I was once one of God’s elect, chosen to come to Earth in these latter-days to usher in the Second Coming of Christ.
Now I’m a spiritual mutt, belonging to no religion, believing in no gods, and “speaking evil of the Lord’s anointed.” I’ve become exactly like Korihor, a Book of Mormon villain, who winds up smitten by God for his unbelief.
How did I fall so far? Dungeons & Dragons (D&D), of course.
The first time I heard about D&D, I yearned to play it. I was a homeschooled teenager with few friends. Even among my peers at church, I didn’t feel accepted. My one respite from constant loneliness was reading novels of fantasy and science fiction.
Dungeons & Dragons held an almost irresistible lure. Here was a game where you could pretend to be a different person. You could solve puzzles and explore mysterious and magical realms. It sounded perfect!
But D&D was forbidden. Like tarot cards, Ouija boards, and even ordinary playing cards, anything to do with magic or mysterious symbols was presumed to be imbued with evil forces. Wicked spirits clung to those D&D figurines, to the strange books and polyhedral dice. They lurked, waiting for a chance to creep into the minds of young people, to possess them, or worse — to drag them away from God and into a life of sin and sex, addiction, devil worship and human sacrifice (in roughly that order).
Such were the images of the game in my impressionable young mind: a collection of scripture fragments, urban legends and fearsome admonishments from my mother. The cover of the Player’s Guide revealed this truth: pictures of scary monsters! Scary things are evil. Because evil is scary.
I’d been told that D&D taught kids to cast actual spells. Someone was just bound to accidentally summon a demon; it only follows. As my mother always said, it’s all fun and games until someone joins a coven. (Then it’s just fun.)
D&D is the gateway drug to Satanism, I had no doubt.
The demonization of D&D started in the 1980s. Patient Zero is now thought to have been a woman named Patricia Pulling. The aggrieved mother of a teenaged suicide, Pulling blamed her son’s tragic death on a pretend curse which had been placed on his character during a role playing game he’d played at school. When her lawsuit against the high school was tossed, Pulling took a forty-hour course and became a private investigator. After much sleuthing, she discovered other murdered or suicided children who were also D&D gamers. With no other relief at hand, she resorted to the best possible course of action: write a pamphlet calling for a ban on make-believe-monster-slaying, fictional-spell-casting, and pedantic rules-lawyering with mysterious, multisided dice. (Does anyone even know what those things are for?!)
Al Gore had not yet invented Facebook, but mimeo’d copies of Pulling’s pamphlet spread like chicken pox at day care. Faster than you could click ‘Share’ on a cat-in-a-shark-suit-on-a-roomba meme, Pulling’s inventions became the one point of doctrine upon which Baptist, Catholic and Mormon moms could all agree.
Television networks broadcast credible-sounding news reports (like this 60 Minutes piece), saying that D&D caused suicide. They were ubiquitous enough that I saw at least one when it aired. The ‘logic’ usually went something like this: players became so involved with their characters that they lost all track of reality, and when their character died, they were left with no reason to live.
Or maybe, the deeply superstitious speculated, kids were actually being possessed by demons, who (for some reason), wanted to immediately kill off the host they’d just spent centuries trying to attract. Hey, you can’t expect demons to be any more logical than the religious leaders who invent them, right?
For many parents, then and now, this was God’s literal truth, as can be seen in this unedited footage from an actual D&D game.
D&D remained forbidden fruit; just one more thing I wanted that I couldn’t have. Like wanting to stay up late enough to watch ‘Doctor Who’ on PBS. Or to date boys before I was 16. Or even to wear shorts in 105 degree summer heat.
Then life happened. I met a guy, and we got married. I got pregnant, then divorced, and I became the worst thing any Mormon girl could be: a divorced single mother. Divorced! I was used goods at the ripe old age of 20. All without so much as having ever rolled a natural 20. (Those cursed dice again! What are they for?!)
So there I was, a twenty-year-old with a wee baby on my hip. LDS singles who’d avoided me before my marriage now barely spoke to me. Afraid they might catch a bad case of divorce—or worse, sex!—people steered wide when we passed in the halls at church activities.
I needed friends.
My interest in science fiction drew me to RadCon, a fan convention. This outing would be risky: people would be playing D&D! By going, I’d place myself within temptation’s grasp. Burdened with the guilt of “crucifying Christ anew,” I went anyway.
Finally, after years of dreadful yearning, I walked among scattered tables festooned with nerds, stray game pieces, and cold pizza, trying to decide which would be my first tabletop role playing game.
Not D&D, of course. That was the Big One; a horror reserved for degenerates who’d surrendered to some demonic over-mind.
No. My first game would be something safe. To me, that meant science fiction. Fantasy games were inherently malevolent, with their wizards and monsters. But sci-fi would be totally okay.
No magic spells or demons; just robots and computers.
I lingered in front of the table for Cyberpunk 2020. Finally, I decided: This is the one. Nerves jangling with fear and excitement, I sat down. Immediately, my conscience screamed: This was the top of the slippery slope that I’d been warned about!
But I needed human connection. I needed a sense of belonging. I needed fun. So I played. And I had a blast. I connected. With people! People who liked me. People who didn’t make me feel like a freak.
I wanted more. But not D&D, no way! Rather, I found a weekly Shadowrun campaign with an open spot. It had trolls and elves and magic, but also guns and bombs and computer hacking. I felt fairly certain that the inclusion of technology would make it safe from the influences of the devil.
