Dungeons and Dragons
I was working in a leading bookseller at the time when fantasy novels had begun to explode onto the market. And the role playing game Dungeons and Dragons (D&D) had become extremely popular, with its devotees playing roles of every kind of character from the fantasy world in which the game was set. Consequently, sales for books such as “The Hobbit” and “Lord of the Rings”, already popular, were booming; while earlier fantasy novels such as Conan the Barbarian and others, with their accompanying fantasy worlds, were being reprinted to meet the burgeoning demand; and new authors of fantasy were churning out fantasy novels as fast as they could, in order to cash in on this new niche in the market. Some of these novels, written by D&D role players themselves, were written for D&D players; and new fantasy worlds with new fantasy characters, all of which were classified as “Sword and Sorcery”, were being created and sold as fast as they were published.
The science fiction and space opera market was also burgeoning, to the extent it was also becoming mainstream rather than a niche in the market that it had been for so long. And it was massively galvanised and propelled by space opera films such as Star Wars and Battlestar Galactica which hit the film audience with a bang and became hugely popular. And novels in trilogies of these three genres were becoming very popular because it made the “journey” of reading, and thus living in their fantasy/sci-fi worlds, last so much longer; and they gave authors more space to develop their characters and their ideas.
Serious sci-fi novels such as those written by Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke, Larry Niven and Ben Bova (one of my favourites) were evergreens and very popular, while others sometimes crossed the line into fantasy. Fred Saberhagen, for example, wrote a brilliant series of pure sci-fi short stories called the “Berserker” series, in which machines are working systematically through the galaxy, planet by planet, to destroy every living thing. He also had a popular fantasy series called “The Book of Swords” which many of my D&D customers were reading. He successfully combined the two genres in a brilliant novel titled “Empire of the East”, which I regard as one of my favourite novels. And publishers were also resurrecting past space opera novels by older and excellent authors such as E.E. “Doc” Smith, Edgar Rice Burroughs, and (gulp!) the horror stories of H.P. Lovecraft. So much was happening in fantasy and sci-fi that I can only give lip service to a handful of them.
At the same as all this was happening, computer video games came on the scene. At first they were very basic but over the years they’ve become sophisticated and addictive and are therefore also problematic. People who don’t like role-playing or board games or reading are thus enabled to also live in a fantasy world. However, video games ensnare and corrupt just as surely as do the others; perhaps even more so.
The Dark Side of Fantasy
D&D role players were so much into their games that when they weren’t actually playing fantasy, they wanted to read these fantasy novels, desiring to immerse themselves in their fantasy worlds for as long as, and as much as, they could. D&D player’s manuals were also selling like paperbacks because they filled in and coloured the D&D fantasy worlds so the players could get authenticity for their characters. In order to provide this authenticity the publishers were dredging up and describing, in minute detail, characters and their worlds from ancient mythology, occult realms, horror stories, and every kind of demon, ghost, sorcerer, witch, and any and every kind of dangerous and unhealthy entity ever known in the whole history of humanity, whether real or mythological, and known demons and entities from black magic and gnostic religious cults.
Chivalry gets Sidelined
The medieval tales of derring-do and magic and myth had heroes – knights who were men of courage, honour, and chivalry. The tales of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table and other individual knights in the same world, and the French tales of the hero Roland, and so on – all these men were courteous, honourable, and chivalrous; the Scandinavian Beowulf also gets a look in. The stories of these heroes with their courage and noble characteristics have endured for centuries, and they inspire each new generation who read them. They are regarded as romances, so-called because they were written in the “romance” languages of French, Italian, Spanish, and Portuguese, all derived from the Latin which was spoken in ancient Rome; and perhaps also because there is often the fabled damsel in distress who needs to be rescued from a dragon or an evil knight or sorcerer.
Unfortunately, the modern fantasies dispensed with the chivalric code and noble standards of heroism and focused more on monsters, demons, and sorcery; and the D&D manuals opened the doors to the occult and spiritual worlds which had previously been forbidden and where normally healthy people wouldn’t venture. And as a consequence, the gates of hell were flung wide open and the denizens of darkness came flooding in through these newly opened portals into the minds of foolish people which were now open to these unclean spirits (see Revelation chapter 12).
One young man, a customer in the shop where I worked, told me of a character his group created as part of their game; they thought it was a bit of fun at first, but this “imaginary” being turned out to be an evil spirit and it gave them a real scare as they felt they were losing control of it. They felt its maliciousness as it began to assert itself but, he told me, they succeeded in closing the game and shutting the spirit down.
A married Christian couple, older and supposedly more mature than the general run of D&D players, and who spent a lot of money in my shop on their role playing paraphernalia, told me they read the complete “Lord of the Rings” once a year. When they told me this, it said everything, and I wondered if they determinedly made as much time to read their bibles. Jesus said, “…where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matt 6:21 NRSV).
