Role-Playing Games the "magic"


#1

A thought I had reached a comfortable level with but after talking with a fellow Catholic this weekend, I wanted to offer up for discussion.

Role-playing games, and I mean everything from D&D to Mass Effect to the parish Murder Mystery Dinner fundraiser. Is it intrinsically sinful to play them or participate in them?

I ask because I took an interest last year in a game with the very ominous-sounding title of “Serpent’s Tongue”. Hear me out before you hit reply with “Just the name … STAY AWAY!” It is a spell-casting simulation, you actually speak (in a made-up language) a “spell”. I liked the concept, loved the art, but was nervous at the idea of simulating something that is intrinsically sinful, even knowing that this is a made-up language and pretending to be a magician doesn’t make me one (any more than playing Settlers of Catan makes me a pioneer or playing Monopoly makes me a robber-baron). So I did what I do with matters about which I’m unclear, and I took it up in prayer.

Two things happened that made me comfortable with it. One is that, our parish announced it was hosting a “Murder Mystery Dinner” as a fundraiser and encouraged attendees to dress up and act in character for the evening. To me, this is LARPing (Live Action Roleplay), playing out a murder, simulating a gravely sinful action and its aftermath.

The other is that, while I was praying, the idea occurred to me - “Your character is a Christian. How would he react to suddenly finding out he has magical powers? How would he use them? What would his priest say?” and the idea stuck with me to the point that I spent some time writing this story of a Catholic who finds this power, goes to his priest, asks what to do with it, and through that story in sort of a choose-your-own-adventure way he continually makes moral choices; should he fight or not, should he heal injured adversaries, should he forswear the magic altogether or use it to heal injured people in the ER? I also took advantage of the resources on the game’s website and wrote up the Our Father in the game’s language (something that was widely noted and circulated in the game’s community). And when I met up with some local players to play, I talked about my faith openly, something I don’t think is often done in RPGs.

I ask this now, though, after telling the same to a friend over the weekend who was very much uncomfortable with the game’s premise, the darker themes within (players are free to behave evilly too), and the occult imagery. I think of myself as mature enough to know when a game is a game, when it’s not, and that symbols only hold power if you allow them to. But I also know that this isn’t the best example to set for a teen, not that I’d share this with them. So… to the questions:

Are role-playing games intrinsically evil?
Are any games with dark, evil, occult or magic-related themes intrinsically evil (even if you’re the one fighting the evil)?
Is game-playing of any kind intrinsically evil?

Now hit reply.


#2

I think God is fine with us having fantasies. Now I suppose like all fiction if you play such that evil is glorified (characters make deals with demons/rebell against God etc. etc.) there would be legitimate concern. But I play DND, I have good fun, I’m not going to fall to sorcery because of DND any more than I will worship Satan because of Harry Potter.

Good fun is good fun. Stage magic is considered a legitimate form of entertainment. Pretending "your a wizard harry (or Elven Lord, Dwarf Mage etc. etc.) is not intrinsically evil.

DND is a way to be creative, have fun with friends and ultimately I wish more kids played it instead of say playing video games where there is no creativity. DND should be seen as a good as imagination is a gift from God.

Not sure what you mean by “wrote up the Our Father in the games language” Did you translate the OUr Father into elvish? Or some other DND language? I would avoid depicting the God of Abraham is “One diety among many” as that might be seen as a lack of respect. But C.S. Lewis used fantastic themes to portray God and the struggles of faith and discipleship. And I believe if done right you could do the same. DND is really open ended. You make the story world run as you would like it to.


#3

I’m very involved with pen and paper RPGs. My first was D&D and I knew all the spells and monsters, demons, etc. were fake (and the art was pretty bad). Anyway, as someone who works in and studies the media very closely, the late 1970s and early 1980s showed the media starting to head in a darker direction. I could name you a ton of books and games today with dark in the title, and things have gotten more New Age. As in, you can get books that claim to have “real” spells in them, among other things now.

The more elaborate computer games that are dark are not games I can relate to, like Assassin’s Creed.

Face to face role-playing games are not intrinsically evil, however, as some small press publishers believe, falsely, that ‘anything goes,’ you may find yourself seeing things you don’t want to see, including in computer games. And you may encounter characters with disordered sexual inclinations. For example, there is a convention coming up that includes electronic gaming and panels like: “Your kink may not be my kink but that’s OK.”

Any games is a very broad subject. Stay away from anything involving tarot cards. It’s OK to be in a game, and to play an evil character, like an actor, but it needs to be black and white. Good is good and evil is evil. But I’m seeing the lines fade in movies and comic books as well. Sometimes, the “hero” is not heroic or even fighting for a good cause or to survive. As a friend of mine said, “I want heroes that are heroic,” meaning virtuous, with the right reasons to battle evil, which do not include killing for revenge or because I can or because I like it. I don’t want to see a “hero” who is considered such because he has a lower body count than the bad guy(s) and is less brutal.

