Dungeons & Dingbats:
A Response to the Claims of Those who Oppose RPGs
By David Martel aka Chaotic Void
Ever since they were released in the early 70's, Role-Playing Games like Dungeons & Dragons have taken flak from all circles, both Christian (Jack Chick) and secular (the news). Attackers have claimed that RPGs do anything from lead your children to the Occult to being a cause of suicide to inspiring people to shave their cats. Okay, that last one was contrived, but there are in fact some pretty bizarre claims made about RPGs, and this essay is going to examine the main claims. Please note that I am referring to Table top RPGs and not Console RPGs or Massive Multiplayer Online RPGs. Whilst there are some differences, the arguments used against each are generally the same.
Claim Number 1a: RPGs can lead the game players to the Occult.
Now, this claim is often made, but never really substantiated. Theoretically, it's possible for someone to be led to the occult by playing D&D or some other RPG. However, whether or not this is the case depends on the person, meaning if someone does turn to the occult, then RPGs would be a symptom and not a disease (the disease would likely be lack of solid foundation in their faith, etc). Also, if critics want to be consistent, then they need to quit drinking because that can lead to alcoholism and drunk driving. They also need to quit playing video games, because that will lead to school shootings and other acts of violence. To take it to a major extreme, reading the Bible has also led to people committing apostasy, so if Christian critics want to be consistent, they should quit reading the Bible. It can lead to apostasy is not the same as it will lead to apostasy. This is a classic case of the slippery slope fallacy
Claim 1b: D&D teaches players how to cast magic spells, and in the writing process, genuine occultists were hired to authenticate the magic spells
These claims originated with William Schnoebelen- an (alleged) ex-Catholic, ex-Satanist, ex-Occultist, ex-Mason, and ex-vampire- whose work can be found on the Jack Chick website. He claims that in the late 1970's- during his time as an occultist- the game writers came to his place of residence and looked through all his notes about spells to authenticate the magic that was going to be in the game. At first glance, this story seems to contain truth. However, Schnoebelen's story is contradictory with the fact that D&D was already out and selling by the late 70's.
This still leaves us with the claim that the game actually teaches people how to cast real magic. Well, the writers must have done a terrible job replicating the spells, because at a glance through the OpenSource d20 Manuals, one will find that the directions are incredibly vague. Let's take the spell 'Cure Light Wounds' as an example.
Cure Light Wounds
Level: Brd 1, Clr 1, Drd 1, Healing 1, Pal 1, Rgr 2
Components: V, S
Casting Time: 1 standard action
Target: Creature touched
Saving Throw: Will half (harmless); see text
Spell Resistance: Yes (harmless); see text
When laying your hand upon a living creature, you channel positive energy that cures 1d8 points of damage +1 point per caster level (maximum +5).
Since undead are powered by negative energy, this spell deals damage to them instead of curing their wounds. An undead creature can apply spell resistance, and can attempt a Will save to take half damage.
Now, it says that we need a Verbal (V) component and a Somatic (S) component, to successfully cast this spell. However, it doesn't say what word or motion to use. For all we know, it could be singing the chorus of "Thriller" while moon-walking. Don't try asking Gary Gygax either, because not only did he pass on not too long ago, I'm also pretty sure that he also had no clue how to cast these spells.
Claim 2: RPGs can Distort your Perception of the Difference Between Fantasy and Reality
Perhaps, but if that's the case, then they are once again the symptom and not the disease, thus keeping said person with skewed perception from playing RPGs isn't going to change that. If someone is truly concerned that their loved one is having a hard time discerning between fantasy and reality, then they should get said loved one to a medical professional immediately, if not sooner. Really, D&D and other RPGs are nothing more than the semi-grownup version of Cops 'n Robbers and Superheroes. You know, those games that we see kids playing all the time (and a lot of us used to play) and usually have zero problem with.
Claim 3: RPGs Encourage Immoral Behavior and Moral Ambiguity
This one requires me to do some explanation about the "Alignment System". In some RPGs, specifically D&D, the characters can have an alignment with regards to Order (Law) vs Chaos and Good vs Evil. There are a total of nine combinations, and the two that have some critics foaming at the mouth are Lawful Evil and Chaotic Good. Somehow, in their mindset, Good characters have to respect tradition and authority whilst Evil characters have to be incredibly anarchic or rebellious. It's a classic case of stereotyping (much like the Pious Christian and Immoral Atheist.) and sheer ignorance of reality. Even in the Bible, there are people who would fall under Lawful Evil and Chaotic Good (Pharaoh and Samson, for instance). Of course, critics also seem to neglect the fact that a Character's alignment can change throughout the game, not to mention that the game is so flexible you can restrict alignment- amongst other things- and it won't change the game at all. As a matter of fact, it wouldn't be unreasonable to make changing an evil player character's alignment one of the tasks that the party has to overcome in the game.
