It has been said that no one truly hates the church, but many people hate what they believe the church to be. For three decades, Dungeons and Dragons (abbreviated “D&D”) has been a source of controversy, and the history of it is confusing and complex.
Our culture has linked D&D to everything from satanism and the occult to depression and suicide. As Catholics, it is crucial that we examine the things that we consume as they are and not merely what we have been told they are, evaluating them in light of what God has revealed through Scripture and Tradition.
Perhaps the most common objection to D&D is the use of magic. We often cringe at words like “wizard” and “spellbook”, but this was not always the case. Consider the work of the great Catholic writer J.R.R. Tolkien. Heroes such as Gandalf the Grey who have been deeply loved by the Christian literary tradition call to question our knee-jerk reactions.
Let me be clear: in the real, physical world, recourse to magic is not acceptable. But Tolkien’s Middle Earth is not the real world. In Middle Earth, magic is a force wielded by those chosen to do so by beings of a higher plane of existence. Tolkien expounds on this in “The Silmarillion.” It is a qualitatively different issue than the type of divination forbidden by the (Catholic) catechism. This is the case because, it only makes sense in the context of this fictitious world.
D&D takes this a step further. In the world of The Forgotten Realms (the fictitious setting of the majority of D&D) “magic” (is) part of a natural force called “The Weave” which certain persons are able to manipulate, comparable to “The Force” in Star Wars.
Others point to the references that are made to “the gods” in D&D literature. At first glance, one might reasonably see a game that features infighting among deities as going against the First Commandment. But if this is the case, then a Catholic must be equally quick to spurn other works that contain similar infighting between beings of immense power. This is exactly the setup for Shakespeare’s “The Tempest,” as well as “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” (and “The Avengers” for that matter). There are many fictitious creatures in the world of D&D. These created beings of immense power would not even be the strangest thing in a world that features sentient rugs and talking fire. They in no way take the place of “the First Mover” that we know to be the Triune God.
The myth that D&D is used as a recruiting tool by satanic organizations came from a story told in a comic book style tract published by Jack Chick Publications. Beyond this story there is literally nothing to connect the two. This is not to say that it cannot happen, but there is currently no evidence to suggest that it does.
As to the supposed connections to suicide, the American Center for Disease Control and Prevention, the American Association of Suicidology, Health and Welfare Canada, and a peer-reviewed study published in Psychiatric Quarterly have all, after extensive research, found no connection between suicide or mental illness and roleplaying games like D&D.
Consider the un-evangelized community of players who, told repeatedly that their hobbies are satanic, are driven away from the Christian faith. Despite the fact that the greatest source of material for D&D is the writings of Tolkien, despite the fact that the entire concept of character alignments flies in the face of moral relativism by presupposing an objective moral right and wrong that is independent of anyone person’s opinion, despite the fact that the very act of playing the game is ordered to building and maintaining community, despite the fact that it withstands the test of determining the morality of an action outlined in the Summa and CCC 1750, many still place the game on par with tarot cards and Ouija boards.
Taken to its ridiculous extreme, like any other good thing, it is harmful. But that is the result of neglecting the virtue of temperance and is not specific to D&D. I’m not saying that everyone needs to play it. I’m just saying that you shouldn’t hold it under pain of sin or as a matter of faith. If you do take issue with the game, your complaint should not (be) based solely on a book or speaker you happen to like, but from your own informed evaluation of it guided by faith and reason.
God bless, and happy adventuring.