I almost lost my nerve. One dark night, in fitful prayer—the kind that Mormons call “wrestling with God”—I told the Lord that I was going to do this, because it made me happy. It was the one fun and fulfilling thing in my lonely, stressful and depressing life.
I was gripped by an overwhelming sense that I was about to cross a forbidden line. Was that the Holy Spirit, telling me not to go? Was he saying that this would separate me from God? Was it possible that I would surrender my soul to Satan, between rolling dice and downing potato chips?
I imagined a rope tied round my waist, the other end connected to God, as I jumped into the black pit of Outer Darkness. If things get out of hand, I told Him, you yank me back.
Then I willfully, pridefully (a dirty word, for a Mormon), joined the Shadowrun game.
After Shadowrun came SLA Industries, a far-future space cyberpunk game that was disturbingly violent and completely screwed up. No demons or magic there (psychic powers don’t count, right?), so I was still safe!
I’d heard about the Camarilla, a live-action role playing game. Players didn’t just sit around at a table; they dressed like their characters and walked around, interacting, pretending to be vampires, which had been a shameful fascination of mine since I was little. What could be more exciting? Or more risky? (Well, besides D&D.)
I joined the Camarilla, though I was very careful to play non-gothy characters. To be extra sure, I didn’t wear black. But I hung out with goths, and people who smoked and swore a lot. We listened to heavy metal music.
I made tons more friends.
Breaking the final taboo proved astonishingly easy. One evening, it just happened. I sat on a couch with friends and we played D&D. At this point, the cautionary tales seemed superstitious and silly. It was just fantasy role play, and there were far more hardcore games (I’d played them), and obviously there were no demons hiding under the odd misshapen dice. The worst thing I actually had to worry about were power gamers, with their obnoxious desire to kill everything in sight.
I was still a true-believing Mormon. Very much so. But now I had far more friends outside of the Church than in. This was a sin, in and of itself. Mormon youth and single adults are strongly “encouraged” to associate with other Mormons, and if you intended to make friends outside the Church, they should not be of the sort that came out of closets and wore T-shirts that said, “I only wear black till they make something darker.”
Worse, I’d met people from other faiths.
Not just non-Mormon Christians, either. There were Buddhists, Wiccans, and even a real-life Satanist.
They were all very nice people, who had interesting things to say. They tolerated my beliefs, and I tolerated theirs. They weren’t evil or scary. Not even the Satanist, in spite of his black fingernail polish.
I learned from them, which is even worse. The things they told me made sense. I discovered that prayers were answered for people of other faiths, too. Wiccans called this phenomena “magic,” but it didn’t involve summoning demons. In fact, aside from the addition of candles and incense, it didn’t seem all that different from my Mormon prayers. I learned Buddhists were really chill, relaxed, and very accepting of me. More accepting than most Mormons I’d met. Even the atheists were kind!
These people allowed me to be weird. For the first time in mylife, I could relax and be myself, talk openly about my interests, and even be liked for it.
Some part of me already recognized the true danger in role playing: exposing myself to “the world,” which tainted my mind with new ideas. Ideas that conflicted with, and even refuted, many LDS claims.
I made one last effort to get straight with God, to “Chose the Right” and rededicate myself to the Mormon Church. I still preferred the company of gamers and geeks, but God wanted me to find a righteous LDS husband. And I wasn’t going to find him among heathens. So returned to church, leaving most of my friends behind.
Only now I had something to compare my LDS life to. In stages, it dawned on me that I had never been happy at church. I’d never been worthy enough and I’d never had the kind of spiritual, uplifting experiences that I’d had with those supposedly “wicked” and “sinful” worldly people.
And I never would.
I wasn’t good enough for the Mormons, but I was good enough for the geeks. And I’d adopted a few of their beliefs. These were like tiny seeds, which I’d fit into the cracks that riddled the cinderblock wall of Mormonism.
From those seeds, green shoots sprouted, their roots prying against the foundations of my Mormon belief. In time, I discovered additional kernels, which fit those widening gaps in the LDS paradigm.
These new beliefs suited me better, and they were more compatible with facts and science. New thoughts lent me additional mental flexibility. Limber vines of reason began to eat at the brittle mortar of tradition, until eventually, the whole wall fell.
I no longer believed in God.
It could be said that my path out of the Church was inevitable. My heart never fit, no matter how closely I followed the Church’s commandments.
Perhaps D&D was merely a catalyst: the accelerant that sped the process of reframing my beliefs. But without it, without that window opening my mind to thoughts outside the stifling Mormon ideology, I might still be there, doing my best to pretend to be someone I’m not.
D&D led me down a path of temptation, until my heart became desensitized to the Holy Spirit, and I could no longer hear the gentle whisperings of God. Too late to turn back, I had been misled, brainwashed by the ways of the world. I am well ensnared in Satan’s grip.
Or so I would have once believed.
Today, I recognize that the path I took was one of liberation. By choosing to follow my heart in spite of the Church’s frightening conditioning, I made a saving throw that rescued me from decades of spiritual slavery.
So thank you, Gary Gygax, creator of D&D. Some might say that you summoned an elder demon, which is even now destroying the very fabric of American morality.
But in my story, you are the hero.
About the Author
Luna Lindsey Corbden was born into the Mormon Church and left the faith in 2001, at age 26. They now live in Seattle, WA and write about topics of interest to them, including psychology, culture, and autism. They also write science fiction and fantasy. When they’re not busy traveling to improbable worlds, or thinking hard about this improbable world, they’re enjoying life with their improbable family. Their new book, Recovering Agency: Lifting the Veil of Mormon Mind Control is available in e-book and print.