I am disturbed about any spell-casting using a fake language. I’ve spent time studying the occult and there are words and phrases that should never be said out loud. I would draw the line and stay away since being openly a witch is the thing now.

Finally, if everything is well-defined, including a LARP type setting, it should be fine, however, consider this: there is real evil out there, there are those who are involved in the demonic and you should be very sensitive to that.

Finally, avoid anything that might cause you to be seen as a bad example in public. There are many ways those who believe in and even worship the demonic can draw you in. Subtle things can lead to less subtle and more obvious things. There are covens out there and groups of like-minded people who are not what they seem. Be very careful. I’m watching trends in computer games. I encourage you to avoid the immersive technologies that are coming.

Having fun is one thing but the media is intent to make us insensitive to a lot of bad things and things that the average person should not dwell on - bad, negative, dark and dysfunctional things. The battle between god and evil will go on in games. Just make sure you don’t cross any lines or go places or try things that you can feel are not right. It’s not ‘just a game’ in some cases.

May God watch over you,

Ed


#4

I’m really into tabletop RPG’s, as well as some the more obviously innocent video game RPG’s like Legend of Zelda or Pokemon. I’m also involved in student plays, and for similar reasons- I really like telling stories with other people and pretending to be something I’m not. Acting is fun, whether in a game or in a play. :smiley:

Are role-playing games intrinsically evil?

My answer is, obviously, no. It’s perfectly possible to have a role-playing game that is not only neutral, but positive. That does not, however, mean that all kinds of imaginary evil are automatically justified just because it’s role-playing. There are positive and negative games, and positive and negative ways to use various games. Just because a game has the potential to be used for evil does not mean that the game itself is evil.

Are any games with dark, evil, occult or magic-related themes intrinsically evil (even if you’re the one fighting the evil)?

Again, I’m going to say no. It’s nearly impossible to tell a good story without some level of darkness. After all, there’s lots of evil in the Bible. It’s not a sin to portray the human condition honestly.

I would say that the occult should never be portrayed positively, though. Fantasy magic, sure, as long it’s sufficiently divorced from reality. Never anything involving actual demons, though.

Is game-playing of any kind intrinsically evil?

Hm. Yes, I think so. Anything that involves a serious risk of real-life harm, whether physical, mental, or spiritual, should be avoided. So no playing with actual occult materials, of course, and no LARPing or general real-life game playing if it could be dangerous. Though I realize I feel that way about sports, too, and many people would say it’s worth the risk of injury to play a game you love. :shrug:

I also think that any gameplay which glorifies evil is problematic at best. I don’t think it’s necessarily wrong to enjoy playing an evil villain, but that evil villain’s actions should not be portrayed as actually good or desirable. We shouldn’t turn off our moral compasses when gaming.


#5

The game has its own language - letters, grammar, morphology, vocabulary. I translated (with some help) the Our Father into the game language (called sehimu thinara):

This thread is really hard to follow but between three posts the Our Father is translated.
becomemagi.com/topic/language-challenge-the-our-father/

The game universe in Serpent’s Tongue is that there are words of power and these were stolen by the serpent, given to Eve, and her descendants. So it’s seen as an innate gift. I will caveat and note that there’s a GM-less role-playing guide coming out. I don’t expect that to contain anything offensive to my faith but I won’t play it if it does. Right now it’s a system of duels (against evil creatures as well as against other players), and I’m writing (in my copious spare time) this story of a Christian who finds out that he has this gift and tries to figure out what to do with it, all the while coming under attack by mysterious entities.


#6

I cannot believe that Role-Playing Games (RPG’s) are intrinsically evil.

My husband runs a DnD game and I am the only other Christian (much less Catholic) in the room. The others are agnostic, atheists, and Pagans. He prohibits evil characters and has us fight evil.

He and I work together to make this a learning experience for his players. I create a character who has a very strong moral stance and inevitably becomes the conscience for the party. He then puts us in situations where we need to make moral decisions. I always stick by Catholic moral theology and try to lead our friends to the Catholic decision. This is successful 9 times out of 10. When it fails, there are negative consequences for the party. This also leads to out-of-game discussions on Catholic theology. We have convinced one friend away from a Pagan life style (she now is considering Judeism, but we’ll continue to work to get her the rest of the way), another to at least contemplate the existence of God, rather than deny him all together, and a third to respect our moral stances instead of rejecting them outright.

RPG’s can be used, like any tool, for good or ill. It is up to you to use it for good. When our child (children we hope) is a teen, we plan to use it for comparative theology (like the what if’s that come up on these forums) and history lessons (like understanding the politics around the assasination of Archduke Ferdinand).


#7

Jimmy Akin (Catholic Answers) does a good job of answering this question: jimmyakin.com/2005/04/roleplaying_gam.html. Short answer: it’s intrinsically fine but can be conducted in morally corrupt ways.

I strongly recommend the link at the end of his answer to Steven Greydanus’s essay on magic as portrayed in literature and film. It’s 25 pages or so, but the best essay on anything religious I think I’ve ever read.


#8

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