Controversies about Roleplaying: Concerns about Occult Material



Dark Dungeons by Jack Chick

"Dark Dungeons," a comic tract by Jack Chick (resized), showcased most of the concerns about occult material discussed below


The Problem With Magic

One of the biggest concerns is that roleplaying games involve magic and the outlining of magic spells. The first thing to realize is that not all roleplaying games involve magic in any way. In some settings, magic entirely absent because it doesn't fit the fictional milieu. Some science fiction games feature science and technology instead of magic, for example. Those roleplaying games that do discuss magic tend to do so in abstract ways. A spell might have a name, ingredients may or may not be mentioned, and its effects might be described, but most books don't outline magical formulas or procedures. When magic is "used" in a game, the player simply says something to the effect of: "My character uses a spell to heal the fighter's wounds." No incantations or special motions are required; magic is being described as an option in the story rather than a force in real lfie. The few times I've lit candles during games has been for ambiance. While some games talk about the summoning of spirits, no seance takes place.

Demons & More

Craig Branch in his article "Games: Fantasy or Reality?" says that: "Many of the FRP games, occult card games, and action video games are occultic catechisms, filled with human sacrifice, spells, demons, monsters, psychic powers, and all the things explicitly condemned in Deuteronomy 18." This is a common misinterpretation and it can be rather easy to understand. Some gaming books do talk about spells, monsters, even demons or Satan - as story elements, not as things that are meant to be enacted or honored in the real world. Gaming books can discuss various things that gamers would never approve of because gaming deals with the realm of fantasy, which is one of mankind's greatest gifts. It is intended for gamers to use the books to help them imagine another place for a few hours and once they are done, roleplaying is to be set aside for the real world. But when a person picks up a roleplaying book and only sees pictures of monsters or names of spells, they might not understand anything about roleplaying games or the separation of fantasy and reality that is so important to the hobby.

Recruitment For Paganism & Satanism

This leads some to be concerned not only about magic but also about faith. Some people are worried that roleplaying games act as recruitment drives for either paganism or Satanism. Again, some roleplaying games don't involve a discussion of faith but focus on other things instead. When different religions are described in some roleplaying books, they are confined to the fantasy setting and are not designed to be espoused in real life. Those who want to pursue an interest in paganism or Satanism are not going to find much information to help them in roleplaying books. The information that is offered about magic or faith is designed for play in the fictional environment, not for worship in the real world. I suppose a very determined person could try, but I can't imagine what sort of regimen they would end up with given the brief and mechanical nature of most entries.

Some people are more concerned that once someone reads roleplaying materials, they will start to research the occult. The fear appears to be this: that exposure will lead to curiosity, which will lead to investigation and acceptance of religious or spiritual systems outside of Christianity. Since some roleplaying games represent magic, symbols, and bizarre creatures in a fictional environment, people worry that players will go outside of the roleplaying materials to get more information, so that they can actually practice non-Christian beliefs. We must consider this carefully: if roleplaying books truly had all of the "genuine" occult materials needed, players would not have to go outside of those books for more information. This undermines the worry that roleplaying books are "occultic catechisms;" there just isn't enough information to satisfy serious inquiry.

We must also consider the nature of curiosity: any number of things can cause people to question their religion or consider other alternatives. A conversation, a book, a life experience - any of these things and more could lead someone to research other avenues. Most people who play roleplaying games do not take the games seriously, whereas they place great weight on other, more pressing things in their lives. Thus, pointing to roleplaying games as a major cause of occult curiosity only limits the view of what is really happening. There is no solid evidence that roleplaying games cause people to turn to the occult, just as there's no evidence that such games lead to violence. It's far more likely that a number of different factors come together to make a person curious enough to try a different set of beliefs. It must also be said that many gamers are young, trying to discover religion for themselves or rebelling against the faith of their families. These things will happen without roleplaying games anywhere in the vicinity. The choice of religion is something that each person must decide for themselves, and real-life matters are bound to have more influence on such a decision.

The Trouble With Gods

Another major concern is the use of pagan or fantasy gods and their priests in some roleplaying games. Some people feel that the presence of gods in these games is dangerous. First, we have to remember that religion is not a major concern in all roleplaying games. For those games that do talk about gods, the discussion is confined to an imaginary setting that doesn't exist. Thus, the gods are more like characters in a story that might or might not affect the plot. Some games allow players to make priest characters, such as Secundus, priest of Bane, a made-up god. When most people are playing a character in a roleplaying game, however, they don't go through the motions of worship nor is it their desire or intention to worship any god confined to the game. They probably say something like: "My character prays so that his god will allow him to cast spells tomorrow." Since roleplaying is a hobby and purely imaginary, most gamers hold it apart from the more serious parts of their lives, including religion.

Just The Mention of It

Some people insist that the very mention of magic, faith, or gods is enough to condemn roleplaying games and to warn children away from them. It must be said that a great deal of our culture and art makes reference to faith in some way, and a good portion of fantasy works make reference to magic. These concepts are a part of a larger social consciousness and provide inspiration for many wonderful and entertaining things, including roleplaying games. The simple mention of faith and magic in an entertainment product should not be turned into a forbidden activity and should not be the only criteria on which roleplaying games are evaluated. There is a lot more to the roleplaying experience: heroic deeds, amazing landscapes, friendship, team work, tactics, and more. There is also a lot more to a parent's influence on their children; hobbies can't take away the years parental teachings, nor can hobbies overcome what people already believe about the universe. To deal with magic, faith and gods in an imaginary context is just that - an exercise in imagination.


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