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Title: Escaping Reality: The Dangers of Role-Playing Games
Source: Fundamental Baptist Information Service, March 22nd, 2005
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ESCAPING REALITY: THE DANGERS OF ROLE-PLAYING GAMES
March 22, 2005
by Vince Londini
Growing up in an independent Baptist church, we were occasionally warned about the dangers of the occult. Every three to five years, someone whose interest had been piqued would offer a Sunday School lesson or sermon about witchcraft, sorcery, magic, Satanism, and the occult. These lessons would focus on the fantastic, nearly unbelievable activities performed by devotees of these black arts. After being rightly warned to stay far away from anything even remotely occultic, we might hear a few brief thoughts about Dungeon’s and Dragons (D&D). Those warnings focused on the pagan/Satanic material that game authors such as Gary Gygax (of D&D fame) used as source material for creating their pretend magic systems and fictional fantasy worlds. That seemed to be the extent of the warnings I received about role-playing games (RPGs).
As a Jr. High student, my inquisitive mind discovered board-games, strategy war-games, and simulations. My mind was captivated by the prospect of sophisticated make-believe with quasi-realistic representations of the choices a General, WWII squad leader, or stock investor might make. These games, especially the war simulations, began consuming an increasing amount of my time as they often required 40-80 page 8.5x11 inch rule-books and hundreds of small cardboard counters to represent everything from flamethrowers to tanks to individual officers on a battlefield. However, like any lazy North-American child, I quickly tired of misplaying these games because I’d forgotten rule 220.127.116.11 (no kidding) about the correct way to game, for example, the bullet penetration of a .30cal German light machinegun. I think I forgot to count the correct distance for the bullets to penetrate and roll on a chart to see if the units behind the target were injured. That might have changed the entire course of the battle, but it happened five turns ago, and I only just discovered it while looking up rule 7.5.10 about flamethrower operations.
No doubt, you’re already worn-out just reading my recollection! You might be wondering what that has to do with role-playing. The summer before I entered High School, I discovered RPGs. While similar to war-games and simulations in having large rulebooks, the role-playing rules taught the players how to tell an interactive story. The story focused on a character controlled by the player. Each player makes every decision his respective character faces as the story unfolds. The rulebooks provided fictional background material and a combat system to game man-to-man (or beast, as the case may be) combat using a variety of weapons. In general, the rules were far less complex than war-games and the immersive escapist aspects of the story far more intense, precisely because it wasn’t being interrupted by for obscure rules.
I discovered the “Middle Earth Role-Playing” Game (MERP) by Iron Crown Enterprises (I.C.E.). In Jr. High I found and read Tolkien’s famous Lord of the Rings saga set in his imaginary world of Middle Earth. While some aspects of the story were beyond my adolescent attention-span, my imagination enjoyed the idea of elves, dwarves, humans and hobbits using good magic to fight orcs, trolls, and their evil allies. Over the next 10 years I would read the complete trilogy 3 times, the introductory volume called “The Hobbit” some five or six times, and in attempts to re-read the trilogy I re-read “The Fellowship of the Ring” over 10 times. I also read some of Tolkien’s other works that laid more background material for his mythology, such as the Silmarillion. We bought piles of rules manuals and source books for the games that expanded the story from the original premises and read all of these many times.
Notice three reasons I was attracted to role-playing. One, the game I found allowed me to pretend to be a character in a fictional story I had already come to enjoy. Two, the game I found was set in a fictional world already declared “safe” by my Dad and Mom and peers. Sure, I’d seen D&D on the shelves before, but I wasn’t the slightest bit interested. I knew THAT was wrong. But, Tolkien’s stories were just harmless fantasy, right? Besides, it’s just a game, isn’t it? Three, the game I found was better than just reading a story or watching TV, because it involved telling your own story and making choices to discover how the story was going to turn out.
O CHRISTIAN, BEWARE! It took 10 years to pull that sinful hook out of my flesh. My deceitful, self-pleasing, worldly-affectionate heart led me to help the world, flesh and devil hook me good. I’m still a weaker man today for having given my heart to role-playing games. Please let me warn you about the three key dangers role-playing games pose to the born-again Christian.
ROLE-PLAYING GAMES GLORIFY AND PROMOTE VIOLENCE
Whether fantasy (meaning quasi-medieval with sorcery thrown in), science-fiction, horror, or historical, role-playing games most often promote and glorify violence. Regardless of what simulation-like elements the game play may contain, at their core these games are about killing or defeating one’s opponents in order to gain wealth, possessions, and “experience.” The player then uses these gains to better equip and train his character to provide better capabilities for killing or defeating more powerful opponents.
These games are battle simulations. Each battle is carefully and minutely simulated. Usually, each blow the player’s character inflicts on his opponents is calculated, recorded, and affects his final score. The player dictates every step, swing, and action his character makes trying to best the latest crop of enemies that have arrived on the scene. Upon winning, the player’s character collects the loot from the fallen foes and enriches himself, better equipping himself to face the next battle. After each battle, the player’s character earns a score, often called “experience points,” which will eventually allow the player to upgrade his character’s abilities.
