Before answering your question, a bit of background would be helpful. When Dungeons and Dragons first became popular in the early 1980s, there were concerns due to its inclusion of demons, wizards, spells and numerous acts of violence. Complicating matters was that the appearance of Dungeons and Dragons coincided with the “satanic panic” of the 1980s in which daycare workers were accused of belonging to abusive satanic cults. (No evidence was ever produced, and the convicted were later exonerated.) Another area of concern was isolated cases of players who engaged in violent acts or died by suicide; some argued that the game was the direct cause. Finally, Catholic exorcists warn that fascination with the occult, including Dungeons and Dragons, can create an opening for the diabolic to enter into our lives.
Looking directly at materials connected to Dungeons and Dragons, there is an exceptional amount of violence, much of it of an occult nature. Players have some control over unfolding events, and the “dungeon master” (who plans and referees the story) follows basic rules outlined in handbooks. In all fairness, many of the characters assumed by the players are virtuous and perform heroic deeds. There is, however, a great deal of moral ambiguity in the stories.
So are Catholics “allowed” to play Dungeons and Dragons? Perhaps the best approach is to reflect on what it means to be a follower of Jesus of Nazareth. In the Beatitudes, Jesus gives us a wonderful description of His ideal disciple: one who is meek and poor in spirit, hungers and thirsts for righteousness, possesses a merciful and pure heart, is a peacemaker, and who is willing to suffer for the sake of righteousness (Matthew 5:1-12). How does that square with the violence and magic of Dungeons and Dragons? The same question could be asked regarding video games that include simulated acts of violence, music that degrades women or splatter-fest films that glorify gore. Are such things worthy of a Christian, even if they aren’t expressly forbidden? And doesn’t frequent exposure to them shape us interiorly, even if we claim we are only “playing around?”
There are plenty of games and activities that encourage critical thinking, creativity and problem-solving without glorifying violence or the occult. In the Christian life, discernment is necessary. We sometimes want clear rules when what we really need is honest, prayerful reflection. But in response to your question, the best rule of thumb to follow if there is a serious question as to whether a game is suitable for Christians: It is far better to avoid it than later discover how it has negatively affected us or our children. If we are serious about our faith, we don’t risk it for the sake of entertainment.
Father Jones is the pastor of Sts. Teresa and Bridget Parish in St. Louis.