Some Christians have problems with gaming for thematic reasons. Many games, including the ones I play, have demonic or occultic themes. The Bible speaks plainly concerning the wickedness of witchcraft, sorcery, and necromancy. Obviously, these practices should have no place in the life of a believer. But can they have a place in the fantasy games that believers play? Some would answer no: to enjoy a fantasy world with sorcery is no different than enjoying a fantasy world with pornography. I disagree. I believe that this fundamentally misunderstands why practicing sorcery is evil.
Pornography and fornication are evil because they the take advantage of others and pervert the purpose and beauty of sex; they are not about love (giving of oneself to other for their pleasure and well-being) but lust (taking for oneself for one’s own pleasure at the expense of the well-being of others). Sorcery is evil, I believe, because 1) it is lying about what humans are actually capable of doing, 2) it is covetous because we want power in this universe that only God has. But in a fantasy world, where magic is possible, it is not lying and it is not necessarily covetous of God’s power. It is not evil to want to control our surroundings to the extent that we’re actually capable of doing so. What is evil is lying about what we can do. Just as its not evil to wield a gun in this world, its not evil to claim to throw fireballs or animate skeletons in a fantasy world.
Every Thought Captive
I have never had any difficulty distinguishing fantasy worlds from reality. A relevant verse:
For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds, casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ …2 Corinthians 10:4-5
In relation to gaming, I understand this verse to mean, “Do not let any false idea deceive you, rather understand it in its rightful context.” The correct understanding of fantasy elements, therefore, is to understand them as a fantasy and not reality. If someone has trouble separating the two, then they are unable to bring that thought into captivity to Christ and they should abstain from games involving fantasy elements. To draw on language from Romans 14, fantasy gaming would be a stumbling block for this person.
Consider a fantasy game in which you play as a sorcerer whose power is imbued by demons: I would simply reject this theme as I played the character. Let me give you a personal example. I play a computer game called Dota 2. In this game there is an item that every player can purchase called “Satanic”, which is one of the most powerful items in the game. According to the game lore, this item grants “immense power at the cost of your soul”. How do I reconcile this item with my Christian beliefs? It is not by abandoning Christianity when I enter the Dota 2 universe but rather by bringing Christianity with me and seeing the item for what it is: a nonsensical interpretation of Satan and his power. This item in no way encourages me to think about Satan, let alone think about Satan positively. For that reason, it might as well be called the “Magic Butter Knife of Justice” because there is nothing satanic about it.
Likewise, I do not play Dungeons and Dragons, the notorious role-playing game, but if I did I would not play any campaigns that require me to identify with evil, worship other gods, or celebrate any kind of immorality. Whether its possible to play D&D without these elements I do not know. Regardless, this is a key difference between D&D and other games I play like Magic: the Gathering and Dota 2. While the latter games might reference false gods, they by no means ask you to identify with them, nor is one’s belief in the lore of Magic or Dota 2 necessary to play or enjoy the game. Magic, for example, has some gruesome card art and card titles that I wish were not part of the game. Nevertheless, these titles and arts could be replaced with literally anything and as long as the rules text on the card stayed in intact, it wouldn’t affect how the game is played. Analogously, you could remove all of the sinful elements from professional sports (beer culture, immodest cheerleading, trash-talking, egotism, etc.) and it would not affect the how the game is played.
Abstain From Every Appearance of Evil
One of the most famously mistranslated verses in the King James Version of the Bible is 1 Thessalonians 5:22, “Abstain from every appearance of evil.” Other versions translate this more accurately as, “abstain from every form of evil.” The problem with the word “appearance”, as GotQuestions.org notes, is that it places undue emphasis on how other people perceive us rather than whether something is actually sinful. For the Christian fundamentalist, perception and externalism is essential to righteousness, so they latch onto this verse with great vigor.
In my experience, I have never had an unbeliever find it strange that I am a Christian that plays Magic: the Gathering or Dota 2. (The fundamentalist would attribute this to the fact that American Christians have failed to separate themselves from the world and therefore the world has low expectations of us, but this begs the question.) On the other hand, I have been able to share the gospel with many unbelievers through the medium of gaming. Indeed, quite possibly the most impactful Bible study I ever led was with six other Magic players in my hometown. I would lead a study the book of Acts for a solid hour and then we would play Magic the rest of the evening. I have also used the biblical themes in Magic and Dota as a basis for many evangelistic conversations with other gamers.
If I were ever put in a situation where I felt I had to compromise my faith to play a game, I would explain that it violated my conscience. If this offends or annoys anyone, so be it. Hopefully it would lead to some meaningful conversations about our respective worldviews.
The Real Danger of Gaming
I would argue that the greatest dangers that fantasy gaming poses to Christians is not the thematic aspect but rather these:
- Distraction. The sheer amount of time one can spend in the fantasy world is time not spent on meaningful pursuits in this world.
- Escapism. The allure of retreating into a world where you are in control because you don’t feel in control of the real world.
Here are two verses that come to mind:
Turn my eyes from looking at worthless things,Psalm 119:37
And revive me in your way.
See then that you walk circumspectly, not as fools but as wise, redeeming the time, because the days are evil.Ephesians 5:15-16
You who play games for hours every week without any ministry element: can you say that you are using your time well? Certainly I have no excuse for regularly playing games for hours on end, totaling thousands, possibly tens of thousands, of hours throughout my life. While there is a time and place for personal relaxation that doesn’t involve others, a hobby ought to gear itself toward interaction with other people for the purpose of fellowshipping with believers, enjoying friends and family, or building relationships with unbelievers. Christians, even Christians inclined to gaming, have no excuse for any other kind of hobby.
Whatever Is Not Done In Faith Is Sin
In conclusion, let me remind you that “whatever is not done in faith is sin” (Romans 14:23). This verse reminds me of the aphorism, “when in doubt, leave it out”. If you question whether you should be involved in a particular game with fantasy themes, do not play it. There is no shortage of entertainment in this world and the reality is that we spend far much time being entertained in the first place. Surely, when we do decide to be entertained, we can avoid entertainment that causes us to stumble, our brethren to stumble, or non-believers to question our witness.
- Incidentally, Gary Gygax, the creator of D&D, was as an evangelical Christian. This doesn’t make D&D any better or worse (it could just mean that Gary was a highly inconsistent Christian) but it is still an interesting fact and one worth celebrating.
- Ironically, the main Acts commentary I referenced in that study was written by the staunch fundamentalist David Cloud, who would have no doubt regarded our Bible study as an attempt to unite Baal and Christ.
- I once recorded an interesting exchange between two of my closest friends, both gamers and Christians:
Friend 1: “Sometimes I feel that real life is overrated. Thank goodness for imagination and the other worlds it gives me to retreat into until I’m ready to face the real thing again.”
Friend 2: “Imaginary worlds steal everything from the real world. Everything in fantasy can be boiled down to some aspect of our world and life. The trick is finding the beauty in our life, rather than having to go somewhere else for it.”