Wednesday, October 19, 2011

The Cross and the Character Sheet: More on Religion and D&D

I considered that this kind of discussion really belongs on my other blog, but interested parties are likelier to be aware of this one and not that one, so for the nonce, here it stays.

Thanks to everyone who took the time to comment on yesterday's post.  Allow me to address some of them.

Ryan Shelton sez...
Sorry Doc, I honestly don't get what you  don't get ;-)
Christianity, or any religious faith for that matter, is not the same as belonging to a fraternal club. Yeah, we both both rites and funny hats and codes of behavior, but religious faith is a way of life (or ought to be) not just getting together on Sunday for singing and fried chicken.
Right away, dude?  Thanks for having a sense of humor about this biz.  And I agree with you, in a way -- any day is good for singing and fried chicken.

When I do something I ought to be examining whether or not that fits within my way of life. If my way of life is one informed by Christianity, then why wouldn't I examine the activity to see if it fits?

Okay; I get that.  What I don't get is what's in D&D--or any RPG, for that matter--that might conflict with that way of life.  Why wouldn't it fit?  I ask this not rhetorically, but because I really don't know.

After making these statements, Ryan was aked by Kelvin Green,

Out of interest, would you also examine paddling a canoe or drawing a picture -- to use the Doctor's examples -- in the same way? That's the bit that I find most interesting; why is D&D singled out for scrutiny when it's just another hobby? Is it just a holdover from the Satanic Panic of the 80's?

Ryan replied,

Yes, of course. Perhaps I would not consider paddling a canoe with quite the same scrutiny, because it involves no real moral dimension, but yes.

Aha!  A moral dimension.  This helps things make a little more sense.

So if it's a morality thing, how is it a morality thing?  Is there moral dimension to pretending to be a...a space-dude, or a fighter, or an elf or whatever?   I'd consider it immoral--or at least unethical and, frankly, dickish--to break into someone's house and steal their stuff, but is it immoral to participate in an imaginary version of same?  If so, how?

Then along comes Stuart Robertson, apparently with a blue donut on his face, to express the following:

Most people want the option (although they might not always take it) of playing a character in an RPG that is "like them" but with a Fantasy / Sci-Fi paint job. It's why female gamers want to see strong female characters, non-white gamers want to see non-white characters, gay/lesbian gamers or players with physical disabilities want to see etc. etc. etc. I think it's the same thing for someone for whom religion is a more central part of their life. They want to see that the game includes characters like them.

OKAY.  THIS I can grok.  But then I gotta wonder, is it the game designers' responsibility to put that into the game?

You could say that, yes indeed, it is.  Or at least, they'll be more successful if there's room for all those characters.  Better yet if they never give a reason why not to include those characters.

I loved Mage: The Ascension, even though I was sometimes annoyed by its SCIENCE BAD stance.  But even then the designers threw me a bone--even though some of the villains (indeed, the major ones) evilbadwrong science dudes, there was not only room for good guy science dudes.  More than room, there were established good-science-guy groups.

But even without them, I was able to enjoy the game; most of the time I played a Hermetic mage, in fact.  The SCIENCE BAD nonsense was annoying but not an impediment; and anyway, when I was playing, it was MY GAME, and I made it into what I WANTED.  Again, that was sort of the point of gaming, for me.

So if you're a muslim or a christian or whatever and you want to play D&D, why not just say, "My dude's Jewish, so he doesn't eat the pork the merchant offers us.  But he'll eat the beef!  I bought him two plates."

I mean, after all, we're just pretending, for fun.

Apparently Oddyssey AKA Natalie Bennet is of the same mind as I (in this matter at least), as she chimes in:

I think some of the issue here is, "Is D&D compatible with Christianity" is a totally legitimate question, but the stuff that people look at when they're deciding is kind of nuts. Like I think there are some legitimate questions from a Christian perspective (caveat being that I am not a Christian myself. Mostly. I dunno what I am right now.) as to -- The big one being, Is this something that doing it is going to take me away from God and the people around me? 

If a game can take you away form your god, is your god that powerful after all?  It seems like a snarky question, but it arises at this point.  As for the people around you, do you mean will they judge you?  I thought only God could judge.

There's also, I think, some legitimate questions to be asked and considered about the way the game generates and handles moral content. Do I need to always run my character according to Christian ethics in order to be a good Christian? Or is it better to use the game to explore other ethical systems (or the lack thereof), or at least to mess around with them however I want because it's a game and it's for relaxation and the moral content isn't a big deal because it's not real people? Those are maybe questions with fairly obvious answers, but they're also, I think, questions that deserve asking if you're a person who has a strong moral/ethical worldview and wants to make sure that all your actions, every day, are in line with that moral/ethical worldview.

Fair enough.  I agree, the answers are obvious ones.  As for the matter of the ethical worldview, well...I get that, I really do.  I just think that, when the point of the game is to do whatever you want with it, then the question is far less important than "Do we have enough Mountain Dew for everybody?"

Lastly I will address rsteve76's comment, and I leave it for last because -- really, dude?

You were born an atheist? Really? If anything, you were born an agnostic. Atheism literally means "no God," vs. Agnosticism, which means "no knowledge." Unless your first words were "there is no God," I'm guessing you were an agnostic, if that.

Semantics.  You wanna argue semantics.  I accept -- I am a fan of trying hard to say what I mean.

I maintain that I was born an atheist because I was born not believing in any gods. Sure, I had no knowledge of any, either; in fact I had knowledge of very little at all, except for "HUNGRY" and "MUST WAIT A FEW YEARS FOR NEW WAVE MUSIC".

Okay so not that last one.

"Atheism" means "without a god".  Atheists are called that because they've arrived at the conclusion that there probably isn't a god, because the lace of strong evidence makes it a strong likelihood.  "Agnostic" means "without knowledge", and I argue that all atheists are also agnostic by strict definition because, hey -- we don't know.

But you don't have to be an expert in invisible textiles to clue in that the emperor is naked.

Both now and throughout recorded history, the majority of people have had some sort of religious belief. Inact, finds of prehistoric man suggest they had some form of belief in the supernatural and possibly an afterlife.

Just as we have long exhibited tendencies toward aggression, tribalism, artistic expression, curiosity, critical thinking, gluttony, genius, mob mentality, bad taste in clothes, prejudice, creativity...

"True atheism," as we know it today, is actually a relatively recent phenomenon. So all of the evidence suggests that mankind, by nature, is a religious creature, and that for one to be a true atheist, he must have it taught out of him.

Please provide that "all the" evidence.

So your assertion that atheism is the natural human state is a fantasy that goes against all of the evidence. But then, that's atheism for ya. ;^) 

Nice.  That's -- that's brilliant, man.  Smack-talk.  Good one.

I really hope you're being sarcastic.