Is Role-Play Gaming a Religious Exercise? Thoughts on Tolkien, Campbell and Role-Playing Games (pt. viii)

            From Tolkien’s perspective, by contrast, the decision of the player to adopt an evil character is to enter into a Secondary World where one sides with what is destructive and hostile for the sake of power for oneself.  As the fates of Gollum, Saruman and the Lord of the Nazgul show, this starts out as an attempt at self-aggrandizement but ends up as self-destruction.  To join in such a story is to deny the very essence of the Fairy-Story, which is its Consolation.

            The general trend over the decades seems to have been away from the moral dualisms of early Dungeons and Dragons to more pluralistic settings, where groups might be considered evil by some standards or some other group, but still have a firm moral code and be good and just in their own eyes.  Even so, there is almost always some greater, ultimate evil, seeking to destroy the heroes and the world they live in.  Perhaps this ultimately vindicates the theories of Campbell and Tolkien.  It is one thing to have a hero who has some darkness in his or her soul; but for the hero to be a hero, there has to be an ultimate evil, Death Incarnate, whether as a dragon or Cthulhu or the Burning Legion.  The game is simply meaningless unless it is also a quest.  It is having something to strive for, and something that must be striven against, that makes the role-playing game feel important, at least in a Secondary sense.  Otherwise, the whole thing is simply killing stuff to level up over and over again, always basically the same, basically pointless, and essentially boring.  And boredom is the root of all evil.[1]

To be continued…..


[1] Søren Kierkegaard, Either/Or v. 1; translated, with an introduction and notes by Howard V. Hong and Edna H. Hong (Princeton, NJ:  Princeton University Press, 1987) p. 285

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