Street Fantasy Life

From an interview at Salon with Rene Denfeld about her new book All God’s Children:

Can you explain that a bit more? You talk a great deal about the influence that fantasy-gaming culture has had on street families.

Over the past decade, through "Dungeons & Dragons" and computer fantasy play and gaming, it’s becoming increasingly acceptable for people in their 20s to spend hours a day engaged in adopting mythical characters or pretending they are part of a medieval society. A lot of young people are taking this fascination and acceptance of fantasy play with them into street culture. They will get engaged in elaborate, real-time fantasy games as part of this culture. They might perform rescue missions or decide that somebody offended them and have a mission to go punish the perpetrator.

Once they get on the streets, these youths take street names that are very important to them. In this particular case, the kids took names like Shadowcat and Gambit and Neo. They become absolutely enmeshed, sometimes to the point where I suspect that they really had trouble discerning reality, and started identifying exclusively by their fantasy name. Frankly, I was bowled over that the social service agencies that serve the youths will call them by their made-up, fantasy names.

It seems like she’s lumping an awful lot of stuff together under the "fantasy gaming" rubric.

Oh, and then there’s this at the end:

Did you find anything good in the street-family culture?

No. What is really striking about it is in the past we had hippie cultures and the punk cultures. And there were certainly a lot of criminals that intersected those cultures, but they were largely about something kind of productive and exciting and artistic. I think that today any energy that street families have is consumed by crime, meth and fantasy games. Anything that is happening creatively is far outweighed by the dangers that these youth pose to themselves and to each other.

Again, seems a bit extreme to class "fantasy games" in the same league with crime and meth. What do y’all think of this?

3 thoughts on “Street Fantasy Life”

  1. I think she’s the one who’s high.
    First of all, if conditions on the street where she’s at are like they are in Houston, those kids would find some kind of fantasy to escape to with or without fantasy games.
    Second of all, the street kids I’ve seen/met have a lot bigger concerns than focusing on fantasy games of any kind. Now, if she’s talking about really small kids, maybe they’re just taking street names from popular culture. The examples you quoted from her interview were two comic book characters and a movie character. No fantasy games involved at all. Now, if one of them started calling themselves Boromir or Smaug, perhaps…
    Granted the street folks I’ve encountered have been at church, so maybe I’m getting a biased view. OTH, many of them are coming from half-way houses and women’s shelters, so, I don’t think it’s too far off.
    I think it’s just someone who bought into the propaganda that one crazy woman spread about D&D in the 80’s, because she couldn’t accept that her son was just mentally disturbed and dangerous to himself and she didn’t notice until it was too late.

  2. It’s not my area of expertise, but that whole interview rang false to me. Methinks the lady got conned by a bunch of tall tales. When concerned parents try to play anthropologist, the results are seldom reliable.
    Take this: Say you have a 19-year-old methamphetamine user who wants you to call him Gambit. My sense as a parent is you say, “Excuse me. Your name’s Steve, and you need to get a job.”
    This is where “years of research” have led her? Please.

  3. I think you’re both exactly right. Oddly, I still kind of want to read the book, to see just how misguided the argument really is.

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