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How Dungeons & Dragons Beat Fundamentalism

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08 Oct 2018 08:00 #282833 by san il defanso

Every week I take part in something that would have seriously troubled many of the people with whom I grew up. I set up a cardboard shield with a big picture of people fighting a dragon on the front. I unload a stack of hardcover books, gather a couple sets of polyhedral dice, and take on the role of Dungeon Master. My friends and I have been working through the Dungeons & Dragons module Tomb of Annihilation. It's one of the highlights of my week. I'm a Christian, and I play Dungeons & Dragons.

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08 Oct 2018 09:37 #282834 by Gary Sax
Good article!

I'm glad you pointed out the weirdness of gygax first edition. It was all bs to begin with, obviously, but people definitely forget how off-putting 1st edition was. I think that must have enhanced the effect. A lot of it was not... so Tolkienesque...
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08 Oct 2018 10:01 #282838 by Jackwraith
Good article (Kneejerk editing moment: "palatable.")

It's interesting that you mention the Judeo-Christian themes in Harry Potter as kind of a contrast to Lord of the Rings, considering that the latter is essentially nothing but a Christian fable. Tolkien was a devout Roman Catholic and the story is rife with references to that perspective; from the resistance of temptation (the One Ring) to mercy toward the fallen (Gollum) to the death and resurrection of Gandalf. That same outlook permeates essentially all of Tolkien's writings, right down to the creation myths in the Silmarillion and the Return of the King appendices, which talk about the pride of Melkor which led to him being cast out, among other things. Tolkien admitted that the story was essentially a "Catholic work" in some of his letters to his son and C.S. Lewis.

That's why I, like you, always kind of arched an eyebrow at those who were convinced that D&D and fantasy, in general, were somehow "non-Christian". There are lot of pretty amazing fantasy stories in the Bible...
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08 Oct 2018 10:31 #282841 by Jexik
Even the first Matrix with all of its black and sunglasses and murder was very Christian. Which is why the other two movies felts so hamfisted...
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08 Oct 2018 10:52 - 08 Oct 2018 10:52 #282843 by Shellhead
Around the peak of the fundamentalist scare-mongering about D&D, my Catholic father decided that he should investigate my hobby further. Instead of doing an inquisition, he asked me how to play the game. I gave him a general overview, then helped him roll up a fighter character. That took over an hour, but it was enough for him to get a feel for what the game was about. He told me that he didn't have time to play just then, but I understood that he was just making sure that I wasn't getting into some dark occult trouble. I was either 14 or 15 at the time.
Last edit: 08 Oct 2018 10:52 by Shellhead.
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08 Oct 2018 11:10 #282844 by Hadik

Shellhead wrote: Around the peak of the fundamentalist scare-mongering about D&D, my Catholic father decided that he should investigate my hobby further. Instead of doing an inquisition, he asked me how to play the game. I gave him a general overview, then helped him roll up a fighter character. That took over an hour, but it was enough for him to get a feel for what the game was about. He told me that he didn't have time to play just then, but I understood that he was just making sure that I wasn't getting into some dark occult trouble. I was either 14 or 15 at the time.


Props to your dad for taking such a cool approach.

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08 Oct 2018 11:24 #282845 by san il defanso

Jackwraith wrote: Good article (Kneejerk editing moment: "palatable.")

It's interesting that you mention the Judeo-Christian themes in Harry Potter as kind of a contrast to Lord of the Rings, considering that the latter is essentially nothing but a Christian fable. Tolkien was a devout Roman Catholic and the story is rife with references to that perspective; from the resistance of temptation (the One Ring) to mercy toward the fallen (Gollum) to the death and resurrection of Gandalf. That same outlook permeates essentially all of Tolkien's writings, right down to the creation myths in the Silmarillion and the Return of the King appendices, which talk about the pride of Melkor which led to him being cast out, among other things. Tolkien admitted that the story was essentially a "Catholic work" in some of his letters to his son and C.S. Lewis.

That's why I, like you, always kind of arched an eyebrow at those who were convinced that D&D and fantasy, in general, were somehow "non-Christian". There are lot of pretty amazing fantasy stories in the Bible...


I would say that Tolkien is not nearly as widely read among Christian youth. He's read by fantasy fans of course, but EVERYONE read Harry Potter. As a reading experience it has been far more ubiquitous.

