And what do you do when somebody says that they aren't?
Yeah, you can dismiss the Jack Chicks of the world--but let's be frank: what we are doing as gamers is more than just a game--be it Dungeons & Dragons, or whatever RPG. If you do go to church, you probably spend more time gaming than going to church. Admit it. Gaming is a lifestyle. Gaming does alter people's behavior.
I've experienced it. I've seen it. It begins with that look in the player's eye when they suddenly realize that their character can attempt to do just about anything. It's empowering.
Yet according to folks like Jack Chick, that sort of empowerment is dangerous. Because of this, in the Satanic Panic of the 1980s is long gone, but the controversy over D&D still lingers. Authorities still tenuously link murder with the game, as recently as 2010, in Sacramento and Seattle. And you can't play D&D in prison. That whole stereotype of teenagers running around in sewers is still with us because of that Tom Hanks movie and what happened to Bink Pulling. In the United States, anyway, it can be hard for gamers to admit being gamers (on top of the fact that gaming isn't considered a sport, hence no popular acceptance).
Heck, just go to amazon.com and search for "Dungeons & Dragons Occult or Witchcraft" and you'll get dozens of Christian books about spiritual warfare. A couple years ago a friend of mine returned from a year-long stay the United Kingdom. Gaming over there, she said, was far more acceptable. "But here its almost like being gay, you're almost afraid to admit it because of what people might say."
I'd add: "And do."
In the least, these religious critics will tell you that you should being doing something more productive. Gaming is a waste of time. (Yet again, let's be frank: when a session of sucks... it really sucks. I just spent four hours in a crappy game, I could have been doing something more productive--gah!)
At worst, these people will want to burn your D&D books.
Why? Because the Jack Chick tract says so.
That's the simple answer. The real answer is far more complicated and goes beyond considering certain behavior as sinful.
But again, in the interest of being frank, many of those books do contain the names of evil gods and demons from literature and mythology. In 4e, Asmodeus is the ruler of Hell, and his name comes from from the Book of Tobit (and there's even a gaming company called Asmodee...gasp!). Orcus was once a Roman/Etruscan god of the underworld. The old AD&D Monster Manual II has two lists of demons and devils whose names you can find in reference sources like A Dictionary of Angels: Including the Fallen Angels, by Gustave Davidson.
(Btw: I do recommend you check out The Other Side Blog, by Timothy Brannon. This month, for the A to Z Challenge, he's covering demons and their gaming aspects).
So back in high school, my best friend's parents were completely justified in taking him and all of his D&D books out into the country and burning the books in a ditch while they prayed for his immortal soul. Spiritual contamination is the worst of all contamination. Worse than oil spills. Worse than radiation links. Oil and radiation can cause physical death, but spiritual death is forever. His parents forbid my best friend from seeing me. And if they even thought he was over at my place, they would round up the family, surround the apartment building, and wait for him to come out. This happened about three or four times and the last time he wasn't even there.
We gamed around the kitchen table. We never went down into sewers or caves or anything like that. But see, his parents were afraid that D&D would lead to that.
Some months later, when I became a Christian, the first place I went to was my best friend's home to share the good news. His parents were all happy about me, but his mom's first words while she hugged me were: "What about Dungeons & Dragons?"
"I don't know," I said. And I really didn't know. While I felt euphoric over being "born again," I felt some lingering doubts about becoming a Christian. I didn't want to become like my friend's parents so full of fear, or like the preachers you see on TV, or the folks who knock on your door, or like the folks that blame their hardships on the devil. I didn't want to become a book-burner. Most of all, I still wanted to play Dungeons & Dragons.
This was twenty years ago.
Some months after these experiences I penned the first map and notes for what would be Domikka--a campaign setting that actually dealt with God, and what it means to follow God--but without the "preachiness" you'd find in a typical Christian book or RPG (Christian RPGs do exist, believe it or not). It was a compromise of sorts. But it took me down roads of both spiritual and intellectual development I probably wouldn't have go down otherwise.
I haven't been a Christian for more than 12 years, nor do I subscribe to any particular religion or philosophy. I believe certain truths can be found in nearly all of them. Yet I still do believe in God. I'm not against Christianity, because I know that Christianity consists of many, many denominations--just as in other religions. These denominations ultimately consist of people--and some people are jerks, others aren't. And all of us, as humans, have the capacity to do great weal and woe.
In 1989, in response to the Satanic Panic TSR removed demons and devils from D&D, with AD&D Second Edition. Well, they became "Baatezu" and "Tanar'ri." But gone were Orcus, Asmodeus, and the rest, at least until Planescape came out.
In the meantime, I had to contend with people telling me that God and D&D weren't compatible. After becoming a Christian, I visited or spoke with members of different churches. They all cautioned me, since I was a new Christian, to avoid "bad" churches. "False cults" they called them. D&D got lumped in with these false cults.
I'm thankful that society has become more acceptable toward gaming over the years. The list of celebrities who've come out of the gaming closet has grown by leaps and bounds. Still, you will occasionally come across somebody who will question the morals and ethics of your gaming hobby.
Is God and gaming compatible? And what do you do when somebody says that they aren't?
Domikka was, and is, my answer to these questions.
What's your answer?