It's All Fun and Games: The History of, and Moral Quandary Presented By, Playing RPGs
Updated: Aug 7, 2018
Who doesn’t enjoy a good game from time to time?
It is a fulfilling social experience, a way to exercise wit and critical thinking, and can be both challenging and competitive. There is an opportunity for discussion, even discourse, a time set aside for relaxing in a comfortable environment, and the stakes are at best minimal. It can be a way to learn, a way to improve ourselves, a way to entertain guests, a way to match wits, and even a medium by which stories can be crafted and told.
For many of us we would include RPGs in this category without hesitation. However, as it were, there is a stigma, particularly in Western culture, against Fantasy and Science-Fiction type RPGs. We hear this most frequently in the form of attacks on Dungeons & Dragons by groups of well meaning but misguided individuals. The concerned groups usual cast damning remarks at RPG Players for dabbling in the occult, black arts, witchcraft, or even lambast accusations of courting demon kind. On a lesser gravity, we also see individuals who have become wary of joining RPGs to a point they simply falter or hesitate. They hear the mention of Magics and otherworldly Realms and choose to remain cautious. Some have heard the advocacy groups attack RPGs so forcefully, it makes them wonder, maybe there really could be something to be wary of, couldn’t there?
In this article, we hope to first go over the history of RPGs and their development. In so doing we can come to a better understanding of where these games originate, where these controversies first arise, the forms they take, and how best to address them. Then, following this we will look at the common objections against RPGs more closely, and how we may give reasonable answers to those who have questions about the genre. Lastly, our hope is to increase an understanding in the gaming community of what RPGs are, and to further our collective understanding as a society of what elements, if any, we need be wary of when playing RPGs.
Where To Begin?
As with most things, it is best to start in the beginning. RPGs have their roots in the great strategy games of the past, chief and namely among them Chess. Both Chess and games similar to it have existed since the early 500s A.D. and similar types of wargames were developed as a means for military exercises in Austria. Even as early as the 1600s pewter toy soldiers were cast throughout Europe as novelty toys for the children of soldiers. Our modern concept of miniature and tabletop gaming, however, can arguably be traced to H G. Wells’ game Little Wars.
This game involves a mock up of scenery, soldiers and a functional artillery piece that players would use to knock down opposing pieces, with Weapons & Warriors being a modern day equivalent game.
The board game Diplomacy (A game we highly recommend... if you want to ruin all your friendships…) was released in 1959 by Allan B. Calhamer. This is an important note in the history and understanding of RPGs, because Diplomacy was the first game, as part of its instruction, to oblige the players to assume the role of a character. The game focuses on the conflicts of the First World War, with each player being the representative of one nation. The players then must spend a timed period splitting into small groups and making or breaking backroom deals, brokering the best position for their country. Players have to play politician, general and advocate for their nation, and do what would be in the best interest of their people. Up to this point in history, no formal game of this type existed.
I would be negligent if I did not mention the grandfather of modern gaming companies, and the longstanding King of tabletop gaming, Avalon Hill. Though today a subsidiary of Wizards of the Coast, Avalon Hill was founded in 1954 to bring strategic boardgames and wargames to the market. Their games Kingmaker, Blitzkrieg, Midway, Afrika Korps, among many hundred others, established a niche but growing market for historical gaming. With the success of Kingmaker and similar games, focused on feudal conflicts both diplomatic and militaristic, there was a rise in the interest of playing particularly Medieval games. By the mid to late 1960s the addition of Fantasy elements to these games was increasingly popular.
We want to mention something to the casual reader at this point that may not have been realized, though it is something we all take for granted: Computers did not exist at this point of our history in any real capacity for personal use, and that thing we call the Internet was at best a far off dream of only a few bright men. Boardgames, card games and conventional sports were the only means this generation had to experience multiplayer games. As we continue forward our understanding of events that will unfold hinges on remembering that gamer groups were secluded, small bands of friends and family in local areas, and not by any means mainstream. They were a thing played in basements and behind closed doors, and this led to a certain degree of misinterpretation.
