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Conspiracies & Catholicism: Dungeons & Dragons

June 3, AD2014 19 Comments

Foxfier - Dungeons & Dragons

 

“Wait, you’re Catholic? Uh…why are you playing Dungeons and Dragons? Your church doesn’t allow that.”

This question was actually asked by a Cradle Catholic gamer friend. He’s not a “practicing Catholic”, because his aunt insisted exactly that– Catholics can’t play Dungeons and Dragons (D&D), or read fantasy, or for all I know read fairy tales.  I pointed him to Jimmy Akin‘s post about Limbo, and blog posts by some gaming priests.  I know I’ve told this story before. I’ve seen it happen several times, with minor variations, where people are driven out of the Church not by what we teach, but why what they were told we teach. The best I’ve managed is to bring them from a visceral hatred of the Church to an anger at some people in the Church.

So, can Catholics play Dungeons and Dragons?

Well, for starters, almost all of modern popular fantasy (of which D&D is a sizable subgroup) has a common ancestor, and he was Catholic. I highly suggest you read that fairly short biography. It is touching. JRR Tolkien’s influence is quite heavy almost everywhere you look, even if it’s being deliberately altered to stand apart. He was building a mythology, and he planted his roots in many mythologies, quite solidly, and I cannot sufficiently recommend his essays.

Now, that does not actually answer if Catholics can play D&D, but it is a good starting point; if the Professor was a known saint, it would definitely answer the claim in the negative! (If you think his case should be investigated, there is a facebook group trying to establish his reputation for sanctity. Not sure if I’ll join, but that’s because I’m not on Facebook much, not because I wouldn’t ask him to pray for me.)

The Catechism, of course, has something to say about the ‘sources of morality

CCC 1750 the morality of human acts depends on:

- the object chosen;
- the end in view or the intention;
- the circumstances of the action.

The object, the intention, and the circumstances make up the “sources,” or constitutive elements, of the morality of human acts.

To figure out if it’s moral, let’s start with what it is.

The Object

DDcover The Game

Role playing games (RPGs), of which Dungeons and Dragons is probably the best known, are something like a cross between writing a story and doing an improvised play. You make your character, set their name, history and “stats”– numbers that describe what they can do– and in most versions you set their “alignment,” which tells you something about your character’s personality.

Depending upon the setting, your GM (that’s the Game Master– also sometimes Dungeon Master– the person who plays everyone that isn’t a player controlled character) is chosen for the ‘campaign. You may pick a god or entire group of gods for your character to follow. If that made your ears perk up for why folks would object to the game– they’re not God type gods, but more Greek type \’gods,\’ simplified to make the game mechanics work better. Some of them are embodiments of very Christian virtues, such as the Suffering God; some are flat out evil in a wide variety of ways.

The magic associated with them is much closer to real world, historical magic than the “arcane” magic’ in the game, but it’s just a variation on prayer with amazingly reliable results. A ‘cleric’ will say something like “I cast minor heal on our warrior!” and they roll their dice to see how many ‘hit points’ the other character gained.

It’s a lot more fun once you get the hang of the mechanics, kind of like the difference between reading when you have to sound out each letter laboriously as compared to when you just know almost all the words you find; you can focus more on the story. One of the hardest things for a new player is to separate themselves from their character– not as in “I think I am a level two Gnomish wizard,” but in that they take it personally when their character fails or dies. Getting “in to character” means that you figure out what the character you’ve made would do with the information they have– and not using out of character knowledge, like that the GM really likes to use a specific monster, or really likes traps, or is directly copying a story everyone knows for comedic effect, such as having a big sign that says ‘ACME’ on a box.

So, is there anything inherently wrong with a Catholic telling a story? Obviously not. Even if it’s a group effort.

Is it wrong for a Catholic to tell stories about the Greek gods? If so, someone forgot to tell the ancient monks that are the only reason we know about them!

Can a Catholic be a villain in a play? Well, yes, or there wouldn’t have been any plays in Catholic countries.

So, how about its intent?

