Shortly after its release in the 1970s, Dungeons & Dragons (D&D) became a figure of criticism—nowhere more so than in Christian circles. The game has been accused of summoning demons, leading to the occult, and even driving teens to suicide. So it is completely understandable that God’s people would naturally want to oppose it. The Bible also explicitly states not to confer with magic users, practice magic, or worship other gods (Deuteronomy 18:10-12, Exodus 20:3), and you can create a character that can do all three of these things in D&D!
As many would hope it was just another phase, and with such opponents as Christians in the 1970s and 1980s and the media, that surely would be the case. Then it could go down in history as another pitfall that was swiftly defeated and we Christians would never have to deal with it again.
But that didn’t happen. The roleplaying game’s popularity grew—and worse yet, for some, Christians began playing it! Now we have found ourselves in a quandary with battle lines drawn in the middle of churches—proponents on one side, opposition on the other. As if we needed more reasons for division.
So how do we solve this dilemma? People on both sides of the fence have run to their corner and refrained from entertaining their other side’s point of view, as is the case in most arguments in recent generations. But where we have seen the most progress historically is in respectful discourse and well-researched opinions. When we run to our friends and only hear affirming opinions, we form uninformed echo chambers and drive a hearty wedge in the forming chasm. And that is where we are now.
Think about it. If you have traditionally opposed D&D, where did you hear that it was evil? Was if from a friend, pastor, or Christian website, or did you pick up a rulebook off of the shelf and thumb through it? Did you talk to a fellow believer who played to get their opinion? If you are a player or proponent of D&D, did you sit down and listen to legitimate concerns from your parents, pastor, or read them in a well-thought-out opposing article, or did your friends that play just tell you opposing opinions were ignorant and archaic?
Bible-believing Christians can be pretty well settled on things that are laid out in Scripture, but when things come up like this that aren’t, we have a tendency to form our war parties and stay on our side of the fence. We’ve seen it with movies, the internet, cell phones, and more. (I will explicitly state there were Christians on both sides of all of those arguments.) This isn’t to say all things that aren’t laid out in Scripture should be entertained. Things like pornography, for example, should obviously be opposed by all Christians. Watching two other people have sex is obviously not a part of God’s design. But when we come to a grayer area such as this, it benefits us to do our research.
If you are thinking this is difficult and not worth the time, trust me, you are in good company. This is something God had to work on me with, even up to this article! Originally this article was going to be much more along the lines of another article I wrote, Read This Before Condemning Christian Metal, where I laid out my point of view for opponents and left it at that, but after several hours of research, polling, and prayer, I’ve come to realize there are some legitimate concerns for Christians with D&D.
What is the best way to form an honest opinion on something like this, you say? I’m glad you asked. I have done my best to objectively lay out points for and against playing D&D and actual pitfalls versus presupposed ones. As with any situation, we all will have predispositions to one side of an argument or another, and I am not immune, so I know I can’t be completely fair in representing a side with which I don’t agree with all of the arguments.
So after hours of research and polling my Christian family and friends, here are the arguments I was presented with. Try to resist the temptation to skim the article as I know it is long, but there may be some things you have not thought of in any section below. Please keep an open mind no matter what your predisposition is to this subject, and use the information as an opportunity to grow closer to an understanding with your fellow brothers and sisters in Christ.
Objections to Dungeons & Dragons
We’ll start with the opposition to the game since that is what most people are familiar with, and I’ll make some counter points as well.
The Use of Magic in D&D
As I laid out earlier, the Bible is clear that we should abstain from all forms of magic and not consort with those who do. The entire chapter of 1 Samuel 28 shows God’s disapproval of Saul speaking with a medium who communicates with the dead. (Though Saul had separated himself from the Lord at that point anyway.) We see him disguise himself and ask the medium to bring the prophet Samuel up so Saul and consult him to get God’s direction. He knew God had told Moses not to let anyone practice any form of magic in their congregation; he made a law against it! (1 Samuel 28:9) Yet he went to her anyway.
There is a major difference between the magic the medium used and the magic in D&D, though: Her’s actually worked! Whether you believe it was Samuel or a demon that came to Saul, something did come up. When I tell my character to cast Magic Missile in a game, three mystical pink shards don’t manifest and shoot across the room, but this medium consulted something: Samuel or a demon.
That doesn’t mean that people can’t take D&D magic too seriously, but we will get into that on a later point.