In 1971 we see a young man from the University of Minnesota’s Wargaming Society, a club for boardgames enthusiasts, develop and publish an unusual wargame. Called Chainmail, this game chose to focus on individual soldiers rather than the movement of armies or battalions, something relatively new to the boardgames ideology of the time. Rather than focus on a purely historical context of armies besieging keeps, it became a game of jousting knights, squabbling nobles and local skirmishes. Further, Chainmail came with a supplement that allowed your Knights and Footmen to do combat with powerful Dragon and Wizards, as inspired by Arthurian and other Western Legends.
This supplement would become Dungeons & Dragons, and the man’s name was Gary Gygax.
Further experiments by wargame enthusiasts in the late 1960s and early 1970s saw a trend moving away from the movement of armies, and more and more to the actions of heroes, individuals on the world stage. In 1974 we see the first commercial release of a character focused modern role playing game, that being the First Edition of Dungeons & Dragons. Gygax sold 50,000 copies, which for a time of a niche hobby without the means of internet advertisement, was quite a feat, one that shook the gaming community as a whole. Such was the success of D&D’s first printing that peripheral products and a plethora of other fantasy games flooded the market in the wake of the success Gary Gygax experienced.
By the 1980s both literary and mythological references had drawn an ever growing crowd into the world of fantasy games, promising opportunities to play your favorite novel. Many writers even penned their own RPGs to supplement their novels. New publishers, chiefly West End Games among them, helped the spread of these games into science fiction and modern realms. We saw a 007 RPG by Victory Games in 1983, and the first Star Wars RPG in 1987. Also at this time, as wargames began breaking into the mainstream, so too did controversy begin becoming more widespread. More on this later in the article.
We must mention the development of home PC Gaming at this point. Though unarguably a primitive thing compared to the MMORPGs of today like World of Warcraft and Old Republic, these text based Fantasy adventures were among the first successful home PC games. These dialogue driven adventures were known for being ruthlessly challenging and unforgiving, but this added to the appeal. Gamers embraced the challenge, and worked in small communities to unravel the secrets of these games.
The 1990s saw an explosion for the RPG community, one that has arguably never been matched since. With the fall of Communism in the Eastern Block and the end of the Cold War, suddenly a whole new world was opened to the West. We saw a development of a Polish RPG Magazine Sword and Magic shortly after its independence from the Soviet Union. The phenomenon of this unique piece of Western culture spread like wild fire in former Soviet block nations. More importantly, the home PC market exploded at this time, and we saw the birth of the new, strange and fantastic invention that is The Internet.
While players connected in ways they never had before, waging dial-up phone-line wars in Warcraft I: Orcs vs. Humans, other built forums sewing the first roots of online gaming communities. We saw the birth of the Elder Scrolls series from Bethseda Softworks, the precursor to modern computer based RPGs as we know them today. Further, in these same years, Magic: The Gathering was released by Peter Adkinson and Richard Garfield. The success of Magic launched Wizards of the Coast as the gaming giant it is today. Noting the success of Magic, and other strategy card games, Hasbro Studios purchased the company in 1998 for $325 million dollars, a modern day equivalent of over $610 million dollars. This move by a major corporation was instrumental in the mainstreaming and mass distribution of what to this point was still but a blooming niche market.
This game probably won’t be around for long…. 1991…
With the legitimization and widespread dissemination of gaming via the Internet and mainstream distributors like Hasbro, we see in the early 2000s a boom in independent and open game developers. Enthusiasts now had a vast audience, a means to reach them, and new technology that many had grown up with, to reshape their gaming experiences in ways their fathers and grandfathers had never imagined. With the development of Print-on-Demand PDFs and Open Gaming Licensing, RPGs have never been more accessible. Even today the market continues to grow in unpredicted ways. Mobile and Portable Gaming seems to be the way of the future, and developers are currently developing pocket RPGs that would allow strangers on the street to do battle with their characters in spontaneous real life encounters. Truly the future is now.
For more reading on the history of RPGs, we recommend you see the following sources:
Most of the controversy surrounding Roleplaying Games stems from concerned parents and certain advocacy groups primarily comprised of religious conservatives. It is crucial to emphasize that in all instants these individuals are well meaning. Except with the greatest rarity seen only in a pure sociopath, no human wishes ill on another, rather all humans wish the best for others, especially those they love, and that can often lead to extreme reactions. If you found out your child was about to bite a candy you believed could contain a razor, you’d be right to grab the candy away, and quickly! However, if upon examination you find the candy safe and the rumor of harm fallacious at best, the prudent thing would be to retrace your position on that piece of candy.