The Intention

A Game Books

It’s a game, like bowling. Some people will include teaching– for an Eberron campaign, I played a cleric of “Natural Law” partly because it was a fun way to expose folks to a little Catholic philosophy. (Think of it like a “Bowling to End Hunger” drive.)
The thing is, a Catholic should not glorify evil. If you’re building a world (game setting) where evil is good, good is stupid and anybody who thinks differently is clearly a moron. It’s going to take a lot to make that work. This isn’t very helpful because it’s a matter of prudence; as Msgr. Fleetwood pointed out about Harry Potter. It’s very easy to misunderstand or read too much into a topic.

I think a properly run game is going to make people think about the morality of their actions– as my mom says, the way you play is the way you live. I know I can’t empathize enough to play a chaotic evil character. But a chaotic neutral one (essentially, as I play it, able to make friends but does not recognize the humanity of those they don’t like) is entirely possible; enough of a menace to the rest of the party to not glorify such a thing in the least. With that said, it must be done right– notoriously it’s been said that most players think they’re lawful good, but play chaotic evil; much like in life, you’ve got to pay attention to the essence, not the paint job. This is a prudential judgment.

 

How about circumstances?

Modern Modern Sun Worshiper

Well, if you are a recovering Wiccan, or tempted to sin by something, don’t do the things that temp you. If you know someone is tempted to sin by subjects in a game, don’t keep hassling them to join in because “it’s just a game.”

Act like you love someone– really love them, not like you want them to do what you think is right to the point you will mislead them into thinking things are committing a sin when they are not. I’m very sure that the various relatives that drove my friends out of the Faith meant well. Thing is, they substituted their beliefs and gave false teaching, driving out people that could have been a bedrock of the next generation of Catholics.

****

For a different angle, here’s Jimmy Akin again. I wish I remembered if this was one of the articles I’d forwarded to my old gaming buddies!

© 2014.  Foxfier. All rights reserved.

 

About the Author:

Former sailor and technician, current geek, "three prong" conservative, mother and practicing Catholic. Happily married to TrueBlue. Ranch raised in rural Washington, currently settled in the Seattle Blob.

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  • johnnyc

    If someone leaves or does not enter the Church that Jesus founded, the Catholic Church because they can’t or think they can’t play a game then that is silly and that is what you should be writing on instead of giving it justification. Let’s be real here….magnify this and it will lead to how some ‘catholics’ claim they left the Church because they did not find Jesus when all along they in fact could not accept one of His teachings.

    • http://foxfier.wordpress.com Foxfier

      If the Church was so stupid as to actually teach that people go to hell for doing improv, then She would not be worth following. It would be a foolish rule.

      Why are you trying to excuse lying to children about what the Church teaches?

    • http://foxfier.wordpress.com Foxfier

      I am Catholic because the Church has the truth; if she was teaching false things– worse yet, stupidly unsupported falsehoods– then she wouldn’t be worthy of being followed, because the Church would not lead to the Truth.

    • johnnyc

      I was not referring to what the Church teaches. My point was that the idea of leaving the Church because of what someone else said and not finding out for yourself what the Church teaches is silly. It seems the person was predisposed to leaving anyway.I’m not sure how lying to children got involved. Your an adult right playing this game right?

    • http://foxfier.wordpress.com Foxfier

      You want to blame those who were lied to, by those responsible for teaching them, because they didn’t find out it was a lie?

  • David Peters

    I would not play this game or want my children to play it. It is too much in the wrong direction, at least from what I understand about it. However you’ve made alot of good points here and you gave me alot to think about. I especially like your thoughts at the end about acting in love towards others. Thanks.

    • http://foxfier.wordpress.com Foxfier

      A prudent choice– you know your family better than I do!

      I just don’t want more people driven off by being told someone’s prudent choice– often in ignorance, based off of bad TV movies that mangled reality horribly, for those my age– is a binding teaching.

    • David Peters

      I understand. Sometimes what we think is based on what others say, without looking at the facts.

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  • Jonathan Boothby

    As a Catholic gamer myself I want to say bravo, the reaction I get in game stores and cons when people find out I’m Catholic is always disbelief and bemused smiles.

  • Shawna Mathieu

    If you haven’t, I recommend going online and looking up “The Pulling Report”. it’s a thorough, well researched article demolishing the arguments and histrionics that people like Pat Pulling, who founded Bothered About Dungeons and Dragons after her son committed suicide, allegedly over D&D. She got lots of press, and, as she and others like her apparently thought actually touching a Player’s Handbook sold your soul to Satan, they flat made up things that were NEVER there.