After gaming, players will often recount parts of the battle where things went best for them or the humorous mistakes from which their character barely recovered, glorying in their “skill” at defeating the enemy. Since the outcome of the battles is usually controlled by dice and some sort of odds tables, the battles are not always predictable. The player’s character may become seriously wounded or killed, in which case powerful magic in the form of herbs, spells, potions, or sorcery may be needed to miraculously and unrealistically heal the character; otherwise the player will have to start from scratch with a new character.
However, players want their characters to engage in lots of battles so they can get rich and gain lots of experience points to better their character. The player longs to make his character more powerful in order to be more violent. Typically, the players are bruising for a fight, ordering their characters to travel into enemy territory to pick a fight with the enemy, so they (their characters) can hack them to pieces (fill them full of arrows, fry them with fireballs, you get the picture) and steal their wealth.
This violent and greedy behavior is justified by declaring those opponents to be the enemy, usually by dint of their inherent evil nature, thereby justifying any and all use of force to kill them and steal their possessions. These games glorify violence by heaping rewards and praise on those who are the most successful at eliminating their enemies.
Let’s test these activities with God’s Word. In Genesis 6:11-13 we read, “The earth also was corrupt before God, and the earth was filled with violence. And God looked upon the earth, and, behold, it was corrupt; for all flesh had corrupted his way upon the earth. And God said unto Noah, The end of all flesh is come before me; for the earth is filled with violence through them; and, behold, I will destroy them with the earth.” The primary sin for which God destroyed the world with a flood was violence. God repeats this cause twice in His assessment of humanity before His judgment.
In Psalm 11:5 God says, “The LORD trieth the righteous: but the wicked and him that loveth violence his soul hateth.” God says that He hates those who give their hearts over to love violence!
Why on earth would a born-again soul want to spend his time pretending to be violent? Why would he enjoy imagining doing things that God hates? Even if he found his flesh attracted to those things, wouldn’t his loyalty to Christ and the command to “set your affection on things above” convince the Christian to abandon this love for violence? Doesn’t this warning against violence also condemn a whole host of “first-person shooter” video games and other computer/video games as well?
ROLE-PLAYING GAMES GLORIFY AND PROMOTE WITCHCRAFT
While this aspect of role-playing games was addressed during my formative years, I foolishly believed there could be “good” magic instead of “bad” magic. Nearly every RPG involves “magic” whereby the rules attempt to game the imagined effects of magical incantations and abilities. Science-fiction or “horror” RPGs will imagine the existence of ESP, telepathy, and other “psionic (psi) powers” with basically the same effect.
The player’s character uses spells and magic items in fantasy gaming (psi-powers and non-existent technology devices in Sci-Fi gaming) as a shortcut to defeat opponents beyond the character’s ability. From here on, I’ll usually refer to fantasy role-playing, but you can fill in the terms for the other genres as I did for Sci-Fi in the previous sentence.
Magic in these games is considered a good thing, much sought after to gain advantage such as: Spells, potions, amulets, wands, staves, rods, scrolls, runes (cryptic magical writing), bracelets, rings, necklaces, magic weapons, magic armor, and magic clothing. As a young Christian, I knew magic was bad, but we so enjoyed the game effects of the magical spells and items, that our games invariably involved a lot of them. We wouldn’t game actual spiritual realities like demons or Hell, but we reveled in magic swords and spells, and we thought we could do “good” with them. What a curse!
Notice that in I Samuel 15:23, as God looks for something terrible enough to compare with the sin of rebellion, He settles on witchcraft. “For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, and stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry…” Three times God commanded OT Israel to put magic users to death (Exodus 22:18, Leviticus 20:27, Deuteronomy 18:10-22). The root of all such occupations and pursuits is Satan. God’s children are to have nothing to do with it. The worst king in Judah, Manassah, was condemned for witchcraft, “And he caused his children to pass through the fire in the valley of the son of Hinnom: also he observed times, and used enchantments, and used witchcraft, and dealt with a familiar spirit, and with wizards: he wrought much evil in the sight of the LORD, to provoke him to anger” (2 Chronicles 33:6).
In the NT, God warns that those who habitually practice witchcraft are not born-again, no matter what they claim, and will spend eternity in Hell. “Idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, Envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like: of the which I tell you before, as I have also told you in time past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God” (Galatians 5:20-21).
What foolishness for the born-again soul to let his heart love imagining sorcery and witchcraft, when His God has cursed them in the strongest language! God hates these things, why would we want to pretend to do them?
ROLE-PLAYING GAMES SATURATE THE PLAYER IN AN ANTI-GOD WORLD-VIEW
While the witchcraft aspects of most fantasy RPGs occasionally gets attention from our Biblicist pulpits, this last aspect is often ignored. An entire sermon could be preached here against using fiction, TV, movies, lust, as well as games to escape from thinking about reality and Spiritual truths.
It is just as anti-God to ignore Him, as to curse or attack Him.
