa) to Leeds (1995), which found significant differences among avowed Satanists, game players, and a control group on three measures. Although Leeds's study is useful in many ways, serious deficiencies in one of his measures, the Satanic and Fantasy Envelopment survey, result in misleading conclusions.

Leeds (1995) found significant differences between avowed Satanists, role-playing gamers, and a control group on the Eysenck Personality QuestionnaireRevised (EPQ-R), the Belief in the Paranormal Scale (BPS), and the Satanic and Fantasy Envelopment (SAFE) survey. Although much of Leeds's article is valuable, his findings on the SAFE survey are questionable. The survey has a built-in structural bias against gamers and is inconsistent with research pertinent to the questions that SAFE purports to examine.

The Committee for the Advancement of Role-Playing Games (CAR-PGa) is an international network of researchers. The network was founded in 1987 in response to media attacks on role-playing games (RPG), which peaked in the 1980s and early 1990s. The network’s original intent was to find the causes of these alleged harmful effects, eliminate them, and have only harmless games left. Researchers, however, found no solid evidence that any of these alleged harmful effects ever existed.

This research has concentrated on two sources: scholarly journals and appellate court decisions. Researchers associated with CAR-PGa have also conducted independent studies and examined publications of the game trade association (Game Manufacturers AssociationGAMA), and the mass media. The network's bibliography of the most important of this material now runs to six pages in 10-point type. Contrary to Leeds's contention that research is minimal, CAR-PGa has identified a number of studies that produce no support for the contention that harm is associated with role-playing games (Abeyeta & Forest, 1991; Carroll & Carolin, 1989; Carter & Lester, 1998; DeReynard & Kline, 1990; Rosenthal, Soper, Folse, & Whipple, 1998; Simon, 1987; Watters v. TSR, Inc., 1989). Indeed, some studies even suggest that RPG may have therapeutic effects (Baccus, 1988; Blackmon, 1994; Borges, 1994; Hubner, 1995; Hughes, 1990; Zayas & Lewis, 1986). During the period in which these studies were conducted there were no studies on the psychological effects of chess, and the only “game” covered in the literature more extensively than RPG was Prisoner’s Dilemma, which is apparently only played by researchers. None of these studies supports the allegations of harm found in newspaper articles contained in CAR-PGa's files, alluded to above.

In examining the case histories (identified in the media and documents produced by anti-gaming organizations) of individuals alleged to have been harmed by these games, CAR-PGa found a third of them never played the games at all or had stopped playing over a year before the significant incident (CAR-PGa, ongoing). The number remaining is below the coincidence level for a very popular pastime by a factor of over five hundred. Over half of the 120 cases identified by anti-gamers between 1976 and 1986 do not even give such basic information as name, date, and place to enable researchers to examine their validity. One that does give all three cannot be supported by an obituary, much less a story on the alleged suicide in any of the newspapers of the time and place. Another—a nongamer victim—is still listed as unsolved, so this can hardly be shown to be game-related, but is counted nonetheless. Deaths by accident or homicide are called suicide, etc.

The studies in the professional literature and CAR-PGa's own research challenge the charge that the games warp the personality or cause suicide or crime. CAR-PGa spent a decade searching for avowed Satanists at game conventions around the world, and found none. A valuable aspect of Leeds's study is that he was able to identify a pool of Satanists to study.

Leeds makes statements, however, that are highly suspect as to factuality. At the bottom of page 149, games are described as a “…soft introduction to occult-related ideas that particularly concerns parents, lay groups, and the media.” RPG does not “introduce” these ideas; they come from the same source from which the games got them–from the fairy tales of childhood and from fictional accounts directly or indirectly linked to fairy tales (e.g., Tolkein). They concern parents in large part because Pat Pulling (1989) and Thomas Radecki spread this alarm on television shows in the 1980s (e.g., Entertainment Tonight, October 12-13, 1987), after the repeal of the fairness doctrine enabled broadcasters to withhold access to the other side.

Another statement that bears correction is Leeds's citing Hicks (1991) as supporting the idea that Satanism is common among gamers. Hicks was a strong supporter of CAR-PGa in the late 1980s and early 1990s, when he was investigating RPG for the Virginia Criminal Justice Services. Yet, there he is, lumped with Bob Larson’s Satanism: The seduction of America’s youth (Larson, 1989) in two citations and Pat Pulling’s Devil’s web (1989) in one citation (last line on page 148 and last line of first paragraph on page 150, respectively).

However, the most disturbing error in Leeds's paper was his use of the Satanic and Fantasy Envelopment (SAFE) survey. The Eysenck Personality Questionnaire and the Belief in the Paranormal Scale showed no significant differences between gamers and the control group, while there were significant differences between these two groups and the satanic dabblers. Only the SAFE showed all three groups as divergent on their scores. That gamers would score in between the control group and the Satanist group seems to be inevitable given the structure of SAFE. Indeed, it is surprising that, given the built in bias of the scale, gamers didn't score even higher than they did.

SAFE consists of 25 questions divided into two parts, with only 4 questions in the second part. Part II supposedly is "included in overall analyses, and contributes to intensity of involvement" (p. 164). A score of 9 or more on questions 1-6 is supposed to distinguish gamers from nongamers. A score of 18 or greater on questions 7-21 is supposed to distinguish dabblers from nondabblers. However, a score of 20 overall, according to Leeds (p. 163), places one in the dabbler category.

It is possible to get 18 points (and qualify for dabbler status) on the RPG questions alone (questions 1-6). Among the dabbler questions (numbers 7-18), having bought or made a knife, belief in God, belief in Satan, and belief that one controls one's own destiny gain another eight points.

