Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
As Christians, we are called first and foremost to love and to
There are many social ills that Christians often find themselves combating, but in so doing it is important that we keep our eyes on Christ and his desires for our lives. This is not to say that social ills should not be addressed, but rather that such work should always flow from our relationship with Christ and never replace that commitment. In the Middle Ages, people with political interests convinced some churchmen that they should be concerned that Jerusalem was then held by Muslims. Instead of sending missionaries to preach the good news and show Christian love to their unsaved neighbors, they sent armies and more armies. Most of those killed by the Crusaders were in fact Christians: massacres of the predominately Christian cities of Constantinople, Ephesus, and Antioch alone saw more Christians killed by Crusaders than all the Muslims and Jews in all those wars combined, excluding the genocide following the capture of Jerusalem (which also included Christian victims). Their intentions may have been good, but they forgot their mission.
Today there are also many phenomena of popular culture that some Christians perceive as dangerous social ills, such as violence on TV and in video games, rock music, teen clothing styles, and fantasy fiction and role-playing games. Many Christians spend a large portion of their lives claiming that such areas of popular culture lead to rebellion, suicide, violence, interest in the occult, and even Satanism. And like the Crusaders of old, many of them are missing a mission field that is white unto harvest. One cannot question their dedication or sincerity, but their efforts have driven many unsaved people from Christ because they have stopped focusing on Jesus Christ, who has already won the victory over Satan, and started focusing their efforts on defeating an enemy who is already beaten. They often support their efforts with dubious and even spurious statistics, logical fallacies, questionable "proof" cases, and a general tenor of hysteria and fear.
We, as Christians, must be dedicated to loving even the unlovable and despised, for hate and fear are the tools of Satan. If the world sees that we walk in love, confident of Christ's love and protection, they are more likely to listen to us when we tell them of the Love and Power of Jesus Christ. If they see us trembling with fear or acting in prejudice, they will not listen when we tell them of the Love and Power of Jesus Christ. We, as Christians, must be informed of the truth and hold fast to that truth, for lies and misinformation are the tools of Satan. If the world sees that we stand for the truth, they are more likely to listen to us when we tell them the Truth of Jesus Christ. If they see us holding to untruths, then they will not listen when we tell them the Truth of Salvation.
So that Christians may be informed of the truth, this FAQ concerning fantasy role-playing games (FRPGs) has been written.
Remembering her childhood, Lynette tells this story, in which a very young friend attempted to introduce her to a popular television show. As with most children hearing the unfamiliar, they got it a bit garbled:
When I was a child, I had a friend who lived in the house behind ours. To get there, I had to cross a small field, go into a small wooded copse, and climb a rather steep hill (in my childhood memory, the hill was virtually a cliff that I challenged and defeated on a regular basis). My friend was peculiarly fanatical about a show he called "Star Track," which I had never seen. Despite my ignorance, it was a favorite setting for games of pretend, in which he was always "Captain Kurt" to my "Mr. Spark." His Captain Kurt was dramatic, with large gestures and much emotion in his voice. When I tried to play my character of Mr. Spark likewise, he would always correct me--Mr. Spark would never get mad or sad or happy. When I said he was my character and I would have him getting mad, or sad, or happy if I wanted, my friend would insist that I was playing the character wrong and if I couldn't get it right, we would have to stop playing. This soon degenerated into, "I am, too, playing him right!" "Are not!" "Am so!" until I would threaten to leave (which I never wanted to do, since facing that hill was something I wanted to put off until absolutely necessary). We had no real way to resolve the conflict, other than one of us backing off, so we would decide then to play some other game of pretend, where we were both firemen, or astronauts, or the characters in a TV show we both had seen. And then we would often fight about whether his fireman could break down the door that my fireman had said was impossible to break down.
Role-playing games (RPGs) are nothing more than games of pretend, with rules for resolving such questions as whether it's in character for Mr. Spark--or Mr. Spock--to cry, or whether a door can or can't be broken down. Each player has a character, usually with certain vital statistics, such as strength, physical agility, healthiness, intelligence, or physical attractiveness, assigned some game-significant value. The paper on which the character is described (the character sheet) may also include a physical description and perhaps a character picture, a history, a list of skills the character is good at and a game-significant value indicating how good, a list of equipment the character has, a summary of the character's personality strengths and weaknesses, and a list of physical, mental, and social advantages and disabilities. Not all RPGs will include all of these things on a character sheet, but these are the most common things to find. These characters will be central to the pretend story that the game is telling and are referred to as Player Characters or PCs.
There is one player who sets up the basic environment and plot that the other players' characters will be going through. This person is called, in most game systems, the Game Master, or GM. In some systems, he will instead be called the Dungeon Master or DM, Storyteller, Referee, Moderator, and so on. Rather than having a character like the other players, the GM instead runs a number of characters with whom the PCs will interact during the story. These characters are called Non-Player Characters or NPCs. NPCs include the king who sends the PCs on a quest, the wise old man who gives them advice, the bartender who may have heard some scrap of conversation of interest to the PCs, and the various villains and antagonists the PCs will have to in some way defeat. The GM also decides what obstacles the PCs will have to face. In some groups, the job of GM stays with one person for a long time. In other groups, it rotates among the players so that no one person is always stuck with the job of developing new adventure ideas and new NPCs all the time.
At a game session, the GM will present, through storytelling, the mission in which the PCs will be involved. Perhaps there is someone who needs rescuing, information that needs to be obtained, a powerful object that needs to be recovered before it falls into the wrong hands, or an evil threat that needs to be vanquished. Sometimes, the mission is a more basic search for treasure, money, or power. The players then describe what their pretend characters are doing or attempting to do. They make all the decisions for their characters--ethical, physical, and social. When a character attempts something where there is some question as to whether he can succeed, the GM and/or the player of that character will use the game rules to decide the outcome. This frequently involves a random event, most often the number rolled on dice, but a few game systems use cards, coin flips, rochambo (rock-paper-scissors), et cetera, instead. Some without access to dice have used kiddie board spinners, with the card marked for 4, 6, 8, 10, 12, and 20 sided dice in concentric circles. One system designed to be played while traveling, where keeping track of dice and so on would be difficult, has the GM check the seconds on his watch whenever someone wants their character to do something. Since few people are going to keep track of the exact second, it functions as a random event, even though it isn't. Some games use non-random methods to determine these things, such as direct comparison of character scores or the opinion of one or more of the participants.
A game session will last anywhere from an hour to most of a day depending on the group and the game played. Some groups and GMs will end a session at a good stopping point--part of the adventure got resolved and there's a bit of a break in the action--or a cliffhanger. Others simply stop at an agreed-upon stopping time, regardless of where they are in the adventure. Most do a little of both. Game sessions may be scheduled anywhere from several times a week to once or twice a year. In general, if sessions are infrequent, they will be longer, and frequent ones will be shorter--if you play only once a month, you may take most of a Saturday, but if you play every week, it may be for only a couple of hours. Some families where parents and teenaged children all play may play for a couple of hours several times a week, replacing the typical TV time with RPGs instead. At the next game session, players and GM will pick up the plot where they left off. Once one adventure is resolved, another will usually be introduced. A series of adventures involving the same set of PCs is usually referred to as a campaign. A campaign may go on for months or even years and cover a significant period of the characters' lives, much like a series of books.
While fantasy RPGs such as Dungeons & Dragons are probably the best known, there are many other settings for RPGs, including:
For more definitions and other descriptions of RPGs, here are some other excellent explanations:
Fantasy role-playing games (FRPGs) are RPGs set in a fantasy world. The classical high fantasy generally assumes the reality of three concepts: polytheism, magic, and an assortment of intelligent species interacting with humans. It is interesting that attacks on RPG's accuse the games of promoting a belief in the first two, but never accuse it of promoting a belief in dragons and centaurs. Yet, lacking any supporting evidence (which has not been found), if it promotes one of these ideas as real, it must promote all--or far more logically, it promotes none.
This type of fantasy is the setting such as you might encounter in the works of J. R. R. Tolkein (The Lord of the Rings), C. S. Lewis (The Chronicles of Narnia), the various Conan books, and so on. Fantasy settings are inspired by Greek, Roman, Norse, Celtic, and other European mythology, Arthurian legend, and epic stories such as Beowulf and Gilgamesh, and may involve encounters with elves, dwarves, gnomes, giants, dragons, griffons, sea serpents, centaurs, and other mythical creatures. Most involve some magic as well, with magical weapons, wizards, and such populating the setting. The culture and politics are often very similar to Medieval Europe. As the inspirations were often pre-Christian, the common religion is also likely to be based around pre-Christian Greek, Roman, and European religions, with multiple gods and goddesses and nature-oriented religious rites and festivals.
FRPGs frequently offer a number of kinds of creatures (frequently called "races" or "species") for player characters (PCs) and even more for non-player characters (NPCs). Common choices for PCs are Elf (pointed ears and long-lived, with a deep connection to the forest), Dwarf (strong, short, and broad, with a connection to digging and mining), Halfling (inspired by Tolkein's race, the hobbits, small, sensible, homey, but with an innate stealthiness), and sometimes the half-human Half-Elf, and, of course, Human. Many FRPGs offer other racial choices. A few limit the PCs to being human. NPCs will be of these races as well as other, more villainous races, such as Orcs (war-like and tribal) and Ogres (very strong, rather stupid, and violent).
PCs often fall into one or two of several archetypes--the warrior, the knight, the priest, the rogue, or the wizard. Some game systems define these archetypes in the rules and require that all PCs be of one of these types, or classes. Others merely provide a list of skills and abilities and the players may design a character however he wants, though even these PCs often fall into type (a character with a lot of combat abilities and little else is basically a warrior). NPCs may fall into these archetyles as well, or other, less adventure-prone archetypes defined by the role they hold in society--the king, the innkeeper, the beggar.
Adventures and PCs are typically quite heroic, with good expected to overcome evil.
Some games other than Dungeons & Dragons (which is discussed separately below) set in a fantasy setting:
Dungeons & Dragons, the grandfather of role-playing games, was first published in 1974. It was heavily influenced by wargaming but, rather than being placed in a historical setting, was set in a fantasy world of wizards, dragons, and magic. Another difference from wargaming was its emphasis on creating distinct characters with their own histories and personalities, in addition to the usual collection of combat skills and attributes that one would find in a wargame. Although there were homemade, locally played predecessors throughout the twentieth century, D&D was the first RPG marketed extensively.
It was originally published by a company called TSR, founded by E. Gary Gygax. TSR was bought by Wizards of the Coast, publishers of Magic: The Gathering, who were, in turn, bought by Hasbro. Mr. Gygax is no longer involved in developing the game.
