dark dungeons


Some Light in the Dungeon

Jack Chick died this past weekend. For those too young to remember, back in 1984, Jack Chick published his now-infamous “Dark Dungeons” tract, and as we discussed with Chris Ode in episode 88, 32 years later we as gamers are still dealing with the fallout.

But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, -Matthew 5:44

Forgiving the dead is a strange and tricky thing, especially when they hurt you or those you care about without even knowing you exist like Jack Chick did to so many gamers. So how do we go about forgiving one of the key figure in the “Satanic panic” of the 80s and 90s? Because as Christians, that’s what we are commanded to do. The thing I like about Matthew 5:44 is that it comes directly from Jesus. There’s no room for hedging because “that’s the Old Testament” or “well, that’s one of Paul’s letters.” Nope. Jesus himself said that. Of course, that doesn’t mean that Paul and The Old Testament differed on this one. That confluence of scripture doesn’t leave much room for alternative interpretations.

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. -Romans 12:14

I would suggest the “how” of forgiving is going to vary from person to person, but keep in mind a few things as you contemplate that for yourself: first, as wrong as he was about a lot of things, Chick seemed motivated primarily by a sincere desire to save people from Hell. His theology was that of an angry, pitiless God and speaking as a person who has to wrestle with some of those ideas himself from time to time, that kind of theology is often borne out of guilt and feelings of having missed the mark. As I often say on the podcast: remember Hanlon’s Razor (which can be restated as “assume good faith”).

If you come across your enemy’s ox or donkey wandering off, be sure to return it. If you see the donkey of someone who hates you fallen down under its load, do not leave it there; be sure you help them with it. -Exodus 23:4-5

However, forgiving Jack may be a fulfillment of one of our duties of Christians, but it still leaves us with the troubling problem of his legacy, and I think the best way to address that is to keep using our hobby for good. Donate time or money to things like Extra Life, which our friends at Innroads Ministries are doing for the fourth year straight, use simple roleplaying exercises as a way of enhancing teaching in your church and other charitable efforts, and probably most importantly, don’t let gaming become an “idol” that takes over more of your life than it should. Let your light shine so brightly that as Jack looks on from a Heaven that is more full than he’d dared to hope, even he can see that it reaches even into the dungeon.

He said to me: “It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To the thirsty I will give water without cost from the spring of the water of life.  Those who are victorious will inherit all this, and I will be their God and they will be my children. -Revelation 21:6-7

Rest in peace, Mr. Chick.


Go Time

I have a confession to make, one that could potentially cost me my nerd card: I have zero personal interest in Pokemon Go. I’ve never gotten into the series in any form; I think I’m probably just too much of an old man and I also find virtually every anime or anime-influenced thing that’s targeted at children to be grating (the single, and noteworthy, exception being Avatar: The Last Airbender). Then again, I felt the same way about Power Rangers when I was the demographic. I have always been a little stiff in my entertainment choices, I suppose.

So it may come as something of a surprise that I wholeheartedly support the existence of Pokemon Go and I’m happy it was released. It’s giving couch potatoes a fun way to get some exercise. It’s giving lonely people an excuse to go out in public and a convenient icebreaker to engage with strangers (other players). I saw it used as an icebreaker at the M:tG “Eldritch Moon” prerelease last weekend. Young gamers and old gamers and gamers of all seriousness levels and demographic groups are discovering they have something in common, and that’s all absolutely magnificent. Heck, people who were never gamers are becoming them, which is great!

But it’s also doing something else important: it’s basically giving the church a do-over for the Satanic panic of the 80s and 90s, at least where gamers are concerned. And to my surprise and delight, the church is actually embracing the opportunity.  Churches are setting up charging stations and putting out water for people playing the game. It’s not a huge thing, just some simple acts of hospitality and kindness, but for those who grew up dealing with what must have felt like monolithic disapproval of their hobbies and interests, it’s a fantastic first step. I even saw a meme (that I can’t find, frustratingly) of Jesus’s “I will make you fishers of men” converted to “I will teach you to catch people,” which might seem a bit irreverent…  …until you think about it a bit and realize it really is just a modern re-skinning of the same message (applied to leisure rather than work, but otherwise basically the same).

So in light of all of that, I can’t help but be happy about the existence of Pokemon Go, and I think if you’re at all interested, it’s definitely a good thing to participate in. Anything that helps us humanize our fellow humans is especially welcome in our divisive age, and that’s roughly a thousand times truer in a US election year. Anything that gives us a harmless cultural touchstone and another bunch of analogies to talk about God with is also a good thing.

And yes, I know there has been some backlash from some churches and Christian media figures, but it’s nowhere near as bad as the whole “Dark Dungeons” era, and as we discussed with Chris Ode in Episode 88, there’s always going  to be some of that. There have always been those that felt that whatever The Bible/Christianity/their particular denomination doesn’t explicitly permit, it forbids, and I seriously doubt we’ll ever see the end of that particular mindset completely. I also know that there have been a few isolated tragedies where something bad happened to a player, but on the whole, the experience has been a good one for both the individuals and society.

So even though it’s not my thing, I’m really, actively, and legitimately happy the game is out there. I can’t understand Grant’s love of craft beer, either, but that didn’t stop me and my wife from picking up an assortment of regional craft beers from our part of the country to take with us when we visited him and his wife last fall. If you, unlike me, enjoy the aesthetic, I think it’s wonderful that it’s (Pokemon) Go time.

