I was at my friend Houston’s birthday party the other night, and the subject of my blog came up in conversation. Because I have this peculiar intersection of nerd interests and Christianity, another friend, Maurice, suggested that I take a look at some Chick Tracts.
If you’ve never had the misfortune of encountering a Chick Tract, then it works like this. The creator, Jack Chick, has been publishing evangelism tracts for about 50 years that tackle a wide range of topics that are going to send you to hell. Invariably, the things that will cause you eternal damnation are not just heresies within the Church; they are also heresies within the politically conservative tribe. Some of the positions are very extreme, and according to Chick, even people who belong to the Church are going to hell because they don’t hold these same views.
As a Christian, I believe that following Jesus is, objectively, the best way of life. I understand that it can be difficult sometimes, and there’s lots of disagreement within the Church about how one goes about it. Nonetheless, I believe in the overarching doctrine of grace, and whatever mistakes we make as individuals in our journey, God is loving enough to forgive us.
Somewhere buried in the mess that is a Chick Tract, that idea still holds sway, but it’s buried very deep under a lot of other stuff that’s ugly, foolish, and a lot of times untrue.
Take for example the infamous anti-Dungeons & Dragons tract, Dark Dungeons (because the tracts are supposed to be evangelism tools, the company makes their contents freely available online).
In this tract, we follow the parallel stories of Debbie and Marcie who are members of a small group of role-players headed by the Dungeon Master Ms. Frost (though her hair’s dark, this character is oddly reminiscent of another Ms. Frost during her villainous years; I wonder if Jack Chick’s secretly a superhero fan and just doesn’t want to admit it). Debbie’s character, a wizard (or cleric; Chick doesn’t think it’s important enough to get these vital details right despite his hard hitting expose of the satanic influence D&D has on the youth), has recently reached level 8, so Ms. Frost dubs her ready to start learning real magic. Marcie’s thief, conversely, was poorly designed and has died, so Marcie’s kicked out of the group, which sends her into a desperate spiral that ends with her suicide. Debbie winds up embroiled in a coven of witches, leaving her feeling destitute until Mike the Handsome White Kid tells her about Jesus and invites her to a meeting where the speaker says the way to salvation is following Christ and burning all marks of the
youth subculture satanic influence including rock’n’roll music and D&D books. The story ends with a repentant Debbie setting her life straight and burning her books while she submits to the clearly right older male authority.
Besides my gripes over Chick’s bizarre advocacy for the King James Version being the only authoritative version of the Bible (I wonder seriously what his thoughts are on translations in other languages), I think the biggest problem with this story is that it’s incredibly ignorant about the subculture that its attacking. Anyone who’s ever played a tabletop role-playing game knows that it’s typically an event where a group of friends gather and enjoy each other’s company as they try to tell a collaborative story. There are no dark satanic rituals, just jokes and laughter and complaints that we can’t find the cheetos.
Heck, if anything, I’d say that role-playing is a really positive experience for a lot of people, because if gives you a chance to build social skills with others and it’s an activity that helps you learn how to tell a better story. All of my NaNoWriMo novels are based on characters that I created for an ongoing D&D campaign (yes, you can laugh, but I’ll follow up by asking if you’d be willing to read one of them for me), and I think that the story writing that went into that campaign and the development of those characters went a long way towards helping me in thinking about how I build narratives in my other fiction. I’d call it indispensable to my growth as a writer.
What about you guys? Do you have any tabletop gaming experiences that
are going to send you to hell were really positive and helped you grow creatively?