These role playing games captivated people’s hearts and their reality became warped as they knowingly chased a fantasy, and their minds became divorced from the realities of life. They were yet another diversion Satan places in the way of sinful humanity to keep our minds off the reality and necessity of ensuring our eternity is secure through faith in Christ; and that the real hell awaits those who trifle with him. “When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what is sown in the heart” (Matt 13:19 NRSV). These games were overtly hellish and the lemmings were rushing into the jaws of hell, falsely believing it is all a game.
Warhammer: Spawn of Hell
Before long other publishers were getting in on the act with a rash of new role playing games, trying to cash in on this lucrative market. Some of them had reasonable success initially, such as Lord of the Rings, Marvel Superheroes, a sci-fi version called Mech Warrior and another called Robotech. It was at this time that the fantasy game Warhammer appeared. Similar to, and undoubtedly based on, Lord of the Rings, it had in common with LOTR orcs and other characters in its world, and trolls who spoke with a London cockney accent, as did Tolkien’s trolls and other nasties; as well as having its own unique and original characters. But the thing that differentiated and raised Warhammer above the others was its wide range of figurines. They were very good and even D&D players were buying them. They also produced a monthly magazine called White Dwarf, and I believe it was these things combined that quickly gave them dominance in the market. They have since introduced a sci-fi game called Warhammer 40,000. It is at least as big as D&D was in its heyday and has an incredible range of products related to the game; many of them are astronomically priced, in my opinion – I heard of one figurine which sells for $1500 AUD.
But the Warhammer 40,000 worlds are brutal, violent, ruthless, heartless, cruel, savage, and utterly demonic. They are also very religious (as is most sci-fi) and have detailed religions seemingly based on the Catholic model (as is most sci-fi), with powerful warrior priests every bit as cruel and inhuman as the medieval Catholic monks of the Inquisition. The ruler of the Warhammer 40,000 galactic empire is a ruthless emperor 50,000 years old, his dead body preserved in a machine called The Golden Chest which keeps his body functioning. He is unconscious and unable to communicate except psychically, and thus still controls the Empire. It is a hideous abomination of human life.
The mainstays of the game are ruthlessly efficient imperial troops called space marines who are clothed in heavily armed and armoured suits called Power Armour; and those space marines who are mortally wounded are, if counted worthy, interred in a cyber/bionic-type sarcophagus, which can be plugged into a Mech body (basically a walking tank about 3 times the size of a space marine) and allow him to keep fighting for centuries more, even millennia. And the space marines, in their blind obedience to the Emperor, commit atrocities for the good of the Empire.
I’ve watched some of the short videos of Warhammer 40000 and, apart from the senseless death of masses on an absolutely massive scale, and the utterly callous brutality in causing them, the thing that disturbs me most, and which makes me feel depressed each time I’ve watched them, is the feeling of utter hopelessness. Unlike LOTR and even D&D, the Warhammer 40,000 world has no hope. It is a world of chaos, carnage, heartlessness – there is nothing to alleviate it. No beauty. No tenderness. No hope. No kindness. No mercy. No love. Admittedly, the forces of darkness and chaos are evil incarnate and must be opposed if the Empire and its inhabitants are to survive. But for me, an outsider looking in, I get depressed every time I do look in, and I feel the oppression of despair as if I was actually there. I feel sickened by the brutality and death, the cruel and merciless destruction. But for those who are immature, or who don’t read the bible, or who don’t know Jesus, focusing on and living in the brutal world of Warhammer 40,000 must surely affect their mind and make them very callous.
Imagination and Original Sin
The creation of this Warhammer 40,000 world seems to have drawn heavily from the Catholic Church, the earlier Mech Warrior and Robotech games, and Lord of the Rings, for their main inspiration, but there are no doubt other sources as well, principally, their own creative imaginations. God declared: “the inclination of the human heart is evil from youth” (Gen 8:21). It is from such fallen, sin-inspired hearts that Warhammer and all the other fantasy games have been spewed out to corrupt the minds and hearts of those who get ensnared by them. Jesus said “…. the evil person brings evil things out of an evil treasure” (Matt 12:35). “But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this is what defiles. For out of the heart come evil intentions, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness, slander….” (Matt 15:18-19).
It is this soil, the corrupt soil of the unregenerate and fallen human heart, which Satan finds most useful. He doesn’t need to do anything much at all because the heart of every human being is a cage full of unclean birds and beasts, as Spurgeon so eloquently put it, echoing Jesus’ words in the above verse. The Old Testament prophet Jeremiah tells us, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately corrupt: who can understand it?” (Jer 17:9 RSV). Of every unsaved human being, it is written,” You were dead through the trespasses and sins in which you once lived, following the course of this world, following the ruler of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work among those who are disobedient. All of us once lived among them in the passions of our flesh, following the desires of flesh and senses, and we were by nature children of wrath, like everyone else” (Eph 2:1-3).
Thus, both creator and player of fantasy role playing games, and writers of fantasy (and especially sci-fi and horror) novels, being fallen beings, as is every single person who has ever lived, contain the source (i.e. their fallen minds and hearts) from which Satan draws his raw material; and through them creates ever more hellish and brutal worlds and characters.
It’s not all bad….