D&D has gone through several versions, including a major expansion into separate Basic and Advanced versions in 1977, a redesign of the Basic game around 1980, a facelift of the Advanced version in 1989 (the Second Edition), and a more thorough revamping and consolidating in 2000 (the Third Edition). In all its incarnations, however, it has always been a system for heroic fantasy settings where the player characters (PCs) are larger than life and where good will eventually triumph over evil.
Despite this, its position at the forefront of fantasy role-playing games and the presence of magic and fantasy elements in the game coupled with a corporate strategy that encouraged controversy as a viable path to cheap publicity has made it a prime target for attack. Interestingly, some of its most vocal critics are so ill informed about it that they don't seem to know the trademarked name of the game is Dungeons & Dragons, with an ampersand; it is frequently misspelled as Dungeons and Dragons. This shows a failure to pay attention to detail that characterizes much of the anti-D&D literature. The game is accused of almost all the claims made against RPGs and FRPGs in general--occult influences, violence, sexual overtones, and so on. In general, anyone willing to take a bit of time with the rulebooks (more time, apparently, than that taken by those who can't even properly spell the name of the game they are vilifying) will see that this is simply not so. We will discuss these issues below as they apply to all or most RPGs, including D&D, but allow us to include this quote from the Dungeon Magazine module submissions guidelines as a brief overview of the game's philosophy on many of these issues:
"Tastelessness should be strictly avoided. Do not submit adventures involving the destruction of children or helpless persons, cruel mistreatment of animals, excessive gore or violence, descriptions of Satan or Satanism, or game versions of major religious figures. Explicit sex, the encouragement of substance abuse, offensive language, and bathroom humor cannot be used."
The Dungeons & Dragons Roleplaying Game Fact Sheet has some other interesting information about the game.
Many of the objections to this game are also addressed in the article Confessions of a Dungeons & Dragons Addict.
There are many hobby games that are easily confused with each other, and that have some connections to each other. Games which are most properly called role-playing games (RPG) are normally played with pencils and paper, rolling dice and talking about the imagined adventures while sitting at table or comfortably in someone's living room, as described above. They have also been used as play-by-mail (PbM) or play-by-e-mail (PbEM) games in much the same fashion as one might play a chess game with a friend far away. Such play has also given rise to computer role-playing games and console role-playing games (collectively CRPG), the many Nintendo and other games in which players take characters on quests frequently involving fighting monsters and finding treasures. This in turn has developed into online text-based games known as multi-user dungeons (MUD) and multi-user shared hallucinations (MUSH), in which sometimes hundreds of players from around the world interact through the Internet, culminating more recently in the Massive Multi-player Online Role Playing Game (MMORPG), in which often character icons interact in a visual environment. Most computer games, particularly the "first person shooter" variety, are not role playing games. They are puzzles involving kinesthetic rather than mental skills, but there is only one correct solution (generally kill everything and get the loot) and only the sequence can provide variety--much as one can work on a crossword puzzle starting with "down" instead of "across". These shooters do not involve role playing, and do not permit two of the hallmarks of role playing games, choosing a character from a variety of possibilities and engaging in characterization and character development during play. The player is generally handed a "character" who is little more than a game token to be moved around the electronic board taking actions without reasons. In this sense, such games have more in common with board games such as Monopoly and Risk than with role playing games. Most games, in contrast to these computer games, have a near infinite variety of correct solutions, and in the case of role playing games the possibilities may actually be infinite.
While tabletop role playing games trace their ancestry back to miniatures wargaming, live action role playing (LARP) comes from a joining of RPG's with improvisational theater. Indeed, there is as much influence from the Society for Creative Anachronism (SCA) as from theatrical improv. While some forms, such as NERO, still have the padded weapon combat like SCA, the Camarilla (vampire) forms are much closer to tabletop minus the table and chairs, and with non-contact acting. In both forms, LARP is role-playing. Those who play these games have a flair for the dramatic, playing something that while still a game trades some of the trappings of games (such as the more complex rules and sometimes the use of dice) for some of the trappings of improvisational theatre (costumes, props, and acting). Just as not all Christians worship God in quite the same way, some having very structured rules about when to stand, kneel, or sit, others tending mostly to sit or sometimes stand, and still others to stand, sit, kneel, and dance around the sanctuary in very unstructured fashion, so too gamers who play different games will have different levels of physical involvement in the recreation of the imaginary actions. However, such physical involvement is more comparable to acting than to anything else.
There is also a popular type of hobby game called the collectible card game (CCG) or trading card game (TCG). These were created by people in the role-playing game industry, and often have many of the fantasy or science fiction trappings of such games (sometimes even being based on the same settings and ideas). Collectible card games are a more detailed development of children's card games like Old Maid and Authors (which in turn are based on strategy card games such as gin, canasta, and whist), with a major difference: they are not played with a standard deck, but rather each player brings his own cards from an official list of legal cards, building his own "deck" to use against his opponents. Many critics of RPGs or of games like Magic: The Gathering and Pokemon confuse the two types of games, calling Magic: The Gathering and Pokemon role-playing games. Although these games are part of the hobby game industry which includes RPG's (plus traditional board and both board and miniatures wargaming), surveys suggest that there is very little crossover, that is, the people who play CCGs and those who play RPGs are usually not the same people.
There is no evidence of an occult connection in such games. In the major games there are fewer references to real occult practices than would be found in a typical high school classical literature class or a modern horror movie. The writers of these games have no agenda but to produce a game which people will enjoy playing, and so to earn a modest living. Even those obscure games which draw more on occult ideas do so for mood and drama, attempting to create the effects of the horror genre--in short, using the trappings of all we fear to tell ourselves ghost stories. There is little that can be learned about the occult from playing these games.
Additionally, most games that contain such elements set them against the player characters. Even in most of the darker games, the player characters are usually expected to be the heroes. Not all game heroes are saints or models of perfection, but nearly all are marked by the virtue of opposing evil.
Games which do admit the possibility that player characters might use these occult elements nearly always attach grave consequences to them, such that those characters who dabble in them take risks often more serious than life and death.
Overall, the suggestion that any fantasy role playing game draws people to the occult is not only without merit, but has been disproved. See Leeds, Stuart M. (1995), Personality, belief in paranormal, and involvement with with satanic practices among young adult males: dabblers versus gamers, Cultic Studies Journal 12:2, 148-165. In a three-way study of admitted Satanists, gamers, and neither, using the standardized tests, Eysenck Personality Questionnaire and and Belief in the Paranormal Scale, he found no statistically significant difference between gamers and neithers, but considerable differences from Satanists.
Unfortunately, in the tireless campaign to get something anti-game into the scholarly literature, he included another, nonstandard, test (Satanic and Fantasy Envelopment (SAFE)--beware any test with a value-loaded acronym!) that showed gamers between the others, but closer to the neithers. Fortunately, he included the full text of the SAFE test and it included such incredible slantings as counting a belief in God as evidence of Satanic practices. Also, there is no listing of SAFE in his bibliography although the standardized tests are so listed. Cardwell, Paul (1999), Comment on Leeds (1995), Cultic Studies Journal, 16:2, 197-203, exposed the fallacies of the nonstandard test. Disregarding the bogus SAFE, Leeds at least proves that RPG's are a very poor recruiting tool for Satan.
Certainly there are cases in which RPG's have created an interest in players in such fields as comparative religion or cultural anthropology, but the games keep it quite clear that we are creating fairy tales having at most a metaphorical relationship to real life and in no way to be confused with it. The polytheism and magic of the games is just as unreal as the elves and griffins.
In her Wiccan apologia, Margo Adler surveyed those at a major festival on what brought them to that religion. Not a one mentioned RPG's. [Drawing Down the Moon, Boston: Beacon, pages 445-446.] There may be those who in seeking the powers offered by occult religions discovered role playing games along the way, but there are far more who are quite satisfied with playing in a magical fantasy world who have no interest in anything beyond that. It may be that some pagans have recognized a spiritual hunger among gamers and stepped in to present their faith to the hungry; but if indeed these games are magnets to attract those seeking spiritual reality, Christians should be using them as an entry into the lives of those people.
The Leeds/Cardwell studies mentioned above (in answer to Aren't FRPGs merely "training" for involvement in occultism?) answer this conclusively. Although Satan is mentioned often by the critics of role playing games, he is not mentioned in the games themselves. If there is a reference to him by name in the major games, it has escaped the notice of many gamers.
But perhaps it is not necessary for the game to mention Satan by name to promote worship of him. It is certainly true that some editions of Dungeons & Dragons, for example, contain reference to demons and devils, and even suggest that some of these are worshipped by evil creatures whose desire is always to drive good from the world and destroy or enslave all people who oppose them. It is clear throughout that such demons and devils are the enemies of the player characters; even those player characters who choose to be evil themselves discover that these beings are not their friends, but monsters seeking to use them and then devour them, creatures who can only be controlled through great supernatural power, and even then will take advantage of the smallest mistake to bring the controller to a dreadful destruction. If there is any lesson about worshipping devils and demons in these games, it is that the benefits are always meager and flawed, and the costs are steep and inescapable.
No one would get the idea that devil worship is a good idea from the literature of any major role playing game.
Since demons and devils represent incarnate evil to be opposed by the heroic player characters, why are anti-gamers objecting to playing a game about fighting evil?
There are many role playing games. Nearly every imaginable cosmology has been represented by one or another, from the polytheism of Greece and Rome to the agnosticism of science fiction. Many games have been designed supporting or compatible with Christian theology. Archangel, Claymore, DragonRaid, and HolyQuest are all games written by Christians for Christians. Other games, such as Pendragon, In Nomine, and Multiverser, while not designed to be Christian games contain strong Christian elements within them. And there are games that do not contain any significant cosmology or theology, allowing the players to provide this to suit their preferences.
Yet even though there are many games that contain polytheism as background, to state that they promote polytheism is usually unwarranted. Few if any contain any consistent concept of a polytheistic world, or any teaching about polytheism, or any arguments supporting polytheism. Most, such as Dungeons & Dragons, present their collections of gods as source material for referees to use if they wish in designing their own worlds. The presence of these ideas no more promotes them than movies like Clash of the Titans or Jason and the Argonauts, or television shows like Hercules: The Legendary Journeys. Whatever your opinion of these shows, it's clear that their presentation of polytheism is not going to win converts.
One thing Christians need to ask ourselves before leveling criticisms against things that don't exactly fit our view of the world is what we do expect. Polytheism is not real, and we might complain that including it in a game or story is a way of promoting belief in it. On the other hand, it is not clear that telling a fictional story about the Real God is less offensive to the truth than telling a fictional story in which fictional gods are presented. It is not clear, either, that telling a story that pretends there is neither gods nor God, or that they don't matter, is better than telling one with a polytheistic viewpoint. It is clear that we ask to much if we want the world to be completely correct its understanding of reality; to achieve that, we must have great enough love and little enough judgment to win their hearts and open their eyes.
