Tuesday, April 16, 2013

[Let's Read] Playing With Fire, Part 10: Chapter 4 Black, White, or a Mixture of Grays?

Chapter 4: Black, White, or a Mixture of Grays? ranges from pages 43 to 62, and consists of a single title page, one blank page, and eighteen 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 chapter starts with "A high school student one day asked her teacher what she thought of fantasy role-playing (FRP) games. With a smile, the teacher said she would enjoy playing because it would allow her to use her imagination .... Another teacher, overhearing the conversation, could not in good conscience allow this student to play what he perceived to be an evil game. He decided to interrupt and give his opinion (which was really a tirade) about the game's occultic content." (Pg 45) The paragraph ends with the student confused and still wondering.

It's a nice story, except for one thing: it never happened. They cite no verifiable reports or anything to support that this event occurred. It is purely conjecture, a 'just-so' story. What's the purpose for this story, then? To 'present' both sides, obviously with the pro-teacher a dupe and the against-teacher vindicated by the rest of the chapter. Throw "evil game" and "occultic content" into the mix for good measure.

The authors then ask whether games are good, bad or somewhere in-between, concluding that there is no simple answer. "In the real world there are usually two or more sides to an issue" (Pg 46) is an argument that I cannot contest, except for two things: first, no matter how many sides there are to an issue, the side that contains the majority of facts and evidence is the right side. Second, the authors don't  and haven't presented two or more sides fairly–they've presented (and continue to present) one side as always right (Biblical world view) and ALL other sides as always wrong and they continue to do so, despite claiming otherwise.

They continue on with the pretense, saying "(i)n critically examining FRP games, at least four basic areas should be considered: (1) the role of fantasy, (2) morality, (3) escapism, and (4) occultism." (Pg 46) spending the rest of the chapter on the first three.

Starting with Fantasy, they begin with "It should be understood at the outset that there is nothing wrong with fantasy per se" (Pg 46). That's a loaded question, if I've ever seen one. They go into what fantasy is, how it's "a part of God's creation in the sense that God created man with imagination and the ability to fantasize" (Pg 47) and add a quote from Elliot Miller, who claims that man can create secondary worlds and that man "does not have the power to bring these worlds into actual substance ... others may, through their imaginations, attain a state of 'secondary belief,' wehere they are able to perceive and appreciate the invented reality" (Pg 47).

And I call bullshit on this since, yet again, the authors assert without providing any sort of evidence to back it up. Because "perceive and appreciate" is not the same as reality or even the semblance of reality. We perceive the world around us with our five senses. Appreciation is not necessary to this. And, entertainment, and let's be clear on this, we're talking about entertainment, is not the same as reality. When we watch movies, we see and hear but don't touch, taste or smell (at least not yet, technology being what it is). The same applies for theatre, watching television and surfing the internet. But RPGs are more like books than plays or film. Players (and readers) have to imagine in their mind's eye to 'see' things in that imagination. It doesn't mean that what they perceive is real, full-stop.

The text continues with fantasy has good or bad uses, blah, blah, blah, "even 'good' fantasy can be corrupted by overindulgence ... to escape from responsibilities .... There is also a distorted and destructive use ... the fantasizing of sexual exploits or extreme violence" (Pg 47), which at no point do they actually say why any of these things are good or bad. Overindulgence is all in the eye of the beholder and I'm sure that thinking about sex is wrong from an evangelical point of view, while other points of view would take the opposite tack.

"Determining a good use of fantasy from a bad use" (Pg 48) is what it's all about, and I agree, but I don't believe that they have presented a case (so far in the book) that they are the ones to determine that.  Frankly, I wouldn't trust either of these authors with a nickel, much less deciding for me what is good use and bad use.

They persist with "(p)roponents ... have created parallels between it (D&D) and certain Christian fantasy writings" (Pg 48), then go off on and talk about C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien and quote a letter written by an Episcopal minister to Christianity Today supporting playing D&D. "On the surface, this argument appears to have some credibility" (Pg 48) but then disclaim that by stating that the Christian fantasy books have elements "contrary to the Bible" (Pg 48) and have "great differences, which proponents of FRP games either ignore or rationalize away" (Pg 49) but that these books "are accepted and considered to be a good use of fantasy because they offer a reflection of an essentially Christian world view" (Pg 49) with "(a)bsolute morality ... sustained in a theistic universe ... by a transcendent holy God" (Pg 49). Whatever D&D may have taken from these fiction works, it didn't include "the moral universe God created .... Moreover, its universe is not infused with an absolute, inherent morality" (Pg 49).

This is a whole lot to chew through, so let's start here: who cares whether certain people think that certain Christian fantasy writings have something to do with D&D. Looking through Appendix N of the AD&D Dungeon Masters Guide (Pg 224), there is a list of nearly 30 authors, authors like Poul Anderson, Edgar Rice Burroughs, L. Sprague de Camp, Lord Dunsany, R.E. Howard, Fritz Leiber, Michael Moorcock, Andre Norton, and Jack Vance, of which Tolkien is one but Lewis isn't even mentioned.

Whatever ways religious folk who play D&D feel they have to rationalize having fun with friends around a table so they don't feel bad about it has no bearing on whether J. Weldon and J. Bjornstad, or any other religious author or leader, has a say in what is a good use of fantasy and what isn't, that's up to them and their conscience. I, however, don't recognize the authors authority on this matter and nothing they have written so far has convinced me otherwise.

Secondly, they have posited a universe with an absolute morality and haven't delivered any evidence to support this assertion. Nor have they said why that is necessary in order to have D&D moved from the 'bad use' to the 'good use' except within the whole bugaboo of a Christian world view. Frankly, I don't recognize their authority to claim that a Christian world view is valid.

The fantasy section concludes with "neither fantasy nor fantasy role playing is wrong in and of itself" (Pg 50) then goes into the whole reason why it's wrong, because, to boil things down, "God has forbidden" (Pg 50) it. They quote from the Bible "'Every one who looks on a woman to lust for her has committed adultery with her already in his heart' (Matthew 5:28)" (Pg 50) and "To fantasize about those things that God has forbidden in His Word (immorality, the occult, the pursuit of other deities–all elements of Dungeons and Dragons) is tantamount to doing them." (Pg 50).

To think something is to do it? That's INSANE. And it's thoughtcrime, pure and simple. George Orwell wrote all about it in 1984. Well, J. Weldon and J. Bjornstad, I don't recognize your authority on this matter, nor the Bible's, to say that to think something is to do it. My thoughts belong to me, and to me alone. No one can tell me what to think or how to think. No one can punish me for thinking thoughts they don't want me to think. It's none of your or their damn business. Stay out of my head! You're not welcome nor wanted. The essence of freedom is to be free to think, without fear and without condemnation.

Damn. Twelve more pages to go in this chapter alone. I'll continue with Chapter 4 in Part 11.

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