These groups have made arguments since the onset of Dungeons & Dragons, and most recently in the vocal down cries of the Harry Potter universe. In fact an extreme instance in 1990 involved a contingent of Secret Service agents raiding Steve Jackson Games, creators of Munchkin, mistakenly believing that the fantasy technology presented in their GURPS Cyberpunk RPG was a coded mesh for committing cyber warfare through computer hacking. Though an extreme example, we should examine well where exactly these controversies stem from, and where these misinterpretations spring from.
The first major incident that brought concern and bad press to the RPG community came in 1979 when a man named James Dallas Egbert III, a Michigan State University Student, went missing. During the investigation his parents hired a private investigator named William Dear. After combing the campus and meeting some of Egbert’s friends, Dear discovered he was part of a Dungeons & Dragons group that would occasionally venture into the steam tunnels below the school and act out live-action D&D sessions, something we would today refer to as Live Action Role Playing or LARPing. Dear believed that Egbert may have gone missing during an adventure in the steam tunnels, having become lost, disorientated or hurt. This theory was picked up on by major news outlets, and it became a national story. Now, some weeks later it was discovered that Egbert had actually been suffering from depression and had gone into hiding when his drug addictions began threatening his life.
A sad story to be sure, but an important one in that it propelled Dungeons & Dragons onto the center stage of CBS, MSNBC, FOX and CNN. Suddenly, everyone knew about D&D and everyone knew the wild rumors that grown men would venture into tunnels at night to cast spells at one another and experience the occult, and they wouldn’t always return! Even when the truth was revealed, the rumors stuck and the damage was done. The nation believed gaming enthusiasts had gone off the deep end, and were running around throwing spells at each other.
This national phenomenon condemning RPGs is sometimes considered an example of a Collective Delusion, a term meaning something along the lines of an Urban Legend. Due to being rooted in half-truths and misrepresented circumstances, the community at large came to a collective misunderstanding of the situation as it was presented on major news outlets. From this illusion we see prominent vocalization now begin to emerge from groups the include the modern Chick Publishing group. This advocacy group believes that Dungeons and Dragons, among other RPG experiences, fully involves the embracing of the occult and mandates actions such as blood sacrifices. If you’d like to see a piece of the anti-occult, anti-D&D material Chick is known for, please see this.
In another incident a tragedy unfolded when Patricia Pulling’s son, Irving, committed suicide. Patricia, a staunch woman of Judaic faith, sincerely believed her son’s involvement in occult activities had led to his death. When she discovered his involvement in Dungeons & Dragons she believed this to be an extension of that occult involvement. She founded a public advocacy group titled BADD, or Bothered About Dungeons & Dragons. Her group maintained that D&D encouraged, among other acts, demonology, voodoo, witchcraft, blasphemy, prostitution, necromantics, divination, sadism and desecration. She made national headlines with her group, both in conventional news outlets and through Christian media properties, as well as through private conservative advocacy groups. She authored a book titled The Devil’s Web, and insinuated among other accusations that the Necronomicon was in fact a real text widely available to teens playing RPGs. She even urged, successfully, for police officers to question teens in her area on their involvement with the Necronomicon.
Now, Pulling was widely discredited as Dungeons & Dragons steadily rose in popularity. Her position became less credible as she made broader claims, such as that nearly 10% of those living in Richmond Virginia worshiped Satan. She also claimed that that 4% of teenagers and 4% of adults nationally were involved in performing Satanic works, believing both to be low estimates of the true numbers. Author and Game Designer Michael Stackpole (we highly recommend his X-Wing series of Star Wars novels, particularly the novel I, Jedi) wrote Game Hysteria and the Truth, delving into the flaws, misconceptions and omissions made by groups like BADD. We recommend you see this publication for further reading, and will quote Stackpole from this work in regards to just one allegation of Pulling’s that he refuted, specifically regarding supposed higher suicide rates among RPG players:
“If the suicide statistics for the 14 years since D&D’s introduction show anything at all, gamers kill themselves at a rate that is a fraction of that of their peers.” – Michael Stackpole, 1989
You can find a full text version of Stackpole’s Game Hysteria and the Truth here.
