Does D&D have anything to tell us about Jesus?
Last time on this blog I wrote about whether or not a gaming convention could have anything to do with the Good News of God. Now, let's talk a little bit about D&D and Jesus.
Why D&D? What is D&D?
D&D stands for Dungeons and Dragons. Dungeons and Dragons is a game released by the company Wizards of the Coast, which is owned by Hasbro, but has its origins decades earlier. D&D is a game created by Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson first published in 1974. It's called a fantasy tabletop roleplaying game because in it, players take on the role of a hero from a fantasy story, like a barbarian with a battleaxe, an old wizard with a staff, or an elf archer wielding a bow, delving into long-lost dungeons, fighting monsters, and finding gold and treasure.
D&D is also a massively successful franchise today. Currently D&D is in its 5th published edition of the game with a 6th version anticipated on the way, and an upcoming blockbuster, star-studded, Hollywood feature film.
The thing is, in many ways D&D is so much more than all of that. D&D is a gaming sub-culture. It is the hobby and pastime of many kids that grew up in the 70's, 80's, 90's, and continues to find new enthusiasts to today. In fact, Dungeons and Dragons is more popular than ever. Live-streamed and podcasted games of celebrities playing the game have brought new attention to it in ways that those of us who grew up playing it in basements as teenagers never would have been able to imagine. Plus, D&D created a new industry, with hundreds or even thousands of unique roleplaying games coming afterward.
What does any of this have to do with JESUS?
In October and continuing through November, we began a sermon series at IHS called Heroes of the Faith inspired by D&D, the fantasy genre, and roleplaying games. This might seem counterintuitive to anyone who grew up in the 80's in what was called the "Satanic Panic." During that time, there was wide-scale fear that games like Dungeons and Dragons were corrupting a generation of youth, that the Devil was influencing them through D&D, and that they were being pulled into witchcraft and the occult. There was fearmongering from preachers and radio personalities, and even Bible tracts were printed telling the evils of the game D&D.
Jesus actually might have a lot to critique about D&D, but not in the way those 80's preachers meant when they were spouting off fire and brimstone. I'll save that for the next blog post.
For now I just want to say how misguided all of that was, and how I see Jesus in D&D and tabletop roleplaying games today.
As a kid, I really struggled to know where I belonged. I felt belonging as a teenager in two places: at church and at my gaming table with my friends. At those places I found community, I experienced joy, belonging, adventure, friendship, and so much more. I was inspired by stories from the Bible, the teachings of Jesus, as well as books like the Lord of the Rings and the stories we crafted with our characters playing D&D.
Every Saturday night at IHS we keep this alive in our game ministry Saturday Night Strategists. Sure, many weeks we play board games, card games, or other games. We're not always breaking out strange shaped dice, books, and graph paper. Most of the time we're not slaying dragons or fighting goblins. But many weeks of the year we've crafted characters and forged adventures, telling stories from all kinds of genres of fiction at the roleplaying game table, welcomed new players, made new friends, and created lasting memories.
We create spaces where people can find belonging, whether that's the teenager looking to explore and express herself and finding an intergenerational group of likeminded people to play with, or the man who recently moved to the area and is looking to make new friends, or the divorcee getting back out there and trying a new hobby. D&D brings people to the table, and there at that table, draws us into each other, bringing us closer together. Often, the D&D table looks a lot like the Lord's Table, making one out of many.
I wish I could go back to myself and many others in the 80's and 90's and tell them how much Jesus is there in D&D, tabletop roleplaying games, and board games. I wish I could tell them that every time they have fun, hit a critical success on their dice roll, make a new friend, feel a little more confident in who they are because of playing, learn something new, or grow closer to friends by playing D&D, Jesus is there. Jesus is in it. Jesus must LOVE Dungeons and Dragons.
Now, D&D isn't perfect, and there is a lot of differences between Heroes of the Faith in Christianity and the kinds of heroes we find in fantasy stories. We'll talk about that in a later post and in our sermon series. Come out each Sunday to IHS from now through November 20th as we explore this question: what doe Jesus have to do with D&D and other tabletop roleplaying games and fantasy stories? Maybe it'll be the beginning of your own next adventure.