Dungeons and Dragons™
and other fantasy
role playing games
What are Dungeons & Dragons™ and similar games?
D&D is a fantasy role-playing game created and originally published by Dave Arneson and Gary Gygax who founded the Tactical Studies Rules Association (TSR) in 1973. It was an evolutionary step from earlier war games or military simulations. The game was first marketed 1974. It gained great popularity among teens and young adults. Rights to the game were later obtained by Wizards of the Coast. Random House began distributing the game in 1979 and now owns the game's copyright. Dozens of other companies have since published hundreds of similar games under a variety of titles, such as DragonQuest.™, RuneQuest™, Tunnels and Trolls™, and Villains and Vigilantes™. The games fall into many genres:
* fantasy games (e.g. Dungeons and Dragons)
* horror games (e.g. Call of Cthulhu)
* science fiction games (e.g. Traveler)
* cyberpunk (e.g. Cyberpunk 2020)
* comic book (e.g. Champions)
* historical games (e.g. Boot Hill)
* Generic games (e.g. GURPS). These allow you to learn a single set of game rules and apply them to any setting.
Note: all game names are trademarked
These games are played by groups of two or more people; 4 to 7 are typical. One player is commonly called the Game Master (GM) who defines the imaginary environment in which the game is played. Sometimes the GM is referred to as Dungeon Master, Storyteller, Referee, etc. He/she creates a make-believe world through which the players will move and have their adventures. The players each create a single imaginary character, defining their shape, race, intellectual and physical powers, armament, protective devices, supplies and materials. The GM decides what traps, obstacles and encounters the imaginary characters will meet. Sometimes the GM holds the post for a long time; in other groups, the job rotates among the membership.
Adventures may include play-acting the rescuing of people, the quest for money, treasure, power, knowledge and sometimes even survival of the pretend character. Each player makes ethical, philosophical and moral decisions on behalf of her/his imaginary character as the game develops. The GM describes the environment, the events and the actions of supporting characters (also called non-player characters or NPC's). The players describe their pretend character's actions and reactions. The GM then tells them the results of each event. Many games use the rolling of dice in order to resolve conflicts and to determine the results of various actions (e.g. trying to disarm a trap or leap across a chasm, etc.). Future sessions begin where the previous session quit. Games can continue for years.
A few gamers use a system called Live Action Role Play (LARP) in which the players actually act out the roles of their characters. Sometimes, they dress up in costumes as if in a live play. Some regular gamers do not view LARPs in a positive light.
The society in which Dungeons and Dragons is played is typically pre-scientific. Weapons are at the spear and crossbow level. Some characters may be imagined as having telepathic powers, others as being capable of casting magic spells. Other fantasy role playing games are set in the wild west, in the far future, etc.
Who Plays Fantasy Role Games?
Players are usually in their teens to early 30's, who may be above average in intelligence, creativity and imagination. (Perhaps persons with these qualities are naturally drawn to the games; perhaps playing the game develops these factors). Many younger players will meet for a game once a week; others once or twice a month. The session might last about 6 hours.
Starting in the late 1970's, these games came under severe attack by some Fundamentalist and other Evangelical Christians who alleged that they contain "occult" content and inspire people to suicide or criminal activity.
After the death by suicide of Irving "Bink" Pulling in 1982-JUN, his mother, Patricia Pulling, organized BADD (Bothered about Dungeons and Dragons). Bink had been depressed after he was unable to find a campaign manager to handle his campaign for election to school council. He was apparently an emotionally disturbed student who admired Adolf Hitler. Unfortunately, his mother kept a loaded gun in the house that he was able to access; he used it to commit suicide. Patricia became convinced that the death had been triggered by her son's involvement with Dungeons and Dragons; she believed that his teacher had placed a curse on Bink during a game. She brought a lawsuit against the teacher and school. It was thrown out of court. She then organized BADD and started to speak out against RPGs, claiming that they induced young people to commit suicide and murder. BADD asked the Consumer Product Safety Commission to place warning labels on RPGs. The agency investigated but found that the games did not present a hazard to the public.
In 1997, Ms. Pulling died of cancer. BADD is currently. See the postal list at the end of this page. Michael A. Stackpole has investigated Ms. Pulling and BADD and written an extensive report. It is not a pretty story. 25
A second group actively opposing gaming is the Cult Crime Action Network (CCAN). As described elsewhere at this site, the word "cult" is often used as a general-purpose religious "snarl" word to refer to some activity (religious or otherwise) that is not approved of.
The games have been falsely accused of:
* promoting violence and murder of parents and others;
* causing suicide among young people;
* luring young people into the occult
By the early 1990's, the furor had largely died down. The games are still attacked periodically on a small number of Fundamentalist or other Evangelical Christian TV programs and ministries. For example, the Christian Life Ministries has said that Dungeons and Dragons contains many references to cannibalism and sadism. Such topics are rarely discussed in fantasy role playing games. When they are mentioned, they are not promoted but are shown in a bad light.
