Monday, July 15, 2002

The Devil's Game

A lot of people tend to overreact, especially when it comes to the games their "children" play. I'm not an evil person yet a lot of the games I've played have been considered "Satanic" or "tools of the devil" by many people who claim positions in authority. Just goes to show how close minded some people are, ready to point fingers without doing appropriate research.

Perhaps the most controversial game I've played is the Role Playing Game (RPG) called Dungeons & Dragons (D&D). Some people say the game is evil and is a means demons use to possess people. That's hardly the case. They also say that the game has fanatics who commit suicide and are anti-social. Perhaps that's true to a point but those are the exceptions rather than the norm. Most hobbies have fans who act weird and act with so much zeal that they base their entire life on that particular hobby. People just tend to magnify the darker side of things when it comes to D&D.

D&D is far from demonic. It's really about role-play, acting in character. The setting of the game is medieval fantasy where you play heroes and heroines who combat evil and slay dragons (hopefully). It actually started the entire RPG genre, which would later be adapted into games for the computer. To those who've played games like Diablo, Final Fantasy, Might and Magic, and Ultima, the combat system of these games were most likely derived from D&D. D&D itself has its roots in war gaming, and war gaming has its roots in chess. While the game is guilty of violence (and what game isn't to a certain extent?), it is far from being "Satanic". In fact, you play characters that slay demons and other creatures from Tolkien-lore.

Of course some people might claim the game uses magic and it says in the Bible that magic is the work of evil. Then again, there are also people that brand Harry Potter as works of the devil. Most fantasy settings use a magic system but it is never really taken seriously. You don't see us gamers chanting words of incantation and drawing pentagrams out in the football field. We don't look for ridiculous spell components like guano and sulfur and suddenly shout "fireball!" at people we come across. We are in touch with reality (or at least most of us are). We went to school when we were kids and we keep a day job. D&D is just a game and we are fully aware of it.

If anything, D&D, and other pen and paper RPGs, enable people to bond to together. It's an opportunity for a group of friends to engage in an activity together. Some play basketball; we play D&D. My friends and I usually schedule a particular day to play the game. We bring all our stuff like pencils and die (the plural of dice) and go to a friend's house or a public place if that's not possible. More often than not, the place is well lighted and well ventilated. If the Dungeon Master (DM), the one who organizes the game, wants to have a particular mood, the place might be dim and there might even be candles in the place. No, it's not an evil rite but the background of our game, so that us players can have a better feel for it and prep our imagination. If the DM is ambitious, background music is present.

Unlike some hobbies, playing D&D is an exercise in imagination. First off, the one who is acting DM must plan out every session. He must think of plots and character hooks, monsters and dungeons players might encounter, and appropriate descriptions. This isn't something you come up in the next few minutes. It takes long hours of careful planning. Second, the players must take their time to visualize what their DM is telling them during a game. It's not something clearly presented to you like television or theater. It's much like listening to radio wherein a familiar voice tries to depict a scene the best way he can using only words and the sound of his voice. Third, even the characters players play have a distinct personality. You just can't act like this and that. You have to stick to the role and attitude you created for your character. For example, I might be playing a half-orc barbarian who loves to slay evil monsters. I'm also impulsive and not exactly known for my charisma or intelligence. I can't suddenly come up with a detailed plan during the game and explain it to each and every group member. Instead, I'm most likely to charge into battle without heeding what others have yet to say. Also, the history for my character needs a lot of thought unless I want to fall into stereotypes. Playing any RPG involves a lot of thinking and a stretch of the imagination.

I'll now move on to the next "Satanic" game I've played, Magic: The Gathering (M:TG or Magic). Magic is the father of Collectible Card Games (CCGs) and has been recently branded by a local TV station as "evil". They claim people who play it get possessed and start acting weird. I for the most part have been acting weird before I played RPGs or CCGs. As for possession, playing M:TG requires all your mental faculties so being possessed is something we players don't want to happen.

Even before that incident though, M:TG was already being called evil. Much like the complaints against D&D, just because the game uses magic and there are cards which have the words "demon" on them, it automatically gets branded as a nefarious hobby.

M:TG is a strategy game at heart. You play a powerful magic-user who combats other similar magic-users. This is done by casting spells or by summoning creatures and enchantments. The game also has a balancing aspect as there are five types of magic, each corresponding to the elements. One type of magic called Black represents death and usually has the forces of evil at its command. Of course when that's the case, you can't have cards with titles like "fluffy white rabbit". Instead, you get dreaded names like "Lord of the Pit" and "Demonic Tutor" to fit the theme. However, some people tend to react when they see those cards. Perhaps they should see the other colors like White, which have cards like "Serra Angel" and "Pariah", or Green with cards like "Birds of Paradise" and "Wall of Wood".

That's not to say the game doesn't have its own set of problems. For one thing, participating regularly in tournaments cost a lot of money since it's not called a CCG for nothing. To keep up with the new cards coming out, you need a large budget. Second, since it's a game that involves a lot of strategy, it would naturally attract a lot of mature gamers. Along with those "mature" gamers are their vices like smoking. Third, a lot of cards carry a hefty price tag so greed is another matter. Thefts and tricky occur as sometimes, you'd be trading cards with complete strangers. My Jesuit, Catholic, Chinese high school banned M:TG because of the occurrences of theft, not the demonology associated with the game.

Despite that all, M:TG is a nice game to get into. All sorts of strategies develop which isn't possible in conventional card games or chess. Here, you have an infinite card pool which also equates to infinite strategies. As one of the ads say, "you'll never play the same game twice". You also get to meet a lot of people and if you're a really good player, earn yourself some cash and travel around the world. Heck, there's even ESPN coverage of it in the US. Better yet, it's portable and you don't need electricity to play it. And that's really something considering the tendency for power fluctuations here.

Am I demonic because of the games I play? Certainly not and while some people have told me I'm a jerk, I was never told I was Satanic. I really think the problem these days is the lack of trust people put into each other. Since they don't spend as much time as they should with their children, they suddenly suspect everything they get into and ready to point fingers instead of looking at themselves for fault. And then there are also the people who take Bible doctrine too literally. They probably even think they were descended from Adam and Eve instead of apes. As for me, judge me for my actions and decide with logic instead of mere fanatical devotion. I'm sure God doesn't want stupid, mindless followers.

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