Conspiracies and Catholicism: Dungeons & Dragons

“Wait, you’re Catholic? Uh…why are you playing Dungeons and Dragons? Your church doesn’t allow that.”

This question was actually asked by a Cradle Catholic gamer friend. He’s not a “practicing Catholic”, because his aunt insisted exactly that– Catholics can’t play Dungeons and Dragons (D&D), or read fantasy, or for all I know read fairy tales.  I pointed him to Jimmy Akin‘s post about Limbo, and blog posts by some gaming priests.  I know I’ve told this story before. I’ve seen it happen several times, with minor variations, where people are driven out of the Church not by what we teach, but why what they were told we teach. The best I’ve managed is to bring them from a visceral hatred of the Church to an anger at some people in the Church.

So, can Catholics play Dungeons and Dragons?

Well, for starters, almost all of modern popular fantasy (of which D&D is a sizable subgroup) has a common ancestor, and he was Catholic. I highly suggest you read that fairly short biography. It is touching. JRR Tolkien’s influence is quite heavy almost everywhere you look, even if it’s being deliberately altered to stand apart. He was building a mythology, and he planted his roots in many mythologies, quite solidly, and I cannot sufficiently recommend his essays.

Now, that does not actually answer if Catholics can play D&D, but it is a good starting point; if the Professor was a known saint, it would definitely answer the claim in the negative! (If you think his case should be investigated, there is a facebook group trying to establish his reputation for sanctity. Not sure if I’ll join, but that’s because I’m not on Facebook much, not because I wouldn’t ask him to pray for me.)

The Catechism, of course, has something to say about the ‘sources of morality

CCC 1750 the morality of human acts depends on:

– the object chosen;
– the end in view or the intention;
– the circumstances of the action.

The object, the intention, and the circumstances make up the “sources,” or constitutive elements, of the morality of human acts.

To figure out if it’s moral, let’s start with what it is.

The Object

Role playing games (RPGs), of which Dungeons and Dragons is probably the best known, are something like a cross between writing a story and doing an improvised play. You make your character, set their name, history and “stats”– numbers that describe what they can do– and in most versions you set their “alignment,” which tells you something about your character’s personality.

Depending upon the setting, your GM (that’s the Game Master– also sometimes Dungeon Master– the person who plays everyone that isn’t a player controlled character) is chosen for the ‘campaign. You may pick a god or entire group of gods for your character to follow. If that made your ears perk up for why folks would object to the game– they’re not God type gods, but more Greek type ‘gods,’ simplified to make the game mechanics work better. Some of them are embodiment of very Christian virtues, such as the Suffering God; some are flat out evil in a wide variety of ways.

The magic associated with them is much closer to real world, historical magic than the “arcane” magic’ in the game, but it’s just a variation on prayer with amazingly reliable results. A ‘cleric’ will say something like “I cast minor heal on our warrior!” and they roll their dice to see how many ‘hit points’ the other character gained.

It’s a lot more fun once you get the hang of the mechanics, kind of like the difference between reading when you have to sound out each letter laboriously as compared to when you just know almost all the words you find; you can focus more on the story. One of the hardest things for a new player is to separate themselves from their character– not as in “I think I am a level two Gnomish wizard,” but in that they take it personally when their character fails or dies. Getting “in to character” means that you figure out what the character you’ve made would do with the information they have– and not using out of character knowledge, like that the GM really likes to use a specific monster, or really likes traps, or is directly copying a story everyone knows for comedic effect, such as having a big sign that says ‘ACME’ on a box.

So, is there anything inherently wrong with a Catholic telling a story? Obviously not. Even if it’s a group effort.

Is it wrong for a Catholic to tell stories about the Greek gods? If so, someone forgot to tell the ancient monks that are the only reason we know about them!

Can a Catholic be a villain in a play? Well, yes, or there wouldn’t have been any plays in Catholic countries.

So, how about its intent?

The Intention

It’s a game, like bowling. Some people will include teaching– for an Eberron campaign, I played a cleric of “Natural Law” partly because it was a fun way to expose folks to a little Catholic philosophy. (Think of it like a “Bowling to End Hunger” drive.)
The thing is, a Catholic should not glorify evil. If you’re building a world (game setting) where evil is good, good is stupid and anybody who thinks differently is clearly a moron. It’s going to take a lot to make that work. This isn’t very helpful because it’s a matter of prudence; as Msgr. Fleetwood pointed out about Harry Potter. It’s very easy to misunderstand or read too much into a topic.

I think a properly run game is going to make people think about the morality of their actions– as my mom says, the way you play is the way you live. I know I can’t empathize enough to play a chaotic evil character. But a chaotic neutral one (essentially, as I play it, able to make friends but does not recognize the humanity of those they don’t like) is entirely possible; enough of a menace to the rest of the party to not glorify such a thing in the least. With that said, it must be done right– notoriously it’s been said that most players think they’re lawful good, but play chaotic evil; much like in life, you’ve got to pay attention to the essence, not the paint job. This is a prudential judgment.

How about circumstances?

Well, if you are a recovering Wiccan, or tempted to sin by something, don’t do the things that temp you. If you know someone is tempted to sin by subjects in a game, don’t keep hassling them to join in because “it’s just a game.”

Act like you love someone– really love them, not like you want them to do what you think is right to the point you will mislead them into thinking things are committing a sin when they are not. I’m very sure that the various relatives that drove my friends out of the Faith meant well. Thing is, they substituted their beliefs and gave false teaching, driving out people that could have been a bedrock of the next generation of Catholics.

****

For a different angle, here’s Jimmy Akin again. I wish I remembered if this was one of the articles I’d forwarded to my old gaming buddies!

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3 thoughts on “Conspiracies and Catholicism: Dungeons & Dragons”

  1. I remember the big national controversy about D&D in the early ’80’s when I was a kid. For some reason neither my parents nor anyone in the Church felt the need to address the issue even though lots of us were playing. It seemed more of a ‘Lifetime Movie of the Week’ contrivance than a real thing to me.

    Of course my mother, even though she is extraordinarily religious, would sit and watch some of the old Hammer Films horror movies with me some Saturdays as well.

    1. Religious doesn’t needfully mean being a pain about it. :D I think it’s overblown, too, but I still get a lot of people who were teens at the time, then decided they were serious about religion and so what they’d heard must be a normal “religious” response.

      Horror movies are one of the few movies that reliably recognize any authority or inherent power for Priests, anyways.

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