Pulling would ultimately step down from BADD following Stackpole’s criticisms. Despite this, a great deal of damage occurred in the 1980s for RPG players because of these advocacy groups. The Associated Press ran a total of 111 articles specifically referencing and focused on RPGs in this time frame, of which only 3 were found to be positive. It wasn’t until the 1990s that a rise in pro-game advocacy groups, supported by studies done by the Center For Disease Control, and Health & Welfare Departments, led to a general acceptance of RPGs by the community at large.
With our modern understanding of psychology and the increase in both gamer and internet culture, most individuals presently don’t see any real qualm with RPGs, nor should they. One 2015 study in Psychiatric Quarterly cites that there is no known association between role playing games such as Dungeons and Dragons and any sort of poor mental health. Rather, this article corroborates other reports that show RPG players, as a whole, are average or below average in terms of mental health issues.
Nonetheless, it is worth spending some time addressing the common arguments advocacy groups and concerned families bring to the table, and worth preparing resources for responding to these claims. It helps that we now have a basic understanding of the history behind the controversy, so we are better armed to answer the questions ahead.
For further reading on these controversies, please see the following sources:
Affirmations & Objections
1) Moral Ambiguity
Objection: The morality and ethics presented in RPGs is not necessarily how morals and ethics work in the real world.
Reply: This is largely due to a concession we call a Game Mechanic. In order for players to understand the motivations and positions of characters, they have to be concretely defined. Further, RPGs go to length to include a measure or gauge by which characters are seen as Good and Evil objectively, meaning Good and Evil must be quantifiable and extant entities to the game. The fact that the game goes to the length it does to include morality should be a thing that is lauded, not condemned. Further, we should bare in mind that RPG systems never claim to be a source book for spirituality and morality comparable with Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics nor Sacred Scripture. It is meant as a game, and anyone basing their moral decision off the recommendations of a game designer needs to examine their conscience rather closely.
2) Sorcery, Witchcraft and the Occult
Objection: Dungeons & Dragons, and most RPGs, are gateways for Occult activity including casting spells, witchcraft, sorcery and black magic.
Reply: First we should note that not all RPGs use Magic or anything remotely of the Occult. You can play a Wild West RPG as a Cowboy, or a Science Fiction game in which you’re a Scientist. As for the games that do involve Magic, we must make the concession that anything involving Magic has within it the potential to be used for something other than its intended purpose. D&D, and RPGs, can, and on occasion have, been used by those who also dabble in the occult. However, this must be understood in the same context that Alcohol can be and has been used by some to become Drunk. Alcohol can be a very good thing when enjoyed in moderation and within the company of friends, in proper circumstance, proper age, and proper context and supervision. This is also true for RPGs.
The magic that is mentioned and condemned by religious organization is that in which pacts are made with malevolent entities by which humans are granted supernatural abilities. This is a completely different nature from the magical abilities presented in fantasies such as Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia and Rowling’s Harry Potter. In these stories the magic is innate, an ability that comes from the world around them or from within, a notable substantial difference in nature. We do not see characters in these stories making demonic pacts, rather they choose to use these natural gifts or talents for good or ill intents. Just as all humans can use their natural attributes or strengths in life for good or ill, so too these players can choose to use their natural or arcane talents for good or ill. To say that the two are the same is to misunderstand the nature of the articles being presented.
Objection: RPGs are inherently violent and center on conflicts the include gruesome bodily harm and glorify combat.
Reply: Again, we must note that this is not true of all RPGs. There are many who enjoy Mysteries, Exploration and plain Story Telling when it comes to their favorite games, so it is unfair to give a general blanket statement of violence being attributed to RPGs as a whole. That being said, violence is a key component to an RPG that may include combating fantastic monsters or malicious forces. We must approach this with a due diligence of caution, and be sure that any violence presented in the game is framed properly for the age group it is presented to. As adults we should know what we are comfortable being exposed to, and be well enough formed in our foundational beliefs that any activity we participate in reflects this. Rather than an RPG being a gateway to violence, like any other media it is a form of entertainment in which violence may be included. It is up to every individual to determine where they are comfortable with this, for adults to moderate the exposure of violence to younger generations, and a game group come to consensus as to what level of violence they find appropriate for their gaming experience. As with anything in life, a violent medium can accentuate one’s own inclinations to violence, but only in as much as overindulgence in any good or vice in this world will so too avail.
