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Ask the Pastor

† Theological musings and answers to selected questions by a confessional Lutheran pastor.

16 July 2007

Christian Liberty: Dungeons and Dragons

Q: I volunteer with Set Free Ministries at a Missouri prison. A Christian inmate asked me about Dungeons & Dragons and similar games showing violence and murder. Could you please help me get a better grasp on what you would like for him to know about the Christian viewpoint concerning games such as these?

D and DA: As I commented to the previous questioner, we may bind ourselves to our own invented laws. Most of the time, why we do something counts for more than what we do. You and this inmate are asking, “Does God say, ‘Thou shalt not play Dungeons & Dragons’?” I’ve read all 66 canonical books of the Bible and most of the Apocrypha and have never seen this prohibition.

I suggest that the inmate instead ask, “Is playing this game uplifting — or at least value-neutral?” He should be concerned about his reasons for playing and the message his play gives to others. The game itself has less impact than his reasons for playing and his actions while playing.

A game’s origin and content aren’t enough by themselves to prejudice me against them. After all, I regularly learn valuable information from nonchristian writers. They don’t bring harm because I come to them knowing my place as a baptized child of God.

Tamar and JudahEven the “violence and murder” you mention are not surefire signs of ungodly games or literature. J. R. R. Tolkein’s The Lord of the Rings uses fighting and dying to tell a tale of good’s triumph over evil. While they don’t proclaim the Gospel, these books help illuminate its truth for those whose eyes are already opened by God’s Holy Spirit. Holy Scripture contains more violence than do many games, books, or films. Examine the lives of Jacob, Judah, Samson, or David and you begin to realize how much violence and immoral behavior was part of these men’s lives.

However, both the Bible and much good literature also remind us that we cannot view violence or other upsetting, often wrong behavior in a vacuum. If it’s not gratuitous but helps to tell a good story and make a valid point, violence may be a necessary part of the work. Similarly, the mere presence of sexual immorality doesn’t automatically make a text salacious or its readers sinful. For instance, would we appreciate the depth of God’s forgiveness if we didn’t fully understand both David’s sexual sin with Bathsheba and the violence he worked against her husband Uriah?

I encourage you to lead this inmate to examine his own motivation for playing to determine his reasons for playing, the effect he receives from the game, and the Christian witness he makes by participating in it.

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Walter Snyder is the pastor of Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Emma, Missouri and coauthor of the book What Do Lutherans Believe.

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Blogger solarblogger said...

As a former player of the game (a brief period in early high school, usually as Dungeon Master), I think you offered a pretty good answer.

You also successfully avoided a ditch I have seen well-meaning Christians fall into when assessing the game. They find objectionable game materials, and assume that all games involve such materials. While that is true of a game such as Monopoly, it was far from true for Dungeons and Dragons.

In fact, I found my friends were unanimous about preferring some aspects of the game to others. We tended to simplify combat so as not to slow down game play. When I visited other groups, I found their play differed greatly from ours. (One visit to one group where several hours were devoted to buying equipment followed by a very few minutes of actual role playing bored me to tears.) So any claim that "Oh my...I've seen spells and demons in those books," should be met with some skepticism. Any element of the game is dispensable. The questions are like those the pastor listed. What are we including and why?

{I might suggest that Christian players not include Jesus or Yahweh as a character—especially with a finite number of hit points!)

31 July, 2007 18:21  
Blogger Archangel said...

Solarblogger, lol! Have either of you played or even heard of the Christian RPG's - Holy Lands or Spiritual Warfare? I just started a blog to introduce people to whats going on in the Christian gaming (ccg's, board games, rpg's and pc games). When I was younger, I ndabbled in D&D but never really got into due to the C-64 coming out and such. So I have not played these games and probably will not have the opportunity. So I would like to get some feedback from other people.

Xyrsostom - I think you did an excellent job also. I have read many articles discussing D&D and faith, and I think yours is the best yet.

God Bless!

22 August, 2007 18:55  
Blogger Xrysostom said...

Thanks for the comments, solarblogger and archangel. I'm going to note the new Christian gaming blog. However, I suggest possibly removing the embedded audio, it doesn't play smoothly and distracts from the reading.

22 August, 2007 20:33  
Blogger The Myth said...

Yes, I like the way you handled that question. I have done a lot of research in the past and have read all kinds of articles that slam anything entertaining from cartoons to music to games, and let's just say most of the authors of these articles seemed unlikely to be amused by anything done in the name of fun. I have always played D&D since I was a kid, never stopped me from going to church or reading the Bible or knowing what is important and what is real.

20 February, 2008 22:29  
Blogger Chris said...

I'll keep my comment short, but I wanted to commend you on your open-mindedness and objectivity regarding D&D. As a Christian and a gamer, I appreciate your thoughtful and humble analysis. We need more pastors like you in this world.

11 June, 2008 02:53  
Anonymous Some random gamer said...

Wow. I have seen many christians make stupid, unresearched assumptions about D&D, and yet, you do not fall into that category despite being a christian. Whew! I'm so glad to finally see a christian that knows that D&D players do not commit suicide over their characters dying, or actually perform demonic rituals, or something outlandish like that. Sir, I salute you!

Though I am an atheist, I do not blatantly disrespect christians. So even if you're a creationist, you still know the real truth about D&D. Therefore, YAY CHRISTIANS! (Except nazi-attitude wacko evangelists.)

16 July, 2008 12:35  

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