Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Christians and D&D

Writing about D&D I've found myself thinking about bygone eras quite a bit, often as I stumble into some discussion everyone else had years ago or that I may have had, but with other people.  I recently came across the Dark Dungeons comic, which outlines the era.  Apparently a lot of other people remember the odd period of such attacks and like fluoride in the water being used for mind control, there are always some groups which hold onto parts of it forever and bring it back on occasion. 

Now my best friend in middle school's family was one of these families, but he also played a lot of D&D.  He was also instrumental in some of my first musical tastes, oddly enough my introduction to punk rock also came from someone who is now a grown-up conservative as well. So while I might not have horror stories about growing up Christian, with a capital C, I do have a lot of odd stories about growing up as the heathen kid next door.  Most of which consisted of odd family outings, the type of things where you take your kids' best friends along.  Movies, a ball game, etc..,  those events which mix adults and kids together, where half the point is to get out of the house.   "Hey kids want to go see a magic show?" and then all the tricks have an odd bible message "Like Moses parting the Red Sea, teh queen appears, so is that your card Karen?"  "We're going to this cool picnic, want to come along?"   Then you spend a couple hours pelting each other with water balloons in the woods, followed by some bible messages from Youth Pastor Bob, who plays guitar.  The "rock band" where the lead singer talks about jesus as much as he sings.   I have a dozen or so stories like these. I trot them out at times under the heading of Times people have tried to recruit me into cults, The Nebulous world of Midwestern Protestantism, It was the 70s, or Why nobody is as slutty as girls from Church Youth groups..   Part of the agenda of the mega-churches has always been to spread the gospel this way. 

Now I mention this rambling background, because I long ago realized my life is neither as universal or bland as I once thought it was as being small-town, suburban, Midwestern, white and middle-class.  Now admittedly it's not going to sell as exotica, like Once Were Warriors, Boyz in the Hood, or Yentl, as everyone thinks they understand the life, because they watched Leave it To Beaver.  It gets dismissed at times, because we're not nearly as colorful as say slum-dwelling Italians, big Irish families, or elite, east-coast, boarding school kids who have lots of sex and drugs.  Southerners seem to really pump out the movies, right along with city kids, and I won't forget the endless Socal suburban movies.

In contrast, much of my life seems to show up with Garrison Keillor, in the works of Stephen King, and for a season or two Freaks and Geeks.

My friend wasn't stupid.  He wasn't the archetype automaton, nor was he the archetype rebel. He didn't blindly obey.  Matter of fact, he grew up into the type of considerate, thoughtful, good man, that almost makes you wish you believed in such things.  Which is a story you rarely hear about capital C, Christians, because it's the loud ones who make the news. I remember the weird ebb and flow of such things.  There was the year D&D was satanic, where he honored his parents ban by playing Gamma World instead.  The periodic rock and roll is a satanic plot periods, he weathered without burning his Rush records.   Ok I did think it funny when he read Narnia in high school and Pilgrim's Progress, by choice. 

That was the thing the movies always miss and quite a few people do too.   There was always an ebb and flow to such movements.  An arc to church attendance in the parents based on their spiritual paths.  There are fads in such things, which depend a lot on timing.  It depends on which church they were attending, as Midwestern Protestantism is often a fluid thing. It depends on the current guest speakers or pastors.

It's a bit like the cultural reverse. There was a period where all metal bands used pseudo-Satanism, some do for their entire career.  Sometimes it's the cartoony form, that is the flipside of devout , capital C, Christianity.  It's Alice Cooper in a Halloween mask or KISS in make up.  Sometimes it's a somewhat ironic statement, grown out of that philosophical mishmash of Objectivism and leftover Spiritualism.  Quite a bit of metal goes out of it's way to present itself as anti-christian, it's part of it's stylized rebellion. Just as it's rejection of modern art (for years) in favor of classic illustrations of death and the fantastic is a deliberate rejection of intellectualism.  Something which isn't still true, as metal has grown quite a bit, but was certainly true of that era. The same people who'd attack D&D in the manner of the Chick comics would attack metal for it's trappings as well, or even attack RUSH, who mostly sang about unhappy suburban white kids, but had a pentagram on an album.

 Despite being wrong about the vast majority of people who play D&D, they weren't actually wrong about everyone who played D&D. I have met a number of devout neo-pagans, who did play D&D as kids. People who are once again nice enough people that I tamp down my urge to laugh at their religion and even kind of get a bit jealous over their commitment.  We've all met the metal head who was serious about his satanism, although I've yet to meet a mature adult Satanist, outside of the occasional person who professes an unholy love of Ayn Rand.    Yet, the number of pagans I've met is small compared to the number of religious people I know who game regularly and find it no threat to their faiths.  I'll omit the term "Christian" here, not because they aren't Christians, but because they rarely are the types who say Christian and you can hear the Capital C part, with it's implication that there are a lot of non-Christian, Christian groups.