I think the moral panic surrounding Harry Potter makes it a bigger gateway. That's really the most recent widespread Christian panic over a pop culture phenomenon. And it was so thoroughly false it's hard to imagine it.

Also, palatable is on my list of words I never spell right.

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08 Oct 2018 11:39 - 08 Oct 2018 12:36 #282846 by Jackwraith

san il defanso wrote: I would say that Tolkien is not nearly as widely read among Christian youth. He's read by fantasy fans of course, but EVERYONE read Harry Potter. As a reading experience it has been far more ubiquitous.

I think the moral panic surrounding Harry Potter makes it a bigger gateway. That's really the most recent widespread Christian panic over a pop culture phenomenon. And it was so thoroughly false it's hard to imagine it.


Huh. That's interesting. I mean, I suppose it makes sense from a publishing standpoint, given that Rowling's books are both much more recent and more accessible to younger readers (I read LotR when I was eight, but I'm strange like that.) But I'd thought with the success of the films as you mentioned that Tolkien would have a larger place in that sphere.
Last edit: 08 Oct 2018 12:36 by Jackwraith.

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08 Oct 2018 15:22 #282850 by Joebot

san il defanso wrote:
I think the moral panic surrounding Harry Potter makes it a bigger gateway. That's really the most recent widespread Christian panic over a pop culture phenomenon. And it was so thoroughly false it's hard to imagine it.


The release of "The Golden Compass" movie raised a bit of a stink among Catholics, as I recall. Their reaction was really hilarious. The author, Philip Pullman, is a very outspoken atheist, who clearly has some strong, negative views toward all organized religions. In the book, there's this giant, monotheist church simply called "The Magistrate." This is all clearly set in a made-up fantasy world, and Pullman never use the words "Catholic" or "Christian." He depicted a powerful, tyrannical religious organization with very sinister motives, and the Catholic church said, "Heyyyyyy, is that supposed to be us?!?" I always thought that was funny how the Catholic church recognized themselves in the Magistrate.

Anyway, GREAT book, shitty movie.

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08 Oct 2018 18:41 #282859 by Colorcrayons
That was a great article. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on it.

Ummm... during high school, and subsequently during seminary alongside my DM (both became ordained methodist through Howard Payne), we played second ed throughout the nineties. Twice a week, 8 hours each session for nearly a decade.

But we were heavily interested in the fantasy genre long before the calling was heard.

We got the compulsory ChickTracts left on the door, seen as we all departed the session for the night. We saw this as a sign of "doing it right" in the face of conservative oppression in south texas. I suppose we were loud enough to be heard from the street, and concerned fundies took it upon themselves to educate us in the error of our ways.

Yet while we were political moderates, we may as well have been communists in that area, for free thinking outside of the herd mentality isn't gladly suffered by the populace of that area. The ecumenical order may seem to promote questioning faith for a stronger bond with God, but in practice the hypocrisy was thick.

Despite this, we were able to show the members of our congregations that D&D was really just a game, whose infamy was inflated by ignorance based on rumors and not experience. Battling that was a slow process, yet the congregants grew to overlook their previous bias by our actions and education. There were some congregants that left because of our involvement with the "Devil's Game", but you can't educate those who wish to remain violently ignorant.

In a way, this microcosm reflects how the conservative religious people work in politics as well. Because challenging a preconceived notion effectively is a frightening thing, and the fear of change is so very very real.

This was a contributing factor to my eventual apostasy.

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08 Oct 2018 19:08 #282860 by WadeMonnig
Just a quick poll exploring Tolkien and dnd. What was your first character named? Saruman the white was mine. I remember my cousins was Pip (from great expectations).

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08 Oct 2018 20:03 #282863 by Erik Twice
It's so bizarre to read about this from a Spanish perspective, not because the political and religious angle is so different but because this anti-RPG hysteria was actually imported by the media of the day much later.

I don't know when it all started, but the center of the controvery was the "Katana killer", a supposedly RPG-obsessed teenager who had killed his parents. The game? Actually Final Fantasy VII and the proof included some incredible facts such as "the character was so obsessed he looked like Squall".

The focus around here was not on religion, but on the games being pernicious or mentally harmful. I remember an article I came across, from El Pais, I think, which explained that roleplaying games "melted the brain", Don Quixote-style. There was this sense that they were harmful books, with unsuitable content. Kind of a "games will make you violent" or "games will make you unempathic" kind of vibe. I remember being told that "yeah, there are games and games" and to watch out.

