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Role-playing games:

Attacks by conservative Christians

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Attacks by some conservative Christian ministries:

"Many people holding a wide variety of religious beliefs enjoy roleplaying games, and there's even a society of Christian roleplayers on the web, as well as some Christian RPGs." 1 RPGs have been ignored by liberal, mainline and by most conservative Christian ministries.  However, starting in the late 1970's, these games came under severe attack by a few Fundamentalist and other Evangelical Christian individuals and groups who alleged that they contain "occult" content and inspire people to suicide or criminal activity. D&D permits an enthusiast to choose the role of "Lawful good alignment" or to play a holy warrior on a noble, ethical quest. However, anti-RPG sites never seem to mention this alternative.

After the death by suicide of Irving "Bink" Pulling in 1982-JUN, his mother, Patricia Pulling, organized B.A.D.D. (Bothered about Dungeons and Dragons). Bink had been depressed after he was unable to find a manager to handle his campaign for election to school council. He was apparently an emotionally disturbed student who admired Adolf Hitler. Unfortunately, his mother kept a loaded gun in the house that he was able to access; he used it to commit suicide. Patricia became convinced that the death had been triggered by her son's involvement with Dungeons and Dragons; she believed that his teacher had placed a curse on Bink during a game. She brought a lawsuit against the teacher and school. It was thrown out of court. She then organized B.A.D.D. and started to speak out against RPGs.

Initial charges against RPGs were based on allegations of players casting hexes or evil spells on teachers and parents. By the mid 1980s, the emphasis switched to the potential of D&D and similar games to induce players to commit suicide. 2,3

Michael A. Stackpole has investigated Ms. Pulling and B.A.D.D. and written an extensive report. It is not a pretty story. 4

In 1985-JAN, B.A.D.D. joined up with another one-person organization, the National Coalition on Television Violence and issued a "Press Release from Washington."  NCTV  chairperson Dr. Thomas Radedki, a psychiatrist at the University of Illinois School of Medicine, said

"The evidence in these [suicide] cases is really quite impressive. There is no doubt in my mind that the game Dungeons and Dragons is causing young men to kill themselves and others. The game is one of non-stop combat and violence. Although I am sure that the people at TSR mean no harm, that is exactly what their games are causing. Based on player interviews and game materials, it is clear to me that this game is desensitizing players to violence, and, causing an increased tendency to violent behavior." B.A.D.D. and NCTV "asked the U. S. Trade Commission to require that warnings be placed on the covers of all D&D books, stating that the game has caused a number of suicides and murders; and to require that CBS, or others, warn viewers and request them to get the message of the Surgeon General on entertainment violence."

The Federal Trade Commission sent the petition to the Consumer Products Safety Commission. The latter decided that D&D was not a danger to the U.S. public.

A third group actively opposing gaming is the Cult Crime Action Network (CCAN). As described elsewhere at this site, the word "cult" is often used as a general-purpose religious "snarl" word to refer to some activity (religious or otherwise) that is not approved of. CCAN accused RPGs of luring young people into the occult.

During the late 1980s, the emphasis changed again. Fears were raised that RPGs caused the players to commit murder. As with the concerns over spells and suicide, factual data was scarce. About 1990, still another switch occurred. This time, RPGs were linked to Multiple Personality Disorder (aka Dissociative Identity Disorder) and Satanic Ritual Abuse. 2

By the early 1990's, the furor had largely died down. The games are still attacked periodically on a small number of Fundamentalist or other Evangelical Christian TV programs and ministries. For example, the Christian Life Ministries has said that Dungeons and Dragons contains many references to cannibalism and sadism. Such topics are rarely discussed in fantasy role-playing games. When they are mentioned, they are not promoted but are shown in a bad light.

In 1996-JUN, fantasy role-playing game industry in Italy came under attack. As in the earlier attacks in North America, games have been accused of causing teen suicide, and distorting minds. They falsely claim that RPG players usually impersonate killers or death-row inmates. The "Stop the Nonsense" campaign was mounted to respond to this threat. 5

In 1997, Dr. Thomas Radedki had pulled out of NCTV, after allegedly having lost his license to practice medicine. Also that year, Ms. Pulling died of cancer. B.A.D.D. is currently inactive.

