I received a letter asking me about a game with an odd spelling. The spelling, Quigi, was not correct, and it took a second letter before I understood that my correspondent was talking about Ouija™, the Parker Bros. diversion which is sold with board games, which is alleged to facilitate contact with the spirit world. Is this, at least, an evil game?
My correspondent gave me an out; he said he would understand if I declared it was not a game. It’s tempting to do so anyway, as although I don’t have an articulable definition of “game” which covers everything I would include and nothing I would exclude, it is difficult for me to figure out in what sense a Ouija board is a game. However, it’s also begging the question. Is this popular diversion inherently and irredeemably evil? I’ve contended elsewhere that the devil doesn’t own anything. Could this be an exception?
The Ouija board is (or at least once was) produced in Parker Brothers’ Salem, Massachusetts facility—which is where they produce most of their games. Milton Bradley is also in that area, although I don’t know where they are exactly, and although Salem’s tourism industry does much to capitalize on their infamous history, the witch trials were actually in Danvers, west on Electronics Highway perhaps a dozen miles, and not in Salem. The box contains a board marked with letters and, if I recall correctly, numbers, plus a yes and a no at opposite ends of the board. There is also a plastic pointer. The participants (I do not at this point call them players) sit facing each other, place the board on their knees and the pointer on the board, and then rest the tips of their fingers, of both hands, on the pointer. It then mysteriously glides around the board, seemingly with a will of its own. The participants ask it questions, and it produces answers, sometimes merely yes or no, sometimes spelled out.
Is it a game? I have no idea. Does it truly contact spirits? I’m doubtful. Does Parker Brothers really have witches cast spells on them at the factory? Although it’s good publicity to have people arguing about that, I’m sure that Parker Brothers, makers of many popular family board and card games and division of Hasbro Industries (whose ownership of Parker Bros., Milton Bradley, PlaySkool, Wizards of the Coast, Tiger Electronics, Tonka, G. I. Joe, Play Doh, Avalon Hill, Nerf, and more have earned them the nickname Hasbro of Borg in the toy and game industry), does not hire people to perform incantations over game products. Do the boards scream when you burn them? People say so; but then, wood fires sometimes do have those squealing noises from hot gasses pushing out of the timbers, and people can be very impressionable when they think they’re in the presence of something supernatural.
A friend of mine was told by someone that if you burned a copy of the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons™ Deities and Demigods book, the demon trapped in the book would scream. My friend did it. He went back and told them there was no scream. They said, well, it doesn’t happen every time.
James “The Amazing” Randi (the stage magician) is one of the heads of an organization of skeptics. They’ve got a one million dollar prize offered for anyone who can present proof that the supernatural or paranormal exists. If Ouija boards really screamed when you burned them, I would think by now someone would have demonstrated this and collected the prize. In fact, I’d think 60 Minutes would have burned one on camera by now—that would be a story.
The Reverend Paul Cardwell, United Methodist Minister of Education who sits as chairman of the Committee for the Advancement of Role Playing Games, is convinced that Ouija boards are entirely subconscious tricks of the mind. Maybe he’s right; anyway, there must be some reason why Randi’s organization doesn’t think Ouija boards are proof of the supernatural world.
Can you use them to have good, safe, ordinary fun? Maybe, but part of the fun is wondering whether they “really work,” and if at the outset you’ve decided that they don’t, what’s left? Are we exploring each other’s psyches and trying to guess whether that last statement was a reflection of your secret thoughts or mine? If you didn’t think you were getting messages from someone somewhere else, it would become boring really fast, I think.
Can they be abused? Sure they can; they’re begging to be abused, to be believed as a true prognosticator, a spirit telling the future and the secrets of the heart. Like the 8 Ball, which is always ready to forecast your future by answering yes/no questions, this offers itself as a tool of divination. Parker Brothers insists that it’s just a toy, meant to entertain. People still believe. Perhaps it doesn’t matter that the small print on the television screen says that the psychic hotline is for entertainment purposes only—the people who call pay the money because they believe. It’s a very seductive thing. Are you trying to divine the future by contacting spirits, or are you just having a good laugh from a silly toy?
I actually used one once, when I was thirteen or so. A friend had one, or maybe it was his brother’s. For what it’s worth, he and I did not go on to be a greater music sensation than The Beatles, nor did I become President of the United States (just in case you were not aware of those facts). Thus I would say it did not predict anything but the dreams of thirteen year old boys.
Is a piece of wood and a piece of plastic evil? That strikes me as silly. I suppose it might be. We could wonder whether it is a mistake to preserve totem poles and ancient statues of the gods and other icons and idols in our museums. Isaiah tells us that they’re just wood and metal and stone. I don’t think there’s any worry about that. There’s nothing evil written on the board; it’s not like it’s got evil incantations spelled out for you or something.
Is it evil to play with it? Again, if it’s just a silly game, it’s just a silly game, and if that’s all you think it is, then probably that’s all it is for you.
Is it evil to believe it? That’s where the rub is. If you’re doing it to prognosticate the future, or to contact the spirits of the dead, or to speak with demons, then it’s wrong for you to do it, even if it isn’t really working. It isn’t so much talking to demons but wanting to talk to demons that’s the mistake. It isn’t being told the future that’s bad, but seeking to know it.
Would I have one in my house? I would not. That’s not because I think it’s dangerous. If I knew how to play Tarocci (the original card game for which the decks were used) I would own a Tarot deck, and I would use it to play Tarocci. I don’t think Tarot decks are dangerous, or inherently evil. Yes, people use them for divination. People use poker cards and pocket change for divination. They read tea leaves and palm lines and stars. None of those things are inherently evil. It’s not Tarot cards that are evil, but divination that seeks answers from spirits. It’s not Ouija boards that are evil, but trying to use them for divination. The problem with the Ouija is that there really isn’t much else you can do with it. You either believe it works, in which case you’re using it for serious divination, or you believe it’s all nonsense, in which case you’re pretending it works. Some people might find that fun, and not be in any serious risk of actually believing any of it. For me, I wouldn’t own one because it seems a useless piece of wood.
Is it dangerous? Probably it is. It probably is dangerous, not because there are demons in it nor because it can contact spirits. I doubt there are demons in it, and anyone who wants to contact spirits badly enough will find a way to do so. It’s dangerous because it’s tempting you to believe. It’s tempting you to put your trust in something other than God. I don’t think it’s entirely without merit. If it convinces some people that there are spirits out there and they need to turn to God, that’s a good thing. If it convinces others that all spiritual talk is nonsense, that’s a bad thing. On balance, I’d be concerned about people believing in the Ouija itself and not turning to God.
This article was originally published in December 2003 on the Christian Gamers Guild’s website. The entire series remains available at its original URL.