The fantasy role-playing game’s theological dimensions can be spiritually formative.
In my four years of teaching theology at Wheaton College, one of my most memorable meetings was with a student wanting to know how best to defend Dungeons & Dragons to skeptical relatives.
Students ask me all kinds of things during my office-hours appointments, but this was a first. I was aware of D&D’s role in the satanic panic of the 1980s, but I assumed most suspicion toward the game had disappeared now that cooler heads and more informed minds had prevailed.
Unfortunately, I was wrong.
Dungeons & Dragons is the oldest commercially available fantasy role-playing game. Now in its fifth edition, D&D has been around since 1974 when Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson published their first set of rules.
Though it’s been played for almost half a century, we’ve witnessed something of a revival in recent years, spurred by the success of Stranger Things, D&D web series like Critical Role, and the constraints of the COVID-19 pandemic. There’s also a whole field of interdisciplinary scholarly research on role-playing games (RPGs) of all kinds.
I started playing D&D a few years ago, motivated largely by a desire to connect with my adolescent son. Eventually, our whole family joined in the fun.
The first lockdown of the pandemic soon turned our family’s occasional dabbling into a weekly commitment. As I’ve written elsewhere, my family has survived the pandemic by both praying together and playing together—D&D has become for us what soccer or tae kwon do might be for others.
I’ve spent most of the past couple years serving as the game’s facilitator or narrator—referred to as a dungeon master—but I have also played in a few short-lived campaigns as one of …