Monday, May 5, 2014

Can D&D and Religion Get Along?

If you are a regular reader of this Blog, you may recall an article I did a few weeks ago entitled “D&D’s Dark Past”. If you missed it you can find it HERE. After writing that article, I noticed that much of the opposition that exists to playing D&D came from one of two places: a) people’s uninformed fear; and b) religion. Since I already try to address people’s uninformed fears by giving them weekly articles on, about, and concerning D&D; I figured I would take this week’s article to address the second topic of religion. Don’t ever say that I shy away from the tough issues.

So what can I say about D&D and religion? Well I suppose it depends on what religion you subscribe to, if any at all. Although I’m no expert and don’t scour the internet for evidence of how all of the different religions feel towards D&D, I get a distinct feeling that only Christianity (and even then only a small portion) has any measurable feelings on the subject. I’m personally a Buddhist and, other than an argument that could be made about D&D being a wasted effort, I don’t see or hear about any issues on our end. If there are any Muslims, Jews, Hindus, or other denominations out there that take offence to Dungeons and Dragons, I invite you to drop me a line and enlighten me.

So that being said, let’s get back to the arguments from that minority of Christians. I believe the main issues that cause the divide between D&D and religion can be boiled down into three objections: Firstly, the many references to demons, devils, and the occult; secondly, the fact that D&D encourages players to assume character roles that involve magic and some of that magic could be considered to be ‘dark magic’; and thirdly, the inherently violent nature of the game. In examining these three things, I can understand the foundations for the religious argument but I’m not quite sure they fully understand the harmlessness of these things from a player’s perspective.

On the first matter, dungeoneers (again, that’s the term I use to describe people who play D&D) don’t engage in D&D for their characters to become demons and devils, nor do they aspire to become evil and perform unholy acts. Even in an adventure where the DM permits the players to roleplay “evil” characters, I would submit that very few groups take the notion to a dangerous or detrimental level. And I would also submit that playing out one's darker fantasies in a roleplaying situation is an excellent way of exploring one's darker side in a very safe and forgiving environment. However, in most campaigns, characters engage demons and devils in combat to rid the “world” of their evil. How is that such a bad thing? And, to be perfectly honest and avoid any naivete on my part, if there are any groups out there engaging in active demonic/unholy practices while playing D&D, they are the few exceptions that prove the rule and I encourage them all to seek professional help. But the bottom line is D&D does not promote or encourage that behavior on any level.   

On the second matter, the characters in D&D do dabble in actions that involve magic and yes, some of it could be interpreted as “dark magic” from time to time. Such things may include mind control, bringing a dead character back to life, or talking to the dead. However, in my experience, this is on such an innocent level it’s almost laughable. And honestly, are these things so off-putting? I see most of these acts on your average night of PG-13 mainstream television. Also, from an in-game point of view, many of these acts are done to gather information, stop an evil person from doing something horrible, or to save a party member from missing out on the fun of an adventure by being unfortunately dead. Personally, I would do all three of these things in real life if I thought any of them would work properly! But again, the bottom line is all of this is done in fun and usually for the greater good of the players. I see no threat towards corrupting our youth here unless you also feel that Harry Potter may be promoting Satanism.    

The last objection/accusation is one that D&D as well as many other media outlets (rap music, video games, movies, television, etc.) have fallen prey to: they are violent and are gateways to more violence. And I’m not going to mince my words here: D&D is violent. There are weapons, fighting, wounding, and death on almost a nightly basis. It exists and it is an inseparable part of the game, no excuses. However, I want to direct your attention to the following research that shows a lot of study has gone into violent games over the past few years and there is virtually no link between the violent games people play and violent acts in real life:

"This analysis does not find support for either a causal or correlational link between violent media and subsequent aggression in viewers. Why the belief of media violence effects persists despite inherent weaknesses of research is somewhat of an open question."          

-Ferguson, Christopher J. and John Kimburn. "The Public Health Risks of Media Violence: A Meta-Analytic  Review." Journal of Pediatrics 154 (2009): 759-763. 10 Aug. 2011.

