If you’ve been on Twitter lately you’ve probably seen tabletop RPG people freaking out about an opinion piece by Russell Moore in Christianity Today Called Fantasy Role-Playing Is Hurting America, as if this is the harbinger of a new Satantic Panic. Thankfully the thrust of the article really has nothing to do with tabletop roleplaying, and is worth reading even if like me, you’re not a Christian.
First, let’s dispense with the idea that this is an attack on D&D and other roleplaying games, desktop or otherwise. Moore writes:
It turns out actual fantasy role-playing – whether it be Dungeons and Dragons in a treehouse years ago or multiplayer video games on a screen now – is, for most people, harmless fun.
The cornerstone of Moore’s argument is that a vast host of people who are frustrated and angry have developed online alter-egos they use to vent their rage. And that rage has been harnessed by people like Steve Bannon, a nihilist who has no goal other than to burn down American institutions. The people he’s exploiting aren’t engaged in roleplaying in the sense that you and I are when we play D&D or Call of Cthulhu. They are instead becoming the worst versions of themselves online (and increasingly offline), believing that they are soldiers in a grand crusade. This is, Moore notes, a tragedy that affects us all:
When the angriest, most destructive people don’t get their way, they still exercise power by setting the agenda of conversation.
At the end of the piece Moore characterizes this “culture of fantasy-roleplaying” as a product of paganism, of godlessness. As you’d expect, he believes an embrace of true Christianity will lead us out of this mess. I disagree with that assertion, but I believe he’s correct in arguing that the gamification of politics and the stoking of rage is doing immense damage to our society. To that I would add that online anonymity has fed this fire from the beginning, but that’s a topic for another day.