The follow is a rant from two years ago. I include it here as it’s on topic.

Brain Washing Rant
March 12 – 2010

I was recently re-reading William Schnoebelen’s essay on the dangers of D&D “Straight Talk on Dungeons and Dragons”. It’s an article of it’s time, demonising the role-playing hobby, supporting the Mothers Against Dungeons and Dragons movement, and slandering many of the friends and associates I have made in my twenty five years of gaming.

It was carried on the Chick Publications website and can be found via [http://www.chick.com/articles/dnd.asp]. I found the article many years ago, and I don’t give it any more weight than the Chick Tract designed to go with it “Dark Dungeons“. Though I am more of a fan of Dark Dungeons just for it’s enormous potential for parody.

So I found myself glancing over the article again and came to the following section which I reproduce wholesale here for the sake of discussion.

Do-It-Yourself Brainwashing

Additionally, Fantasy-Role-Playing (FRP) games like D&D do employ brainwashing techniques:

  1. Fear generation-via spells and mental imaging about fear-filled, emotional scenes, and threats to survival of FRP characters.
  2. Isolation-psychological removal from traditional support structures (family, church, etc.) into an imaginary world. Physical isolation due to extremely time-consuming play activities outside the family atmosphere.
  3. Physical torture and killings-images in the mind can be almost as real as the actual experiences. Focus of the games is upon killings and torture for power, acquisition of wealth, and survival of characters.
  4. Erosion of family values-the Dungeon Master (DM) demands an all-encompassing and total loyalty, control and allegiance.
  5. Situational Ethics-any act can be justified in the mind of the player, therefore there are no absolutes of right or wrong; no morality other than “point” morality needed to ensure survival and advancement. There are no win-win situations and good forces seldom triumph over evil forces.
  6. Religion-values and belief systems (see below) are restructured from traditional Judeo-Christian ethics (which most people in Western culture adhere to) to belief in multiple gods and deities. Players align themselves with specific deities they select; patron deities are strongly urged. These are not fantasy deities, but are drawn from genuine ancient religions and beliefs! Only occult gods are included. In addition, defilement is urged in many ways, such as excrement or urinating to “defile a font.”
  7. Loss of Self-control-authority over self is surrendered to the DM. Depending on the personality and ego-strength of the player, this loss can be near absolute.
  8. Degradation-pain and torture are heavily involved in sadistic, sexual situations that graphically appeal to visceral impulses. Much of the material (as mentioned above) is well into pornographic areas and stresses the defilement of innocence

Today I looked at this list in a new light. I felt that the list needed more scrutiny and examination. And I felt that there was a level of irony, apparent when you think about it, which I wanted to expose.

This is a list of brain washing methods that Schnoebelen claims are recognisable in Fantasy Role Playing games (better known as RPGs). I am unsurprised at his ability to identify the methods as many are used in other areas of our lives. Such as by the church.

Let’s look at the points raised. I’ll reproduce them and give my thoughts as I go.

1. Fear – generation and mental images about fear-filled, emotional scenes, and threats to survival.

In the church we are taught to fear God, to fear his judgement and to fear the prospect of eternity in hell. There are verses in the bible that define God as a thing to be feared [Psalm 96:4, Hebrews 10:26-34, 1 Peter 2:17] and the threat of hell coupled with Pascal’s Wager has often been a lynchpin for winning souls to Christ. Fear is an important tool for brainwashing, but surely that can’t be what the church uses it for.

As for its application in a RPG the fear is no more attached to the player than it would be in a horror movie. The content of the fear is intended to be make-believe, and there are many levels of disassociation that separate the player from the situation. These are not found in the church where you are promised drastic tortures, pain and distress, if you do not abide by the wishes of God.

2. Isolation – psychological removal from traditional support structures into an imaginary world. Physical isolation due to extremely time-consuming activities outside the family atmosphere.

If you go to church with your family then the level of separation is of course reduced, but the secluded society of the congregation is a form of separation and isolation. Removing you from the world in a church sense is labelled as “In the world, but not of it.” to consider yourself almost as alien to the culture from which you have come. You are required by scripture to put your old life behind you [1 Corinthians 13:11].