"The strong link between video game violence and real world violence, and the conclusion that video games lead to social isolation and poor interpersonal skills, are drawn from bad or irrelevant research, muddleheaded thinking and unfounded, simplistic news reports."

-Kutner, Lawrence, PH.D. and Cheryl K. Olson, ScD. Grand Theft Childhood: The Surprising Truth About Video Games And What Parents Can Do. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2008.

"Two studies examined the relationship between exposure to violent video games and aggression or violence in the laboratory and in real life. Study 1 participants were either randomized or allowed to choose to play a violent or nonviolent game. Although males were more aggressive than females, neither randomized exposure to violent-video-game conditions nor previous real life exposure to violent video games caused any differences in aggression. Study 2 examined correlations between trait aggression, violent criminal acts, and exposure to both violent games and family violence. Results indicated that trait aggression, family violence, and male gender were predictive of violent crime, but exposure to violent games was not. Structural equation modeling suggested that family violence and innate aggression as predictors of violent crime were a better fit to the data than was exposure to video game violence. These results question the common belief that violent-video-game exposure causes violent acts."

-Ferguson, Christopher J., Stephanie M. Rueda, Amanda M. Cruz, Diana E. Ferguson, Stacey Fritz and Shawn M. Smith. "Violent video games and aggression: Causal relationship or byproduct of family violence and intrinsic violence motivation?" Criminal Justice & Behavior 35 (2008): 311-332. 10 Aug. 2011.

I know that studies by themselves don’t amount to a whole lot but ask yourself these questions: How many wars do you think have been started over roleplaying games? And how many wars have been started over religion? I know that may be putting too fine a point on it but people in glass houses…

Nevertheless, it would be remiss of me to end this article here. While I can find no reasonable argument for religious groups to despise D&D and vice versa, I can site many things that both institutions have in common. For starters, many religions and D&D preach the morals of courage, honor, self-restraint, and putting the needs of others ahead of your own. Many religions and D&D thrive best when their practitioners support each other with a sense of community and inclusion. Many religions and D&D have distinctive cultures and people who are passionate about what they represent. And here’s the real shocker: I’ll bet that a huge number of people who have strong support of their faith also love to play D&D. I know I do and I’ve known many others who have no qualms with going to their weekly religious service and their weekly D&D game within hours of each other. There’s nothing wrong with that and you can tell anyone who says otherwise to drop me a line because I’d love to debate it with them! As far as I’m concerned, D&D and religion are a lot more alike than either of them would like to admit and after all things are considered, perhaps that observation is both the cause of and the solution to the problem.


  1. Good article. I don't however agree that D&D or roleplaying games in general can be compared to religion, or indeed should be. Is your reason for doing so to say both are respectable ways to pass time? I don't think this is necessary since religion has only a fraction of the credibility of roleplaying in my opinion. My objection to the comparison is that in roleplaying games, the participants are clear that what they are playing at is fiction. However in religion, participants are encouraged to take what they are being told as literal fact at worst, and allegory for reality at best.

  2. My true intention behind this article was to emphasize that while D&D is ridiculed and in some instances demonized by some people in the name of religion, both D&D and the many religions of the world promote the same values and morals on many levels.

  3. Interesting read; but I'd actually argue you missed a big point. One of the ones I've heard more often (being a Catholic) is the presence of gods in the game that the characters worship, some of which are evil, some of whom your goal eventually may be to kill. Especially in younger children, it could be argued it sends the wrong message. That being said, I've always made the argument that taking it seriously (IE: to consider a work of fiction a threat) only ends up hurting that which you are trying to protect.

    And of course, there is the fear that some will take it too far and turn it into a satanic cult thing - which did happen in an isolated incident, although there is crazy minority in any group. Without knowing what is involved, it is easy to hear the abstract of what you do in the game and get the wrong impression, and there is not exactly a champion of the game within those communities that have a problem with it to set the record straight - it'll never be the topic of a homily or sermon.

    The two absolutely are compatible, D&D is a work of fiction and a source of entertainment.