In order to fully discuss this issue, we must first come to understand the allegation itself. At it's most basic level, this statement is a simple allegation that an individual who plays a character in a role-playing game becomes so interconnected with that game and that character that he or she begins to "blur" the lines of reality mentally, resulting in the player acting as his or her character would in non-game scenarios. More brazen accusations that individuals make include alleging that this "blurring" of reality can lead to criminal acts and violence. Sadly, when making these claims against gamers, individuals actually have two cases they can call upon to support this invalid claim (more on that in a bit).
Usually the individual making this claim is very ill-informed about gaming, and it shows. No average individual is ever going to "blur" the lines of reality, as each gamer knows they're gaming. The types of individuals who are not capable of maintaining this mental barrier do exist, however. These individuals are unique and do not represent the gaming demographic as a whole in any way, and when discovered are (or should be) encouraged to seek help from the appropriate places.
As mentioned previously, two instances are often called upon to "prove" this allegation against gamers. The most recent occurred in December of 2005 in Ireland, when an armed robber held up a lingerie shop by knife point. During this robber's trial, he stated that he was only playing the role-playing game Shadowrun as his character the criminal elf "Buho." The robber personally stated during the trial that at the time of the crime he may have "blurred reality and fantasy." Thankfully, ten of the jurors saw it as an attempt at a lesser conviction, and ignored it. Sadly, the other instance is not nearly as trivial and much more close to home for the Quilt City Ogres, as it was carried out by residents of the nearby town of Murray.
In 1996, Roderick Justin "Rod" Ferrel was a student at nearby Murray State University, and an avid gamer in a Live-Action Roleplaying Game: Vampire: the Masquerade. Ferrel was a deeply troubled young adult, for a myriad of reasons (that would later be discussed in-depth by professional psychologists during his trial). Rod was one of the individuals mentioned above, who had the type of personality and mental issues that can lead to the "blurring" of reality and fiction. Due to this, Rod began to believe that he actually was his in-game character: a 500 year old vampire named Vesago. Additionally, Rod was charismatic enough to the other also-troubled youngsters who games with him, pulling them partially into his delusional world. Through a series of events, Rod began to have a long-distance relationship with a young girl in Florida. After many conversations, Rod and his "Vampire Clan," as the media would later call them, drove from Murray to the girl's hometown of Eustic, Florida, where Rod violently murdered her parents. We won't go into exact details here (but wikipedia will), but it was ghastly. They then left on a multiple day trip towards New Orleans, where they hoped to live at since it was the "Vampire Mecca" as seen in the [over-rated] novels of Anne Rice and others. Thankfully, they were captured, but the ensuing legal trial and media blitz called the role-playing game back into the spotlight in an attempt to place the blame on it's shoulders. Rod's actions where inexcusable, but they were his own. His mental troubles caused this event to take place, not the game.
In fact, gaming is not the only type of situations where "blurring" can occur. Many more instances do exist where a rare fan of a professional sports team begins to believe he is part of the "circle" of team members and workers, talking of them as if he is truly a part of the team. This can happen due to mental anguish built up over time of post-school sports decline and the individual's personal feelings of wishing for more. Much more common is the act of celebrity following, also known as celebrity watching or celebrity worship. Many fans of a celebrity or the celebrity lifestyle begin to mimic the actions and purchases and mannerisms of the celebrity's they read and watch, until they begin to think of themselves as part of the Hollywood entourage. Sadly, these much more common instances are not spread around as much as the gaming version (even though no gamer has ever attempted to kill a president to impress a character.....), for numerous reasons. We do not wish to "dodge the bullet" or "pass the blame" by any means. The truth is that in any demographic, it is unique in the individual when someone can not mentally seperate fact from fiction. It should never be held against the team or group as a whole when this happens, and help should be sought for the person afflicted.
So, in closure, if you truly believe a gamer is having trouble separating his character from himself, please try to get him assistance. However, never blame the game being played, as that just ignores the true problems that the individual is having and prevents him from getting the proper support, acknowledgment, and assistance he desperately needs. And never, ever, assume that someone need be a gamer to have this problem, as its actually very rare.
Tune in next week as we discuss the "Geek Factor" of tabletop roleplaying, and further destroy grammatically-correct blogging.