Critics often claim that Dungeons & Dragons in particular contains authentic magical rituals. They do not cite any. Some have gone so far as to claim that they themselves were once witches or Satanists, and so are familiar with such ritual; but they don't seem to know anything at all about the games. Many who have been formerly involved in witchcraft and Satanism who have seen D&D materials laugh at these assertions; there is nothing in them remotely like what they knew. But perhaps if we present a few examples of the sort of "spells" suggested in D&D it will clear this up.
One such spell recorded in the original Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Players Handbook (©1978) is called "Spider Climb"; it enables the caster or the target to crawl on the walls and ceilings as a spider. Nobody involved in magic claims to be able to do anything like this. But the instructions for how to do it say that you must say something, do something, and use something. What you are to say isn't mentioned at all; but you are to eat a live spider and a bit of bitumen--that's tar, the sticky stuff. It was written to be silly, not to be practical magic.
Similarly, throwing lightning bolts from your fingers is not something found in real magical texts, but is popularly done by the wizards of D&D. In doing this, they are instructed to use a bit of fur and a rod of amber, crystal, or glass--that is, to create static electricity by rubbing the fur on the rod until you get a spark big enough to kill someone. It's nonsense.
One more example of this ludicrously unreal magic should suffice. A later book in the series, Unearthed Arcana (©1985) contains a spell called Firefinger, the ability to produce a small flame from the fingers of your hand. It states, "To bring about the magic of this cantrip, the caster speaks a word of power over elemental fire (such as ron-son, zip-po, or the much revered word, dun-hill), extends the forefinger, and makes a sideways motion with the thumb." Far from having anything to do with real magic ritual, these people are poking fun at it. They've just given you the names of famous cigarette lighters as magic words and instructed you to perform an action very like lighting a lighter to call forth magic fire.
Of course, we could cite scores, even hundreds, of examples in which nonsense is used for magic; they need only offer one to suggest that real magic is included. But if they have done so it has escaped our notice; they generally consider it sufficient to assure us that we should take them at their word that there is at least one somewhere in the thirteen hard cover volumes and uncounted soft-cover supplements of the first edition (and innumerable other books in later editions) officially published by TSR or Wizards of the Coast, or by other companies. Most game systems don't provide as much information as this on spells. The player says the character will cast a particular spell and the rest is turned over to the mathematics of the game to see what happens next. Many systems don't even give an "explanation" for the mechanics of this fictional magic.
And even this misses the point.
While many critics of RPG's ignore the subject of whether they personally have played or even seen a game, the most vocal (Pat Pulling, Thomas Radecki, Bill Dear, William Schnoebelen, Ted Dempsey, Rosemary Loyacano, et al.) brag about their experience in games, and yet their statements make it clear that they have no more knowledge of RPG's than could be gained by skimming through the first edition AD&D rule book to find some sentence to rip out of context.
But a critical point that is missed, or worse, intentionally ignored even by those who have browsed through them is that there is a constant distinction between the players and their characters. If C. S. Lewis creates in one of his books a senior devil named Screwtape writing advice to a junior tempter named Wormwood, no one for a moment believes that Lewis is confusing himself with the actions of that demon. Nor do we accuse him of summoning demons because some of his characters in Perelandra and That Hideous Strength do so. Likewise, no one feels that the church members who play Pontius Pilate, Judas Iscariot, and Caiaphas in the church passion play are at any risk of condemnation for doing so. There is distance between the player and the character. When it says that the character must swallow a bit of bitumen and a live spider to do the spider climb spell, there isn't any bitumen or spiders anywhere near the player. He doesn't actually do anything--he just says that his character is going to swallow the spider and the bitumen (or more usually, he just says that the character is going to cast the Spider Climb spell, and if there's any question about whether he has the materials they look them up to see what he needs to do it--in the same way that if a novice chess player were to announce that he is going to take his opponent's pawn by en passant we might need to pull out the rules to determine how that works and whether it can be done in this circumstance). Even in LARP there is always this distance, with the bulk of the action still in the imagination. Critics have confused the player with the character.
But we are occasionally given a couple of examples to clinch the case. One is that "someone", some unidentified person whom it is claimed was from TSR, came to a coven to do research; the other is that another "someone" who allegedly once worked for TSR appeared on The 700 Club and told people that he left the company because the management in the late 1980's wanted to make the games as real as possible.
There are fragments of truth in those stories.
William Schnoebelen claims to have been the Wiccan/Satanist who was visited for authentic information, but he is totally unreliable. Like Mike Warnke (discussed later), he presents an incredible biography which includes growing up Roman Catholic, becoming Mormon while attending a Catholic college, being a high priest of both Wicca and Satanism (which he occasionally confuses, further casting doubt, as the two are as different as Hinduism and Christianity), a Christian bishop, and finally a writer for Chick publications. Like Warnke, he has never produced anyone who can verify they knew him when, and to reach all those lofty positions (and several others, including a high position in the Masons) in one lifetime is stretching a bit.
If TSR writers actually came to do research in the late '70's, why did this not appear in any of the subsequently published rule books? We've read them all. There were at that time dozens of game companies and scores of freelance writers; it is entirely possible that someone came to do research in an effort to create a game that would be "more realistic" than D&D, in competition with TSR. It could be that someone was working on a book of more realistic magic that they hoped to sell to TSR for publication. TSR never had any interest in such things. E. Gary Gygax is not a Satanist nor a witch; he made an effort to create a fantasy game that would give us the tools necessary to play through heroic fantasy stories. The power is on the side of good, and although there are potent evil creatures in the game world the expectation of the game authors is that good player characters will overcome these.
As to the guy who appeared on The 700 Club, we hate to be cynical, but there are a lot of people looking for their 15 minutes of fame; and Christian broadcasters and ministries tend to be gullible whenever someone comes to them and tells them something sensational that they wanted to believe anyway. For twenty or thirty years, Mike Warnke had the world convinced that he had been a Satanist high priest who crashed and somehow ended up in the navy where two bunkmates preached the gospel to him repeatedly until he turned to Christ. He told us many things, including how evil Halloween was because of its importance in witchcraft. Then one day we discovered that he was never a witch, never a Satanist--he was a nerd who wanted to be someone, and figured if he made up this story about having been a Satanist brought to Jesus Christians would eat it up and spend thousands of dollars to read these fictional stories he passed off as biography. He appeared on The 700 Club as well. If some unknown guy who claims to be a TSR game writer appeared on The 700 Club and said a lot of things Christians wanted to believe about TSR and D&D, that doesn't impress us. Maybe he did work for TSR, and maybe he had a fight with his boss--and maybe he got fired and decided to get back at his employer by adding fuel to the fires of Christian Hatred (we certainly have enough of that to consume the entire world) with one appearance on television.
We already knew that a lot of people have said bad things about D&D. Doesn't it matter who this person really is? Not to the critics; all that matters to them is that we accept their word that D&D is a bad thing. If you still believe the integrity of The 700 Club story, consider this: if someone wanted to come on a show like that and tell about how role-playing games had proven to be an effective tool for witnessing and a forum for fellowship, would the producers have been so eager to have such a guest? There have been attempts by gamers to appear on the show to do just that, and they have been refused because of their demand that the interviews be unedited, knowing how otherwise an answer to one question might be moved to follow a totally different question and give the appearance of an opposite answer.
Still, there is some truth to this story. The person in question was Gali Sanchez, presumably not the jazz percussionist of that name who has recorded with Santana. Sanchez appeared on The 700 Club in March of a yet undiscovered year (probably, but by no means certainly, 1989). He was only a freelancer (that is, someone who writes material he submits for publication by a company, and not an employee of any game company), but did work freelance for TSR (he had a scenario in Dragon Magazine #70, in 1983) and did the vampire books for the Chill system (from Mayfair games, not related to D&D).
As for whether Sanchez' research really happened, we don't know. There are at least some names and approximate dates, but not much more than the folkloric version. If anyone has any documented information, the Christian Gamers Guild (CGG) and the Committee for the Advancement of Role-Playing Games (CAR-PGa) would appreciate hearing it.
It should be noted that by the late 1980's, both Dungeons & Dragons and Advanced Dungeons & Dragons were nearly complete, particularly as regards magic (which was not expanded at all in the last few volumes published). There was a new edition, Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Second Edition, being prepared at that same time as The 700 Club broadcast, but it was not significantly different from the first in any of the ways being discussed here. In fact, Second Edition removed all references to devils and demons (something which in some opinions made it a much less effective witnessing tool) and took other actions to respond to the foolish and unfounded attacks by some Christians, weakening the Christian aspects of the game in the process to please a few extremists who were not going to actually look at the materials anyway. What someone said was happening in the late 80's is not particularly useful.
As to the argument about a person innocently working an authentic ritual to conjure a demon, it fails twice. It fails first because there are no authentic rituals at all in the game; in fact, there are no rituals at all, not even made up ones, in the sense of a complete ritual. There are only a few parameters--what you should have, how long it takes, what you need to say--and these are either invented for humor and color or designed for "game balance" (making it so that powerful weapons and abilities are harder to use, so that no character can dominate the game). It fails again because players don't perform any of the actions of their characters; they describe them, much as the author of a book describes those of his characters.
Of course, we are often presented with all of the verses which condemn sorcery or witchcraft from the entire Bible. It is most interesting that it is such a short list; with the emphasis we put on these evils, there should be entire books, or at least whole chapters, addressing them. Consider the amount of space that is dedicated to making the right sacrifices, eating the right foods, and other ritual notions. By contrast, this is dwarfed. And you can argue that death is the penalty for such involvements, but then, death is the penalty for disobeying your parents and for a batch of other crimes we don't even fully understand.
But these verses aren't about the sort of sorcery and witchcraft we think. As even some critics recognize, the magic used by wizards in D&D is a sort of disconnected available magic. The sorcery of the Old Testament and the New was connected to religious ritual. When Moses defeated the "magicians" of Egypt, it wasn't because he was stronger than they, but because his God was stronger than their gods. God doesn't oppose divination in the abstract. He gave the priests the Urim and Thummim to divine His will. He honored Gideon's requests regarding the fleece and the dew. He many times instructed His people to cast lots to determine what He would have them do. He isn't against divination, but divination that calls on other gods to answer. The same could be said of miracle, that He is quite happy for His prophets to work supernatural effects, and even to decide what will happen (as Elijah called fire from the heavens without asking God's will on the matter) as long as they rely on Him and aren't calling on Baal or someone else for the power. God's objection to such things is built on the fact that they are idolatrous, and not that they are supernatural. The wizards of D&D are not idolatrous; they use magic the way Tolkien's elves use it, the way we imagine Merlin and the medieval alchemists using it, as if it were some force of nature, some supernatural power with no strings attached that can be harnessed by someone who understands how. None of these verses are about that; that idea did not exist until a thousand years after the Bible was written. Those verses stand firmly not against the wizards but against the priests, the clergymen of the game. Ministers of good or evil call on deities to deliver power--more realistic, in a sense, because it's how magic works in our realm. It's what witchcraft and Satanism are about. Unfortunately, it's also what Christianity is about. Critics want these verses to condemn the idea of wizardry and free magic power when in fact they condemn the core idea of religion, that of calling on a supernatural other for the power, when the power is not from God.