In 1996-JUN, fantasy role playing game industry in Italy came under attack. As in the earlier attacks in North America, games have been accused of causing teen suicide, and distorting minds. They falsely claim that RPG players usually impersonate killers or death-row inmates. The "Stop the Nonsense" campaign was mounted to respond to this threat. 26
All of the opposition to RPGs in books, magazines, TV or radio that we have observed appear to be from conservative Christians. Many of their books on Satanism and the Occult still attack the games:
* Joan Hake Robie writes: "Dungeons and Dragons is not a game. Some believe it to be a teaching [sic] the following:". She then lists 22 activities, including blasphemy, assassination, insanity, sexual perversion, homosexuality, prostitution, Satan worship, and necromancy. 1
* Neil Anderson & Steve Russo claim that the game negatively "affects a person's self-image and personality and opens him to satanic influence." 2
* Bob Larson mentions that young people who call his radio talk show often mention fantasy games as "their introduction to Satanism". 3
* Johanna Micaelsen criticizes games for their "promotion of occultism and violence". 4
* Rus Wise writes: "God is able to deliver those who seek Him. Victory is ours. But first, we must receive God's power...We have been discussing the problems of satanic involvement. Whether we become deceived by use of the Ouija Board, music, divination or by Dungeons and Dragons, the end result is the same occult bondage." 24
There are many anecdotal stories about youth who have become involved with RPGs, and have become totally obsessed with the game. They become emotionally linked to their pretend RPG character. They lose the capacity to separate fantasy from reality. Some stressor makes them snap. They either commit suicide or go on a murder rampage. These stories make excellent material for an "urban legend". Such stories are widely discussed throughout North America. Fortunately, RPGs simply do not work this way. A gamer who commits suicide after having lost his identity in a RPG is probably as rare as a person who goes into a deep depression and kills themselves because they went bankrupt playing a game of Monopoly. Pro-RPG groups have investigated each of the murder-suicides which are allegedly caused by gaming. No causal link has ever been found.
The claims by conservative Christian groups that gamers commit suicide or engage in criminal acts do not appear to hold water:
* Michael Stackpole calculated expected suicide rates by gamers during the early years of Dungeons and Dragons. He used BADD's estimate of 4 million gamers worldwide. Assuming that fantasy role game playing had no effect on youth suicide rate, one would have expected about 500 gamers would have committed suicide each year. As of 1987, BADD had documented an average of 7 per year. It would appear that playing D&D could be promoted as a public health measure, because it drastically lowers the suicide rate among youth. 5,25
* Suzanne Abyeta & James Forest studied the criminal tendencies of "gamers" and found that they committed fewer than average numbers of crimes for individuals of the same age. 6
* The Association of Gifted-Creative Children of California surveyed psychological autopsies of adolescent suicides and were unable to find any that were linked to these games. Their National Association has endorsed Dungeons and Dragons for its educational content. 7,8
* The American Association of Suicidology, 9 the Center for Disease Control, 10 and Health & Welfare (Canada) 11 have conducted extensive studies into teen suicide. They have found no link to fantasy role playing games.
* Dr. S. Kenneth Schonbert studied over 700 adolescent suicides and found none which had fantasy role playing games as a factor. 12
* The Committee for the Advancement of Role-Playing Games has investigated every suicide or criminal case that BADD advanced, and has been unable to find any caused by role playing games.
Are Fantasy Role Games part of "The Occult"?
The answer is both yes and no, depending upon one's point of view. There are many religious terms like demonic possession, Neopaganism, the Occult, Satan, and Satanism which have multiple meanings. Often conservative Christians use one definition, whereas others use another definition:
* Common beliefs among conservative Christians: They often oppose fantasy games because of the alleged occult content of the games. They frequently state that RPG rule books include poison recipes or methods of summoning demons, etc. This appears to be a misunderstanding. A very few games have printed spell incantations from folk and ceremonial magick, but most do not. A gamer who wants his pretend character to cast a spell in order to protect itself from attack might simply say to the GM "I am casting a healing spell now." Note that neither the player nor their character actually casts a spell or practices magick. The player simply describes what the imaginary character is doing. Gaming is basically an adult version of make believe. It does not promote actual black magic or manipulative magick.
Evangelical Christian authors often view Satanism as being at the core of "the occult". Many believe that Satanism is a secret, underground, highly organized evil group that is international in scope and under the personal control of Satan. They feel that Satanists are responsible for kidnapping, torturing, ritually killing and even eating infants and children. They look upon many diverse occultic activities as performing a recruitment function for Satanists; these include fantasy role playing games, astrology, heavy metal rock music, the "Care Bears" and "Smurfs" on children's TV, a second religion Wicca - often called "white" Witchcraft. Some conservative Christians view all religions other than Christianity (e.g. Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam) as forms of Satanism.