Yet within the RPG society the only reason you would feel insular would be if somebody were treating you as unacceptable. The hobby is highly social, and requires confident interaction with peers and friends. Note that in the original list of people you are being isolated from both family and church are explicitly listed but friends are presumably lumped into “etc.”

In a role playing game you come together with friends for fun and games, anyone would be welcome and many find the hobby through family. The church produces a much more insular setting than the gaming table.

3. Physical torture and killings – images in the mind can be almost as real as the actual experiences. Focus of the games is upon killings and torture for power, acquisition of wealth, and survival of characters.

I’m going to give them a B+ grade for this one. The second part is a part of many RPGs (leaving out the torture element maybe). The morality of such violent and potentially selfish behaviour is worthy of investigation. Each character in a game has it’s own personality, and some persons are unpleasant in polite company. In the same way that an actor would find it distasteful to play Hitler or Hannibal Lecter the thought of playing a vile character in a game has limited appeal.

But there are such characters in many stories they crop up throughout the bible. Joshua is a great example of a character who leads his people on slaughter after slaughter in the name of the bible’s God. The bible is awash with physical torture, violence, rape, slavery and there are many scenes of killings. The image of the passion of Christ is something many visualise to the point of sharing on a personal level. The use of these images; and also instances of parables and teachings; count towards this kind of thought manipulation.

In all instances of violence the morality of the action is important. In gaming terms there are moral decisions that have to be weighed and if violence is required that decision should be justified. The same should be true of the way violence is portrayed in the Bible, many would have us believe that if God commands it then the act is just and righteous. Surely though there are those today who claim that God told them to kill and they are not found innocent. Why then are the figures of antiquity judged guiltless? And is there not concern that their scriptural innocence sets a precedent in the mind of the brainwashed?

4. Erosion of family values – Demands of all-encompassing and total loyalty, control and allegiance.

Well here we have a request that is placed on a person to give over their loyalty to a greater power, to swear allegiance to a body of people and a leader, and to allow that leader to control them and reprimand them as they see fit. This is something that no RPG Dungeon Master has ever requested/received/deserved or otherwise warranted. It’s laughable to think any of my friends could possibly ask something of this magnitude from me.

Maybe some dominatrix or slave-master would want that from me, but my peers love and respect me enough to accept the usual level of loyalty found between friends.

God on the other hand, does require this from you. I’m not saying he doesn’t deserve it, but the claim being made here is that this is a form of mind control carried out in the name of… oh hang on they think it’s role playing games.

5. Situational Ethics – any act can be justified in the mind of the player, therefore there are no absolutes of right or wrong; no morality other than “point” morality needed to ensure survival and advancement. There are no win-win situations and good forces seldom triumph over evil forces.

The idea that ethics can be made out of absolutes is one for discussion. Obviously if your moral code comes from an inscrutable god then anything that is judged good by that god is good in your eyes, that’s a kind of absolute. But we find that Christians are quite happy to use situational judgements about issues such as stoning children when they are disrespectful, or how rape victims should marry their rapists. These absolutes are in the bible but you don’t find many willing to keep these rulings.

In role-playing games you must have justification for your characters actions, these justifications come from the core personality of the character. So the decisions a player makes when defining their character limits the kind of reactions available in play. A heroic paladin would not resort to torture, a learned city wizard would be unwilling to get his hands dirty, a cautious rogue would be careful to keep his actions within the accepted norm. In all these cases the player makes a decision based on what to do within their character’s moral code, which is exactly what we all do in real life. whether we abide by morals we have built through a social interaction or through the teachings of a bronze age source book.

In life there are few if any win-win situations, and good seldom triumphs over evil. Do you know where Good always tends to triumph over evil? In stories and fiction, like you find in a role-playing game.

6. Religion-values and belief systems – are restructured from traditional Judeo-Christian ethics (which most people in Western culture adhere to) to belief in multiple gods and deities. In addition, defilement is urged in many ways, such as excrement or urinating to “defile a font.”

I had to leave in the excrement and urination, I just had too. I’m sorry I can’t dispute this claim because I’d be wetting myself laughing if I tried. The idea that any RPG source book has ever advocated defecation, while possible, is very unlikely.

