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Role-playing games:

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Criminal acts by gamers?

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 B.A.D.D.'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, B.A.D.D. 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 would seem to drastically lower the suicide rate among youth. 1,2
  • 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. 3
  • 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. 4,5
  • The American Association of Suicidology, 6 the Center for Disease Control, 7 and Health & Welfare (Canada) 8 have conducted extensive studies into teen suicide. They have found that no link to fantasy role-playing games exists.
  • Dr. S. Kenneth Schonbert studied over 700 adolescent suicides and found none which had fantasy role-playing games as a factor. 9
  • The Committee for the Advancement of Role-Playing Games was organized in 1988 to counter the attacks by B.A.D.D. and other groups. The Committee has investigated each of the 130 suicide or criminal cases that B.A.D.D. advanced. 21 are missing name, date and/or place and could not be located. Of the over 100 that the Committee has found, they have been unable to find any that were caused by role-playing games.
  • William Schnoebelen has listed 11 suicides or murders which he believes were tied to D&D. 10

Are fantasy role playing games occultic?

The answer is both yes and no, depending upon one's point of view. There are many religious terms like demonic possession, NeopaganismOccult, 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. Some 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 mainline and liberal Christians, some conservative Christians, secularists, RPG players, etc: They view the Occult in very different terms. It is seen as a list of many unrelated and harmless 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, two very different religions, Satanism and Wicca are unrelated to the other activities mentioned. Neither Satanists nor Wiccans recruit members. "The Occult" is not an organized entity. 

Since conservative Christians use a different definition for the term "occult" from others, it is not possible to harmonize these two beliefs.


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Are RPGs a form of Satanism?

Some conservative Christians have taken the position that since deities other than the Christian trinity are mentioned in some RPGs, that the games are Satanic. This is an logical consequence of their biblically-based belief that when a person worships a deity other than the Judeo-Christian God, they are either worshiping Satan himself, or one of his demons. On this basis, they claim that religions such as Hinduism and Buddhism are actually forms of Satanism. Their belief is not shared by most others who view conservative Christianity, liberal Christianity, Hinduism, Buddhism and hundreds of other faith groups as being very different from one another and unrelated to Satanism.

The link between RPGs and Satanism breaks down over one important point: players do not worship other deities when playing Dungeons and Dragons and similar games. They do not even recognize their existence as living entities.

Occasionally, a player will select a character who has a relationship with a non-Christian God or Goddess. For example, one RPG enthusiast selected a paladin character -- a mixture of warrior and priest. She writes that her character's Goddess "is one of justice, righteousness and law, though not without mercy." That Goddess plays a very important role in the paladin's life. But the RPG player is a Christian in real life, and in no way worships the Goddess of her character.


Recent RPG references in the secular media:

  • 1999-APR-23: School violence: Dave Thomas is the local district attorney in Littleton CO, the location of the most horrendous school shooting in American history. 14 students and a teacher died violently. He gave an emotional speech, calling for an end to violence. The Associated Press review stated "He said America isn't taking care of its children. He wondered aloud about video games, movies, role-playing games like Dungeons & Dragons and how they influenced young people."
  • 2000-JUN-30: D&D Movie: Limited information about "Dungeons & Dragons: The Movie" was given in a press conference at Dragon Con in Atlanta GA. The movie was later released, on 2000-DEC-7. Costing $35 million, the film was shot in Czechoslovakia. Two sequels have already been written. It was released on DVD on 2001-MAY-22.
  • 2001-AUG-19: New book on RPGs: Chick Publications is promoting a new article by one of their leading authors -- William Schnoebelen. He has allegedly claimed that he has been an expert or clergyperson in: Alexandrian Wicca, Druidic Craft of the Wise, Church of All Worlds, Church and School of Wicca, Roman Catholicism. He claims to have become a high degree Mason, a hard-core (baby sacrificing) Satanist, a Mormon, a bishop in the Gnostic Church, AND an evangelical Christian. He has had one unusually busy career! Chick Publications notes in a news release that "In spite of the emphasis on magic, violent death and cruelty, even Christian young people are getting caught up in these games." 11 In 1984, he wrote an essay titled "Straight Talk on Dungeons and Dragons. 12 In it, he claims that the developers of Dungeons and Dragons used him as a consultant in the 1970's. His new report is called "New updated research: Should a Christian play Dungeons & Dragons." 13 He writes: "I am amazed at how many so-proclaimed Christians who defend the game, do so with foul and abusive language. This, I think, speaks volumes about the spiritual impact of the game."

Comments from visitors to this web site:

  • 2000-DEC: "...there are many times where I have played a villainous character in a game, characters such as necromancers, evil dragons, assassins etc. But you know what I get from playing those characters? -- a good acting lesson, that's all. It is like playing a part in a movie but I am improvising the whole thing,. Never at one time when my character is smited do I get the so-called 'murderous and suicidal intentions' that most religious parties claim these games tend to give young adults."
  • 2000-DEC: "Parents seem to forget that the 'devil' isn't responsible for all the evil out there. Evil isn't evil. It is just a stereotype that is given to an unexplained misfortune. Maybe parents should join in on the fun and see what it is all about before they allow their...minister to warp their minds into believe that RPG gaming is a way that the devil influences their children."
  • 2001-JUL: "[Some conservative Christians] stand up against D&D saying that it is evil, and teaches kids magic, gets them into the occult, when...[they] know nothing about it.  At the same time people play identical games that aren't set in a Fantasy realm and that is suddenly ok.  People get obsessed with James Bond computer games and spend hours shooting up virtual bad guys, and that is ok."
  • 2002-NOV: "Just because the game makes mention of occult gods does not mean you hold these gods above the true God....realizing these gods are made-up fake untrue gods is completely different from worshiping them." 

References:

  1. Michael Stackpole, The Truth About Role-Playing Games in Shawn Carlson & Gerald Larue, Satanism in America, Gaia Press, El Cerrito CA, P. 241
  2. Michael Stackpole at: http://www.rpgstudies.net/  
  3. Suzanne Abyeta & James Forest Relationship of role-playing games to self-reported criminal behavior, , Psychological Reports, Issue 69, 1991, P. 1187
  4. Associated Gifted and Creative Children of California
  5. Kristine Thompson, "Role Playing Games: Expect the Unexpected, Gifted Children Newsletter, Vol 5, #2, 1984-FEB.
  6. American Association of Suicidology
  7. James A. Mercy, Chief, Intentional Injuries Team, Centers for Disease Control, Atlanta, GA, (reaffirmed by his successor, Dr. Patrick O'Carroll)
  8. Arthur J. Lips, Mental Health Consultant, Health and Welfare, Ottawa, Canada
  9. Dr. S. Kenneth Schonbert, Albert Einstein College of Medicine, New York, NY
  10. William Schnoebelen, "Straight Talk on Dungeons and Dragons," at: http://www.chick.com/articles/dnd.asp
  11. ChickNews mailing list, untitled, 2001-AUG-17. Their web site is at: http://www.chick.com/
  12. William Schnoebelen, "Straight Talk on Dungeons and Dragons," at: http://www.chick.com/articles/dnd.asp
  13. William Schnoebelen, "New updated research: Should a Christian play Dungeons & Dragons," at: " http://www.chick.com/articles/frpg.asp

Copyright © 1996 to 2008 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2008-JUL-15
Author: B.A. Robinson

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