I think this shows the underlying issue. The fear here is not the content of the games themselves but fear of the unknown of "what my kids are doing".

After all, this kind of games or, well, games as a whole were fairly new. Parents did not play any games but Monopoly or Mus, they were not into this "nerdy stuff" and they were not exposed to it in any other way. People just didn't know, just like people didn't know about these "Japanese cartoons". Parents were worried about their kids doing something they didn't understand, though they didn't bother understanding it.

While the content is wildly divorced from the media panic, I do think it has something to do with it. It is very much non-mainstream: Magic, violence, horror themes (In Spain, the hysteria matches the time when Vampire: The Masquerade and Chulthu were the biggest games) as well as the goth subculture, musical groups and so on.

In a sense, I think the biggest change is exposure. This is less of a "weird teen thing" than it was a couple decades ago.
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08 Oct 2018 20:06 - 08 Oct 2018 20:16 #282864 by san il defanso

Joebot wrote:

san il defanso wrote:
I think the moral panic surrounding Harry Potter makes it a bigger gateway. That's really the most recent widespread Christian panic over a pop culture phenomenon. And it was so thoroughly false it's hard to imagine it.


The release of "The Golden Compass" movie raised a bit of a stink among Catholics, as I recall. Their reaction was really hilarious. The author, Philip Pullman, is a very outspoken atheist, who clearly has some strong, negative views toward all organized religions. In the book, there's this giant, monotheist church simply called "The Magistrate." This is all clearly set in a made-up fantasy world, and Pullman never use the words "Catholic" or "Christian." He depicted a powerful, tyrannical religious organization with very sinister motives, and the Catholic church said, "Heyyyyyy, is that supposed to be us?!?" I always thought that was funny how the Catholic church recognized themselves in the Magistrate.

Anyway, GREAT book, shitty movie.


I should read His Dark Materials.

This is a good point, and it drives home my own limited viewpoint. My own background is evangelical (in the doctrinal, not political sense, although that's definitely a component). Today more conservative Catholics get balled up in fundamentalism because of some political stances, but on the ground they are still quite separate. I know that mistrust of Catholicism was a big part of the culture in which I grew up, though not from my parents.

Anyway, I'm not sure what other religious backgrounds we have here, besides Christian and generally unaffiliated/atheist, as well as some Jewish members. I'd really be curious to know how other faiths interacted with this topic that was so controversial in American Christianity.

(Also I hope I don't over-generalize anyone's religious beliefs or lack thereof. That's certainly not my intent.)
Last edit: 08 Oct 2018 20:16 by san il defanso.

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08 Oct 2018 21:05 #282868 by Shellhead

Erik Twice wrote: In a sense, I think the biggest change is exposure. This is less of a "weird teen thing" than it was a couple decades ago.


The internet has been around for decades, starting with Arpanet. But the internet went mainstream nearly 20 years ago, and geeks ruled the early internet. In the U.S., science fiction movies were already a big deal, and by the '90s, sci-fi was also a big deal on network television. Then the comic book movies started getting good, and the Lord of the Rings ruled the box office. Geek went mainstream, or maybe the mainstream went somewhat geeky, to the same effect.

At the same time, there was a seemingly endless series of sports scandals. Sometimes it was just individual athletes screwing up, but other times, entire sports were tainted by scandals, especially many Olympic events. Sports fans are still a big deal, but they are increasingly seen as a different variety of nerd instead of the defacto mainstream.

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08 Oct 2018 21:47 #282870 by Hadik

WadeMonnig wrote: Just a quick poll exploring Tolkien and dnd. What was your first character named? Saruman the white was mine. I remember my cousins was Pip (from great expectations).


Damn I can’t remember his name but he was basically Legolas.

I was a born again by the time I played D&D with a mix of other Christians and unchurched friends. Our DM was actually Jehovah’s Witness. From elementary school we all felt bad that he didn’t celebrate Christmas or birthdays.

Beneath my born-again faith I remained Catholic. I never rejected it or felt like I stopped being Catholic. I had come to it in a setting that was accepting that you could keep your denomination.

In this little meshwork D&D never had a controversial side. Except maybe it was nerdier than anything my older siblings would have ever played.

Our buddy, the metal head in our group, played an evil paladin and enjoyed being edgy and killing people. To make him pay we would often tied his character up and shoved him into rooms ahead of us. It was all fun. He was playing it right.
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