This is the first of a two-part interview with Bruce, an Orthodox Christian and father who both plays Role Playing Games and runs a Home school RPG Club for his kids.
Bruce contacted me after reading my post Introduction to Role Playing Games – Raising Creative Kids. He felt that Christians had been painted with too broad a brush with the statement “RPGs have come under fire from the Christian church, parent groups and many others. As a result, the term RPG has been vilified.” This was not my intention as I based it on my own experiences from growing up in a Christian household. I picked up a lot of misinformation and decidedly unfair beliefs about RPGs along the way, so I was very excited when Bruce agreed to do an interview with me to offer his unique perspective.
I learned a lot from this interview and it has lead to many interesting discussions with friends and family. I hope it has the same effect and you consider the use of Role Playing games and activities with your family.
Ready for a Christian Gamers perspective on RPGs? Here is an introduction from Bruce:
“Hi there, my name is Bruce, I was very excited when Sheena asked me to do this interview, I love gaming, and especially gaming with kids; I’m also a practicing Orthodox Christian. Many people find it strange that a Christian plays Role Playing Games, as the media and certain Fundamentalist groups have painted a very poor picture of the hobby. Since Sheena’s questions revolve around the topics of religion, gaming and homeschooling, I’ll do my best in a few words to say why I think I’m qualified to write about this before we get to her questions.
“I am a stay-at-home-Dad, and I homeschool my oldest son, he is currently in grade 5. This is my second year as a homeschooler, and I love it! My daughter is in grade 3 and still attends school. I have been playing Dungeons and Dragons and games similar to it since the early 1980’s, and gaming with my own kids for the past 2-3 years. This year I started up a homeschool RPG club in my city of Saskatoon, SK, Canada. Currently I am playing Runequest with a group of five adults, I run three Savage Worlds games as part of the homeschool RPG club, I also run two other Savage Worlds games intermittently just for fun for my 11 year old son and his friends. From time to time I also run Fairey’s Tale with my 9 year old daughter and her friends, although she is not as interested in RPGs as my son is. She has, however, begun to ask me to run LARPs for her birthday parties.
“I am also very involved in my local church where I lead weekly Bible studies and participate on our Mission and Evangelism team. I have a Bachelor of Theology degree from Central Pentecostal College in Saskatoon. I love speculative fiction and theology. I especially love it when they fit together.”
At what age did you start playing RPGs? What games did you play? How did you first start playing?
“I started playing in High School about at the age of 16. We started with Basic D&D in the Red Box, and from there moved into Advanced D&D. We also experimented a lot with games like Star Frontiers and Gamma World. My first exposure to the game came from a friend who liked building models – he wandered into a hobby shop and discovered these cool lead fantasy miniatures. We collected and painted them for about a year before we discovered the rules for D&D. I think we even invented our own rules for having battles with them before D&D came along.”
What was the reaction from your parents and church?
“Most of my gaming friends were involved in the local Baptist Church’s youth group, and I don’t ever recall any issues being raised by church members. Once the bad press for the game started surfacing, my mother would refer to D&D as “that horrible game” but she never stopped us from playing. I remember when the movie Monsters and Mazes aired on TV, and the next day we were inundated by classmates asking us if we played “that game” and looking at us as if we were about to go mad. It seems funny to me now that my non-religious classmates seemed more concerned with that game than my church did.”
Did your church have any opinions on D&D and other RPGs?
“As I mentioned above, most of the people I gamed with were kids from church, we were a combination Geek and Christian clique in one package. As far as I know, no parents or church leaders ever seemed to have an issue with it. From time to time we would talk about the reputation of the game, and one or two of us would feel concerned enough to drop out for a while, but we would usually all get back together to game eventually. We were a pretty laid back group, when this kind of thing happened, it would never affect our friendships, and we would make an effort to respect each other’s convictions.
“After high school I attended a small Baptist Bible College for a year, and there was a gaming group that met and played in the cafeteria. I remember the dean of students joking with the organizer of the game about the latest “D&D is evil” hysteria. It was clear that the administration of the college was not opposed to us gaming.”
What are some misconceptions you think are common about RPGs and what are your thoughts on them?