Attacks by conservative Christian authors:

All of the opposition to RPGs in books, magazines, TV or radio that we have observed appear to be from conservative Christians. Many of their books on Satanism and the Occult still attack the games:

  • Joan Hake Robie writes: "Dungeons and Dragons is not a game. Some believe it to be a teaching [sic] the following:". She then lists 22 activities, including blasphemy, assassination, insanity, sexual perversion, homosexuality, prostitution, Satan worship, and necromancy. 6
  • Neil Anderson & Steve Russo claim that the game negatively "affects a person's self-image and personality and opens him to satanic influence." 7
  • Bob Larson mentions that young people who call his radio talk show often mention fantasy games as "their introduction to Satanism". 8
  • Johanna Micaelsen criticizes games for their "promotion of occultism and violence". 9 
  • Rus Wise writes:
  • "God is able to deliver those who seek Him. Victory is ours. But first, we must receive God's power...We have been discussing the problems of satanic involvement. Whether we become deceived by use of the Ouija Board, music, divination or by Dungeons and Dragons, the end result is the same occult bondage." 10
  • Chick Publications sells a cartoon religious tract, "Dark Dungeons." Written in 1984, it shows how, in their belief, RPGs entrap people so that they cannot differentiate between their RPG characters and their own life. Authors of the tract appear to believe that D&D are closely integrated with the religion of Wicca. In reality, the vast majority of Wiccans do not play RPGs, and the vast majority of RPG players are not Wiccans. The tract includes a teen suicide, a decision to leave D&D and follow Jesus, and a good, old-fashioned book burning. 11

However, as noted above, many Christian ministries ignore RPGs. Many individual Christians play the games and find them challenging and entertaining.

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Attack on RPGs by Focus on the Family:

On 1997-APR-7 and 8, the Adventures in Odyssey program of Focus on the Family broadcast two episodes which attacked what they call "role-playing Fantasy Games" [sic]. 12 Odyssey is a radio play about pre-teens and teens in an American town. In both episodes, Dr. James Dobson presented a short talk directed to the children and youth listening to the program and their parents. He attacked RPGs, because he feels that its players actually become the pretend characters that they have selected. To play the game properly, he said that the players need to practice magic and mysticism. His choice of the terms "magic" and "mysticism" is unfortunate, because both words have multiple, conflicting meanings. In the APR-7 episode, he said that some gamers have reported involvement with demons and Satan worship.

In the radio play, "Jimmy" is visited by a RPG playing cousin, "Len". Len's character in the game is known as "Luther the Magician." The latter introduces Jimmy to a game called Castles and Cauldrons"; he gives Jimmy's character the name of "John Dell, the Apprentice." They play the game together. A battle is fought with some evil enemies; both experience auditory hallucinations in which their plastic swords sound like real weapons. Some of the misconceptions mentioned in the play were:

  • the gamers actually become the pretend characters, and engage in battles and other adventures. In reality, the gamers remain quite human and simply direct the character that they have chosen to go through the adventure.
  • the gamers are described as kneeling and reciting an incantation. Actually, the gamers would typically remain sitting and simply say that their characters are kneeling and engaged in a ritual; no incantation would actually be spoken.
  • if the gamer proves themselves worthy then they are supposed to accumulate special powers. This is incorrect. In reality, it is the character that the gamer has selected who may accumulate or lose imaginary powers during the course of a game.
  • Len described how one of his gamer friends is able to have visions. He can see things far away through the eyes of a flying bird. Again, in reality, it is the gamer's imaginary character that might be said to have visions, not the gamer. And in reality, the character sees no visions; the character is not alive; it is merely a symbol fantasized by the gamers as if it were real and seeing visions.
  • Len says that he has the power to read Jimmy's heart and implies that he received this special power during his gaming. This again is nonsense; players do not accumulate special powers; it is the player's pretend character that may accumulate or lose pretend powers.
  • The game is linked with manipulative black magick throughout the episode. Whit, a store owner, became overcome with feelings of dread and dropped a glass. He felt something oppressing his spirit. A cat became influenced (presumably by Len) to tear the arms off of a doll. A roast in the oven started to smoke. The implications are that the game playing is linked closely to black magic, and that one result of the game is to harm other people elsewhere in the town.
  • The games are described as involving evil, spiritual forces. Playing these games is said to "open doors" that "lets loose" demonic forces into people's lives. Again, gamers do not participate in evil sorcery, recite incantations, curse other people, etc. The Christian Scriptures contain many references to demons; they were very much a part of 1st Century CE belief, and were considered to be the source of many mental illnesses. But most people stopped believing in demons with the rise of modern mental health therapies. Demons are today mostly limited to Hollywood horror movies and the mental health belief systems of some conservative Christians.
  • Len explains that some adults become "Interferers" and attempt to stop young people from playing the games. He explained how they drove-off one such woman through the use of magic. Again, gamers do not engage in black magic or spells to dominate, manipulate, or control others.
  • At one point, Len tried to draw blood from Jimmy. Gamers don't draw blood. Their pretend characters might be imagined to draw pretend blood, but that is all.

