This is Faith in Play #14: Wickedness, for January 2019.
In discussing Dungeons & Dragons® alignment, as we began last May with True Religion and continued looking at that which the game calls “good” in Goodness, it is important to remember that each alignment is something in which people actually believe. That becomes a problem when we turn our attention to “evil,” because we tend to stereotype it in cartoonish ways, with villains who are depraved and monsters that are sadistic. In so doing, we reassure ourselves that we are not evil, because we are not like that. Yet in defining that which is the polar opposite of “good” or beneficent, the game has something far more subtle, far less heinous, in view. Evil is embraced as a belief by perfectly sane sound reasonable people, not just Cthulhu cultists and reclusive Shakespearean witches. It is something people—even respected famous people—believe to be the way the world is and how we ought to respond within it. In fact, if you examine yourself carefully, you might discover that you yourself are aligned “evil,” or at least have some significant aspects in your true beliefs that reflect an “evil” world view. Read more
This is Faith in Play #6: True Religion, for May 2018.
In the earliest versions of Dungeons & Dragons™, the original role playing game from which all others (including those electronic games that call themselves “RPGs”) are descended, there was a rules section known as alignment. Many players did not understand it; many gamers did not use it; it was often badly abused. However, I think it was one of the best and most important parts of the game, and I often defended and explained it.
I am going to make the perhaps rather absurd claim that I am a recognized authority on the subject of alignment in original Advanced Dungeons & Dragons™. I know, that’s ridiculous. However, I am also going to prove it. When Gary Gygax was promoting his Lejendary Journeys role playing game, he placed on his web site exactly two links to pages related to Dungeons & Dragons™ One was to my Alignment Quiz, which had already been coded into an automated version by a Cal Tech computer student and translated into German. The other was my page on choosing character alignment in my Dungeons & Dragons™ character creation web site. He apparently believed I had a solid understanding of the issues.
So big deal. I’m an expert in a game mechanic concept that isn’t even used by most of the few people who still play that game. However, even if you don’t use it, don’t play that game, I think alignment is important to understand, because ultimately the character alignment was the real religious beliefs of the characters in the game world. Read more
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? Read more
There are ultimately two views of the universe. It is not quite so simple as the Christian view versus everyone else; that which Christians believe about the universe is shared by many other people. But the prevailing view of the age is not the Christian view; and if we are to bring our faith to bear in our games, perhaps we can start by creating worlds in which the Christian view is a bit more clearly true. Read more
Last month as we explored ways to express our faith in our gaming, we suggested that it could be done by playing the Good Guys. But we also insisted that this was not the only way it could be done. In fact, quite unexpectedly, we can often bring our faith to bear on a game by playing the villains. This is done, most commonly, by revealing what evil truly is. C. S. Lewis once wrote that good could easily understand evil, but that evil not only did not understand good, it did not as fully understand itself. Many gamers play evil characters thinking it is the easy and rewarding path. By showing what evil is really about, the Christian gamer can point people to the truth. Read more
Some time ago while on an afternoon picnic with my wife the subject of my writing arose. (I write for the gaming industry, as my biographical information attests, so in a sense we were talking about my work.) The talk took a turn toward my responses to criticisms of role playing games and discussions I had had with others about this, something on which I am perennially working as well-meaning Christians send me scathing, offensive, insulting, hateful letters of condemnation for this “wickedness” in which I am involved and which I promote. One point I mentioned was the circular support created between “cult experts” and “police authorities”. Read more
As children of God, we are charged to walk in the Light.
[I John 1:5] This is the message we have heard from Him and announce to you, that God is Light, and in Him there is no darkness at all.  If we say that we have fellowship with Him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth;  but if we walk in the Light as He Himself is in the Light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin. (UNASB)
Critics of role playing games would argue from this that those who spend their time in fantasy worlds filled with sorcerous magic, powerful demons, evil kingdoms, soul-stealing vampires, and foreign gods are walking in darkness, not in the light. Some would go beyond that and claim that being involved in godless science fiction worlds is equally wicked. They say (although, as we have seen in previous articles in this series, without much foundation) that to play such games is sin. Read more
Abstain from all appearance of evil.
I Thessalonians 5:22, King James Version
Back in September we examined one of those last-line arguments against everything, the notion of the Weaker Brother argument. But there’s another argument marshaled against anything and everything we find objectionable: the appearance of evil.
This last assault is very effective. After all, it could easily be that everything said in defense of Christian rock music, or meat offered to idols, or role playing games, is true, and yet it still might look like evil. We must avoid the appearance of evil. We mustn’t do anything that even looks like it might be wrong. Read more
Last month as we concluded our consideration of Magic, we raised a bigger issue: is it appropriate for characters in a fictional world to call upon any deity?
It is not a simple question. At every turn God has commanded that we have no regard for other gods; it is top of the list in the Ten Commandments, the concept behind many of the prohibitions (from sorcery to cutting the corners of your beard), and the reason why Israel and Judah were conquered by foreign nations. You shall have no other gods before Me.
But at the same time, you shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain.
We are caught between the proverbial two horns. Read more
Last month we talked about Settings, one of the foundation stones of role playing, the worlds in which we play. We could go on and talk about characters, plots, deities, philosophies—but in addressing settings, we opened an important issue that we didn’t address. What do you do about Bad Things, and is it appropriate for Christians to think of these?
At first glance, the answer would seem to be no. “[W]hatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things.” (Phil. 4:8, UNASB) Should we be dwelling on evil that has never happened, perhaps which never would or even could happen?
Yet if we fail to allow that there could be anything bad in our game worlds, then there is no conflict in our stories. We need evil villains so that our characters can be great heroes; or in the absence of such villains, we need catastrophes, disasters, destructive beasts—there has to be something bad in our worlds, or there’s nothing to tell. Read more