Further, combat does not have to mean violence for violence’s own sake. Physical confrontations can act as external metaphors for internal plights, and ones internal struggle combating evil or immorality can also be externally represented through physical altercations. In this case violence does not exist for its own sake but rather to exemplify an internal struggle. This sort of storytelling has existed and been utilized by every entertainment medium, most recently in Captain America: Civil War. We see familiar Heroes, Tony Stark and Steve Rogers, coming to blows over their deeper internal struggles of grief, responsibility, and sense of justice. In the end you just want them to stop fighting and work it out, and in their conflict we see not a brute show of force but a visualized concept of their own mental anguish and struggles. So too this method is utilized in RPGs. While it is true this can be taken out of context and perverted, so too can all things in life, an RPG is no exception. Sometimes movie makers will churn out an unnecessarily bloody film like Hostel to capitalize on shock value, and sometimes RPG groups take similar turns. In the right context, though, the violence in an RPG serves to the functionality of a story, and less its own satisfaction or aggrandizement.
4) World View
Objection: The real world exists as the Earth, Stars and Heavens, to say there are also realms of Chaos and Fire and Ice is to mislead others into illusions about the world around them.
Reply: We must understand that part of the fun and fantastical elements of RPGs lies in the setting, and in a suspension of disbelief. We see this in Lewis’ Narnia among other worlds (such as in Middle Earth, Azeroth, and Thedas), specifically in Lewis’ The Magician’s Nephew that portals to multiple planes and dimension exist that characters may to some degree freely traverse. RPGs no more assert that their fictional cosmology is fact than C. S. Lewis asserts that Narnia is an actual place. These stories are meant to provide imaginative locals and setting for fantastical stories, not to provide objective outlines for how the universe is, exists or behaves. If an individual looks to these games for a serious interpretation for the state in which the universe around him truly exists, the best we can hope for is to better educate this person and guide them through patient reasoning.
5) The Objections By Faith Groups
Objection: RPGs mislead people, drawing them away from scriptural truth, encouraging courting with demons and leads to an incorrect understanding of the nature of one’s own soul and undermines the value of life.
Reply: This is a delicate topic, and one that must be approached with a sense of respect and mutual understanding. Many of these aforementioned points we have at least addressed already in a cursory way. Again, we emphasize that RPGs do not intend to be definitive works explaining the nature of the universe around us, but rather works of fiction. Any work of fiction can only do harm or mislead in so much as is the original author’s intent. In the Grand Theft Auto series, or similar RPGs, players are rewarded for committing vices and the actions of theft, murder and adultery are praised. This may be a fun game to some, but advocacy groups would be right to warn people away from the message these game thread into their narrative.
However, in the Legend of Zelda series, the slaying of evil monsters is not glorified. Rather, the saving of those in need and protecting of innocents is the focus, a message we should all take to heart. C. S. Lewis once wrote,
“Since it is so likely that (children) will meet cruel enemies, let them at least have heard of brave knights and heroic courage. Otherwise you are making their destiny not brighter but darker.”
Good fiction strives to meet this end, and there is an ocean of works, not just Lewis’, for these advocacy groups to praise and laud. It is true that there will always be exceptions to this, and with every exception there is a very real risk of danger. However, this can be said for any form of entertainment. Just because a particular example may be misguided, we do not condemn the genre. A hammer may be used to break into a home by shattering a window, yet we do not ban hammers from the hands of carpenters and craftsmen. So too with RPGs.
RPGs are not meant to be texts by which one discerns the deeper truths of faith and vocation. Rather, they are a means by which an individual may immerse him or her self into a story that provides opportunity for the examination of moral character and ethics that they may not otherwise be exposed to. It is one thing to read about a tough moral decision, it is another to pose a player to resolve an ethical quandary in real time.