Much has been made of the unChristian presence of magic in fantasy settings, but fantasy books and RPGs owe much to the inspiration of Christian author J. R. R. Tolkein and his books The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings series. Tolkein (and C.S. Lewis) claimed influence from the fantasy works of Christian author George MacDonald. In fact, fantasy fiction has a heritage enriched by Christian authors such as Charles Williams and Madeline L'Engle, in which magic is often used to challenge readers with the concepts of the supernatural.
Ideas put forth about brainwashing techniques are curious. Certainly some of the things said are true but not relevant; others are relevant but not true. It is difficult to know how to answer these ideas, but we will address those which are sometimes raised as techniques used for brainwashing.
Fear generation is a common thread in modern entertainment. The Mummy Returns grossed millions (and millions of Christians paid to see it). We like to be frightened. Stephen King is a rich man. Fear-filled emotional scenes make great stories. If they automatically mean brainwashing, we're going to have to move in with the Amish to escape them--and we're going to have to cancel a good number of our sermons, in which we make an effort to convince our listeners that they are in real danger of going to hell if they don't repent.
Isolation is indeed a common brainwashing technique. But it has nothing to do with these games. The games require interaction of the players. This is why even the best MUD is never going to equal a tabletop or LARP role playing game. It will always be missing the degree of face-to-face interaction.
One of the most common mental illnesses is depression, both clinical and bipolar. While medicines can ultimately be found to correct the brain chemistry problems that are at the root of this condition, there is still the downward spiral of feeling cut off from the world which makes one more depressed, which makes one uninterested in outside events, which makes one more cut off from the world--repeat until suicide. Many gamers have remarked that their therapists have encouraged role playing games as a means of breaking this habit cycle as the medicine does the chemical cycle. RPG's require social interaction and that, in itself, is very therapeutic.
Many Christian parents spend a great deal of time with their kids playing role-playing games. The problem isn't that such games cut the players off from their families, but that many teens are already cut off from their families. Their parents don't have the time or the interest for them, and they don't go to church. Certainly some find camaraderie in games, just as some find it in scouting, clubs, sports, or gangs. Of those, scouting may be the best but the most demanding, gangs the worst, and gaming to be somewhere near most clubs and above sports--sports tend to be very separatist: those who are not good at them are excluded and demeaned while those who excel are given unwarranted praise. Most gamers do find acceptance and encouragement in their gaming groups. It's a shame that they can't find it elsewhere. It's also a shame that because they find it there some Christians tell them they are rejected by churches and Christians and God.
Dungeons & Dragons does put a lot of emphasis on killing evil monsters in order to build power and wealth. It suggests that if you use the power of your god to stand against a demon you will be better able to exercise such faith in the future; that if you survive the fight against Goliath today then tomorrow you will have the strength and confidence to stand against the entire Philistine army. The characters are the sort that come from Lord of the Rings, Conan, Zorro, Camelot, and other action adventure stories. They are heroes in magical worlds, and as they practice they improve. They also may become wealthy lords in the process--although some must give away all their excess wealth to feed the poor and promote good works! Note that critics fail to mention that several of the most powerful character types are required to do this, and that they are required to avoid evil in all its forms. They want you to think everyone in the game is evil. The game is rigged--the good guys win.
Regarding this, something should be said about the "hack and slash" "Munchkin" play of endless violence. Some beginners, particularly young ones, tend to play like this because that is what the media says the game is about. It is only when they mature and/or are exposed to skilled players that they learn differently--that this is despised by most gamers. Indeed, many game systems, such as Mythworld, have one or more non-player characters in their scenarios on whom the success of the adventure will depend. The "Munchkins" who shoot first and question later in these games will always fail until they change their ways.
We laugh at these "power of the Dungeon Master" arguments. The DM is just the referee in the game. It's like saying that the guy in the striped shirt at the football game demands an all-encompassing and total loyalty. All he does is enforce the rules so that no one can cheat. In D&D, he also reveals everything that is unknown to the players as it becomes known. In many groups, the DM is a job that changes from week to week, and in others the poor guy who gets stuck with the job complains regularly that no one else will ever run a game for him to play. It's nonsense.
Situational ethics is a problem that we face in every area of life. Note that when Jeremiah told Zedekiah what was going to happen to him, the King ordered Jeremiah not to tell anyone else what they had discussed but to say it was just a time for Jeremiah to plead for his freedom. That is, Jeremiah had to decide whether to disobey a direct order from God's anointed King or to lie to the people who would inevitably ask him what was discussed. He lied. Is that situational ethics? If so, we have it all the time--we are faced with the problem of choosing between one "wrong" thing and another. D&D characters don't escape this, and must at times make such choices; referees vary in the degree of their expectations in this regard. But no one lets a good character get away with evil, if he knows how to play. One of the beauties of the game is that we can face these difficult moral and ethical problems and decide how we would handle them, then observe the potential outcomes so that we can learn from mistakes that didn't really happen. It's a good thing that we can make these mistakes in the safety of our collective imaginations, and then come back to reality knowing better.
People often complain about the polytheism in the game. But then, what would they prefer? Would they want Game Masters around the world deciding the will of the True and Living God? Would they really want these games to more directly portray the battle between God and Satan, and the outcomes to be subject to some high school student with no more understanding of the Bible than of the Koran (or possibly more of the Koran) to decide these things for God? Using false gods has its problems, but it avoids more than it entails. We can portray the battle of good and evil on a stage that is not the ultimate stage. To some of us, those books about end of the world adventures are offensive. They portray a set of events which to many readers become what God must do at the end of time, and not some suggested possibility. These writers are, for the most part, careful and educated scholars who have some sense of the reality of God. Imagine what they would be like were they written by people with no such background.
No control of self is given to the GM. That's just a lie. GMs have the authority to state that a character is attempting to do something that is impossible, or that the character has failed in the attempt; but control over the character and his situation is completely different from control over the player.
Machiavelli suggested that evil was the way to succeed, and there is a sense in which his ideas have since permeated much of the attitudes of the world; but he was not a gamer, and role playing games by and large don't do this, particularly if they are well run by game masters who understand the relationship between conduct and consequence.
It is popular to quote some anonymous player who claimed that it was easier to play evil characters. It is not easier to play the evil character than the good character--it's just hard for different reasons and in different ways. It may be harder to be good (as it is in life), but it is also harder to win respect and honor from others if you are not (as it is in life). Plus, in a properly run game, your character is likely to meet with a sufficient force of the local constabulary and be carted off to the appropriate sentence (which, in any case, will most likely end the character as a playable entity). Good characters have an easier road to success for reasons that are inherent in their goodness.
Apart from that, many of these games, including Dungeons & Dragons, were written to favor good, to put the strength at least marginally on the good side so that in the end good would win and evil would be vanquished. Any victory or success enjoyed by evil characters is generally temporary; and while good characters may suffer setbacks and even death, they can know that they are on the winning side.
In this connection, we are sometimes told that Adolph Hitler is used in the D&D rule books as an example of a real historical person that exhibited D&D charisma--as if Hitler were not charismatic. The same sentence also names Julius Caesar and Napoleon Bonaparte, in an effort to illustrate that charisma isn't about good looks but about the ability to hold people's attention and motivate them to action on their behalf. One could as easily list Abraham Lincoln and Eleanor Roosevelt--the point was that the people named were not all that pleasant in appearance yet were highly charismatic. It could be argued that Bill Clinton is an excellent example of D&D charisma. No matter what sinful or unwise things he does, it's difficult to dislike the guy. And if Hitler was not highly charismatic, how in the world did he motivate the otherwise good and decent German people to kill millions of Jews and others and attempt to conquer the world? The critics are grasping at straws; they don't have any real arguments against D&D so they are making them up from fragments blown out of proportion.
It is difficult to craft an adventure story in which might does not play some part at some point. We want to believe that the good guys will win, and so in the end we often choose to believe that those who won were the good guys, and so we encourage the thinking that to win is to prove that you were right. It is not always so, but it is often the way we view history (which, as Caesar observed, is always written by the winners) and the way we try to write our stories.
So in the end, we hope that good will win. But how will good win?
When David faced Goliath, why did he win? Was it because the sling is a superior weapon strategically to the spear, so that David had the capability to launch his critical attack before the giant could close to engage in combat? In that case, David won because despite appearances he was the stronger combatant. But we as Christians believe that David won because he trusted God--in which case again David was the stronger combatant, because God was on his side. Could we say that David was the weaker combatant, but he won because he was right? We could say this; to do so we would have to say that it was not that God was on David's side but that David was on God's side. In a sense the weaker fighter won because he was on the "good" side.
In many books and movies, and in many games, the good guys win because they are more powerful than their enemies. Conan defeats his foes because he is strong. Superman always wins because ultimately he is stronger and smarter than anyone who comes against him. The fact that they are good has little to do with their victory; rather, there is a sense in which we know that they must be good because ultimately good will have a champion evil cannot defeat. So in some games the player characters are made powerful so that they can defeat evil in the name of good.
There are other stories in which the hero becomes strong enough to defeat evil. In many martial arts stories, the hero is the humble student at the beginning of the tale, but through training and dedication rises to face the great enemy and finally wins the victory for good because he has become the best.
Role playing games can create all of these stories. Some games are better at creating one kind of story and some another. For some, the heroes will only win if they are the strongest, but every advantage is given to make them the strongest by the time they face the enemy. For others, the heroes will win because they are the heroes, unless they fail to act as heroes should; and so good triumphs because good triumphs, and not because it is stronger than evil.
But if you make the player characters powerful, or give them a sort of game invincibility, can't they use that power to further evil ambitions? In some games they can.
Football includes rules against unnecessary roughness; but it's a rough game, and people do get hurt. The purpose of the rules is to make it so that everyone will play in a way that minimizes injuries, and those who do not do so will be penalized--but that the penalties will not be so severe that the occasional accident would cost one team too much. It is possible under the rules to play in a manner geared at injuring key players of the opposing team, such that only their weak players remain; such a strategy is based on the belief that a team can overcome the penalties imposed for roughness more easily than it can outplay the opposing team's best players. It is not the way the game is intended to be played; it can be played that way.
