Monday, April 8, 2013

Playing on the Dark Side

It's an easy enough question: "How do you respond to people who think RPGs are somehow evil or corrupting?"

With an easy enough answer. "I simply ask them 'How?' And then, I listen to the answer."

One thing about gamers - they tend to view everything in a game as unreal. Especially fantasy games. And it doesn't occur to them that there are people in the world, and in the United States, who believe that witchcraft is real, and that there is a supernatural adversary out there who has the ability to grant otherwise everyday people supernatural powers in order to make them into weapons against God and those who follow him. It doesn't occur to them that there are people who honestly believe in demons and possession and that Satan is after people's souls. I take seriously the fact that there are people who honestly believe that I can crack open a Players Handbook and recite a spell that may slay them on the spot. Not because I think they're stupid, but because they have about as much first-hand knowledge of witchcraft and fantasy gaming as I do of nuclear weapons. None. Everything I know about atomic bombs I know because someone told me it was true, and with no other frame of reference, I believed them.

For some people, it really is as simple as someone they trusted telling them something that turns out to be untrue. They believe that you can learn actual magic from a gaming manual. If they're willing it's easy enough to show them otherwise. But some games don't help. The Palladium (fantasy) Role Playing Game, has pages of magic circles, along with what materials they must be made of, and what incantations go along with them. Why would you expect someone that believes in the supernatural to immediately conclude that they were all fictional? And some literature is even worse. The novel "Witchdame" opens with a warning not to attempt the magic spells detailed within. Was the author serious? Hell if I know. But I do know that there are people out there who style themselves Witches and other magicians. I don't see what stops them from also being novelists.

For some people, it's less about actual witchcraft than it is about making people comfortable with magic and the supernatural. I never know what to say to them. I don't believe in magic. When someone tells me they're a magician, I may suspect their sanity, but I don't bat an eyelash. "Meh," I reply. "Whatever." But I understand the Christian who then tells me "But that's what Satan wants you to think." How do I convince someone that Satan is merely a scapegoat for man's inhumanity to man, when they have been taught from childhood that he's a real being and a deadly threat? After all, my own disbelief in Satan is not a result of scouring the Universe and finding no trace of him - it's a result of being dubious about the supernatural as a child, and then spending time in a Catholic high school with a bunch of self-righteous jerks who had no intention of taking responsibility for their own bad acts.

There are other answers that people give. I listen to them, respectfully, and then rebut them the best I can, if I can. Sometimes, I can't. Sometimes, it's not about me, or games, or the supernatural. It's about them, and something that they need to believe, for their world to make sense. I don't try to change their worldviews. There's no profit in it.

But most importantly, I don't stress over it. We don't have to see eye to eye on it. I'm fortunate enough to live in a part of the world where even if people are convinced that I am a witch, they have no legal recourse, and are unlikely to attempt murder. And that means that sometimes, the answer to the question can be the easy way out: "Nothing."

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