Can an RPG be used be an individual to purposefully misguide someone from the truth of their faith? Potentially yes. This statement is along the lines of observing any truth around us. Any game, media, social experience or convention can be manipulated to a personal agenda. Some men may use RPGs to ends Faith Groups should rightly object to, that all men of good standing should object to! Yet this is not to condemn those who have done no wrong, and are being falsely accused due to the actions of others. An RPG is just a game, as is Poker. It only becomes a vice, or sinful, when overindulged to the point of harming one’s self or others. Otherwise, one might as well condemn Scrabble for the time one player used his pieces to spell out heresy on the board.
6) Mental Illness and Madness
Objection: Players that partake in RPGs are more likely to be susceptible to mental illness.
Reply: Mental Illness is one of the most under diagnosed conditions in the world today, largely due to the stigmas, labels and misconceptions that follow it. Psychology is very much a developing field, one legitimized only a century ago, and one with much room yet to grow and expand. As it stands no study has yet concluded that RPG players experience a significantly higher rate of Mental Illness.
On the contrary, most studies have concluded that games are a tool that can be used to relieve stress, redirect patients and be used as educational tools. Though most of these studies focus specifically on video and electronic games as a whole, not RPGs specifically, studies in the 90s at the height of the condemnation of RPGs concluded that there is no significant correlation between mental illness and games. For further reading on this I’d point you to the Escapist’s Archive and Stackpole’s Game Hysteria and the Truth, linked here.
As we’ve said many times up to this point, there will always be exceptions. There are most certainly deeply disturbed individuals in need of mental healthcare who do not get the attention they require, and whose condition is worsened by indulging in activity that promotes their own sociopathy. We cannot as a blanket statement say all RPGs have these harmful elements, but we would be remiss if we said all RPGs are run with the mental health of all participants in mind. We can say that one bad apple does not ruin the orchard, and emphasize again that a particular example should not condemn a genre. If all movies were to be banned due to one promoting gang violence, we would have missed the comedy of Charlie Chaplin, the genius of Stephen Spielberg, and the wonder of John Williams.
If you know someone who struggles with differentiating real and fantasy worlds, or is having bouts of mental illness in any form, seek help. Rather than looking to blame external sources for the condition, you should look first to the patient and the care they need. It is important to remove any negative factors playing into one’s mental stability, and a support network of health professionals, friends and family is crucial to this. This link includes the hotline numbers for several agencies that specialize in free, professional assistance to those struggling with mental illness, both personally or with a loved one. These organizations will let you remain anonymous and guide you to obtaining the help or information you need.
Objection: My loved one has become obsessed with a fantasy world, he spends all of his time in the RPG and has totally lost control of his life!
Reply: In this instance we are speaking of an illness classified broadly as a Mental Disorder. For something to be medically labeled as a Disorder it must prevent the functioning of daily living activities. This means one can no longer participate in dressing, bathing, working a steady job, paying bills, running errands, etcetera. RPGs are not exempt from this sort of obsession, to which the functions of daily living cease. Rather, we should understand that this type of disorder manifests in a myriad of ways. We see it in drunken stupors, gambling addictions, drug abuse, and even more recently in niche corners of the internet. For reasons that are as varied as there are people on Earth, sometimes individuals seek an escape from reality as a defense or coping mechanism. Often this follows a single significant, or series of serious, traumatic experiences, or perhaps stems from a stressful life that someone feels they have relatively little control over.
Again, we must emphasize that if you or a loved one is struggling with a mental health issue, seek help. There are professionals and volunteers willing and able to help you any time, any day, and there is no charge for this assistance. Please see the hotlines linked above under Objection #6, and do not hesitate to get the aid you or your loved one needs.
This being said, we have to note that in this instance the RPG is not so much the problem, as it is the manifestation of the symptoms. An addict is hurt and needs help controlling this part of their life, potentially in the form of an intervention. Rather than focusing on the particular form the overindulgence takes, we should recognize that an addictive personality will try to get a “fix” in any way it can, and these individuals often cycle between their vices. Educate yourself to recognize the signs of this deeper condition, and to tell the difference between someone suffering from a Disorder as opposed to someone who has poor time management skills.
Remember, an allergy can manifest in a cough, sneeze, swelling or reddening of skin. Addiction can also take the form of drugs, depressants, television, and yes, even games. The medium isn’t the problem here, your loved one is sick. Talk with them openly, and seek the help they need.