There is a Pantheon of False Gods, and Some Characters Have to Worship Them
Full disclaimer: This was the selling point to the opposition for me. Especially since some of them are evil gods referenced in the Bible that could have demonic origins. I am a huge fantasy lover, and I didn’t pick up a D&D book for years when I heard about this. Quite plainly, I’ve never picked up a game where you are forced to worship a false god, and I never intend to. I put myself into the character (a flaw in being a fiction writer, I guess), so I stay away from this type of media. But here is where I get into my next point:
Everyone has different hedges.
It’s not a sin to play a character that does anything. Some people are separated enough from their characters that they can do almost anything they want and have no impure thoughts. Some people can’t handle it, though. Namely, me. So for those of us that connect too deeply with our characters, we set this hedge up to keep us from falling into sin. The fault here comes when we impose our hedges and experiences with God on other people.
As Peter Haas beautifully laid out in Pharisectomy, it is easy for Christians to build hedges and expect others to need those same hedges. This is why some pastors will get behind the pulpit and condemn all movies for anyone. Movies may be a vice for them, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it is for you or anyone else.
This is a big reason why a healthy prayer life is important for every believer. The Holy Spirit will convict you of what is leading you into sin (John 16:8). If we are prayerful about God correcting us, we will know what we need to stay away from. If we aren’t, no amount of human preaching will.
The Game is Time Consuming and Can Lead to Idolatry & Addiction
I’ve kind of wrapped three points into one here, but they are all similar and shouldn’t need much individual elaboration. This is a huge factor for me as well. I have a very addictive personality, so I have had to walk away from things like Massive Multiplayer Online Games (MMOs), hobbies, and even things like caffeine. So this is going to be where some of the heavy proponents are going to disagree with me.
If you start getting addicted to Dungeons & Dragons and it becomes, or begins to become, an idol, you need to stop playing it.
There are no two ways around it; idols are devastating to your faith. If you have spent any time reading the Old Testament, you’ll see Israel falling into that trap multiple times. Now I know their idols were wooden, stone, or metal dolls or statues, but the sentiment is the same: Don’t put other things before God. So stay in prayer and if you see yourself slipping with God and giving time to the game that should be dedicated to Him, drop it like it’s hot!
So if the game consumes time and isn’t beneficial in any way, why waste time playing it? I mean, Philippians 4:8 says, “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things.” And this verse is quoted a lot when I discuss this with other Christians along with “all things are permissible, but not all things are edifying,” which is a paraphrase of 1 Corinthians 10:23.
This is true, and again, if you are letting D&D invade too much of your time or thoughts, then this game isn’t for you. However, if you have used this argument, how would these verses compare to all of your activities? Is watching football pure, lovely, and edifying? How about that television show where the character says “Jesus Christ” as an exclamation point? That song you listened to on the way to work, was it pure? You see, it’s fair to use that argument if you are Mother Theresa, living on the streets in poverty in a third world country, but to most Americans, those verses can be a double-edged sword. Any verse in Scripture that can be applied to the opposition for D&D can be applied to any leisure activity.
In all honesty, I don’t think those verses mean we can’t have fun. We are given time of rest, and how you choose to spend that time isn’t laid out in Scripture. You can say, “Well, that game is evil, so it’s different.” Three things with that: 1) How do you know it is evil? Is that said with research, or from something you’ve heard? 2) Watching dudes smear each other into astroturf, watching fictional people behaving badly, and listening to songs about practically anything these days are no different. 3) The game doesn’t have to have anything evil in it. But more on that in my next point.
As an Open Game, You Can Do Despicable Things in D&D
It is true this is among one of the most malleable games in existence, which gives the players a lot of power to manipulate it. In the infamous words of Uncle Ben, “With great power comes great responsibility,” or more appropriately for Christians, “From everyone who is given much, much will be demanded” (Luke 12:48). Betcha didn’t know there was a biblical lesson with that line!
With this point, as with previous points, it comes down to the person. You can absolutely pillage, murder, steal, worship false gods, or do even worse things. But you don’t have to. If you have the temptation to do something terrible in-game, I would recommend speaking to a professional counselor. Genuinely. There’s nothing wrong with talking to someone who is well-versed in that field of study for their opinion. And if you have a friend that has serious tendencies like this with their characters, you aren’t doing any favors by letting them act them out. Now, I’m not talking about stealing gold or picking on a Non-Player Character (NPC), but if they make you blanch at the description in which they do something to an NPC, there may be deeper-seeded issues there. Sincerely ask them to look into it. But those problems aren’t tied to the game, they’re with the individual. They could act out in any platform.