In much the same way, players can take the power given them by a role playing game and use it to attempt to make their characters powerful forces for evil. This is not the concept intended in most games, particularly FRPGs based on heroic fantasy. But just as you can play football by beating up the opposing team's best players, you can play role playing games by taking the role of the villains.
This strategy can confuse inexperienced GMs, who are working from the assumption that the player characters are the heroes. But those who understand the game know the solution: ultimately, the evil player characters will face a good stronger than they can defeat, because in fantasy worlds good always wins eventually.
That in itself is an important point. It may be that players have the ability to decide which side will win; but the story created will only be truly satisfying if the players choose that the right side will win.
Critics say that sex including rape is common in these games, including Dungeons & Dragons. But there are no rules for either in the books. As many times as we've read these arguments no one has ever cited one specifically. From reading the rules, you'd think the characters were all eunuchs--there are veiled passing references to where babies come from, and that's about it. The succubus may be a demon of sexual temptation, but it kills by touching in a combat attack just like anything else, and not by any sort of lascivious sex scene. Yes, there are some suggestive sketches here and there, something close to what appears on the cover of Cosmopolitan but that it's not real (the Eldritch Wizardry book sometimes cited was pulled and the cover replaced after very few copies were sold, because the cover was too lurid sexually and had slipped by without the approval of the company executives; nothing nearly so bad as that was ever published before or since). This is, after all, a real company trying to market a real product in the real world, and it uses the marketing techniques of our age. It's not like Playboy or Penthouse, not even in the softer versions which were around in those days. It's just suggestive enough that boys will buy it but most parents won't really worry about it. There are pictures that are mildly offensive and unnecessary, but they certainly don't approach the standards of what shows on public television today.
In a sense, the real problem is not sex but the lack thereof. Mythworld is one of the only fantasy games that admits venereal disease exists (although it is hardly emphasized, with only a couple of mentions: a disease which can only be contracted in specific circumstances, and in treasure, potions that can treat it). Sex is an important part of life, and there is a degree to which games have misrepresented reality precisely by ignoring it. However, in our culture it is a very difficult issue to address in any context, particularly in games, and will probably remain outside the mainstream of role playing games for the foreseeable future.
It may be that sex and rape rules have been written by particular players for their games; but some of us have played for over twenty years with hundreds of people and never been in a game in which they were used. While some adult-only game groups do have sex in their story lines, virtually all insist it be "off camera". Rape is a perennial subject in game discussion lists, but even there the consensus is that it be restricted to adult groups, have player consent, and be played as a tragedy. One of the most potent arguments against it is that one of the players in the group may have been a victim, and this is nothing to play with.
We're very concerned about world views. We live in an age in which we are bombarded with the notion that there is nothing magical, nothing science cannot explain. Fantasy role-playing games combat that. They don't get all the details right, but they gets the main one right: there is more to this world than science can explain. We get hung up in the mistakes made about the presentation of the supernatural, and forget that the worst mistake of all is suggesting that it doesn't exist or doesn't matter. We'd rather have people seeking spiritual answers in the wrong places than deciding that there aren't any. Most Christians are far more afraid that someone will think the wrong thing about God than that they will decide He doesn't exist. Which is more dangerous?
In the section "The Moral Logic of the Enchanted World View" of Magic, Fate, and History: The Changing Ethos of the Vikings, by Rosalie H. Wax, the Magical World View is described thusly:
Very fine brief introductions to the moral logic of the enchanted world view are to be found in Gluckman's (1944) discussion of Evans-Pritchard's book on the Azande and in a recently published article by Winans and Edgerton (1964). Gluckman (p. 67) holds that "witchcraft works as a theory of causes" and that the theory is "reasonable and logical, even if it is not true," whereas, Winans and Edgerton (p. 745) assert that magic is "manifestly a negative sanction against violation of moral norms," and that is not only moral, but jural.
If one looks at magical causation as an integral part of a world view, one may carry these observations a step farther and assert that magical causality is moral in its very essence. "The universe is morally significant. It cares" (Redfield 1953:106). The man who becomes seriously ill or suffers great misfortune knows that he has offended or irritated some being, human or otherwise, who has used Power against him. Whether the offense is intentional or accidental does not matter--the results are the same. Conversely, the man whose children are hale, who is always prosperous, who escapes unscathed from storms and battles, has always managed to do all the "right" things and none of the "wrong." (Or should he offend some Being or Power and suffer no misfortune, it is because he is under the protection of a more powerful being.) Should such a man be visited by ill fortune, everyone knows that he has somehow fouled up his relationships with the Beings of Power. In fine, the essential principle of magical logic is that all blessing and all suffering have a cause.
Wax Ch. 4: The Ideal Typical Enchanted Point of View, from Magic, Fate, and History: The Changing Ethos of the Vikings, Published by Coronado Press, Box 32, Lawrence, Kansas 66044, Copyright (c) 1969, by Rosalie H. Wax
The magical world view is not so different from the Christian world view; the two have more in common with each other than either has with the modern mechanistic materialist worldview. We, too, believe there to be spiritual and moral significance to events in the world around us; we believe that at least some of the good and ill things that befall us and others can be credited to the involvement of God or the devil, and that people do receive the just desserts of their actions, often in this life. The magical world view may be connected to beliefs we do not accept, but it is in many ways closer to Christianity than the mechanistic and materialist world views into which most of us are indoctrinated.
This objection hides a problem of the definition of 'magic'. Obviously, stage magic (illusion, prestidigitation, etc.) is not being discussed here at all, so that definition can be eliminated. Nor are we talking about legendary powers which, along with ghosts and goblins, may be part of the fantasy (i.e.: fiction) of the game, but in no way is a representation of reality, nor intended to be. And we can probably eliminate the Wiccan concept that a mere human with sufficient skill can manipulate the natural laws of the universe to their own ends. Therefore, it seems we are left with a definition of 'magical' that is essentially a synonym for 'supernatural'. Under that definition of 'magic' there is a supernatural power that makes moral demands on humanity, individually and collectively, rewarding and punishing according to the demands of justice. To this definition, a 'magical world view' is quite consistent with Christianity, but the 'magic' of the game fictions are something else (the legendary powers definition) totally. Pick a definition and we can discuss it, but don't change definitions mid-discussion.
One of the objections raised against role playing games is based on a curious effort to connect convicted criminals with such games. This emotional appeal is often very effective, as anecdotal evidence connecting one or two "bad apples" to the hobby is viewed as indicative of the state of all others. One only needs to look at the number of professional athletes in consistent trouble with the law to see that if one is able to demand banning role-playing games because of some coincidence of a gamer committing a crime, then one must certainly ban football, basketball, and definitely boxing because the statistics are far higher in those recreations than in RPG. Even some Boy Scouts go on to commit violent crimes, despite the excellent work Boy Scouts of America does in the main.
It is reported that somewhere in the neighborhood of a million people a year become new participants in role playing games world wide (about half that in the United States); viewed in that light, the number of cases cited is a paltry fraction of the total. However, the objection having been raised, a few specific and oft-mentioned cases should be examined. To save space in this already overlong document, those cases will be considered in a separate page, called The Trophy List.
CAR-PGa has made every effort to verify any claims of a connection between role playing games and violent crimes. No such connection has yet been found. Anti-gamer literature claims that there are one hundred twenty such cases, but only list ninety. Of these, forty-eight cases and at least sixty-eight individuals are listed merely as an event happening in a particular state in a particular year, without any date, location, or name. CAR-PGa's research has studied ninety-six cases involving one hundred fifty-four individuals, and found no connection that would have been admitted under legal evidentiary rules or would have passed muster in a peer-reviewed journal. Although role playing games are often mentioned in connection with violent crimes, in reality the statistics aren't there.
Critics marshal lists of people they can connect somehow to games and to vicious crimes or suicides. We live in a violent world; it's surprising they can't find more such connections. But statistically gamers are less violent and less suicidal than people of the same demographics who are not gamers. Shall we endeavor to list all the pastors and Bible teachers and good Christians who have gone off the deep end, become murderers, committed suicide? The list is far longer than this. And although he was a member in good standing in a recognized Christian denomination, Hitler, for all his faults, was never a role-playing gamer. Guilt by association should at least use statistics, not anecdotes; and statistically gamers are ahead of the norm. Certainly there are many disturbed individuals in the world, and some are all too ready to blame their problems on anything they can find that will free them of the responsibility of saying "I was in control of my own choices, and I chose to sin against God and go my own way." If we can say we were possessed by a demon from a game, we don't even have to repent--we just have to get someone to deliver us from the game, and we aren't responsible for anything we ever did. Forget it. Sinners need salvation because we are in rebellion against God, not because we have been lured into some trap set by Satan.
The notion that these games promoted suicide got its earliest support from two primary sources. One was news coverage of the disappearance of Dallas Egbert; the other the book Mazes and Monsters by Rona Jaffe. Jaffe's book is a work of fiction using a then-new cultural phenomenon as an element in a thriller, and undoubtedly drew inspiration from the Egbert events which preceded it. As to Dallas Egbert, neither his disappearance nor his considerably later suicide was in any way connected to role playing. The lead investigator in that case determined that the boy might be endangered if those involved knew they were suspected, and so used the prevalence of the game at his college as a smokescreen so it would seem he was on the wrong track. This was not subsequently clarified because the family wanted the matter quieted quickly once he was found--and besides, "game is just good family fun" is hardly newsworthy. This case has been extensively discussed by the Australian e-zine Places to Go, People to Be in a two-part series spanning their sixth and seventh issues.
As to specific cases often cited, we have endeavored to research as many of these as we could find, and the findings were weak in the extreme. These are presented in our separate document, The Trophy List, to save space here.
Suicide is a leading cause of death in persons aged 15 to 34 at a rate of which has fluctuated between 12 and 14 per 100,000 in recent decades. Using BADD's statistic of 4 million gamers worldwide in 1988, we would have expected between 480 and 560 RPGers, most of whom fall into this age range, would have committed suicide. According to CDC records for 1999, 12.7% of all deaths of persons between 15 and 24 were suicides, 3,901 of 30,656 deaths, third after unintentional injury and homicide; for 25 to 34 year olds, the rate was 12.4%, but the numbers were 5,106 out of 41,066 deaths, and the rank was second after only unintentional injuries. These are the numbers for a single year.
The fact that the anti-RPGers can only manage to scrape together so few game-related suicides, and many of these questionable, not only does not support their claim that RPGs lead to suicide, it strongly suggests that RPGs reduce suicide rates in this age bracket.
