It is very difficult to write satire. I originally wanted to write a completely satirical piece about how MMORPGs are evil, and how MMORPGs lead everyone to do horrible things to other people. Sadly, it’s not really in me to be completely satirical or otherwise snarky.
So today, let me just tell you of a mental exercise I went through while thinking of the original snarky piece, which I’ve long since abandoned. In today’s Devil’s Advocate, let’s discuss how someone could, by some strange longshot of logical leaps, define one particular MMORPG as “demonic.”
When I was a kid, I watched a short segment of The 700 Club while flipping channels because I was completely enamored by these people who looked relatively modern but were wearing things that looked like medieval armor, swords and all. The kicker for me, however, were the staves and, eventually, what looked like a black cauldron.
I found out that Pat Robertson was actually talking about Dungeons and Dragons at the time and about how it wasn’t a good influence on kids. Not knowing what he was talking about aside from the old cartoon, I didn’t pay it too much mind.
Fast forward to 2013. Some things are a bit different from back then. Technology has improved and we now have more complex video games, as well as social media and the Internet to keep us entertained (among other things).
One thing stayed constant, it seemed: Pat Robertson’s stance against Dungeons and Dragons, as a game that utilized magic or “the occult” in adventuring, was that it was an evil that was better avoided rather than approached.
The video above came out in April online, and in it, a viewer of the show asks if it is safe for a Christian to enjoy video games that employ magic in them if the person playing the games isn’t actually practicing the magic.
Robertson responds by referencing what he knows, probably because he doesn’t play video games:
I don't know what game you're talking about. I know there's one called Dungeons and Dragons, it literally destroyed people's lives. I mean, they got into this thing... it was like, almost, demonic.... If it's based on magic, the occult, that sort of thing, stay away from it. There are other games you can play...
Leaping Into Hellishness
Seeing as Dungeons and Dragons Neverwinter is the newest (so to speak) D&D game on the block, I wanted to see how many logical leaps I could make to begin a siege on the walls of Castle Cryptic. How would I, through rhetoric, tear down the shaky foundations of eroding morals the game stands upon?
I would have started with the name. Neverwinter. Where is a place NEVER WINTERY? Occam’s Razor would point to the tropics, but if I wanted to push the rhetoric in my desired direction, I would automatically associate “never winter” to “never cold...” and it it is never cold in hell.
Any martyr of a man hoping to adequately demonize a game would likely have a passing understanding of the game, so the gist of the About page is likely the first page one would visit. These are the first two paragraphs from that page:
One hundred years have passed since the Spellplague forever changed the magical and mysterious lands of Faerûn. Mighty empires fell and great cities toppled, leaving only monster-haunted ruins and survivors struggling to rebuild.
The city of Neverwinter, the Jewel of the North, seemed blessed by the gods. While the rest of the Sword Coast was devastated by the event, Neverwinter survived largely intact. But this was only a temporary reprieve from its inevitable doom. Nearly 75 years later, a volcanic eruption rained fire, ash and molten fury upon the city, annihilating everything in its wake.
Spellplague, magical lands, blessed by the gods, an attack of fire and brimstone? From a particularly skewed viewpoint, you have to see how this sort of makes the game look bad from the lens we’re using to view the game.
Continuing my thought experiment, I asked myself, “What if someone looking at the game this way actually went into character creation?” So I did.
Aside from the red and black motif going on, you’ve got a Tiefling race that is basically half-demonic, a dark elf (drow) race that is generally perceived as evil in the lore save for outliers like Drizzt (which I wouldn’t know of if I were in the thought experiment), a Trickster Rogue class, and a magic-slinging Control Wizard.
Oh, and before we forget... we have a Devoted Cleric, who doesn’t follow God, but rather is a conduit for the player’s chosen deity, whom the player chooses during character creation and will likely worship (roleplay or gameplay wise) in-game. Were I to go a little deeper into this and abandon the thought experiment, I would also like to note that there are evil gods, and all these gods are subject to the order of Ao, the Overgod of Abeir-Toril.... and Ao is subservient to one He calls “Master.”
Gaming’s Bad Rap
I could probably push this further, but I did that thought experiment to better imagine how people with a different belief system would perceive a video game, especially one that has a rich history of being reviled outside the video gaming sphere.
It is hard to create a positive spin on gaming if one is actively looking for faults. It also doesn’t help that news tidbits about families neglecting real-life duties to play games happen every so often. To shrug and say that games are simply games, however, is to ignore the growth of games from its birth to its current state as a lucrative entertainment and storytelling medium.
Meeting One Another
Despite some backtracking by Vatican officials, one recent speech made by Pope Francis made me think about taking the high road being the best sort of way to respond to people branding Neverwinter (or any MMORPG or video game for that matter) as demonic or otherwise irredeemable.
On May 22, Pope Francis criticized believers he deemed “intolerant.” In his speech, Pope Francis said that these people complain, saying, “If he is not one of us, he cannot do good. If he is not of our party, he cannot do good.”
He responded to his own question, saying, “Yes, he can. He must. Not can: must! Because he has this commandment within him. Instead, this ‘closing off’ that imagines that those outside, everyone, cannot do good is a wall that leads to war and also to what some people throughout history have conceived of: killing in the name of God.” That last bit about killing may be a bit overboard as it applies to gaming, but the idea of closing off to new ideas being a slippery slope that leads to conflict is important.
I think, and this is the great insight I came to with the thought experiment I had, we can afford to counter the claims of being sucky demonic gamers playing evil games by simply being excellent people when we’re not playing and offering examples of how playing games have helped us to become better people when someone attacks games as a whole as being devilish.
Pope Francis continued his speech with the following words, which really applies to everyone regardless of religion or lack thereof: “...we all have a duty to do good. And this commandment for everyone to do good, I think, is a beautiful path towards peace. If we, each doing our own part, if we do good to others, if we meet there, doing good, and we go slowly, gently, little by little, we will make that culture of encounter: we need that so much. We must meet one another doing good. ‘But I don’t believe, Father, I am an atheist!’ But do good: we will meet one another there.”
Of course, if you’d prefer to read a Chick Tract that demonizes Dungeons and Dragons as a hardcore, suicide-inducing game and rage, that’s fine too. That, however, will probably not move the discussion on the legitimacy of games (and of Neverwinter) as a worthwhile pastime forward any time soon.
Victor Barreiro Jr. / Victor Barreiro Jr. maintains The Devil’s Advocate and ArcheAge columns for MMORPG.com. He also writes for news website Rappler as a technology reporter. You can find more of his writings on Games and Geekery and on Twitter at @vbarreirojr.