Yet here is the odd thing.

Christianity (capital C) has long ago moved into the rock business. By the 90s it was routine for all the evangelical movements to have rock festivals and even rap artists.  Even the Catholics and Mormons were doing them. There isn't a form of rock music which doesn't contain fairly devout Christians who perform in normal bands, including even metal.   There are still plenty of artists who use the Christian circuit to make money and get exposure, just as some novelists still take this path to sell their work.  One of the ironies a lot of hardcore, atheist punks never appreciate is that the Christian rock people are as good, if not better than they are at DIY.

Yet I'm unaware of any real attempt to embrace table top gaming, the closest I know of is a few video games (none of which are by my old friend who ended up in the game industry.)  No real need for them, as there are plenty of people who always play good alignments.  Who prefer to not game with cynical mercenaries, who do play the game precisely as good vs. evil.  Yet there is no product, sold in Christian book stores and approved by pastors marketed to the teen looking to play D&D without risking being embroiled in "the dangers of spiritualism and fortunetelling."

I think the key to this is to be found in their condemnation of Rock music, which long ago stopped being a fear of blacks.  There was a point where I watched 700 club and Pat Robertson, because I was fascinated with it's unique presentation of the news.  Much the same reason liberals find themselves watching Fox News, conservatives will watch MSNBC, or any sane person ever pays attention to Alex Jones.   You want to see the most extreme stances of people you have nothing in common with so you can understand them, get a voyeuristic thrill, and get a smug feeling of superiority.  Games shows from Japan often serve the same need, as does the every-four-year event of the Olympics, where we pretend to care about obscure sports for the sake of nationalism and free Big Macs.  It was an odd parody show, as it contained elements of more mainstream  shows.  For instance, the subculture supports diet books with biblical themes and Pat Robertson does cooking segments.  They interview celebrities, some on their way up, some on their way down and seeking to plug their new Branson theater. They interpret the current hurricane season and even at one point climate change as a fulfillment of biblical prophecy.  It's an alternate reality of people who have chosen to separate themselves from the mainstream, yet who have yet to get firm about it like the Mennonites.

Back to the point of their condemnation of rock music, which wasn't universally of the form as much as it was of specific forms and pop music in general.   They'd show video of outrageous early black metal bands, generally hamming it up and trying to push the limits. Yet they never played this music in the background.   In the background and dominating the conversation would be John Lennon.   Admittedly, John Lennon when he was young had deliberately poked the bear with an ironic claim to be bigger than God.   Yet the focus of Robertson's hate wasn't this comment, but the song Imagine.   Which I'm sure you're all aware of.  It's not to everyone's taste, as it's somewhat saccharine, the type of music parents put on to try to calm their children down. It's one man singing to a piano, that some people would even claim it wasn't rock at all.  A sharp contrast to German metal bands spitting blood on the crowd and dressed like skeletons.  It's a little poem of wishing for a world without politics or religion, a world of peace. Personally, I always though it was a rather cynical statement by a man who was a bit nostalgic for days when hippies actually thought it was that easy.  Yet at it's core, this song attacks evangelical Christianity.  Not it's theology, but it's ideology.  That there is a war between good and evil.  That you are fighting the good fight.  The song puts forth the idea of living and letting live. 

Which is why these groups have never cottoned to D&D.

To paraphrase a point I think was made by Zak Sabbath on his blog D&D with pornstars, although I have no idea where I read this point on his blog, it was one of those nights of clicking and reading and then clicking something else. It might not even have been his blog as much as some related blog, but you get the point and I feel I've credited my inspiration.

When you play D&D, you're never really immersed in the experience 100%, as Dark Dungeons and the fear industry tried to claim.   You're also detached from the action, you're playing a character.  You're giggling over your impersonation of an elf.  You're trying to exploit some loop hole to let you cast more spells.  You're never seriously trying to summon dark forces, other than some fervent praying for a 20 when you really need it.  

Which is why I think that they've never come up with an alternate version of D&D.

At some level, built into the basic structure of the game is a cynical detachment from the idea that any of it is real.  Sure there are demons and spells, but they're alongside faeries and magic bunnies.   The clerics and PCs might call upon Odin or Crom, but that cynical detachment is always there. It's just a game. 

It's not the trappings of "the devil" that they can't forgive, it's the casual dismissal of their reality.  The reduction of the center point of their lives to a casual game filled with laughter and an occasional fart joke.

It's John Lennon saying that the fuss and bother which is central to their lives is better forgotten.

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