RPG's have a lower suicide rate than the base population because the games are concerned with imaginative solutions within a framework of rules. They thus attract those who have some ability in finding imaginative solutions within a framework of rules in real life as well, and aid others in learning to do so. Whether they reduce suicide rates or attract a self-selected group in which rates are already lower is difficult to assess; however, as previously mentioned, such games are used in treatment of the depressed to encourage social interaction, and may in such cases reduce the probability of suicide.
Actually, there are many Christians who work in this industry. Just about every industry has some in it who are not Christians (there are probably even some non-Christians in the Christian Booksellers industry, and there are certainly some in Christian broadcasting), and few industries are completely without any Christian influence. We've provided a list in a separate document of some of those we know to be Christians in the hobby game industry and others who have contacted us to say that they are Christians, some of whom have provided e-mail addresses so that you may ask them any questions you might have about how their faith and their jobs relate. Although we know of many Christians in the gaming industry, we have yet to learn of any Satanists.
Of course this is probably true. It's true because most of the people in the world today, and probably at any moment in time, are not Christians. If there are pagans and Satanists and witches playing role-playing games alongside Buddhists, Muslims, Mormons, Jews, and atheists, should that surprise us? Do you think that there are no such people in the bowling league or on the Little League team or in the scout troop? Some gaming groups are made up entirely of Christians, and others of people of different faiths. Some groups have no Christians at all in them. Yes, there are non-Christians and even anti-Christians here, as there are everywhere.
But it may be that there are more here; and that may be the fault of Christian critics of RPGs.
For one thing, Christians have been avoiding these games in droves, because a few critics mistakenly believe and preach that these games are something that they are not. If you tell Christians that it is sinful to be in the movies, you should not be surprised that there are not more Christians making movies--and you certainly shouldn't use the lack of Christian moviemakers as proof that movies are sinful, since it's a condition you caused! In the same manner, if you decide that role-playing games are to be avoided by God-fearing people and you promote this idea among God-fearing people, you cannot then use the fact that you've persuaded many Christians to avoid these games as proof that the games are all you say they are. There are fewer Christians playing these games because Christians have been told to stay away from them.
And to add insult to injury, Christians by their criticisms often drive gamers to seek answers to their spiritual questions elsewhere. Critics complain that if in the course of playing one of these games a player has questions about real-world magic, there may well be a Wiccan or Satanist at hand to give them wrong answers. But thanks to the critics, it is considerably less likely that there will be someone there who has the right answers. If D&D leads people to Satanism and witchcraft, it's because their "evangelists" are doing a better job than ours--they have seen a mission field and told people that they've found a religion that works for them, and so converted others to their faith. We have seen a mission field and taken personal disgust at the dirty sinners in it, wishing they would just go away. Well, some of them have; they have gone away into other religions. Would Jesus have stayed away from the game because the people were sinners? Would he not rather have gone to the game and shared His life with them and theirs with Himself, so that they could see the light within Him and turn to God?
This is almost a silly question; of course they can. People can become obsessed with anything. How many millions are obsessed with Star Wars? Belief in The Force was promoted in an effort to make it a recognized religion on the census forms of Great Britain, thanks to the fans. Fan, after all, is a back-formation of fanatic, and people can be fanatical about anything.
Does that make everything about which one can be obsessed a bad thing? Patently not. Every person hopes that there would be one other person in the world who would be obsessed with them, a husband or wife who has eyes for no one else. Every Christian leader is thrilled to have members of his congregation obsessed with the gospel, prayer, scripture--but even appreciates those who are obsessed with charitable works or church activities or choir. Some people are obsessed with their jobs, and while this (as all obsession) may have detrimental effects, drawing them away from other important things in their lives, we don't generally condemn their jobs for this.
Which brings the other side of the matter. It is certainly possible to become obsessed with fantasy, whether through books (even Christian books) or movies or television or games. But it is just as possible--more possible, certainly--to enjoy fantasy in all of these media and never obsess over any of them.
Obsession can be a bad thing, but it doesn't have to be; and just because someone is obsessive about something to the point that it adversely affects them, that doesn't make the object of their obsession evil or dangerous for anyone else.
Role playing games make a very sharp distinction between reality and fantasy. Even in I-games like Multiverser, where the player is playing a character based on himself, the player is always distinguished from his character. Even in LARPs, where the players are acting the parts they play, this character/player distinction is maintained.
Can an author so lose himself in his writing that he confuses his books with that which is real? There is a degree to which every author feels his work come alive as he writes it, as if there were another world out there and he is as much discovering it as creating it; but ultimately he knows that that world exists in his imagination solely, except if he can convey it to others. Do readers become lost in the worlds written? Many times avid readers become so immersed in a book that all else fades away; but as soon as the book is closed, reality returns in full measure. What of television shows and movies? One viewer reports that whenever a character on the screen mentions how long it will be before something happens, he looks at his watch--but he immediately realizes how ridiculous that is.
What of actors, even character actors, who for a brief time become someone else? David Suchet has explained that if he is interviewed on the set between scenes, he cannot step out of character, but will maintain the accent and mannerisms which fit the part. Has he confused fantasy and reality? Certainly not; he has only embraced the fantasy to project the character. In such an interview, which took place during a camera and lighting set-up for an Agatha Christie Hercule Poirot mystery, Suchet indeed stayed in costume and used Poirot's accent, but he still answered the interviewer's questions as Suchet, not Poirot. The distinction between player and character was still there.
Does this mean that no one ever loses touch with reality? Does no one ever read a book and think that it is telling them to shoot someone, or listen to music and hear messages that they should go on a killing spree? Obviously these things have happened, so they can happen; and perhaps someone might lose touch with reality through the fantasy worlds of role playing. But if this has ever happened, it has not been documented to our knowledge; and if there were a few such cases, it would not demonstrate a danger in the game, but only that this, like anything else in life, can be taken the wrong way by people who are not of sound mind.
This argument is taken from I Corinthians 8-10 (echoed in Romans 14:1-23) where the apostle Paul talks about eating meat sacrificed to idols and other disputable matters. Paul's basic point is that those who are the weaker brothers, who regard a certain disputable matter as a sin for themselves, should not indulge in what they consider sinful, but that they also should not judge those who exercise their freedom in Christ. Likewise, those who are stronger and can in good conscience do what would be a stumbling block to others should not flaunt their freedom in front of a weaker brother, lest he be tempted to commit what to him is a sin, or to judge the weaker brother.
This has been applied to RPGs. The issue here is not nearly so serious. Paul was talking about participating in an act of pagan worship; eating the meat, whether in the temple or later, was considered part of the ceremony by those who believed in those gods. Paul's admonition there was that it was perfectly all right to eat the meat (even to do so in the temple) as long as in doing so you were not worshipping the gods, but that if eating the meat was for you such an act of worship you needed to avoid it. He further insisted that those who were able to eat such meat without trouble should do so, but should not pressure others to join them who were not able to do so. Throughout there is the undercurrent that for some people eating meat offered to idols was an act of pagan worship. Role playing games are not an act of pagan worship, nor of any other sort of sin, and so are not at all in the same category.
Yet the weaker brother argument is often applied to many issues in modern culture. Those who so apply it usually misunderstand (or perhaps obscure) the true significance of the argument. The reader is encouraged, if he has doubts, to turn in his Bible to Romans 14, and read it, reading "play" wherever it says "eat", and "role playing games" where it says "meat" or "meat offered to idols". He will see that if the weaker brother argument applies at all, it tells us to freely play role playing games if our conscience allows, and to stay away from them if they are a problem for us.
The argument is made that some theoretical weaker brother might exist within the sphere of the Christian role-player and might be tempted to do what for him is sin if he even knew this Christian played role-playing games--in essence, "You know, in theory, I could imagine that there might be someone somewhere in the world who might somehow be drawn into sin if they knew that in the privacy of your own home you played role-playing games." However, this passage is not about some theoretical weaker brother, but someone you know might stumble if you were to eat meat or, in our case, play role-playing games around him. In the extended Corinthians passage about weaker brothers, meat offered to idols, and Paul's freedom, he says that he would never eat meat again if it caused a brother to stumble; yet he does not tell the Corinthians not to eat meat offered to idols. He tells them not to eat such meat in the presence of someone who points out that it is offered to idols and that this is a problem for them. Paul clearly did not expect his freedom or ours to be controlled by someone else's conscience when they weren't there.
The text is also often quoted to support a Christian's right to tell another Christian that role-playing makes them uncomfortable and, therefore, the other Christian should stop role-playing. But this isn't what the text says. Romans 14 is dealing with a stronger Christian not leading a weaker one into sin. It has nothing to do with making sure every Christian in the world that you encounter is comfortable with everything you do. We do many things that are uncomfortable to others. How many of us can remember the first time we realised the facts of life implied that our parents were actually sexual beings and how uncomfortable that made us feel? These were our parents! They weren't supposed to do such things. Did we and do we have the right to tell them or other married couples that, since the thought of them in a sexual situation makes us uncomfortable, they must immediately cease and desist from all sexual behavior? We all have lifetimes behind us that dictate that we will not be comfortable with things that we know, intellectually, are perfectly okay, and while we can expect our Christian brothers and sisters to be sympathetic when we ask them to not do or discuss such-and-such in front of us, we have no right to demand that such activities stop altogether simply because they make us uncomfortable.
This very passage is an admonishment not just to Christians who RPG to be careful and thoughtful in their hobby, but also to those Christians who are uncomfortable with RPGs to not judge or take a "holier than thou" attitude with those who do role-play. Further, it tells Christians not to destroy their brothers with such disputable practices and then follows up with "do not allow what you consider good to be spoken of as evil." That is a very strong statement. We cannot simply shrug our shoulders and roll our eyes when those who are misguided or misinformed accuse RPGs of evil; we must speak out against such claims.
There is a genuine place for consideration of those who might be led into sin through activities that they consider wrong. But this is often overplayed by those who would use it to create a Christian legalism. It is important to understand these things about stronger and weaker brothers. The weaker brother argument is about freedom in Christ, not about legalism.
We are also told, in the words of I Thessalonians 5:22, to "Abstain from all appearance of evil." But that word "appearance", while not exactly mistranslated, is misunderstood when translated that way. The passage doesn't mean (as some suggest) "avoid everything that looks evil", but rather, "avoid evil, no matter what it looks like". The word used, transliterated "eidous", means "form, appearance", that is, what something looks like, the shape it takes. It doesn't mean to abstain from everything that might be thought by someone else to be evil, but rather to avoid anything that is in fact evil regardless of the form it takes. The UNASB translates this, "abstain from every form of evil." In fact, the Greek/English dictionary provided in the second edition United Bible Societies' Greek New Testament cites this verse as the clear example of the use of the word to mean "kind, sort" (rather than "appearance", the alternate definition). It means to avoid evil no matter what form it takes, no matter how it appears. This is discussed in more detail elsewhere in an article by M. Joseph Young.