* Common beliefs among non-Evangelical Christians, secularists, RPG players, etc: They view the Occult in very different terms. It is seen as a list of many unrelated activities: two religions, one type of game, one form of music, a variety of methods of foretelling the future and some imaginative and charming children's cartoons. In particular, Satanism is a religion which is totally unrelated to Wicca and the other activities mentioned. Neither Satanists nor Wiccans recruit members. "The Occult" is not an organized entity.
Recent Misinformation in the Christian Media
On 1997-APR-7 and 8, the Adventures in program of Focus on the Family broadcast two episodes which attacked what they call "Role Playing Fantasy Games" [sic]. 14 Odyssey is a radio play about pre-teens and teens in an American town. In both episodes, Dr. James Dobson presented a short talk directed to the children and youth listening to the program and their parents. He attacked RPGs, because he feels that its players actually become the pretend characters that they have selected. To play the game properly, he said that the players need to practice magic and mysticism. His choice of the terms "magic" and "mysticism" is unfortunate, because both words have multiple, conflicting meanings. In the APR-7 episode, he said that some gamers have reported involvement with demons and Satan worship.
In the radio play, "Jimmy" is visited by a RPG playing cousin, "Len". Len's character in the game is known as "Luther the Magician." The latter introduces Jimmy to a game called Castles and Cauldrons"; he gives Jimmy's character the name of "John Dell, the Apprentice." They play the game together. A battle is fought with some evil enemies; both experience auditory hallucinations in which their plastic swords sound like real weapons. Some of the misconceptions mentioned in the play were:
* the gamers actually become the pretend characters, and engage in battles and other adventures. In reality, the gamers remain quite human and simply direct the character that they have chosen to go through the adventure.
* the gamers are described as kneeling and reciting an incantation. Actually, the gamers would typically remain sitting and simply say that their characters are kneeling and engaged in a ritual; no incantation would actually be spoken.
* if the gamer proves themselves worthy then they are supposed to accumulate special powers. This is incorrect. In reality, it is the character that the gamer has selected who may accumulate or lose imaginary powers during the course of a game.
* Len described how one of his gamer friends is able to have visions. He can see things far away through the eyes of a flying bird. Again, in reality, it is the gamer's imaginary character that might be said to have visions, not the gamer. And in reality, the character sees no visions; the character is not alive; it is merely a symbol fantasized by the gamers as if it were real and seeing visions.
* Len says that he has the power to read Jimmy's heart and implies that he received this special power during his gaming. This again is nonsense; players do not accumulate special powers; it is the player's pretend character that may accumulate or lose pretend powers.
* The game is linked with manipulative black magick throughout the episode. Whit, a store owner, became overcome with feelings of dread and dropped a glass. He felt something oppressing his spirit. A cat became influenced (presumably by Len) to tear the arms off of a doll. A roast in the oven started to smoke. The implications are that the game playing is linked closely to black magic, and that one result of the game is to harm other people elsewhere in the town.
* The games are described as involving evil, spiritual forces. Playing these games is said to "open doors" that "lets loose" demonic forces into people's lives. Again, gamers do not participate in evil sorcery, recite incantations, curse other people, etc. The Christian Scriptures contain many references to demons; they were very much a part of 1st Century CE belief, and were considered to be the source of many mental illnesses. But most people stopped believing in demons with the rise of modern mental health therapies. Demons are today mostly limited to Hollywood horror movies and the mental health belief systems of some conservative Christians.
* Len explains that some adults become "Interferers" and attempt to stop young people from playing the games. He explained how they drove-off one such woman through the use of magic. Again, gamers do not engage in black magic or spells to dominate, manipulate, or control others.
* At one point, Len tried to draw blood from Jimmy. Gamers don't draw blood. Their pretend characters might be imagined to draw pretend blood, but that is all.
"Whit" Whittaker, the owner of a local store comes across Len and Jimmy playing their game. He immediately destroys one of the tools of the game, called The Board of Talisman. Later, Whit casually mentions that he has stolen and destroyed all of Jimmies' gaming equipment. The implication is that a Christian is well within his rights to destroy another person's possessions if he feels that they are unchristian.
The overall effect of the program is:
* to give a very distorted view of fantasy role playing games,
* to link them with "The Occult", black magick, evil sorcery and demonic activity.
* to imply that it is quite acceptable for Christians to destroy other people's possessions if they disapprove of them.
If the program had simply been presented as a play, then it would have been an amusing piece of fiction - something like the "X-Files" or "Outer Limits" for kids. But the introduction by Dr. Dobson seems to imply that the activities described in the episode reflect the reality of role playing games. They do not. The producers of the program are either completely misinformed, or intentionally deceptive about the nature of these games. The radio program promoted an hopelessly inaccurate version of fantasy role playing games in which the players become involved with demons, Satanic worship, spells, curses, evil sorcery etc. The end result of the program is to create fear and insecurity in the minds of listeners in order to scare them away from playing this type of game.