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The voice of experience:
Role Playing Games (PGs) provide a safe haven for teenagers.

An essay donated by Lisa Lusby

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Role-playing games (RPGs) are not a spiritually dangerous activity.

I grew up with role-playing games and, in my experience, they are a very positive force in the lives of teenagers and young adults in North America. RPGs for me were a natural extension of "playing pretend," colored by many science-fiction and fantasy movies, television shows, and books present in North American culture. My personal influences included Star Wars, Star Trek, old horror movies, books like A Wrinkle in Time and Dune, historical subjects taught in school, and many, many cartoons. In my experience, these are the sort of things that influence the direction of role-playing games, not religion.

If someone you know and love role-plays, rest assured that they are in one of the safest possible environments North American society has to offer.

Most if not all RPGs have stringent rules and norms concerning player behavior, whether the game is table-top, live action, large group, or small group. All of the RPGs I have been to had adult supervision and did not permit drinking, smoking, weapons, and did not even allow players to so much as touch one another. There are liability issues related to this and there is really no reason to do any more than talking. RPGs are composed of talking, the eloquent telling of a unique story, and anything else brought to an RPG is just an unwelcome interruption. Also, it is a norm in the RPG world to include one's friends in the game. If the player's friends can be trusted, the game can be trusted, as one does not do anything at an RPG that would be off-limits in normal situations involving friends.

Adult supervisors (young adults who are also gamers) would intervene if it ever seemed something inappropriate was going on, such as the hypothetical situation of someone trying to recruit members for a satanic cult, or more realistic situations such as sexual harassment or drug and alcohol use. Our supervision exercised full authority to kick players out if they tried to be violent or did anything against the law or dangerous to other players. Thus, the games were very safe environment for me and my then-teenage friends.

The time I spent at those games was truly time I was sheltered away from the rough world which teenagers face today. Every evening I attended a game was an evening I was removed from my non-role-playing teenage peers, who did dangerous things like throwing wild parties while parents were away and engaging in sexual experimentation, drug use, alcohol use, gang activity, and other activities that pose very real dangers to teenagers. We hear about this sort of thing in the news all the time: the true dangers to youth are very far removed from the tame, play-pretend hobby of role-playing games. Idle hands are the devil's tools, right? Role-playing gives teenagers something to do to keep them out of trouble.

RPGs have an intellectual slant and do not get emotional or spiritual. It is usually considered extremely inappropriate to discuss religion at an RPG, as that takes time and attention away from the game at hand. The kids who play RPGs are a fairly savvy, intelligent bunch who would not be so easily tricked or swayed into joining any sort of religious group, Satanic, Christian or otherwise. In my experience, role-players typically stand up for their friends and value religious and cultural diversity. They will not tolerate peer-pressure or other methods that could be used to force or trick someone into changing their religion or doing something ethically or morally questionable. Most of the time, religion never comes up as a topic at all in RPGs, because the players wish to be tactful and value their privacy and the privacy of others when it comes to personal beliefs. Role-players are also sophisticated enough and old enough to understand that nothing in the game is real, just as the characters and situations in their fiction-based influences (discussed at the top) are not real.

Here is what I have to say to those of you who are still worried your loved ones may be recruited into another religion or immoral behavior through RPGs: Due to all of these factors I mentioned above, including player personality, safe rules, and the presence of adult supervision, I truly feel that role-playing games are safe. They constitute an environment in which it would be extremely difficult if not impossible to actively convert others, actively worship, or engage in any immoral or questionable behavior. Also, role-players make it extremely difficult to attach any specific religion or religious content to a game, due to the religious diversity and/or ambiguity of the players and the played characters.

In other words, it is the other parts of a youth's life such as church attendance or the books he or she reads that will determine spiritual growth, not role-playing games. Role-playing games are a little vacation from everything in your true life -- school, work, church -- but as with all vacations, you come back to your cherished life when it is all over with. No one wants to live in a fantasy world; role-players just like to visit once in a while.

Here is a final caution to those of you who still may not believe my testimony. When someone judges someone else by the games they play, it can be very hurtful. Every time I was told I was going to Hell because of my hobby, it hurt. It hurt especially in the context of my life - back then as a teenager and currently as an adult, I am drug and alcohol free, do not smoke, am nonviolent and pursue charity work to help those in need. I was truly trying to avoid making the God of my choice angry! No one is perfect, but my role-playing friends and I were certainly not doing anything to deserve verbal harassment. It can also be especially hurtful when this sort of thing happens between a parent and a teen old enough to think for him or herself. I've had friends whose parents threw away their role-playing books and got extremely irate over this simple hobby, and it made my friends feel unloved and virtually disowned by their family. This goes against the golden rule described in so many faiths and non-faith based belief systems.

So before you explode at a loved one over a role-playing game, decide if it's really worth violating the important golden rule all to punish your loved one over their chosen, safe pastime. It is probably better to ask your loved one about it calmly and even visit a couple of games to observe, as well as getting to know the friends they are spending time with. So often we as humans get angry or fearful about what we do not understand, and project our deepest fears onto benign things. I hope in my testimony I have helped you to understand what role-playing games are really like; I promise, there is nothing at all to be afraid of or angry at. It's all make-believe.

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Originally posted: 2006-JAN-17
Latest update: 2006-JAN-17
Author: Lisa Lusby

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