Critics base much on the notion that D&D looks evil, and therefore should be avoided. All this verse says is that if it in fact is evil, it should be avoided no matter how it looks; but they must demonstrate that it in fact is evil--something they have not only failed to do, but in using the weaker brother argument have admitted might not be so.
And we love it when someone quotes the King James Version without knowing what the language means. One critic declared "evil communications corrupt good manners"--and admitted that if the rule books are not "evil communications", he doesn't know the meaning of the terms--but he doesn't! Even the 1960's revision done by the Scofield committee admits that this should be understood as "evil company corrupts good morals", a translation not much changed by the UNASB ("bad company corrupts good morals"). It's about the people with whom you spend your time, not the things you read. And so are we to condemn all gamers to spend their lives with evil company? There's good company, even Christians, among gamers. Telling us we shouldn't be there is saying to abandon the biggest and ripest mission field out there--people who are playing games about spiritual realities, who at some level want there to be a great triumph of good over evil, whom the church has condemned as lost forever.
We have identified a few of those who seem to be primary advocates of D&D-bashing; we list them here to invite you to consider their arguments, as to whether what they say is more credible than what we say. Most of the other critics are citing one of these sources for their alleged facts.
CARPGa's Setting the Record Straight series responds to each of these except Leithart & Grant (which apart from the Vernon Butts material is essentially derivative) and Peterson.
Some people who have gotten this far are asking themselves Why does it matter? Okay, they say, so a harmless hobby is being vilified for no particular reason. But, other than a few Christians missing out on a potentially enjoyable hobby, what's the harm?
First, as was mentioned in connection with the weaker brother argument, scripture commands us in Romans 14:16, "do not let what is for you a good thing be spoken of as evil." (UNASB) It would be wrong for those of us who find so much that is true, honorable, right, pure, lovely, of good repute, excellent, and worthy of praise in these games and the stories created through them to stand by and permit other Christians to vilify something which, in the words of one author, is the most Christian game concept to have emerged in a century. The love of Christ controls us; and it should control you, as well: if you see Christians condemning others over what is a good thing, you cannot stand by and permit such lies to be spread unopposed.
Second, as has been pointed out in our introductory statement, it hurts our witness. To put it bluntly, lost souls are going to Hell because Christians have been taken in by a lie from Satan wrapped in religious trappings and have rejected and harrassed role-playing gamers to the point where those gamers have rejected Christianity.
Third, some people guilty of heinous crimes have gotten away with them because the police have focused too much attention on innocents who just happen to be role-playing gamers, thus missing crucial clues that would point them to the real culprit.
Fourth, innocent people are suffering because of the perception that these games lead to evil behavior.
The third and fourth points are well demonstrated in the investigation of the murder of Stephanie Crowe.
In January of 1998, 12-year-old Stephanie Crowe was found stabbed to death in her bedroom at home. In the weeks that followed, her older brother, Michael, 14, and two of his teenaged friends, Joshua Treadway and Aaron Houser were arrested and charged with murder and conspiracy despite the fact that a mentally-unstable transient known for violence and drug abuse had been seen in the neighborhood the night of her murder (one neighbor even reported seeing him standing in the Crowe's driveway).
Part of the police and prosecutor's theory on the boys' motives?
"Prosecutors have also claimed that the killing was spurred by the boys' obsession with role-playing games like Dungeons & Dragons. At one court hearing, the owner of a game store testified that players get points when they 'kill' people while playing Dungeons & Dragons.
"Prosecutor Summer Stephan suggested that the words 'kill kill,' found on a windowsill in Stephanie's bedroom, were evidence that the boys were proudly proclaiming their victory in a game of death." (1)
The boys were subjected to questioning for as many as 10 to 12 hours at a time, sometimes overnight, lied to, misled to believe their parents thought them involved in the murder and that their friends were framing them for the murder, denied food and sleep, separated from their parents, and denied their Miranda rights to coerce confessions from them, which were the prime evidence against them.
As a jury was being selected for their trial, new evidence came to light. Stephanie Crowe's blood was found spattered on the sweatshirt of the transient whom the police had questioned briefly and released. Having no explanation for how this could have happened without him being the killer, the case was dismissed pending further investigation.
The three innocent boys and their families, having spent a year being thought of and spoken of as evil, cold-blooded killers and relatives of killers, had to put back together the shattered pieces of their lives. And Michael Crowe was finally afforded an opportunity to grieve for the lost sister whose funeral he had been unable to attend.
The transient, who was witnessed at the scene shortly before the murder and who had the victim's blood on his clothes, was not charged with the crime until four years after the fact.
The whole story can be found on the San Diego Union-Tribune web site.
We cannot allow such evil to continue simply because it would be more convenient to shrug our shoulders and let the critics make their specious claims unopposed. We must stand for the truth or we have sided with the Father of Lies through our inaction.
We have already addressed the faulty use of the weaker brother argument, both here in this page and by reference to another excellent article elsewhere on this site. But there is a legitimate concern that a weaker brother might be caused to stumble. How is this to affect us?
Especially in our very mobile age, we come into contact with a lot of people. There are hundreds of people at our church, hundreds at our workplace, hundreds if not thousands on email lists and other electronic communications media.
It is increasingly the case that some random person barely known via some mailing list comes with a weaker brother argument or otherwise tries to change the behavior of a near stranger. Being a Christian does not give you any sort of unmitigated right to mess around in other people's business.
Most of these people are looking for an excuse to get bent out of shape, and will carefully ask you leading questions to get at something. Most gamers don't go through life proclaiming our RPG playing (or other personal hobbies) to people on the street without some reason. On an RPG mailing list, yes, of course we do; but if you're a weaker brother in relation to role playing games and you're on such a mailing list or at such a convention then you're obviously out looking for trouble. These are people that like to meddle, who are looking for something wrong with you, so that they can consider themselves holier and put you down. "Do you actually do something for Halloween? Really? I don't, it's a pagan holiday! Perhaps you aren't acquainted with the Lord's call to holiness." "Do you listen to such music? Don't you know that it's Satanic? I know they use the name of Jesus and proclaim the gospel, but listen to that devil beat!" "You know that your hair style is an affront to God, don't you? Nature itself teaches you how long a man's hair should be, and that means it shouldn't be allowed to grow below the line where it comes out of your scalp; and women should never cut their hair, as it would be as sinful as if they shaved their heads. I'm not saying you're not a Christian, but I know that if you continue to seek God, He'll show you the deeper truth about this that He has already shown me, and you will be able to attain my level of spirituality."
We should all be offended by the number of meddlers and gossips that use the Christian life as an excuse to get into other people's business. There are too many of them to sort through. They may be saved gossiping meddlers, but being saved does not make you right about anything else.
So how do you identify the very few actual weaker brothers from among the many meddlers?
Evaluate the argument. Are they actually tempted to stumble because of what you're doing, or do they just not like you doing it? Are you doing something that really is unholy, or are you comfortable with it? You shouldn't be unreflective, but you don't need to reevaluate everything you do whenever a miscellaneous person complains. It's likely that you'll find they are just curious, or want to meddle in someone's life, or want a little more drama in their day, and that they don't care about you and have nothing personally at stake.
Consider this: We as Christians disagree on many things. Some of us insist on adult immersion as the only valid form of baptism, while others are quite content sprinkling infants. Some insist that before you partake of the Mass/Eucharist/Communion/Lord's Supper you must understand the nature of the miracle taking place in the bread and wine as we do, while others of us are comfortable with sharing this with you as long as you assure us that you believe in Christ's saving work. There are many things about which we disagree; but not one of us stops to reconsider every point of doctrine about which we are in disagreement every time someone from another church asks us about it. We come to settle in our own minds that this is what we believe, and there is no reason for us to argue about it with anyone else unless they particularly want us to explain our beliefs on the matter.
The weaker brother argument is very much about what we really believe. Some of us believe that meat offered to idols cannot hurt us, and so can freely eat it; others believe that there is danger in eating such meat, and so are very careful not to touch it. Some can listen to secular music with no ill effects, while others shield themselves from such influences. Some are tempted toward pagan practices by the essential ideas of Halloween, or Mardi Gras, or May Day, while others are just enjoying the party and thanking God. If your beliefs allow you to do something, you are free to do it; if that thing tempts you to sin, you cannot do it.
The fact is, if you spend all your time trying to understand the thoughts and concerns of everyone that disagrees with you, you won't be able to get anything done. You'll be paralyzed, spending all your time justifying yourself and not accomplishing anything, because it just happens too much. Don't do that. Accomplish! Succeed! Do what you and God want you to do, and if someone close to you has a legitimate concern, address it, and then move on.
The weaker brother argument requires us to take care not to place temptation in the way of someone near enough to us that our actions might tempt them. The weaker brother argument also requires us to recognize that what other Christians feel free to do in Christ, which they do with thanksgiving to God, is not our concern, and we should not judge, condemn, or criticize them for it. Weaker and stronger brothers must live together, the stronger understanding "I can do what others cannot, and must not push them to do it;" the weaker understanding "Others can do what I cannot, and I must not condemn them for it."
That is the true nature of the weaker brother argument.
Stewardship is a concern in every life, in every area of life. How we spend our money is something each Christian must consider; and hobbies of all sorts tend to become expensive.
This is not to say that it is wrong to spend any money at all on a hobby. Many Christians have hobbies they enjoy. Recreation is an important part of life, a time of resting and recharging, and we should all have some place in our lives for that.
Some people spend thousands of dollars to take a one-week vacation with the family; some spend as much on a vacation away from the family. People spend money on golf, bowling, and other sport and leisure activities. And on all these things, some people overspend. Some people spend too much money on presents for their children at Christmas or birthdays, to the detriment of other important needs. Some people give too much to charitable organizations, even to churches. It is possible to spend too much on anything.
Role playing games are not immune to this problem. Long ago some game companies realized that they would be more profitable selling a lot of products to a few people than trying to sell a few products to a lot of people--by targeting people already interested in the game, it was easier to sell them new products for the old game than it would be to sell the old game to people who had not yet discovered it. So there is a lot of pressure in the hobby to buy "supplements". And there are many games, many avenues to explore. It is easy to spend hundreds, even thousands, of dollars on this hobby.