"Whit" Whittaker, the owner of a local store comes across Len and Jimmy playing their game. He immediately destroys one of the tools of the game, called The Board of Talisman. Later, Whit casually mentions that he has stolen and destroyed all of Jimmies' gaming equipment. The implication is that a Christian is well within his rights to destroy another person's possessions if he feels that they are unchristian.

The overall effect of the Adventures in Odyssey program is:

  • to give a very distorted view of fantasy role-playing games,
  • to link them with "The Occult", black magick, evil sorcery and demonic activity.
  • to imply that it is quite acceptable for Christians to destroy other people's possessions if they disapprove of them.

If the program had simply been presented as a play, then it would have been an amusing piece of fiction - something like the "X-Files" or "Outer Limits" for kids. But the introduction by Dr. Dobson seems to imply that the activities described in the episode reflect the reality of role-playing games. They do not. The producers of the program are either completely misinformed, or intentionally deceptive about the nature of these games. The radio program promoted an hopelessly inaccurate version of fantasy role-playing games in which the players become involved with demons, Satanic worship, spells, curses, evil sorcery etc. The end result of the program is to create fear and insecurity in the minds of listeners in order to scare them away from playing this type of game.

Mail addresses of anti-RPG Christian groups:

There are still a few fundamentalist and other evangelical para-church organizations in the United States that are critical fantasy role-playing games. However, they appear to be much less vocal in recent years. See:

  • American Family Association, PO Drawer 2440, Tupelo MS 38803
  • Focus on the Family, Colorado Springs CO, 80995.
  • NCTV, 144 East End Ave, New York NY, 10128
  • Pro Family Forum, PO Box 8907, Ft. Worth TX, 76124
  • Teen Suicide Prevention Task Force, 2321 SE 8th St, Grand Prarie TX, 75051
  • The 700 Club/CBN Virginia Beach VA, 23463

References used:

  1. Arthur Boff, "Rumours & Reality," The RPG Defense League, 2000-SEP-21, at: http://www.geocities.com/AJBoff/
  2. Paul Cardwell, "The attacks on role-playing games," Skeptical Inquirer, Vol. 18, No. 2, Winter 1994, Pages 157-165. Online at: http://www.rpg.net/252/quellen/cardwell/
  3. William Schnoebelen, "New updated research: Should a Christian play Dungeons & Dragons," at: " http://www.chick.com/articles/frpg.asp
  4. Michael Stackpole at: http://www.rpgstudies.net/  
  5. A Web page describing a recent RPG scare in Italy is at: http://www.sincretech.it/3M/Stop-Non-Sense/Index-English.html
  6. Joan Hake Robie, The Truth about Dungeons and Dragons, Starburst Publishers, Lancaster PA, 1994. P. 67
  7. Neil Anderson & Steve Russo, The Seduction of our Children, Harvest House, Eugene OR, 1991, P.78
  8. Bob Larson, Satanism, The Seduction of America's Youth, Thomas Nelson, Nashville, 1989, P. 49
  9. Johanna Michaelsen, Like Lambs to the Slaughter, Harvest House, Eugene OR, 1989, P. 232
  10. Russ Wise, "Satanism: The World of the Occult," Probe Ministries, at:  http://www.probe.org/docs/satanism.html
  11. "Dark Dungeons," Chick Publications cartoon book, (1984) at: http://www.chick.com/reading/tracts/0046/0046_01.asp
  12. "Odyssey" episodes broadcast on 1997-APR-7 & 8. Copies are available on tape from Odyssey, Colorado Springs, CO 80995.

Copyright © 1996 to 2008 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2008-JUL-15
Author: B.A. Robinson

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