Dungeon Crawling


Today, the Duffster wrote about Dungeons and Dragons and how it seems to make some folks a bit crazy.

Parents and church leaders are so determined to protect their kids from phantom Satanists they can’t see the real benefits of gaming. In an age when our culture is encouraging kids to be bad at math, hopeless at science and functionally illiterate, D&D inspires literacy, imagination, logical thinking and familiarity with basic math.

Most critics reject D&D for religious reasons, but I’ve known parents who didn’t approve of Star Wars or Star Trek games, either – as if the very act of using your imagination is offensive to God.

How many writers have we lost because of this? How many artists? How many poets? How many scientists and teachers have we lost because acts of imagination were dismissed as frivilous or wrong?

I had lots of fun playing D&D back when I was in junior high. It’s fantastic escapism when you’re at that age when your hormones are freaking out and when you’re too shrimpy to keep the jocks from shoving you around the hallways and you’re too awkward to keep from stammering and sweating every time you talk to a pretty girl. It was great to have an activity where you could, at least for a few hours, be the hero who saves the princess and dismembers the orcs.

Heck, it’s not even like you have to be in junior high to enjoy it. D&D is wonderful escapism no matter what age you are. Ain’t nothing wrong with escapism. It’s why we read comics, watch TV and movies, play video games, read books. Everyone needs some fantasy in their lives sometimes.

For some reason, roleplaying games like D&D really set some people off. I remember back in the 1980s hearing from people who’d claim that D&D was a sure way to turn a kid into a Satanist, that it taught you how to contact demons, that its casual violence would transform seemingly normal people into cackling serial killers. Funnily enough, they said the same thing about rock and roll (including Bon Jovi, the Eagles, and Madonna), video games (including the cartoonish fantasy “Dragon’s Lair” game), and jewelry (for some reason, while girls could wear earrings safely, guys who wore them were dooooomed). Wow, the ’80s were weird.

I think that particular form of lunacy has mostly faded away by now. I think ya gotta credit the “Satanic Panic” of the late 1980s for that. That was when fears about hidden Satanists really hit peak levels — people got arrested on incredibly vague rumors that they were devil worshipers sacrificing hundreds, even thousands of people in bizarre rituals that somehow escaped anyone’s notice. People who expressed public doubts about all this were accused of being Satanic conspiritors. People were even convicted and put in prison, despite the complete lack of evidence, of bodies, of motives, of anything.

Eventually, attorneys started winning appeals based on the bizarre testimony at trials, on the clearly unfair prosecutions, on the fact that there was no physical or circumstantial evidence of any mass murders or sexual assaults. The people who still insisted that a global Satanic conspiracy was sacrificing people were revealed as delusional. Sanity returned, for the most part.

Of course, there’s still a tendency on some folks’ part to accuse anything popular of being EEEEVIL. I remember a few years ago when a bunch of local Lubbock churches bought a full-page ad in the Avalanche-Journal to accuse the Harry Potter books of turning young readers into Satanists capable of performing real magic. You don’t hear much of that anymore, partly because most people are now familiar with the story and know that it’s an innocent fantasy, partly because Harry Potter kept getting more and more popular and yet there wasn’t an accompanying rise in Satanic toddlers paralyzing people with magic wands…

…and partly because, honestly, most of those howling church groups didn’t really believe that Harry Potter — or for that matter, D&D, rock and roll, or goth fashion — were actually evil.

Most evil in the world can be narrowed down to greedy people, violent people, bigotry, liars. It’s hard to oppose evil like that. It could cause greedy bankers to stop donating to your church, it could cause bigots to claim that you’re too soft on those kinds of people, and not even the best sermon in the world can stop some violent drunk from venting his frustrations on his wife and kids. As important as it is to help people through the rough spots in life, to teach them how to make good moral and ethical decisions, to provide a supportive and enriching community for others, there are people who get frustrated that it’s so hard to do anything about the root causes of evil.

But if only Capital-E Evil, Old Scratch himself, the damned demons of Dis, if only Satan could be tied directly to something small, weak, and easy to target and smash, wouldn’t that be great? Wouldn’t indulging that fantasy make you feel like you were striking a meaningful blow against God’s greatest enemy, like you really knew how to make things go your way, like you were as powerful as you always wished you could be as a kid?

I guess everyone needs a little roleplaying, escapism, and fantasy in their lives sometimes.

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