Perhaps you are a Christian parent, and your child has developed a sudden interest in Magic: The Gathering™, Advanced Dungeons & Dragons™,or some other horrific, idolatrous game. You are afraid that your child is in peril of apostasy, occultism, insanity, corruption, sin, Satanism, or even suicide, and you are out to see whether what you've been told is true. Or perhaps you're the child of parents who fears such things, and they are cracking down on you like, well, loving parents who see the fires of Hell enveloping their child, and you're looking for a way to explain everything.
In either case, this was written for you. Speaking to concerned parents, I am glad that you watch out for the safety of your child's soul; this is most worthy, and part of your sacred duty as a parent. Speaking to new players, you need to recognize that your parents are afraid for you, and they are trying to watch out for you, and they are right to do so.
And I know where the fears come from. I have read "Mazes and Monsters" and "Dark Dungeons." I've heard the radio talk shows. I've seen the sermons on the Internet. And they're enough to frighten anyone. But you wonder if it's the whole story (or you know that it's not) and you're looking for more, and better, information.
To explain to you what role playing games are and are not, I can do no better than to suggest you read Uncle Figgy's Guide to Role Playing for Non Role Players. For the secular, this should be sufficient. I have mirrored the article locally in part because AOL doesn't always want to provide the bandwidth that visitors to Uncle Figgy's site there demand. However, being Bhuddist, Dan Cope (a.k.a. Uncle Figgy) does not effectively address the concerns a Christian would have about fantasy and/or the occult.
For those who want informed, considered, Christian opinions on fantasy role-playing games, I urge you to read through The Chaplain's Corner of The Christian Gamer's Guild. The articles linked down the right side of the page, written by a minister and roleplayer, will likely be the most helpful. But if you have further questions, read on.
"Won't this lead my child to try magic?"
I consider it very unlikely. I have met a number of people who dabble in the occult, and in no case did fantasy gaming lead them there. Typically it is the other way around -- dabblers in the occult are often interested in a lot of fantasy, including gaming.
"Yeah, but won't THOSE people lead my child to try magic?"
I very much doubt it. Such a concern is more valid than worrying that game materials would do so; association is very powerful. Who a child associates with is important. That said, if your child has happiness and joy in Christ, it's going to be much stronger than the attraction of being like a disaffected, angsty, mildly to seriously angry person who has turned from Him. If, on the other hand, your child is unhappy with Christian living, this could tempt him rather strongly. However, in that instance, I would want to know why my child was unhappy with Christ and/or the Church. Christian living is supposed to be joyous and a triumph, not drudgery and a burden.
I have met agnostic, atheist, secular humanist, neoPagan, Wiccan, Baha'i, and even Satanist gamers, many of whom were raised in nominally Christian homes. Not one of them was driven by gaming to seek an alternative to Christ. In fact, they were already unhappy with the Church and either seeking or had found alternatives when they started gaming.
Very often, they had been subjected to a lot of people whose idea of Christian living was to apply a huge list of thou shalts and thou shalt nots to their lives, and to berate anyone else they saw violating any of those. This is very different from teaching that God's love is so great that He sent His own Son to pay the price of our sins -- death. And that Jesus loves us so much that he volunteered to pay that price for us.
The other group endemic to the Church that often drove these people away are like this: Joe Hypocrite has read "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you." Joe would like others to give him money. But instead of giving money to others, Joe has unkind words for those who don't give him money, because "They aren't doing as God has told them to do."
In all my years of reading and studying the Bible, I have yet to see God say anywhere that we should expect others to treat us well. He tells us often how we must treat others. He tells us that others will make us suffer because of Him, and that such suffering is good. Since I know how I should treat others, but fail (being human and fallen), I am SURE that I should not be correcting others' behavior towards me. It's not up to me to pull specks out of anothers' eye when I have logs in my own. And nowhere does God say anything like, "When thy brother doth not do as thou wouldst have him do, he oweth thee recompence."
"But what about magic? Deuteronomy clearly states that there shall not be found amongst you a sorcerer, witch, etc."
If you read the entire chapter, you'll find that God is forbidding all manner of Canaanite religious practices. This is not surprising; God often had to be very specific with Israel, a stubborn and stiff-necked people. He's laying out a long list of things He doesn't want Israel to do, because they involve honoring Canaanite gods.
God had no problem with Moses turning sticks into snakes, even though it was sorcery. The Egyptian court magicians weren't surprised when Moses' God did that for him; their gods did the same for them. What upset them was that the snakes their gods made out of sticks weren't as strong as the snake made by the God of Israel. Nor was God upset when Moses parted the Red Sea. He approved when Joshua knocked down huge fortifications with loud music and dancing. He had no problem with His prophets speaking to or even raising the dead. He didn't mind when they cast out demons, foretold the future, or did any number of other things one could easily call "magic" -- because they did it for Him, and with His power.
The way people perceive arcane magic has changed drastically in the last century. From ancient times, magic was always supplicating some spirit, demon, devil, or god to come and do something for the petitioner. Small wonder, then, that God didn't want His people doing any such thing. However, modern fantasy's idea of arcane magic is that in a fantastic setting, magic is a natural force created by God, different from fire, chemistry, electricity, gravity, or light only in how it is used, and what effects you can create by understanding it. In the fantastic setting, using magic is no more evil than using fire.
