Monday, April 8, 2013

G is for God and Gaming--are they compatible?

Do you think that God and gaming are compatible?

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.


What I'm against are these jerks trying to coerce people into the "right" spiritual path because they claim its "God's will." I'm also against the rampant Millennialism the so-called "Religious Right" has promulgated in this country for last three decades or so. The Satanic Panic was part of it, believe it or not.

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?



9 comments:

  1. When I was Christian, I specifically asked my pastor - a Southern Baptist pastor - if there was anything wrong with Dungeons and Dragons or other roleplaying games. He said it depended entirely how the game was played - if it revolved around evil and killing, then there were obviously issues that needed to be worked out or possibly the other people involved needed to be evaluated. Granted, he was very old school. He didn't believe in any of the "spiritual warfare" stuff, at least to the degree it's been hawked by Chick and others like him. In fact, he recommended we throw out any Chick tracts we find (since Chick Publishing is based in the town where I grew up, they were especially prevalent). To this day when I find one, I throw it in the trash.

    Also, you might find this amusing: http://www.epsilonminus.com/darquedungeon/

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  2. I do a little podcast called Saving the Game that's entirely about how Christians can and should be gamers. Gaming offers a host of opportunities for Christians - fellowship and charity, exploring moral issues without danger, encouraging empathy and righteousness, etc. (I won't go into all the reasons - if I could list them easily, we wouldn't have seventeen episodes and a huge backlog of topics!)

    So yes. God and gaming are entirely compatible -- complimentary, even. Gaming is a medium for collaborative storytelling. The story you're telling carries moral weight and implication; the medium does not.

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    1. I'll have to check out your podcasts. I'm glad I was able to help on G+ looking up "Spritual Warfare." Yes, for those who don't know, there are Christian RPGs out there.

      Spiritual Warfare

      And thank you for mentioning Dragonraid

      I think all of these have gone through multiple editions. But looks like their publishers haven't been active since 2009 or so.







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  3. I think one of the inherant problems may be that Dungeons & Dragons typically takes place in a setting where multiple gods exist, walk among men and have unquestionable earthly powers, all of which goes against fundamental Christian teachings. However, if you look at the old testament, the early Hebrews were monologists who essentially believed that there were many gods, just theirs was the best and most powerful; the old testament God was involved in a bid for power over other gods, toppling them one by one.

    Saragon, I look forward to checking out your podcasts!

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  4. Fascinating blog, glad I checked it out. While I am myself an atheist and attribute at least some of my development toward a non-religious belief system to a thorough immersion in broad religious and mythological studies (to which D&D definitely contributed), I've known way too many fellow gamers who were at least modestly religious, and once gamed with a group consisting entirely of Mormons. I don't think I've ever met a gamer who self identified as deeply religious, however...at least, not in an outwardly advertised manner.

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  5. I try not to worry about God and Gamming myself.

    To me it is like asking if you like ice cream and mustard. You can have both, but together they may not work. Personally I dislike mustard, but that is me.

    Thanks for the plug for my blog by the way!

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  6. I grew up in the south and am religious myself, so I have thought about this before. To me, it is like reading science fiction and fantasy. Those books pose worlds that do not conform to my religious and metaphysical beliefs. But I read them anyway, because I can conceive of those world without feeling that my beliefs are threatened. I recognize that the settings I run and play in are fictional.

    So for me, it isn't a problem. But I can understand why some people might feel like it is. What gets me is when they are inconsistent about it, when only D&D is bad, for instance, but many videogames are okay. That is when it seems to stem only from the cultural stigma it picked up in the 80s.

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  7. I have been gaming since I was 11.
    I am a Theologian.
    When people ask me about D&D I tell them,
    "Its a game"

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  8. As another atheist, this is something that I thankfully don't even have to consider. There are far more pressing compatibility issues with 'God' for me, such as "Is God compatible with science"; "Is God (Islamic) compatible with a modern. free, democratic world?"; "Is God compatible with equality (gender, sexual-orientation, racial, political)?".

    I think it is a hopeful sign for those that are religious, and for those that aren't in fact, that the Chick tracts and nuts like Pat Robertson are almost universally condemned and mocked now when they shout about the 'evils' of D&D. This indicates that in just the 40 years since the game has been around, we have seemed to get a bit more sensible about things like this.

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