[Geeky tangent: It occurs to me now that Sheila the thief, with her invisibility cloak, parallels Sue Storm in the Fantastic Four not only as an invisible girl, but also as the older protective sister to a younger brother teammate (Bobby the barbarian). She also predated Harry Potter's invisibility cloak by a good fifteen years. And I'll even admit to having a crush on her, despite the fact that she was merely an animated character. Sigh.]
I gave up D&D because my mom was convinced it was evil and had occult ties. After going to a Bill Gothard seminar that preached about the dangers of D&D, I sadly tossed all of my D&D paraphernalia into the trash.
But as the New York Times article notes, D&D and the fantasy roleplaying motif has thoroughly permeated our collective consciousness:
We live in Gary Gygax’s world. The most popular books on earth are fantasy novels about wizards and magic swords. The most popular movies are about characters from superhero comic books. The most popular TV shows look like elaborate role-playing games: intricate, hidden-clue-laden science fiction stories connected to impossibly mathematical games that live both online and in the real world.Rogers traces the ripple effects of D&D in influencing and shaping contemporary gaming culture, technology advances, and even Google and Facebook. He writes:
Mr. Gygax’s genius was to give players a way to inhabit the characters inside their games, rather than to merely command faceless hordes, as you did in, say, the board game Risk. Roll the dice and you generated a character who was quantified by personal attributes like strength or intelligence.By creating and popularizing the role-playing phenomenon, Gygax enabled players to take on characteristics and moral alignments and play out scenarios that gave them a sense of adventure, mission and purpose. There was mystery, challenge, intrigue and drama. Of course, most of us adolescent D&D players eventually grew up and left the role-playing world behind. Real life has enough drama of its own. But on occasion, we might still escape into some role playing or gaming world, such as Heroclix or LEGO Star Wars.
It occurs to me now that in the Gygax vs. Gothard smackdown, Gygax ultimately triumphed. Why? I think because whereas Gothard and other conservative Christians defensively attacked D&D out of fears of Satan worship, Gygax and D&D created an appealing world and fascinating narrative that people could enter into. It was participatory, and it also created community. Rogers notes, "You needed at least three people to play — two adventurers and one Dungeon Master to guide the game — so Dungeons & Dragons was social. Demented and sad, but social."
In short, Gygax created culture, whereas Gothard merely condemned culture. Gothard did not create a compelling alternative to D&D - he merely argued that it was evil. Whatever one might think about his perspective, the larger issue for Christians is whether we will create compelling, dramatic narratives and stories for people to participate in, or if we only react against what other people create. Andy Crouch's forthcoming Culture Making argues that Christians cannot change the culture by condemning it, critiquing it, copying it or consuming it. The only way to change culture is to create more culture.
(BTW, a few years ago Christianity Today observed the irony that Christians were up in arms about Harry Potter but seemed to give a pass to Lord of the Rings, whereas Tolkien's work might actually have more occultish elements and ripple effects than anything J. K. Rowling has written. Mickey Maudlin wrote, "If you want to condemn a work for what it has inspired, then turn up the heat for Tolkien. While neither Tolkien or Rowling has ever encouraged people to mistake their magical worlds for the real one (in fact, both have made quite the opposite point), many fans have voluntarily entered Middle Earth. It would be hard not to link the occult-friendly role-playing game Dungeons and Dragons to the influence and popularity of Lord of the Rings, which has provided the imaginative landscape for much modern fantasy.")
At any rate, the NY Times also ran this flowchart/map with the article. See if you identify.