How arrogant is that, to think GMs can change the world? Do GMs really need more of an excuse to increase the sizes of their egos? Well. . .no. But we'll forge ahead anyway, because this idea—that we can make the world a better, or worse, place through our gaming, one life at a time—is a powerful one, and is in part responsible for one of the biggest threats gaming has ever faced.
In 1979, James Dallas Egbert III "disappeared" in a well-publicized case that inspired the publication of Mazes and Monsters, in which a live-action roleplayer has a psychotic break thanks to participation in roleplaying. In 1982, Patricia Pulling's son Irving committed suicide. Pulling blamed her son's suicide on the Dungeons & Dragons tabletop RPG and founded BADD (Bothered About Dungeons & Dragons), an organization dedicated to promoting the idea that tabletop roleplaying games promoted an entire litany of immoral practices. The idea had a resurgence in 1988 thanks to the Leith Von Stein murder case in North Carolina's own Little Washington, in which a disturbed stepson was able to convince his roleplaying group to aid him in killing his stepfather. A complete listing of the controversies surrounding roleplaying's biggest name can be read here.
This is a big idea, and while the instances above can be accounted for more by the psychological torments of their perpetrators than any innate danger of roleplaying, this idea cannot and will not be dismissed out of hand. To this day, Israeli soldiers are officially not allowed to play D&D, as players are "detached from reality and susceptible to influence." These ideas are often met with the findings of studies which seem to indicate that roleplayers are better-adjusted, less suicidal and more prone to cooperation than the population as a whole. And when both gaming's detractors and defenders hop on the "gaming can change people" bandwagon. . .this idea warrants some examination.