Over the years of my youth, I got involved first in comic books, then in Dungeons & Dragons. Mom was just happy I was out of the house and talking to real people instead of staring fixedly at the tiny little television in my bedroom playing Atari games.
Once my family moved to the Deep South, I didn’t attend church anymore. When we had initially moved from Maryland to California, my fervor had continued unabated. I’d been happy to get up and walk a few miles to the Sacred Heart, but things changed when we moved to Alabama, which I found to be incredibly hot, muggy, and crime-ridden. I didn’t want to step outside if I could help it. So my involvement lowered accordingly until I was attending just on the Big Holidays like Christmas and Easter with my folks. Still, though, my concept of Jesus looked an awful lot like the superheroes in the comic books and games I adored. I was absolutely convinced that there was an amazing world of magic and wonder lurking beneath the surface of the mundane, banal world I could see around me. Jesus, saints, and demons lurked under that surface, jostling with pneumatic princesses, shapeshifters, and mutants. I just needed the outlet for those yearnings.
I found everything I needed in Dungeons & Dragons. The game was still pretty new when I got into it; my mom got me the set that included a white crayon you had to use to color in the numbers on the dice. As primitive as it was, I took to it like a duck takes to water. I found some school friends who liked it too, and we were off like rockets. We rotated weekends at our folks’ houses every Saturday and spent the whole day playing.
That whole Satanic Panic thing was going on too, culminating a few years later in the Tom Hanks movie “Mazes and Monsters,” but I knew the idea that the game was evil was purest nonsense. We were just a bunch of tweens sitting around our parents’ dining-room tables setting pencils on fire, jabbering about traps, and eating. Had I run across that Chick tract, “Dark Dungeons,” at the time, I’d have died of laughter.
The reality of D&D was far more subtle and far more destructive than my mother could have possibly imagined. Nothing destroys faith in religion like constructing a religious system from the ground up for a game. Nothing highlights the sheer inanity of a religion like having a character pursue one that is obviously made up out of whole cloth. Nothing threatens faith more than wondering why a fictional god is evil when the one in the Bible, well, drowned the entire world in a snit and yet is considered good. D&D didn’t make me want to become a “real” witch or assassin or to learn how to cast “real” spells.
No, instead D&D made me wonder why I thought prayers and priests were real. The tragedy was that I didn’t continue that line of questioning far along enough. I maintained my innocent wild hope that the world was more than I could see, that there was more to it than just what was visible to the eye, and that hope is what propelled me forward into my next (mis)adventure.