The other side of the coin with this power, just like superheroes vs. super villains, is that it can be used for good. Dungeons & Dragons doesn’t have a rulebook; it has guidebooks. You can change practically anything you want to as long as the player it affects and the Game Master (the one who controls the direction of the game) can agree.
For example: Let’s say I want to play a paladin. Per the handbook, paladins derive their power by worshipping a god in the game’s pantheon. I can work out with the Game Master (GM) that my paladin worships Jehovah. The GM can even make a campaign where there are no false gods at all! There can be a campaign where the magic is more like innate power, power that comes from technology, or there can be no magic at all! It again boils down to the person, their hedges, and their convictions. If there is something you can’t agree with the GM on, it is probably best you don’t play with them as the GM. There are even rulebooks made by Christians to encourage this type of play.
Some People Have a Hard Time Differentiating Fantasy from Reality
This isn’t as common in adults, but children and youth can be more susceptible to this. When this problem was brought up in my polling, I recognized its value. It can’t really be refuted, and it shouldn’t be. Likewise, for those who have addictive tendencies with D&D, if you catch yourself only living in a fantasy world, stop playing. And if you have children or youth with minds still developing who are playing the game, you should be particularly vigilant in watching for any signs that the game is too real to them. Nightmares, talking about or researching actual spells, or all of their conversation being consumed by the world of D&D are some excellent indicators. Ensuring you present this world as fictional and even explicitly stating it to younger minds can go a long way in preventing this as well.
If you are shaking your head thinking this is not an issue, there have been studies that conclude this to be true. Children as old at 10-years-old have been polled about their beliefs in fantastical things, and some still believe them. I haven’t found any conclusive studies on teens and older, but the linked article looks at the beliefs of youth and how to address it with them properly. The study referenced in the article is here. Children from stressed childhoods have higher tendencies to these types of thoughts, so it isn’t unreasonable to conclude it could last further into life.
So when introducing D&D to a younger audience, the parent or guardian should take special care to ensure it isn’t more than a game to them. Monitor them closely or wait until you are sure they have matured enough to be able to make the distinction. This is advice I have had to follow myself. I have wanted to sit down with my son, who loves fantasy games and movies, but I have had to cut him off of some video games due to him having genuine fear from the characters on the game in the real world. (We’re talking cartoony games, too. I don’t let him play Resident Evil or anything gruesome.) Some games he makes the distinction with easily, others he’ll have to wait until he is older to play. I’m playing it safe with D&D and starting him later, since you engage more in the world in some ways than with video games.
Dungeons and Dragons Leads People into the Occult
There have been a number of controversies surrounding D&D, the most prominent of which was popularized by William Schnoebelen. He was a Wiccan Priest before becoming a Satanic Priest who eventually dedicated his life to the Lord. Schnoebelen published his first article with Chick Publications titled, Straight Talk on Dungeons and Dragons, and a subsequent article, Should a Christian Play Dungeons & Dragons? (Coincidence? Nah, it’s a good to-the-point title.) I could go point-for-point with you and explain where I agree and disagree from the standpoint of a player, but most of the points he makes are covered in this article, so I will save the word count here.
The biggest point to make here is that I agree that someone who wants to make this game about witchcraft can, but I disagree in his saying that it can’t be played by a Christian because others have that intention or that it has that capability. Your car has the capability to drive you into another car, but that doesn’t keep us from getting in one every day. A movie can make some people want to start a cult or subversive militia and overthrow the government, but we still watch those. Again, the destructive nature lies in the person, not the game, and I agree someone with those tendencies should not play Dungeons & Dragons. And if you do play D&D, and get into a game with someone who wants to make the game about things that make you uncomfortable spiritually, you should politely walk away and decline to play with them.
Compliments to Dungeons & Dragons
As there are good points for why a Christian shouldn’t play D&D and some of the fallacies associated therein, there are also solid reasons someone who feels inclined to should play.
Dungeons & Dragons Promotes Creative & Critical Thinking
D&D is a pastime like watching an NFL game, playing basketball with friends, watching TV shows, listening to music, or any other recreational activity. A key difference is that some of these activities lack any developmental capabilities. The only thing you’re likely to develop watching football is an ulcer!
