Monday, March 25, 2013

[Let's Read] Playing With Fire, Part 6: Introduction

The Introduction ranges from pages 9 to 14, and consists of a section title page (1 page), 1 blank page, and four content pages.

Three items of Note:
1) direct quotes from the text will be italicized,
2) my analysis of this text is not an attack on individual Christians or to paint Christians as a whole in a broad brush, and
3) the authors' ideas will be critically examined, especially when they present a Christian idea without using the same rigor that they have used on RPGs.

The Introduction starts with two 'actual play' descriptions pulled from two different publications. They were actually pretty cool to read. The first one takes place in some ruins near a city called Welkeep, which is in the elven kingdom of Celene. The four PCs are the usual mix of characters with equally annoying (Bushido the Dwarf) or cool (Citatzner the Wizard) character names. They fight some creatures and "in the ensuing melee, the monsters are subdued and their throats are slit" (Pg 11).
I don't recall any D&D rules at the time that allowed subduing an enemy, with the exception of subduing a dragon. I'm guessing that the original fight just was a standard combat and the whole "throats are slit" image was added to sensationalize and scandalize it for the reader in the original publication.

The second 'actual play' outlines a party's encounter with a woman in white. "She's a chaotic illusion" (Pg 12) and the PCs attack, "tearing off her arm" (Pg 12) and "spears her in the head" (Pg 12) until she disappears, to return later as an incubus. Really? A chaotic illusion? What the hell is that? Sounds like a square circle to me. Again with the gratuitous descriptions designed to shock!

Both of these 'actual play' scenes are simply an effort by the authors to cause the readers to make a hasty, and negative, stereotype. They have employed a faulty generalization called misleading vividness by using two anecdotes as exceptional occurrences of implied wrongdoing.

The text continues by explaining that, no, you're not listening to a tale or reading a lurid fantasy novel, it's a bunch of people sitting around a table playing Dungeons and Dragons. Then it says "Why the great interest today in such games as Dungeons and Dragons, Tunnels and Trolls, Chivalry and Sorcery, RuneQuest, Arduin Grimoire, Swordbearers, and Demons?" (Pg12).

OK, the first four are actual games (published 1974, 1975, 1977, 1978, respectively). Arduin Grimoire (1977) at the time was an unofficial supplement to D&D, not it's own RPG (that wouldn't be until the Arduin Adventure in 1981, published well before Playing With Fire, so why not mention it instead of the supplement?), and there is an RPG called Swordbearer (no "s"), first published by Heritage USA (1982) then by Fantasy Games Unlimited (1985). But I found no evidence of an RPG called Demons, even after looking in my copy of Heroic Worlds by Lawrence Schick (1991), the definitive work listing RPGs from 1974 to 1991. In fact, Demons was a board game published by SPI (1979) and has been out of print since 1982.

Frankly, 4 correct out of 7 isn't very good. One title misspelled, one supplement mis-identified as an RPG and one not even an RPG. One would think an author, much less two, would be able to get the proper names of the games they're examining correct. (Interestingly enough, The Devil's Web (1989) by Patricia Pulling also has a similar list: D&D, T&T, Arduin Grimoire, Runequest, Empire of the Petal Throne, Nuclear Escalation, Traveller, Boot Hill, Demons, Court of Ardor, Melee and Wizard, Metamorphosis Alpha and Gamma World. The Pulling Report has an analysis on Pulling's book, so I won't go into it here)

They go on to explain these games fit in with "the early 1950s naturalism" (Pg 13) and "it's accompanying doctrine of rationalism" (Pg 13) to explain reality, claiming that these were the "settings in which the games were created...." (Pg 13). Yet the authors fail to adequately explain what they mean by naturalism and rationalism, instead pointing to a footnote referencing another text for further reading (as if readers are going to actually follow that reference).

After building up this very limited straw man, they proceed to knock it down by saying man was "left uncertain about the deeper meaning of life" (Pg 13). They then start delving into some weird bullshit about people redefining stuff and creating a new philosophy which, quite frankly, they haven't even proved exists except in their own heads. And what does this have to do with playing a game called Dungeons and Dragons? Well, it's because man will then include "superbeings and mythical gods; excursions into the magical, the mystical and the unknown; the pursuit of sorcery and spiritualism; and much more" (Pg 13).

What the hell does that mean?

Look, I know you're both evangelicals, J. Weldon and J. Bjornstad. That means that you, yourselves, believe in gods, mystical, the unknown, and spiritualism. If I was sitting around a game table and one of the guys said 'I think that D&D is great philosophy and I can cast magical spells as a result,' he would have gotten a can of coke chucked at the head with a 'stop this with your magical powers, jackass' thrown before the can.

They argue that man "creates his own universe around him" (Pg 14) and that "this is the very setting in which fantasy role-playing games develop their fantasy milieu" (Pg 14) and for man to be "greater than he really is" (Pg 14). They continue by saying that "fantasy and FRP games are natural to this world view" (Pg 14) and conclude with questions of whether these are merely games (hinting at no, they're not because they're 'occult'). How do we know that anything that they say is true? Where is their supporting rationale for this point of view? They simply assert this and then move on, ending with a bible passage (1 Thessalonians 5:21-22 "examine everything carefully; hold fast to that which is good; abstain from every form of evil") (Pg 14).

In four pages, the authors present two lurid scenarios from two publications (note these are second-hand reports and they present no direct experience playing a game of D&D from themselves), 7 games (4 correctly identified, 3 incorrectly identified or not even RPGs), then a build up of a straw man of the world RPGs exist in, an argument of world views that was without supporting documentation in any shape or form. Invoking the Thessalonians quote at the end, to "examine everything carefully," is a joke - they completely fail to provide any substantive examination in their introduction while at the same time getting so much wrong.

So far, this book is turning out to be just 'a tale, told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing' (MacBeth, Scene V).


  1. There is a supplement for AD&D called Demons, but it wasn't published until 1992:

  2. That's one of those Role Aids supplements. I think I had that at one time.

    That was during 2nd edition, IIRC, when demon and devil were replaced with baatezu and tanar'ri.


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