Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Role-Playing Games and Their Christian Critics

Al Hsu writes about how Dungeons & Dragons (and gamer culture in general) triumphed over its conservative Christian critics:

It occurs to me now that in the Gygax vs. Gothard smackdown, Gygax ultimately triumphed. Why? I think because whereas Gothard and other conservative Christians defensively attacked D&D out of fears of Satan worship, Gygax and D&D created an appealing world and fascinating narrative that people could enter into. It was participatory, and it also created community. Rogers notes, "You needed at least three people to play — two adventurers and one Dungeon Master to guide the game — so Dungeons & Dragons was social. Demented and sad, but social."

That was my experience with gaming. Although the games themselves were interesting, it was largely a means to an end: social contact for an extremely socially isolated boy. Role-playing games were the perfect social activity. More so than a pickup game of basketball or watching a movie with friends, RPGs are driven by communication, empathy, and friendship.

I find myself missing gamer life, these days, in large part due to the social isolation of the pastorate. The pastor hat rarely comes off and although I have friends and colleagues and accountability partners, I don't have buddies anymore. And I miss that.

HT: Jollyblogger


cometothewaters said...

John, the loss of 'buddies' (what is the proper term for female pals?) is one I hear a lot about.

The ministerial life is one in which you are constantly "on stage" it seems. That is a real challenge that it seems we should be engaging actively and talking about.

John said...

I'm just glad that I'm married, or else the pastor hat is one that would never completely come off.

United Method said...

Although I'm slightly too young to catch the big D&D push (my parents played it), I really enjoyed playing Magic: The Gathering. This is, of course, a card version of the fantasy game that still exists today and is a booming enterprise (it was the predecessor and adult version of the Pokemon craze). Two things that RPG's have done for me:

1.) As you so wonderfully put it, they provided a social arena to a person who otherwise didn't fit in.

2.) Provided some kind of escape from the sleepy small town I grew up in.

Today I don't own any cards (but will regularly play my brother on family holidays) but have found a home again with internet gaming.

I don't know if it is appropriate to say that conservative Christianity failed in its approach to DnD. While conservative Christians might not have stopped the playing of games, they certainly raised the issue that should always be present whenever people get together to play something - Its just a game.

In a similar instance, as a historically methodist Christian I remember Wesley and the early Methodist church thought playing cards was worthy of hell. Texas Hold Em is boomin baby!

Ontario Emperor said...

How do pastors in isolated rural areas cope? I live in a suburban area, where my pastors are surrounded by other pastors and others who can serve as accountability partners. What if you're in an area where there are few people who can serve in this capacity?

Perhaps they need RPG sessions at pastoral conferences. :)

Ken Lowery said...

I'm just a lay person, but I was pretty well into this stuff as a teenager—still am, though now it's more in theory than in practice.

That said, I'm starting up a game of Hunter: The Reckoning this weekend, with myself as GM. I've done a lot of online RPGs, which have their definite bonuses, but nothing quite beats getting together with friends around a table...

A gaming room at a pastoral conference would not be a bad idea at all.

Marie N. said...

My Dad is a pastor. For the last 40 years of his career he has enjoyed regular get-togethers with his war-gaming buddies. When I was a child they set up huge game boards -- maps with millions of little hexagons on them -- and played out their battles. Now they play the same games on their computers.

Since the social element is more wanting now, Dad has picked up RML baseball. He gets together with at least one other player at a time for the baseball draft, playing the ball games, and to go to dinner with the families. Excellent de-stressing.

Art said...

I totally agree with you, John. D&D and AD&D were totally about the social experience for me from junior high well into college.

Brett said...

just curious if perhaps keeping your blog helps with the social isolation? I have really enjoyed keeping my blog over the past few years largely in part to the contacts I have made. It may not be deep friendships, but I have been able ask for your input (along with a few others) about things in my life, and I have enjoyed the feedback. It's not that I see you as a pastor, but as someone who I have things in common with.
I'm not a pastor, but I can empathize. When everyone has expectations of perfection from their pastor, it's hard to let people get close.
I never got into role playing, I think mostly because my parents would have feared for my eternal soul. I remember bringing the Dragonlance Chronicles trilogy home in grade school (still one of my favorite set of books) and fighting with them to let me read.

John said...

A gaming table at Annual Conference would be very, very nice.


Yes. Very much so. I blog, in large part, because it provides me with a community that I cherish dearly.

jockeystreet said...

Most of my closest, longest-enduring friendships started when we were teenagers, I was a GM, and they were fearless Elves ready to take on the hordes of Chaos... A 12 hour gaming session always was (and still is, on the rare chances we still get together for such things) about 2 hours eating, 8 hours hanging out and telling jokes, and 2 hours of actual playing...

Wesley Sanders said...

D&D has been one of the best ways for me to develop and maintain lasting friendships in college. I've had to defend my playing of such games to my Christian friends on more than one occasion. It is not about learning occult spells or devil-worshiping, but about social interaction.

And now with D&D 4th Ed. coming out, the tabletop roleplaying experience will be available through the Internet in a different way than games like World of Warcraft are. It lets someone still be the dungeon master and create the world. And hopefully, it will help me stay out of isolation a bit when I join the ranks of the pastorate.

Forest said...

I am a evangelist (licensed Southern Baptist Preacher) and gamer yes, I play D&D and other role playing games most of the Pastors around my city would freak if they knew about my hobby (my home church knows as well as my accountability crew.) and I also lament the loss of buddies.