Young People Ask . . .
Is There Any Danger in Role-Playing Games?
“It’s total imagination. One time you’re a magician. Another time you’re a warrior. You can become loads of characters that you dream of being. There are no limits.”—Christophe.
“BE ALL that you can’t be.” One magazine quoted this slogan when describing a popular fantasy game. For millions of youths, escaping into the fantasy world of role-playing games has enormous appeal. What exactly, though, are role-playing games?
According to the book Jeux de rôle (Role-Playing Games), “each player embodies a legendary character on a mission or quest and prepares to experience an adventure in an imaginary world.” The object of the game is to develop this assumed character by acquiring the experience, money, weapons, or magic powers needed to accomplish the mission.
Role-playing games became popular in the 1970’s with the game Dungeons and Dragons.* Since then, they have developed into a multimillion-dollar industry, embracing board games, trading cards, interactive books, computer games, and even live-action games in which participants act out adventures. Apparently, there are more than six million regular players in the United States and hundreds of thousands in Europe. In France many high schools have clubs for role-playing games, while in Japan they are the most popular type of video games.
Advocates claim that these games stimulate the imagination, develop problem-solving skills, and promote group interaction. Opponents, though, have linked these games to suicides, murders, rapes, graveyard desecrations, and Satanism. In Madrid, Spain, two youths were arrested, under suspicion of killing a 52-year-old man while playing out the scenario of a role-playing game. In Japan a teenager killed his parents and slit his wrists as the finale to a similar game. True, these are exceptions—most players are intelligent and sociable. Still, young Christians do well to ask, ‘Are role-playing games for me? Is there any need for caution?’
Violence and the Occult
Role-playing games differ widely, varying in both form and content. Even so, violence is present in many, if not most, of these games. In fact, in the imaginary universes that these games create, violence is often an integral part of advancement—or survival. How, then, would playing such games harmonize with Bible counsel? Proverbs 3:31 says: “Do not envy the man of violence, never model your conduct on his.” (New Jerusalem Bible) The Bible also urges us to ‘seek and pursue peace’—not violence.—1 Peter 3:11.
Another concern is that magic often figures prominently in these games. Oftentimes, players can become sorcerers or other personalities with magic powers. Obstacles or enemies are then overcome through occult means. Reportedly, one popular game “allows players to take the role of either Angels or Demons in the service of Archangels or Demon Princes . . . Sacrilegious overtones keep it amusing.” One computerized game even allows a player to become all-powerful simply by typing the word “Satan.”
Some Christian youths have reasoned that there is nothing wrong with role-playing games as long as a person doesn’t spend too much time playing them. “It’s just a game,” one youth says. Maybe. But God warned the Israelites against involvement with the occult. The Law given to Moses declared that “anyone who employs divination, a practicer of magic or anyone who looks for omens or a sorcerer, or one who binds others with a spell or anyone who consults a spirit medium or a professional foreteller of events . . . is something detestable to Jehovah.”—Deuteronomy 18:10-12.
Is it wise, then, to play any game that promotes the occult? Could not acting out roles of those with magic powers amount to delving into “the ‘deep things of Satan’”? (Revelation 2:24) One youth admits: “After I played a role-playing game all day long, I was afraid to leave the house. I felt that I would be attacked by someone.” Could anything that generates such paralyzing fear be healthy?
“The time left is reduced,” says 1 Corinthians 7:29. So another major concern is the commitment of time that role-playing games often require. Some games take hours, days, or even weeks to play. What is more, the role can be so engrossing, even addictive, that everything else becomes secondary. “As I cleared each stage,” admits one youth, “I wanted harder challenges and more realism. I got really hooked.” How might such addiction affect a youth’s schoolwork and spiritual activities?—Ephesians 5:15-17.
A youth from Japan recalls: “I was always thinking about what to do next in the game, even when I was not playing. At school and at meetings, all I could think about was the game. It got to the point where I couldn’t think about anything else. My spirituality was in shreds.” Christophe, mentioned at the outset, says that he was “out of sync with the real world.” True, there is ‘a time to laugh and a time to skip about,’ but should recreation be allowed to crowd out spiritual activities?—Ecclesiastes 3:4.
Think, too, about what kind of spirit the game promotes. A magazine in France touts a role-playing game in the following words: “You will face a palette of decadent, unwholesome, and perverse experiences, organized and calculated to freeze your blood and forever change your vision of the world.” Is such a spirit in harmony with the Bible’s advice to be “babes as to badness”? (1 Corinthians 14:20) Christophe eventually came to the conclusion that the games he was playing were “not compatible with Christian morality.” He adds: “I couldn’t see myself preaching, attending meetings, and learning about good things, such as Christian love, while at the same time playing a role that had nothing to do with Christianity. It just wasn’t logical.”
Illusion or Reality?
Many youths are drawn to these games as an escape from reality. But is it healthy to immerse oneself in a world of fantasy? French sociologist Laurent Trémel comments: “The real universe, dominated by uncertainty about the future, . . . contrasts terribly with these virtual but very realistic universes, where you finally master the rules and where you can model a character to resemble either what you are or what you would like to be.” Mental-health expert Etty Buzyn further observes: “In playing, youths have the impression that they are leading a dangerous life, remaking the world, but in reality, they are not measuring up to any real risk. They are fleeing from society and its limits.”
Ultimately, such escapism can only lead to frustration, since the realities of life lie just beyond the end of the game. These realities must eventually be confronted. Really, no amount of success or adventure in an imaginary role will ever make up for failure or mediocrity in real life. The smart thing to do is to confront life’s realities—head-on! Sharpen your perceptive powers by facing real-life situations. (Hebrews 5:14) Develop the spiritual qualities that will enable you to cope with your problems. (Galatians 5:22, 23) Doing so is much more satisfying and rewarding than playing any game.
This is not to say that all games involving role-playing are harmful. As far back as Bible times, young children played games that involved some measure of fantasy and role-playing, even as Jesus himself observed. (Luke 7:32) And Jesus did not condemn innocent recreation. However, Christian youths, along with their parents, must “keep on making sure of what is acceptable to the Lord.” (Ephesians 5:10) When considering a game, ask yourself, ‘Does it reflect “the works of the flesh”? Will it hinder my relationship with God?’ (Galatians 5:19-21) By considering such factors, you can make a wise decision regarding role-playing games.
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What kind of spirit do some role-playing games promote?