The second part is even worse in its anti-game slant. The sources of involvement in RPG (e.g., friend, book) in the first question are duplicated verbatim in the second question on satanic practices, which reinforces the idea that they are equivalent. A friend, family member, movie, book, or other typically introduces gamers to RPG. Therefore, they will inevitably accrue points that control group members wouldn't accrue because they don't have to answer this question!

The most sinister interpretation of question 1 is that the subject learned to play in the family. Is it equally evil if a gamer learned to play baseball in his family? Of course not! Intergenerational baseball is looked upon romantically as the personification of family values. But RPG, which uses the mind rather than the body, is never looked upon that way because the spate of media attacks on RPG have made it appear sinister by nature. One member of CAR-PGa is the first of a three-generation RPG, with his son-in-law and two grandchildren. Many play with their children. SAFE calls such behavior four points toward Satanism. I call it family values. Learning to play from friends gets two points toward the Satanism label under this “test.”

The third and fourth questions of Part II (playing D&D increased my curiosity about the occult and Satanism, respectively) are also silly. So what if playing D&D increases a person's curiosity about the occult. In fact, Leeds found that only 2 of 66 gamers reported that D&D) increased their curiosity in Satanism It may also increase curiosity about medieval history. Teens become curious about a lot of subjects, wholesome and dubious, for a variety of reasons. Ironically, it is quite possible that the lurid television programs that attack RPG have fostered more curiosity about Satanism and the occult than all the game playing in history!

Thus, Part II may add up to 12 points toward the dabbler label among people who have absolutely nothing to do with Satanism. The first 6 questions of Part I, which identify gamers, can produce up to 18 points, only 2 short of what is needed to qualify as a dabbler. A nondabbler gamer could easily amass 7 points in the rest of Part 1. Thus, before he even reaches the silliness of Part II, he might already qualify as a dabbler. SAFE is a useless test and should be abandoned. Although Leeds obtained useful and interesting results for the EPQ-R and the BPS, his findings regarding the SAFE survey should be ignored.

It is possible that the goals of the SAFE survey could be achieved if the scale were broken down into two separate parts, one consisting of gamer questions and the other of satanic questions, with eight points of neutral questions possibly appearing on both tests, but no connection between the two implied nor stated. If a researcher were to attempt to salvage the SAFE survey, he or she ought to begin by explicitly stating the theory that underlies the selection of questions. Leeds provides no such rationale for his selection of items.


Abyeta, Suzanne, & Forest, James (1991, December). Relationship of role-playing games to self-reported criminal behavior. Psychological Reports, 69, 1187-1192.

Baccus, Michael (1988, June 8) (personal communication to Lou Zocchi). Sociotherapist describes use of superhero RPG in treating chronically low self-esteem in children from the Fort Worth, Texas school system.

Blackmon, Wayne D. (1994). Dungeons and Dragons: The use of a fantasy game in the psychotherapeutic treatment of a young adult. Journal of Psychotherapy, 48:(4), 624-632.

Borges, Silvia (1994). RPG: A clinical approach. Wunderblock Centro de Estudos, Rio de Janeiro. (English translation by the author is published as a monograph by CAR-PGa).

CAR-PGa (ongoing). The trophy list exposed. Bonham, TX. (This regularly updated report is an examination of anti-gamers’ case histories.)

Carroll, James L., & Carolin, Paul M. (1989). Relationship between game playing and personality. Psychological Reports, 64, 705-706.

Carter, Robert, & Lester, David. (1998). Personalities of players of Dungeons & Dragons. Psychological Reports, 82, 182.

DeRenard, Lisa A., & Kline, Linda Mannik. (1990). Alienation and the game Dungeons & Dragons. Psychological Reports, 66, 1219-1222.

Hicks, Robert (1991). In pursuit of Satan: The police and the occult. Buffalo, NY: Prometheus.

Hubner, Martina. (1995). Fantasy-Rollenspiel – ein kreative medium zur Gewaltpravention? Munchen: Aktion Jungendschutz. (Report of a government study showing that RPG reduces juvenile violence.)

Hughes, John. (1990). Therapy as fantasy: Role-playing, healing, and the construction of symbolic order. Unpublished paper.

Larson, B. (1989). Satanism: The seduction of America's youth. Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.

Leeds, Stuart M. (1995). Personality, belief in the paranormal and involvement with satanic practices among young adult males: Dabblers versus gamers. Cultic Studies Journal, 12(2), 148-161.

Pulling, Patricia. (1988). Interviewing techniques for adolescents. Richmond, VA: B.A.D.D (Bothered About Dungeons and Dragons).

Pulling, Patricia. (1989). The Devil's web. Lafayette, LA: Huntington House.

Rosenthal, G.T., Soper, B., Folse, E.J., & Whipple, G. J. (1998). Role-play gamers and national guardsmen compared. Psychological Reports, 82, 169-170.

Simon, Armando. (1987). Emotional stability pertaining to the game of Dungeons & Dragons. Psychology in the Schools, 24, 329-332.

Watters v. TSR, Inc., 715 F Supp. 819 (W. D. Kentucky, Paducah Div., 1989).

Zayas, L. H., & Lewis, Bradford H. (1986). Fantasy role-playing for mutual aid in a children’s group: A case illustration. Social Work with Groups, 9(1), 53-66.

Paul Cardwell, Jr. is Chair of CAR-PGa, the Committee for the Advancement of Role-Playing Games, an international network of researchers who study educational, therapeutic, and recreational aspects of RPG. Anyone wishing to join CAR-PGa in this research should contact the Chair at 1127 Cedar, Bonham, TX 75418. The monthly newsletter subscription is $10.00 per year US ($13.50 other countries). An information packet, including a bibliography, is available for a name and address plus a 55¢ stamp or one IRC.