8) Sex! Sex! Sex!
Objection: RPGs are just a way for players to indulge in sexual perversion, even chaining virgins to altars!
Reply: Let’s not kid ourselves here. We arguably live in the most over-sexualized society that has ever existed. We in Western society are flooded, bombarded and overrun by constant messages about the human form and personal satisfaction. It has been said that we effectively are living in a giant brothel. We only need to look at the recent success of E. L. James’ Fifty Shades of Grey to see that there is a cancer of perversion burning in our culture. Like so many other so-called Romance Novels, not counting movies, games, television shows, magazines, commercials and advertisements, the message is all about the Sex!
Does it need to be? Certainly not! Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time chooses to focus elsewhere. We see in The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins a condemnation of a corrupt society, not a parade of masochism and perverse sexual fantasy. Heinlein’s Starship Troopers is a thought-provoking commentary on one’s personal responsibility in society, and whether or not your rights are inherent or earned. A good story can be written without perverse elements, and there are countless examples. I personally enjoy Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six, a story focused on thrilling close encounters and the extremes fringe groups of society can delve to, bordering on madness.
So, should we ban all literature because some works are oversexed? Should we ban all entertainment, all creative expression because some choose to take the low road of cheapening the value and dignity of the human person? Of course not. Can you have an oversexed RPG? Certainly, but point to anything in our society that is immune from such oversexing in some way, shape or form. We must address particulars, and not speak in blanket terms. A properly run RPG is no more sexualizing our society than Pixar is perverting our children in Wall-E.
Some Closing Thoughts
There will certainly be objections to topics we have not covered, and there will certainly be those who will remain staunch and cannot be convinced to change their position despite the best efforts of any honest and earnest RPG enthusiast. For these people the best we can hope for is an amicable coexistence and that someday they may see our hobbies for what they are.
There was once a time when the Beatles and Elvis were considered to be evil influences on the youth, so too the perverse dancing they encouraged. We see with prohibition the banning of alcohol, and the eventual repeal of said ban. The views of a society are malleable, but that which is Good is not. The best any of us can hope to do is find the Good in our lives, embrace it, study it and expand upon it. Seek the Truth where it can be found, embrace Goodness where it can be found, and avoid vice where it finds you. These are moral truths every man can agree to.
Remember, any action can be broken into three parts; The Object, The Intention and The Circumstance. We do not live in a world of easily discerned black and white circumstances, rather in a swirling torrent of grays. Fortunately we do live in one by which our use of Logic and Critical Thinking can come to a fuller, more tempered understanding of the Good around us. So whenever you’re uncertain if an act you’re participating in is right, or good, or wrong, or harmful, ask yourself these three questions:
First, is the thing you’re about to do or are doing, the Object, something inherently bad? Are you doing a bad thing?
Second, is your Intention to complete a good act? With whatever you’re doing, have you meant good or ill by it?
Third, are the circumstances, including consequences, of your current actions going to in any way diminish the goodness you’re attempting to achieve? Will you cause harm trying to reach the Good?
I think most of us can agree, RPGs and similar games are generally Good objects of sincere and fun stories, enacted with Good intentions by those involved to experience a memorable social encounter, and the circumstances and outcomes are those that will lead toward the Good of the group. If this is the case, the go enjoy your game. Nerds have gotten used to ignoring the unfounded criticisms of others over the decades. At least now, we have much better means to offer response to our objectors, and can meet on open terms to discuss how we might all make our world, and every world we traverse in play, a better place to be in.
. . .
About the Authors:
Donald Lewis is the resident DM at Pawn & Pint and a graduate of Benedictine College with a Bachelor’s in History and Psychology. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook for entertaining Dungeons and Dragons tweets, including his ongoing “Choose Your Own Adventure” D&D Twitter story.
Andrew Kleine is a graduate of Benedictine College with a Bachelor’s in Sacred Theology, Philosophy and History. He currently is enrolled in Kenrick-Glennon Seminary and is pursuing his Master of Sacred Theology from the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph.
Between them both they share over 30 years of RPG experience, and both men are avid Dungeon Masters and Story Tellers.