Therefore do not let what is for you a good thing be spoken of as evil.
These words of the Apostle Paul in Romans 14:16 are cause enough for us to tell the world that role playing games such as Dungeons & Dragons™ are a good thing which Christians can and perhaps should embrace, enjoy, and use to the glory of God, and to answer the calumnious misinformation spread by others. Yet the question is still asked why it matters if fantasy role playing games are wrongly accused of being evil. What harm is there in this mistake? Shouldn’t we be taking our stand on more important issues, and just letting the people who fear and condemn role playing games live with their error? It isn’t that important, is it? It won’t really make a difference in anyone’s life if a few pin-headed Christians are confused on a matter of a silly game and no one bothers to put things right, will it?
In one of the Christian Gamers Guild’s support documents, Frequently Asked Questions by Christians About Role-playing Games, this question is addressed within the context of a very serious miscarriage of justice. In 1998, a young girl named Stephanie Crowe was murdered, stabbed to death in her own room in her own home. Because her older brother and his friends played Dungeons & Dragons™, the police investigation started and ended with them. They were charged with the crime and coerced into confessing based almost solely on this theory that it was part of the game, despite the fact that a mentally ill transient with a history of violence had been the last person seen with the girl. It wasn’t until the girl’s blood was found on the transient’s clothes that the boys, their lives destroyed by the accusations and publicity, were released. That cruel and damaging injustice was based entirely on the misinformation about role playing games popularized by their opponents.
So there was one case where it mattered; it mattered a lot in that one case. But surely one isolated incident, no matter how egregious, is not sufficient to make such an issue of the problem, is it?
Stephanie Crowe is the tip of the iceberg. Her case is visible because it was a murder investigation and a close and young family member was wrongly accused. There is no way to know how many other miscarriages of justice are out there, unreported.
One of them came to our attention a year ago. A woman who will be known here only as Jen wrote to us for help. Jen is a young mother who some years ago lost custody of her daughter to her grandmother. Now her life has stabilized, and she’s been trying to rebuild a relationship with the daughter who lives far from her. Unfortunately, Grandmother has been telling the child that her mother is a member of a dangerous cult called Dungeons & Dragons. The daughter is afraid of her own mother because of this, although neither the grandmother nor the child know enough truth about the game to fill an article as long as this one. Visitations between mother and daughter are difficult and strained affairs, and highly stressful for the child.
It isn’t even as if the grandmother was a devout conservative Christian whom one would expect to oppose role playing games. She regularly visits her fortune teller—not a common practice of those who see Satanism in such unlikely places as games. She knows nothing of Satanism or of role playing games or indeed of genuine Christianity. All she knows is that there are people who claim the game is a dangerous cult which should be avoided.
Certainly if there were any truth to the foolishness that Dungeons & Dragons was a cult religious practice, there might be good reason to protect a young girl from people who were involved in it, even if those people were her family. Yet it is a lie that stands between this girl and her mother, a lie that was told to her great-grandmother and repeated to the girl until she is afraid of her own mother.
How many more stories are out there? How many more people have been ostracized, condemned, criticized, shunned, persecuted, or isolated because of a lie told about a game? The repetition of that lie has blackened the eye of the church, as perhaps millions who play role playing games have seen first hand how judgmental and hateful Christians can be over something they quite obviously do not understand. That we have driven these people away from the gospel should be cause enough to tell us to fight against the lie so that Christians who are currently reacting in fear and hatred to what they don’t understand can instead reach out in love to the lost. Beyond that, it is clear that there are these special cases, situations in which our lie, the lie promulgated by the church, has destroyed the lives of others. We are commanded not to bear false witness against our neighbor. If we declare that the game he plays is an ungodly religion when it is in fact just a game, have we not done exactly that?
We can pray for Jen and her daughter and her grandmother, and for Michael Crowe and his friends and their families. We must work to stop such injustices henceforth. That can only be done by putting an end to the lie.
This article, originally published in April 2005 on the Christian Gamers Guild’s website, concludes Chaplain Young’s Faith and Gaming series. The entire series remains available at its original URL. An index of the articles on the site to date, including the series, is expected next week, and the Chaplain has promised new articles beginning in December and continuing into 2018.
After a hiatus of several years, Chaplain Mark Joseph Young was persuaded to return to the general concept of the series with a new series. You are invited to continue the exploration of how we integrate our faith with our leisure activities in Faith in Play #1: Reintroduction.