"But won't it make my child think he's a wizard, or something?"
No. It's make believe and ham acting. After all, the players in your Christmas pageant don't think they're Mary, Joseph, Gabriel, or shepherds, do they? Playing House hasn't led your daughter to try to have kids. Playing Cops and Robbers hasn't sent your son, gun in hand, out to apprehend criminals and make the streets safe. Harrison Ford doesn't think he's Jack Ryan, and Larry Hagman doesn't think he's J. R. Ewing. And Dan Cope discussed this much more in depth than I am here, in Uncle Figgy's Guide to Roleplaying for Non Roleplayers.
"But what about all the demons, devils, undead, and so on? How can it be good to expose my child to that??"
As the enemy, which is how they are used. Role playing games are games of cooperative story telling. A story requires a conflict, be it between Israel and Egypt, Saul and David, or the Maccabees and the Assyrians. And it's easy to create a conflict when the heroes must foil the powers of Hell.
As a side note, in every game I've seen, the sourcebooks make it very clear that any attempts to deal with demons is extremely dangerous. Demonologists most often become the slaves of the fiends they seek to control, who are much more practiced at deception than any demonologist is at seeing the truth. And the fate of the necromancer is to suffer the tortured existance of the undead until some hero comes along and puts him out of his misery.
"But what if the game is set up so my child plays somebody who is inherently evil, like Vampire or Realms of Chaos? Don't they promote evil?"
As I said earlier, most games have rules for evil characters so that the heroic players can fight them. "Realms of Chaos" is about the evil that threatens all of Games Workshop's "Warhammer" worlds. "Vampire: The Masquerade" is set up with the idea that the players are the lesser of two evils (i.e., vampires who wish to hide from humanity, instead of rule it). Stellar Games' "Nightlife" also features players who are inherently evil, (vampires, demons, wyghts, werewolves, and similar) but the game is set up to reward those who try to be most human, rather than those who try to be inhuman.
However, these games all appeal to the angst-ridden, unhappy, and those burdened by anger. It's sad that our society has so many who would rather be villains or anti-heroes than heroes. And if your child is one of those, it is probably a good idea to ask them, and yourself, why.
I have seen games where alleged heroes get away with murder. It is my opinion that this is a failure of the game master, who lets his players do so. It is up to him to set game world events in motion that will bring down these so-called heroes who feel no compunctions about slaying and/or stealing from any who cross their path.
For example, one of the worst horror stories I've read had player characters sent to rescue children from goblins. The children, being traumatized by the bloody battle that freed them, were crying. And one of the "heroes" killed one of the children to shut the rest up. If it were my game, when the player characters returned the surviving children to the townsfolk for their reward, those kids would tell their parents what these so-called "heroes" had done, and suddenly the PCs are wanted for murder.
After all, in the real world, if you kill somebody, steal, or swindle, somebody will come after you to either stop you, set it right, or both. In the games I run (and play in), evil does not pay. I would urge you to tell your child to find another gaming group, if that's how they play in his current one.
"But it could STILL lead my child to occultism!"
Yes, and your child could be slain by a bolt of lightning. Personally, I very much doubt it. The games do not teach occultism. The average spell description will describe what the spell does, more or less. It will tell whether the character needs to be able to speak, gesture, or have various bits of stuff. But it never describes the words, and only rarely describes the gestures. It only describes the bits of stuff so that the GM can start an adventure around getting them or else otherwise hassle the wizard.
Careful review of Romans ch 14 will show that what St. Paul is telling us is not that we must avoid that which tempts our weaker bretheren, but rather that we must avoid exposing them to that which tempts them. And while I've never met anyone who was tempted to sin because he ate meat offered to idols, there are people who are tempted to sin by alcohol, Tina Turner's legs, occultism, pornography, romantic comedies, fishing, gambling, food, drugs, church, Britney Spears, prime time television, and everything else on God's good earth. But your brother who is tempted by lust may well not be tempted to sin by alcohol, food, or even marijuana; if so, I wouldn't ask him to join me for a night of lambada dancing, but I wouldn't worry if he's got wine in his fridge and liquor in his cabinet. If he is weak to envy, I wouldn't ask him to come look at new Cadillacs with me, but I wouldn't worry if he had a shelf full of risque romantic comedies that he and his wife enjoyed watching.
You may be right to fear that such exposure to occultism will lead you away from God, just as alcohol can an alcoholic. But those of us who enjoy roleplaying as a hobby, and are not so tempted, must merely be careful not to let our enjoyment lead you astray. It holds no danger for us, any more than beer for the casual drinker.
I suggest that you apply this teaching not only to role playing games, but to all fantasy in general. And this is not my own idea; I first ran across it in an excellent book that I borrowed, entitled, "What's a Christian To Do With Harry Potter?" by Connie Neal, who presents the arguments much better than I do. Fantasy, including Harry Potter, C. S. Lewis' excellent The Chronicles of Narnia, J. R. R. Tolkien's works, and many role playing games, can promote values that any Christian would be glad to uphold -- teamwork, sacrifice, cooperation, compassion, courage, and opposition to evil, to name a few.