This is not a peculiarity of this hobby. It is easy to spend thousands, even tens of thousands, of dollars on audio equipment and recordings, or video equipment and recordings. A single wide screen television can cost several thousand dollars itself, and a home theatre system much more on top of this--and contrary to popular belief, television is not one of the necessities of life God guarantees to provide for us. It is an expensive leisure activity--a hobby indulged in by millions, often at great expense.
But to say that the danger exists in all hobbies is not to minimize it in any. It is to say that with role playing games, as with any other activity in life, we must consider how much is too much. How much can we afford to spend on such recreational activities? Granted, role playing games have good aspects other activities do not--they are intellectually and creatively challenging, and educational, and develop problem solving skills and social skills. (On the other hand, some hobbies have benefits not found in role playing games, such as physical exercise; but that will be true of many hobbies.) Every Christian should consider how to budget his money; we should be careful what we spend on ourselves, however we spend it.
Just as we must be good stewards with our money, so too we must take care how we spend our time. But using your time wisely does not mean never doing anything to relax. Here are some observations from one gamer, in response to the question, What have you given up for gaming?:
I appreciate the tone of this question BUT it still bugs me.
I'm willing to give up:
- The golf that obsesses so many of my peers...
- Television ('nuff said)...
- Poker night...
- Men's night out...
- Fantasy football/baseball/basketball/golf/nascar/et cetera...
- Bowling Leagues...
- Hunting weekends...
- Fishing trips...
- And all of the other gaming comparable social hobbies that don't seem to get challenged nearly as much.
A (sometimes) very wise friend of mine once said, "if I wasn't gaming, I'd be doing something else that would be far more damaging to my walk."
Everyone I know has a hobby. Television is probably the most common one. I'd venture to say that I spend less time per week on gaming pursuits than 80% of my Bible Study members spend on television pursuits. Which hobby do you suppose exposes one to more occultism, lust, violence and anything else gaming is accused of?
The point, of course, is that everyone spends some time in ordinary things, ways to relax and spend time with people. Another gamer observes that gaming is not the thing that tempts him away from the important things:
In answer to the question "What have you given up for role-playing games?"
For me it's not gaming, it's football. I have to be incredibly careful not to let football consume all my time from July to February (Training Camps to the Super Bowl).
What do I do to make sure I keep my priorities straight? I have a rule that I don't watch a game or play a game unless I've done the following faithfully:
- Spent time with God every day for the past week.
- Spent time with my wife daily (i.e. talked to her) and kept our "date night."
- Have all my church, school, and work obligations completed for the week.
That poses a problem from time to time, and I'm far from perfect, but I have found that by asking myself these questions that I keep myself grounded much better.
Ultimately it isn't about how much time you spend on your hobby, whether role playing or football or any other thing, but whether you spend enough time on the important things in life. Granted, some gamers don't have their priorities right, and will neglect God and family for role playing--but the same can be said about all of us, for whatever our pastimes are. Can you accuse someone of wasting time role playing if he has spent time every day in prayer and Bible study, while you have spent your time vegetating in front of a television set?
So the time problem is not spending too much time on gaming, but not leaving enough time for the important things of life. It is a danger; but it is not more of a danger for gamers than for anyone else.
Despite the fact that we maintain that RPGs in general are not occultic, Satanic, or immoral, this does not mean that all RPGs, past, current, and future, and all campaigns can be declared suitable for all Christians. Game designers, GMs, and fellow players are all human, and all of them incorporate their worldview and morality into their games to some extent. A Christian needs to be aware of the influence non-Christians are having on his walk and faith and if he finds these influences are weakening his faith, he must take steps to counteract this up to and including giving up that particular character, that particular campaign, that particular gaming group or GM, that particular RPG system, or even RPGing altogether. The surrender of this activity may be temporary, long-term, or permanent. This is a difficult issue which each Christian must consider with much thought, prayer, and discernment. We would ask that those called by God to surrender part or all of their RPG hobby not take this as a divine sign that God disapproves of RPGs. God often asks people to give up hobbies, friendships, jobs, church activities or affiliations, and much more, sometimes because that thing is itself wrong, more often because it is harmful to us individually (but not to everyone), but most often to test our dedication to Him. Abraham was commanded by God to sacrifice his son. Not everyone is so called.
Role playing games, overall, are an entertainment value for all ages. But this does not mean that all role playing games are appropriate for all ages. Some have graphic violence, others have horror themes. There may be suggestive or lewd images among the drawings of some games, and gory or violent ones in others. As mentioned, not all games are for all gamers, and individuals should be attentive to what is good or not good for them.
It should also be remembered that the stores that sell role playing games are, for the most part, independent retail outlets, and may sell other products as well. Some will carry comic books, or anime; others will carry New Age products or fortune telling or occult books or materials. These things are not role playing game or even hobby game materials, but might be on shelves alongside such materials.
That is, just as a magazine store may contain Christianity Today, Moody Monthly, and other good Christian magazines as well as Playboy and Hustler and worse, stores that sell role playing games may have the good games alongside others many would find morally or spiritually objectionable; and as such magazines may be found in liquor stores and tobacco shops, such games may be found among other products.
Role playing games have positive educational benefits.
We have lost count of the number of young people who have written to us, telling how their interest in role playing games enabled them to overcome learning disabilities and educational handicaps. Children with diagnoses including dyslexia, mild autism, ADD, ADHD, depression, and bi-polar report that their interest in playing these games gave them the motivation to push themselves to read and work with math, and to focus on tasks, and that as a result they graduated high school and college with honors despite their difficulties. This in itself is a remarkable benefit which should not be discounted.
The rules of game systems themselves are educational, and push even extraordinary students to excel. Many of the games are written at a college reading level, with vocabularies that will expand the linguistic abilities of almost any reader, yet thirteen-year-olds tackle these books enthusiastically and learn to use the language effectively. Because the games rely on probability theory in their design, many players tackle difficult equations to work out the odds of success or failure in their undertakings.
Beyond that, games create worlds filled with reality. Some recreate historic eras, recreating the realities of ancient Egypt, medieval Europe, and many other times and places, history that comes alive. Other games encourage scientific understanding, as they build science fiction worlds on the science of today and the possibilities of tomorrow. Nearly all are filled with economic, political, social, technical, and legal information.
And all role playing games encourage imaginative creation and creative problem-solving skills. The ability to look at a situation and find a solution is one of the toughest skills to teach; and role playing games are one of the most flexible and effective teaching methods for this skill.
For many years psychologists and educators have been using games to explore and teach moral issues. In one of the most popular of these, Lifeboat, challenges the "player" to choose which people from a list they would put into a lifeboat not large enough for all. Games like this test our values; but they do more: they make us examine our own values and consider what we would do if faced with difficult moral questions.
Role playing games do this very well. Players take responsibility for characters in a game world, and those characters often face difficult moral questions. As each question arises, the players must provide answers on behalf of their characters, choosing actions that will meet the needs of the moment, and then discovering the results of those choices as the consequences unfold.
Christian musician Barry McGuire said of his younger days in the rock subculture that his generation was given a list of things not to do, but no reasons not to do them; so his generation, the young adults of the 1960's, did them all--and discovered that they lead to death. Role playing games allow people to make choices, to make wrong choices, and then watch them unfold into the painful consequences, without ever taking any real risk. In this way it gets players to ask the important moral questions, and weigh the answers--and all in the context of having fun.
Role playing games--real role playing games--are interactive on several levels. The players are interacting with each other, sharing time together and getting to know each other, sometimes to a depth of understanding that few pursuits encourage. At the same time, they are creating the social interactions of their characters, experimenting with questions of how people relate to each other.
Today we use driving simulators to educate young drivers in road safety. Pilots train on flight simulators, some of them multi-million dollar machines designed to duplicate every look and feel of a particular model of airplane, so that they will know exactly what it feels like to fly a 747 through a storm before they ever sit in the cockpit of the real thing. In a very similar way, role playing games allow us to simulate social interaction, and so to improve how we relate to other people while at the same time providing a structure within which the players themselves are relating to each other. It is in some sense an intensely social activity--more so than parties and dances and dinners, because the participants get to know each other in very personal ways, discovering how they think and feel, while at the same time projecting their notions of how people act into the characters they create.
And because these games are simple to play and yet deeply complex, families can play them together. Children as young as first or second grade can understand the concepts and become part of the stories, while adults can discover new facets in their personalities. Parents playing together with their children find the opportunities open to discuss moral and ethical questions, to encourage teamwork, to pass on values--but most of all, to be together, sharing more than just a few minutes in the same room, but ideas and ideals which might not come up in a lifetime without the prompting of the right situation, the right moment--a moment that might never come in reality, but could come several times in a game world.
The game industry has to a significant degree overlooked the family as a natural gaming group, but many gamers have discovered this and begun playing in family groups. It is a useful fact that children reach an age when they can play a fairly detailed RPG at the same time they feel the need for independence from parents. In an RPG, they can test these independent decisions hypothetically in the games while still maintaining the family structure. If they want to play with friends, bring those friends into the game. The multigenerational aspect will do all of them some good.
It has already been observed that people have hobbies of one sort or another. As compared with many of the popular ones, role playing games shine. They are less expensive than many--most cost less than it costs to take a family of four to the movies once, and offer years of entertainment for that money; all cost less than the typical video game system, and offer much more adventure plus the benefits of playing with friends. They challenge the intellect and encourage the inventive, invite us to become what we are not and discover what we are. If we were arguing that role playing games should be part of school curricula, we would have a very strong case.
But we aren't arguing that role playing games should be an essential part of the training of our children. We're only presenting them as an alternative form of entertainment, a brand of recreation. It is remarkable indeed that anything with so much potential benefit is actually fun, is something that children and adults will play because they want to play. All of this education, moral challenge, and interaction comes into our lives through a game.
There are many Christians involved in game design, authorship, and publication. Because their credits change periodically and we are constantly discovering more (not to mention that periodically some are converted, and some who have at some point wandered from the faith return) we have compiled a list elsewhere on this site.
In compiling this list, we've made a point not to be judgmental. Any individual who wished to be listed as a person of faith in Christ has been included. There may be some on the list about whom you personally would say, I don't consider people of that religion/faith/denomination to be Christian. You are entitled to do that. At the same time, there are many denominations represented, and many people on the list who for one reason or another have not listed a denomination. If for some reason you think some of the people on our list are not Christian because of their specific denominational affiliation, remind yourself that there are people out there who think the same of you. Surely at least some of these people will pass muster with your definition of Christianity, even if some do not--and remember, the Lord looks on the heart, not the outward appearance.
While we hope this FAQ has adequately answered your questions, we do want to point out some excellent articles on the Web addressing the issue of RPGs and faith.
All RPG systems here are ™ and/or ® their respective publishers. Mention of them in this article does not in any way imply ownership or official representation of these games and game publishers.