Despite all this however, some of the plots in fantasy novels and films are very clever, and some of the characters are brilliant in their concept and originality. The underlying theme in most fantasy and space opera is the struggle between good and evil, and LOTR is a great example of this. LOTR exemplifies the tender, noble, courage, humour, and whimsical aspects of the human soul alongside and in competition with the malice and evil of the dark side of corrupted humanity and demons.
Because of this, it is quite reasonable and permissible to use them as entertainment, hobby, or relief from the pressures of life. I don’t have a problem with wars between elves and dwarves and humans as the good guys (usually), and gnomes and goblins and giants and trolls and dragons as the bad guys; and I love trees that walk and talk, and so on. Whether we like it or not, these characters are in our children’s stories such as Grimm’s Fairy Tales and Enid Blyton tales; and they provide opportunities to teach our children some basic principles of good and evil on a level they can relate to and understand.
….. But it can be Highly Dangerous
It is when the players and/or readers immerse themselves in these fantasy worlds and wallow in death, destruction, chaos, and all things hateful to God, that real problems arise. But far more dangerous is it when these devotees hanker for more than a fantasy game and become involved in séances and meditation in order to reach the hidden and forbidden world of Satan and his hosts of evil angels. Although not all who involve themselves in these games will do so, others are more easily seduced to the occult, believing it is just a bit of harmless fun. This is exactly what Satan wants us all to believe – he loves it when we poke fun at him as a man dressed in a red suit with a tail and a trident in his hand. He laughs with glee when people think they can mess around with the arcane realm of darkness and not suffer the most serious and destructive consequences.
I know of a young boy from a lovely Christian family; he was a delightful child and a joy to his parents. When he was 13 years old he went to sleep over at his friend’s house. During the time he was there, the friend wanted them to watch the movie “The Exorcist”. The young guest had never come across anything like this movie in his life; thus, it had such a massive effect on him that he came home from his friend’s house depressed and fearful, and over time became increasingly difficult and hostile and violent. He remained like this for the rest of his short life; and when he was just 21 years old, he committed suicide.
These games are a reflection of the ungodly society, the fallen world, in which we live; and they not only reflect but seduce and direct our fallen society ever further away from God and ever closer to a society which, in the years prior to the universal flood of Genesis, was so corrupt and violent that God saw that the only action he could take was to destroy the whole world – and he did. “The LORD saw that the wickedness of humankind was great in the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of their hearts was only evil continually” (Gen 6:5). “And God said unto Noah, ‘I have determined to make an end of all flesh, for the earth is filled with violence because of them; now I am going to destroy them along with the earth’” (Gen 6:13).
Real History and Historical Fiction are Exciting Alternatives
So it is much more edifying to read the true histories of ancient peoples and the consequences of what happened back then for our world and societies today. Who can beat for interest and excitement the Histories of Herodotus with their fascinating story of the war between Greece and Persia, Livy’s War with Hannibal, or Xenophon’s marvellous account of the March of the Ten Thousand from Persia back to Greece, or his history of the defeat of Sparta by the brilliant Theban army and generals, among many such? Stories such as these are true, and truth is much more interesting and exciting, in my opinion, than fiction and fantasy.
But if you love fantasy and myth and magic and dragons and heroic combat and so on, the stories mentioned earlier – Arthur, Roland, Beowulf – and the novels of such greats as Water Scott and Arthur Conan Doyle and his brilliant and totally engaging “The White Company”, among many, will provide the entertainment and excitement that you crave. Chivalry, courage, heroism, honour, derring-do, and every other good characteristic of humanity can be found in books such as these; and the descriptions of the darker side of humanity are also wonderfully displayed.
The Bible and Reality
But the books I love best, by far, are the books of the Bible. One reason I love the Bible so much, apart from the fact that it is all about Jesus and the way of salvation, is that it deals with reality. Not only are the people, the events, the places, the history, real; there is real hope in the Bible. It tells us of real people, some of whom were evil and others who were good. It warns us of the pitfalls of life, and of hell which awaits those who resist God; and especially it gives us hope that death is not necessarily the end – that by trusting in Jesus, death is the gateway to eternal life and immortality. It uses real people to show us these things. And in all this it assures us that God is real. And there is no need of cyber machines to keep our dead or dying bodies alive in some form; the Bible promises the believer that they receive a new (spiritual) heart in this life with which we may worship God through Christ; and when Jesus returns, Christians will be raised from their graves and given new, resurrection bodies, and be caught up to meet with Jesus in the air, to be with him for eternity. We will not be zombies such as those in Warhammer 40,000, encased and preserved in machines; we will be the saints of God, worshipping and enjoying him forever, in fullness of life and joy, in a completely new body. It will be life as God intended it to be.
“So it is with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable, what is raised is imperishable. It is sown in dishonor; it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness, it is raised in power. It is sown a physical body, it is raised a spiritual body….What I am saying, brothers and sisters, is this: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable” (1 Cor 15:42-44, 50).
“The Scripture quotations contained herein are made from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright, 1989, by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the U.S.A. Used by permission. All rights reserved.”