    • http://foxfier.wordpress.com Foxfier

      Like that guy on the (Jack) Chick website that claims D&D writers came to verify the rituals in the game?
      (For those who don’t play: there aren’t rituals. There are spell conditions, like you can “throw” a fireball or you have to “touch” to cast a heal spell, and a bunch of other things that are there to try to “balance” the game so you don’t have an automatic win.)

      I know they make up a lot of garbage about Church history, but to lie about something that is so incredibly easy to check! There’s got to be some mental illness involved, by the people telling the original lies. I don’t so much blame those who were lied to, unless they were actually playing D&D at the time or otherwise had good reason to know it was a lie.

  • Christopher Mathieu

    I like to direct nay-sayers and skeptics to The Escapist, a website dedicated to gaming advocacy. It does a very good job of explaining how role-playing games work, and the benefits they provide, and addresses issues like religion and morality.

    http://www.theescapist.com/

    • Mike Adams

      Cool, or why many of us became gamers in the first place. Or it made it harder for the bullys to handle 6 gamers together..

  • http://a-star-of-hope.blogspot.com/ JoAnna Wahlund

    Love this! My husband and I are adult converts and D&D fans. We play as often as practicable. (Our current favorite is the new Star Wars RPG.)

  • http://commonsensecatholicism.blogspot.com/ Kevin Tierney

    As a long time gamer, I always hear the story of “but you’re Catholic, how can you play D n D?” Yet I’ve never actually experienced it with my fellow gamers. I don’t do the tabletop stuff, I don’t have time. I love the Black Isle games of the early/mid 90′s based off of DnD (and how awfully the ruleset at the time translated to the video game world!) but most of my fellow gamers just understood I was a Catholic who played games.
    Nobody thought I was an evil sith because I played SWG. In fact, everyone loved when I did the roleplaying/writing about Ulot Ooma was a mid level reformer who didn’t like autocracy, but saw it as clearly preferable to the alternative of a ragtag band of revanchanists who simply wanted to burn the empire just so a spoiled princess could get her tiara.
    Everyone understood that I was acting in character. When I later rebooted that character into a retired military man who used his knowledge of the various worlds to become a huge miner/businessman, and was often ruthless in driving his competition out, everyone understood once again it was in character. And then finally when Ulot progressed to coalition building politician who was far too comfortable with the reigns of power in the Empire that he wasa shell of his “reformist” self, and this eventually led to his downfall.
    During that time Ulot did things his creator wouldn’t. Yet he was a fictional character, who was a device in telling a story. D & D, like all works of art (and yes, it is art), is a device used to tell a story. That story can be good, or it can be crap. It can edify, or it can be a cesspool. It all depends on what you do with it.

    • http://foxfier.wordpress.com Foxfier

      I’ve only heard it in tabletop groups– I suspect because of that “Mazes and Monsters” movie (“based on” the true, sad story of a guy who had serious mental issues and killed himself, but blames it on his LARPing, and conflates that with normal tabletops) or the stuff like Christopher Mathieu mentions.

      For some reason, video games get lumped into movies for this sort of stuff.

      ****
      I thought I replied earlier, but it seems to be gone again– I love the examples of role playing you mention! One of the enjoyable things about realistic games is that it can open eyes to different ways to look at things, and to possibilities of what people will do, because everything is “happening” right there. Hopefully, people choose good people to be friends with– that can blind them to possible risks. Watching a player follow the reasoning from a “harmless” wrong to a horrible end, and not being able to spot a guiding hand, is amazing.

  • Ronk

    FRom my limited expeerience it seems to me that the main problem with D&D and other RPGs is the same as the main problem with golf or any other game, hobby or leisure pursuit – the risk of becoming so OBSESSED with it that it takes up too much of your time and energy and intrudes upon the time and energy that should rightly be devoted to ones duties to God, the Church, one’s spouse & family and others who need our time, skills and efforts, and one’s rightful duties to one’s occupation and employer.

    • http://foxfier.wordpress.com Foxfier

      Unless you’ve got a specific weakness for “magic” elements, that very much is the risk.