Dragons, deities, demigods, evil spirits, and obsession

By , Education Editor of The Christian Science Monitor

Children are fascinated by mysteries. Children love "secret" clubs, hideaways, and "scary" happenings. Children love games which they can get older kids as well as adults to play with them.

Children love games of strategy -- and situations where there are "good guys and bad guys" and where game strategy controls which one you are and which one your opponents are.

Children love learning things others don't generally know; they love thinking they have some information that is special, and secret, and somehow powerful.

Recommended: 'Of Dice and Men': 6 stories from the world of Dungeons & Dragons

As the accompanying article on Page 15 by a Monitor intern, Mary Austin, explains, a fairly new game -- Dungeons and Dragons (D&D) -- is captivating some children with its frank appeal to mysteries, the occult, conflict, and elitism.

Surprisingly, this is not a game children have to sneak out to the barn or up into the attic to play; it's one that some schools and camps have embraced openly. Although D&D has been banned in Utah, in Arizona it is generally part of the curriculum for students in classes for the gifted and talented.

A math teacher in a Massachusetts public high school says that "it's no worse than chess, and better than Monopoly." And she encourages the forming of D&D groups during school hours.

Unfortunately, this "game" is really quite pernicious. With its emphasis on demons and demonic thinking, it involves children in negative thought patterns -- in hating, deceiving, conniving, competing.

To be sure, there are some "good" characters, but they don't carry the glamour (nor the game points) of the evil characters, thus encouraging children to use fear, confusion, and hate as weapons. Perhaps the strongest and most positive characteristic of D&D is the cooperation necessary among players.

But even this cooperation can be twisted as players form cliques which spill over into everyday life, and are not confined just to point-gathering during game times.

One of the texts defines a demi-god thusly: "This being is jet black and extremely ugly. He always appears wreathed in flames (the heat of which inflicts 2-20 points of damage to all that are within 10 yards of him)." Why in the world would dedicated teachers, camp directors, and loving parents want to have themselves and the children under their care absorbed in a game involving half-truths, deceits, ogres, violence, hate, and mysterious happenings?

Of course children love absorbing games, and love adventure and mystery and the resolving of conflicts. And good homes, camps, and schools will provide creative, stimulating, and imaginative games for them to play.

But these gamesshouldn't inflict hurt, or hit points, or pit one set of players against another using hate, violence, conflict, and the supernatural as the general milieu.

How wise our school leaders need to be. How gently they must deal with their charges. With what tenderness they need to treat the thoughts and activities of the pupils placed in their care.

And how vigilant parents need to be.

Children should not play games which teach values and strategies which are not uplifting and healing.

In Arizona, parents who do not wish their children to play D&D may be exempted from doing so. All parents should h ave that right.

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