(Featured image courtesy of mobipicker.com.)

Episode 88 – Dark Dungeons and Lingering Pain (with Rev. Chris Ode) 2


Download this episode (right click and save)

Rev. Chris Ode joins Peter and Grant in a very personal episode this week! Chris is a Lutheran pastor, and an actor and religious consultant for Zombie Orpheus Entertainment. We cover a lot of ground in this discussion, including: Zombie Orpheus’s new project, “Attacking the Darkness” (Kickstarting now!); ZOE’s “Dark Dungeons” movie (an adaptation of the original anti-D&D Chick tract); the lingering effects of Dark Dungeons and other anti-RPG material on the Church, gamers, and gaming; scapegoating; and our own Patreon campaign. (We’re on Patreon now—check out the video for more information!)

Also mentioned in passing:

Scripture: Isaiah 44:22, 2 Corinthians 3:17, Ephesians 4:31-32


Impostor Syndrome and Angry God Theology 3

And straightway the father of the child cried out, and said with tears, Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief.
Mark 9:24 (KJV)

As we mentioned recently on the podcast, I started a new job a little under a month ago. And as often happens to me in new situations, that newness brought a fair bit of anxiety with it. One day in particular felt especially bad after a bunch of random things went wrong (in retrospect, most of them completely out of my control) and had me seriously questioning whether I should have made the transition at all. The next day, I casually asked my new boss if I was doing okay, and the swiftness and enthusiasm of his assurance that I was was a huge relief.

I suffer from “Impostor Syndrome,” a fairly common mental/emotional problem that isn’t an actual mental illness, but nonetheless manages to keep me up at night on occasion. (For those unfamiliar with it, this page veers close to being “too true to be funny.”) My particular flavor of it comes with a little extra wariness of authority figures and a strong inclination to disavow my expertise on virtually anything. If you’ve known me for any length of time, you’ll probably come to notice that I pepper both my writing and speech with a lot of qualifiers. Some of this is a desire to be clear in my communication, but oftentimes the message I’m trying to be clear about is “I don’t claim to know more than I do, please don’t be angry with me.” It has led to feeling intimidated by exceptionally kind, decent people like some of the folks we’re participating in Game to Grow with – and that is completely absurd. But this is a normal part of my life. I manage it, I try to leaven it with self-awareness, I get encouragement from good friends, and I try to work around it. And credit where credit is due – during my latest and most intense bout with impostor syndrome, Grant was the one with the fastest and most valuable advice for me. I never really considered it in a theological context.

At least, I didn’t until a couple of my friends on Facebook shared an article called The Faceless White Giant that dealt with, among other things, the writing of none other than Jack Chick of Dark Dungeons fame. That, combined with me catching up on my COR sermon listening, particularly the one from April 17, and the concept of Christ as a colander, resulted in something that may or may not have actually been an epiphany, but it sure felt like one.

At times in my life, I have done what can be described as “clinging to my faith with bloody fingernails.” My faith is not something I want to give up, but even as a practicing Christian, sometimes I can find it hard to believe. Love and forgiveness for me – knowing what I’ve done in my life and just how it has hurt people – seems a little “out there.” (Although the concept of Hell can be all too easy to accept in my darker moments, in those same moments, the very concept of Heaven can seem absurd.) At least some of the “Angry God Theology” out there (and certainly my own struggles with it) is at least partially a form of spiritual impostor syndrome.  Just as I sometimes find it hard to believe that my boss at work is satisfied with or even willing to tolerate my performance, I can run into a similar trap with God. It is hard to imagine (for me) a God who is willing to forgive and embrace, but in Jesus’s character, that’s exactly what we see.

Which is, somewhat ironically, one of the things that enables me to hold onto my faith. The God I believe in is every bit as alien and unknowable in His nature as some of the creations of people like H.P. Lovecraft (stay with me!) – it is so easy for us as humans to envision cosmic forces as being malevolent or callously indifferent to us. God as He is described in scripture is vast and cosmic beyond our ability to perceive or conceptualize. When Moses asked the burning bush who was sending him, God’s reply was to tell them that “I AM” was. One interpretation of that statement is “I am existence itself.” Not everything, not the universe, but the very concept of existence. Talk about cosmic and incomprehensible.

And yet the essential nature of this incomprehensibly vast, powerful being is one of tender love and compassion for the lowly and the broken. We as humans tend to imagine powerful and vast things as nasty and dangerous. Lovecraft and his ilk are popular in part because even though what they write about is awful and terrifying, it feels like it’s probably accurate on some level. The idea that the primal cosmic force out there not only cares about us, but is willing to sacrifice so deeply to show it – that strains the limits of believability. It seems far-fetched, too good to be true. And the fact that it’s so hard to believe is one of many things that convinces me that it’s worth believing. It is not something we humans would come up with – it is outside of our frame of reference.

This will not, I’m sure, convince anyone who has lost their faith to take it up again, and I’m even more certain that it won’t convince those who never had it in the first place to develop it now. But if you’ve struggled to hang onto a faith that can be hard to grasp at times like I have, and particularly if your own guilt has been making your grip falter, it’s my sincere hope that this gives you another handle. We need to accept the good, despite how unlikely it seems.

Truth, as they say, can be stranger than fiction.