With regard to role-playing games, God, Christ, salvation from sin, the Gospel, Heaven, and Hell are either mocked by these games or twisted and warped beyond Scriptural recognition. The players are fed ideas, attitudes, and philosophies about religious and Spiritual truths from a very pagan perspective.
Most born-again souls that get caught up in role-playing games probably have never thought this point through. But, what you’re really telling God when you play any game that glorifies what God opposes or ignores His existence is – “Thanks for creating the World, dying for my Sins, saving my soul, sealing me with your Spirit, and preserving your Word for my instruction; but, I’d rather spend my time pretending to explore an imaginary world whose authors rebel against Your existence by not including You. I know you understand that I need to have my fun.”
What true believer would ever want to say this to God’s face, verbally? But, how many are telling God this by their actions?
According to Psalm 10:4, one of the behaviors of the wicked is his refusal to constantly consider God. “The wicked, through the pride of his countenance, will not seek after God: God is not in all his thoughts.”
The most dangerous aspect of role-playing games is not their sinful content (though that is dangerous), but the temptation the player faces to meditate on the game, imagine future scenarios for the game, and calculate how to game various real-world situations. In other words, these games have great ability to keep one’s mind continually distracted from Spiritual truths and reality when one isn’t wasting time playing them. Each of us need to examine our habits of escapism, consumption of fiction in any form, and where our thoughts dwell when not focused on a present task. This aspect of spending my idle moments indulging in escapist fantasy was the point the Holy Spirit used to convict me of my sin in this area.
In High School, Dad and Mom banned Fantasy Role-Playing in our home. He had awakened to the danger, and was particularly distressed that we were spending time imagining magical shortcuts, when no such thing exists in the real work-a-day world. Hooked by my love for fictional escape from reality, I switched to Science Fiction role-playing. Dad and Mom didn’t like magic? OK, eventually I surrendered. So, we’ll just make-believe in a technologically advanced future. Again, this game situation ignored God, Christ, salvation, the Bible, and the Gospel. Just like my attraction to popular fiction in the form of The Lord of the Rings led me to MERP, I found myself playing the Star Trek Role-Playing Game published by FASA. I spent a lot of money on rule-books and invested time writing my own supplemental rules and materials. I found other Role-Playing systems, and while I avoided the magic aspects, I latched onto anything Science Fiction.
The summer before my Senior year in High School, about 4 years after starting role-playing, I repented of my sins and exercised faith in Christ. My soul was redeemed by the precious blood of Christ! Almost immediately the low-level guilt caused by my conscience and fueled by my Dad and Mom’s discomfort with my hobbies, found fresh pricking from the Spirit of God.
But, the affections of the flesh were thoroughly hooked. My love for Tolkien’s fictional setting was so strong that upon leaving home for university, I returned to MERP. I also wrote new, gorier combat rules for the Star Trek game. My heart rate increased when I saw a new manual for the role-playing games I enjoyed.
It took two years of Bible reading and Christian growth before I would let myself seriously consider whether my role-playing games were actually sin. How could I give up something I loved so dearly? Something to which I devotedly gave hundreds of hours of my time? Something for which I’d begun writing my own rule-books and stories? Something for which my growing knowledge of life in general as well as my Engineering studies provided lots of fresh ideas and materials for gaming situations and rules calculations? The older I got, the more sophisticated my make-believe could become. And I was enjoying it!
God used Scripture to convict me about my sin, especially about how I was filling my mind with fiction instead of His Word. “Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ;” (II Corinthians 10:5).
How could I wish for more time to spend escaping from reality in a fantasy world? How could I honor God and yet want to spend time ignoring Him? How could I emulate one of the prime characteristics of the wicked, the refusal to think about God? Why would I want to continue spending my idle moments thinking about fictional escapes from reality instead of praying or meditating on Scripture?
“And they that are Christ's have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts” (Galatians 5:24). Praise God! His indwelling Spirit enables the Christian to yield to righteousness and live in victory over the flesh.
This victory comes in a purging process, as Paul described in Romans 7, involving times of success and failure. Because we choose to defy God’s indwelling spirit and obey the lusts of our flesh, we are in danger of becoming enslaved again to sin. Romans 6:13-17 with II Peter 1:5-11 describe the need for Christians to choose righteousness, pursue holiness, and remember the danger of the sins they left behind. I cannot express the struggle my flesh has given me over the years, lusting for a return to its all-time favorite hobby.
I don’t want to share the humbling details of the games I’ve gone back to for a short season, or the unwise, sinful purchases I’ve made. For me, giving up the pencil and paper role-playing game was far easier than abandoning ungodly, worldly computer games which are just as sinful as the games I’ve described, because they contain many of the same elements. Over the course of my adolescence, I foolishly spent months and years forming these sinful habits and affections. They didn’t just disappear when I decided I wanted them to go away. Beware the dangerous hooks of sin!
Instead, let me praise God for the victory God has given me as I yielded to His spirit and chose to obey His Word. I began to spend more time each day reading His Word and praying. I invested “time-off” in Christian service and Gospel outreach. He extricated my life from vain distractions and called me into His service! He continues to patiently chasten me and mold me. May God be magnified!