Playing D&D has a leg up on these other sedentary activities because it does exercise the brain in a few ways. Both the players and the GM have to use their creative thinking to come up with ways to create characters, cultures, systems, and everything else that makes the game run. Practice in creative thinking exercises these parts of our brains and promotes creative thinking in other areas of our lives. And creative thinking makes you more valuable in the workforce. Of course, it’s on the player to apply that creative thinking outside of D&D, but the fact remains that the game does give us the practice.
You also improve your critical thinking skills. When the GM sets an obstacle between the player and their goal, they have to come up with ways to overcome that challenge—typically in creative ways. The GM has to think critically of how to apply those obstacles as well. That again can translate into good problem solvers in the workforce and daily life. And the world can always use more of these types of thinkers. Granted, a good video game can help with these things as well, but when you add the human, critical thinking element in the GM versus an automated system, the growth and challenge have the opportunity to be much more valuable.
Churches Could Use D&D as an Outreach
It almost sounds heretical if your predisposition is that the game is evil, right? But as we addressed above, the game in and of itself isn’t evil; the power is in the hands of the players. And what happens if you give that power to Christians to be used for good? Effective outreach to a demographic that sorely needs it.
Think about it. We have Super Bowl parties that are effective outreaches as well, but typically people who play D&D and people who are truly interested in the outcome of NFL games are different people groups. By adding different avenues of outreach, our churches can become more effective at filling their pews and leading others to Christ.
As we’ve gone over, the game does not have to have any of the elements that would make it incompatible with a church group. Pastor and leaders aren’t okay with pantheon? Make them magic items. The magic system needs to be removed? Make them innate powers. No magic system at all? Just use the classes that don’t use magic and limit the ones that use them as a secondary measure.
The possibilities for the church here could be endless if Christians would do their research on this. You could literally have a campaign centered around a book in the Bible or give an accurate telling of the Crusades. If putting them straight into the story bothers you, it could be an allegorical campaign. Remember Aslan in The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe? Think of all of the conversational opportunities that book created for Christians to relate with unbelieving readers. Now make that more personal by putting someone in the story. What better way to show someone what Joseph would have felt like being sold by his brothers than to give them a character that goes through the same thing?
Host a game at your church or small group. Put a few flyers in the mail or at your local game shop, create an event and post on Facebook, and send out an eblast and you’re good to go. Not to mention the rapport you’ll build with your local game shops. Paul used the culture of the Gentiles to reach them. It would serve us well to follow his example.
The Creator of Dungeons & Dragons Was A Christian
You read that right. Gary Gygax, the creator of D&D, was a professing Christian at the time he created the game. This isn’t necessarily a little-known fact, but to some it is news. He didn’t make that well-known in his life in what he described as an effort to protect the name of Christianity from the controversy that surrounded his creation.
Now, there are Christians at all stages of their walk with Christ, and as I’ve highlighted in this article, no two walks are the same. But Gygax was mature enough and firm enough in his faith to stand by his convictions. In the letter you see with this section, Gygax addresses why he couldn’t in his right conscience celebrate Christmas for its known pagan traditions. If someone has that kind of spiritual convictions can create a game like D&D, I believe it stands to reason there should be some Christians who could play it.
Again, this doesn’t mean every Christian will be able to play it. Everyone is convicted differently so we can put up hedges to help us stay away from the sins we are more predisposed to. But that should be a solid indicator that some can play it.
I hope this article has helped to shed some light on the topic, whichever side of the fence you stand on. I also hope it gives you a great starting point for some healthy, honest discourse with friends and family. We can use this opportunity for growth and coming together with our brothers and sisters in Christ, or go to our corners and continue to build our echo chambers.
This article can also work well for any tabletop game, but I chose D&D for the launchpad for its notoriety in Christian circles. A key point to bring to the table with this conclusion: The most critical points for the game in my research came from the mouths of players. That says three things to me: 1) There are legitimate concerns for believers to watch out for while playing D&D. 2) Most players are doing their research and not blindly supporting it because they like it. 3) There can be mutual ground between believers on this subject if both sides are willing to give the other a chance.
Dungeons & Dragons puts the power in the hands of the players. As Christians, we can choose to wield that power for good and mind the pitfalls, or abandon our brothers and sisters in Christ that play into the hands of those who wouldn’t use it for good.
I would like to give a huge shout out to everyone who played a part in helping me with this article and the research required to help it come to fruition. To all of the people who voiced honest concerns and support in my polling, and Lindsay Harrup and Cody Hahn for going over the work in depth to keep me honest and accurate: Thank you!
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