The practice is obviously disgusting, like a book telling you to stone homosexuals [Leviticus 20:13], or to smash babies heads open on stones [Isaiah 13:15-18], or to beat slaves so badly that they might die over the course of three days [Exodus 21:20-2]. So yes any book telling you to defecate on a shrine is bad, but don’t fret about those other things.

You should rely on the good teachings and admonish the bad. So you should abide by the teachings of fairness and justice when told to roll your dice honestly and that results on the floor don’t count.

Oh why not focus on this, the teaching of non-Judeo-Christian ethics and religious beliefs are brainwashing. That would include Muslim teachings, Hindi teachings, Buddhist teachings, Scientology teachings… oh that last one probably does count as brain washing.

7. Loss of Self-control-authority over self is surrendered. Depending on the personality and ego-strength of the player, this loss can be near absolute.

Amen to that. I have seen this in effect. Weak willed people shouldn’t get involved with myths and fictions that are all encompassing. Their minds can’t handle the pressure and they crack. They go out and kill people

[http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/01/29/scott-roeder-guilty-kille_n_442037.html – http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/god-told-me-to-kill-boys-says-mother-558706.html ]

, they lead cults and force people to drink the cool-aide

[http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jonestown – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Waco_Siege ]

In RPGs this can happen, oh not the cults and the cool-aide, but people do go off the deep end. But nowhere near the level that it happens in religions.

We gamers have an advantage in that there just aren’t that many of us. Another advantage we have is that our society reinforces the real. At any point that one of our number seems to be getting confused we’re quite happy to hold our hands up and explain “IT’S ONLY A GAME”.

In the case of religions this isn’t likely to happen. If someone starts getting messages from their God the likely-hood is that the church will not “hold it’s hands up” and clarify how it’s all a fiction.

In RPGs the player takes up control over a fictional character that they manipulate and lead through fictional scenarios. In religion the member gives up control to a mystical character that manipulates and leads them through the texts and leaders of the church… There is a difference, one of these things looks a lot like mind control.

8. Degradation-pain and torture are heavily involved in sexual situations that apply to natural impulses. Much of the material (as mentioned above) is well into pornographic areas and stresses the defilement of innocence

This final point links Dungeons and Dragons with sex.
I’m not sure about the wider gaming community but the general impression of D&D players is that they are not getting any sex. And that is the way that the church wants it.

Good Christian boys and girls should not have any sex until they’re wed, and back in the 80’s role-playing was a pretty good way of seeing to that. In fact it served as a much better way of ensuring virginity, than say attending a catholic choir practice.

But that isn’t the point being made and I’m being dishonest in pretending that actually having sex is the main issue.

At it’s heart the Judeo-Christian concern about the concept of sex is that it be treated with respect. Sex should be something special, and saving it for the right person is a great way of preserving that ideal.

There are instances within the fictional worlds of RPGs where sex is degraded; of course the seedy side of intercourse can be represented in fantasy. It should be apparent that these concepts come from the real world and are only included in the game (if at all) to bring some elements of reality to the fiction.

Sex is not added to the game so that the players can degrade one another, it is introduced within some narratives, but handled maturely these stories (rare as they are) can be healthy.

Of course the degrading of natural sexual urges is something the church has been using from the onset, and it makes for a powerful means of control. By associating natural urges with a source of guilt and shame the church establishes a constant need for forgiveness which can only be dispensed by members of the clergy. But of course that’s not a means to take control of people.


I’ve been flippant and let my irritation show through, but at the same time I’m sure that the point has been made. The list hardly applies to the gaming hobby, but if it does in any way then it equally fits with the way the church uses the same tactics.
I’m happy to say that there’s little reason to fear RPGs or D&D in particular. In today’s society people are much more open to the idea of interactive fiction.

Gaming consoles have made RPGs more widely accepted. With a fourth edition of Dungeons and Dragons now in print it is clear the article had no real impact on the brand, and that the actions of Mothers against D&D and their ilk were only a marginal nuisance.

I’m not going to say there are reasons to fear religion; after all if I can pick faults with that list then I’m clearly saying it’s not a valid means for bias. But if you really can’t see the way this list applies to interactions with the church, I suggest you check to see if you’re being brain washed… or at least stop playing RPGs.