Some critics even take up problems with the fact that the player has a choice to be Evil. What critics fail to realize is that Evil characters really have all the odds stacked against them in D&D (and a lot of other RPGs), assuming that the DM/GM referees the game properly. Evil characters by nature can rarely cooperate, and they are always hated and people who want them dead or not alive range from bounty hunters to heroes to angry citizens with torches and pitchforks. Critics should really be grateful that these RPGs even acknowledge the existence of Good and Evil. This in itself could lead to an opportunity for a Christian player to evangelize.
I think I should also note the irony that, while critics are trying to tear RPGs to shreds, they let a whole boatload of games slip under the radar that promote materialism and sometimes ruthless, even sleazy, competition. And let us not forget those war games. You know, those games that promote mindless war for global domination. As a matter of fact, some critics even enjoy said games. Another irony to note is in the fact that RPGs encourage positive behaviors and ideas like teamwork, the fact that that actions have consequences, and proper decision-making. Actually, 'encourage' would be putting it mildly. The ability for the players to work together and make the right decisions is the meat and potatoes of a good RPG campaign. Not only is this argument a swing and a miss, but those who use it often hit themselves in the process.
Claim 4: RPGs Can Cause Your Kid to Commit Suicide
This claim originated back in the late 70's and early 80's, and the claim hasn't died down to this very day. In all these thirty years, no one has been able to successfully link D&D to the tragic suicides of James Dallas Egbert and Irving Pulling (or anyone else for that matter). Their suicides are more reasonably attributed to the other problems that they had (Social Pressures, Secret Habits, etc.). Unfortunately, during the time, the media took the claim of D&D causing suicide and ran with it. Irving's Mom, Patricia, even went so far as to form Bothered About Dungeons and Dragons, also known as B.A.D.D, using tactics to get D&D banned from schools that would make even Michael Moore blush with embarrassment. It's a classic case of blaming the inanimate object for what the living person holding it did. To put a spin on the classic phrase about guns, "RPGs don't kill people. People kill people."
Claim 5: The Bible Says to "Abstain from the Appearance of Evil" (1 Thes 5:22 KJV)
So it does. However, 'appearance' isn't the best translation of eidos (which I'll note can also be translated as 'form' or 'kind' after checking a Strong's and a Thayer). In light of 1 Samuel 16:7- specifically the part that says, "Man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart"- either of the other two translations would fit the bill better. Also, critics are taking this verse out of context. The proper context would be 1 Thes 5:20-22 (paraphrased), "Despise not Prophecy. Instead, prove everything, hold fast to that which is good. Abstain from all forms of evil"; this passage is referring to prophecy. Of course, even if they weren't butchering the context, critics have the burden of showing that RPGs are in fact evil.
Okay, since the big arguments have hardly any merit (or rather, no merit at all), are there any legitimate problems with D&D and other Role Playing Games? Yes, there are actually three. However, I should make note that these problems are not exclusive to RPGs, and one of them could have been easily prevented. RPGs take a lot of time and money, so you had better be ready to spend both playing RPGs. They can also become an addiction, much like anything else, so if RPGs are taking priority over everything else, especially serving God (we're Christians after all), then you really ought to cool your heels.
The third problem, the one that was preventable, is the bad reputation that RPGs have. If you're a Christian and want to get into RPGs, then you better be prepared for the possibility of taking some flak. A lot of churches are still in the mindset that D&D and other RPGs are Satan's means of turning your children to the occult. Despite the fact that Satan is bound (yes, like it or not, I am an Orthodox Preterist), and even if he wasn't, you'd think Satan would have done a better job in 'inspiring' Gary Gygax to make D&D. Who would have thought that the devil would make a game that not only contains and encourages the very things he despises (cooperation, servitude, critical thinking, proper decision-making), but can easily be used to his enemy's advantage (it is not unusual for Christians to incorporate their worldview into their character or the overall Campaign)?