“I think in the past the greatest misconception regarding RPGs was the idea that it was somehow connected to witchcraft. I’m not sure it is so much of an issue anymore, however. Most of the adults I game with are church members of varying traditions (Catholic, Orthodox, Evangelical), and most of the kids in my homeschool groups are from conservative Christian families. For those who still hold such an opinion, I’m not sure that there is much to be done to dissuade them. An invitation to sit in on a game session, or a quick tour through the rule books to show that we don’t carve pentagrams on the coffee table is about all we can do. I think with the introduction of video games and the graphic nature of some of these, much of the heat has been taken off the RPG hobby.
“Another issue that seems related to RPGs is one of mental health. Again, because of some inflated stories and hysteria in the 1980’s people have associated mental instability with RPGs. The claim goes that it is easy to get lost in your character and become unbalanced. In response to this I would point out that this kind of obsession can develop around anything, from soccer to the Shopping Network. The issue is not with the hobby itself, but with an unbalanced lifestyle, or even an undiagnosed mental illness.”
Do you know of any Christian RPGs? Are there any you would recommend?
“Years ago my friends and I tried Dragon Raid. It was an RPG that had you memorize Bible verses to cast spells. It would probably have made a cool interactive Sunday School curriculum, but as an actual RPG it seemed kind of silly. In general I am really opposed to the concept of a Christian entertainment industry. Whether it be games, fiction, music or whatever, I don’t believe Christians should limit themselves to a niche market. A look at some of the top selling movie franchises over the past few years, Lord of the Rings, Narnia, and Harry Potter, should show that the Christian imagination does not need to hide behind the walls of a Christian bookstore. I think if you are going to make a game with the express purpose of teaching dogma then you are handicapping yourself; you will either teach flawed theology to fit your game world, or you will produce a poor product by trying to shoehorn your theology into the setting. The nice thing about RPGs is how modular they are. If a Christian is bothered by some of the content in any RPG it is easy enough to leave it out. If you want to run an allegorical game, then why not use what is already out there. If a Christian wants to be a game designer then he should be the best game designer he can be and show the love of Christ to those around him. I think that is more glorifying to God than producing “Christian” this or that…. So, no I wouldn’t recommend any Christian games. (Sorry for the rant, this is a sore spot for me!)
“One product that I was really impressed with, however, was Testament by Green Ronin. It is a supplement for the D20 system that allows you to play in the Ancient Near East. While not a specifically Christian (or Jewish) product, the author showed considerable respect to people who might approach the game from a religious perspective. I used it in my first homeschool game as we were studying the Ancient Near East. The kids played as servants of Abraham, and it worked really well – we learned how to barter instead of just buy things, and talk of measurements in cubits, etc. I even handed out maps drawn on broken pieces of pottery. I think the kids really got the feel for living in ancient Mesopotamia.”
How would you address concerns about magic use and the belief that RPGs encourage violence and immoral behavior?
“As I said above, the only way to deal with concerns about magic would be to invite a person to a game session or walk them through the rulebooks and they will see how unmagical game magic really is. A year or two ago, I read on a gaming forum (sorry, I no longer have the link) about a guy that approached an occult bookstore in the hopes of getting them to carry some RPG books, as his town did not have a local game store. He was told, “We won’t carry those, they don’t have anything to do with real magic.” It appears that when it comes to magic that RPGs are equally mistrusted by both the Christians and the Pagans. Seriously though, any one who tries to look at an RPG as anything more than entertainment is going to come away disappointed. Even as a homeschooler who uses the game as education, if it can help the kids learn, then great. If not, then at least they had some fun.
“In regards to the question of violence and immorality, the level that is present in a game is really up to the game master and his players. RPGs are just a set of rules, they will not take you anywhere you are not willing to go. As a parent that games I try to be very transparent with the parents of the other kids in the group. To any parent who lets their kids game with another GM, I would recommend having a talk with the GM to find out where his boundaries are, and keep tabs on what their kids are doing – in any circumstance that is just good parenting.”
This is the end of the first of our interview. Please join Bruce and I for Part Two on Thursday. Bruce will be sharing his thoughts what can be learned from RPGs, positive experiences – such as meeting his wife! – from playing, and the experiences, challenges and rewards of playing RPGs with his kids.
Bruce has just started his own blog about RPGs and Homeschooling. Please Check it out!
If you have any comments on this interview or have any questions for Bruce, please post a comment below!