In the mid-90's a friend and I became fascinated by the "Christian adventure game" (similar to a roleplaying game) called DragonRaid, published by Adventures in Christ. (Details can be found at the DragonRaid website.) We never managed to actually play it, largely because we were living in different countries, but we made characters, read through the initial adventure, and discussed it at length by email.
Briefly, DragonRaid is a game in which one participant--the gamemaster--sets up a fantasy scenario and the other participants--the players--take the roles of characters within that scenario. The players choose their characters' actions; the gamemaster adjucates the results of those actions, as well as playing the parts of all other characters in the scenario. In DragonRaid, most adjucation is based on the player's ability to remember and recite Scripture: where a character in a secular game might cast a spell, a DragonRaid character uses specific Scripture quotes.
The adventures of DragonRaid take place in a fantasy realm with echoes of C.S. Lewis. The players' characters are "TwiceBorn" (saved) individuals who are sent out into the unsaved world to accomplish quests and fight for good. DragonRaid characters fight monsters such as trolls and dragons, which allegorically represent spiritual forces, but they are forbidden to harm ordinary "OnceBorn" people. God, under the title "Overlord of Many Names," is an active character in the story.
The expectation for DragonRaid is that the players will be young people and the gamemaster will be an adult. I'm not clear on the intended age group: perhaps tweens to teens. The lengthy scenarios do not suggest younger children.
I have been thinking about DragonRaid lately in the context of the Slacktivist and Slacktiverse discussions on proselytization. DragonRaid is not billed as a proselytization tool, but it is meant to educate young Christians in their faith and morality, a similar motive. Its differences from secular roleplaying games are striking, and can illuminate fundamentalist Christian attitudes toward fiction, roleplaying, and moral learning.
The defining characteristic of roleplaying games is that the player takes the part of one or more characters who exist and act in the fictional game-world. My D&D group has spent the last year playing out the takeover of a city by a Borgia-like noble house, with five distinct character roles played by a single player. While games in which the players play versions of themselves do exist, it is much more common for a player to control a character who is distinct from the player, with his or her own name, history, and personality. (From now on, the player will be "she" and the character and gamemaster will be "he," simply for convenience.)
Secular roleplaying groups vary a great deal in how strong a dividing wall they raise between player and character. Almost all groups hold that the character should not use knowledge which only the player has. Many also hold that the character's morality is not necessarily the player's: the character can hold a different religion or moral code. (This allows Christian players to depict characters of other faiths, for example, and many do.)
Having a strong distinction between player and character allows a wider range of characters, takes some of the sting out of bad in-game events--it is your character who is eaten alive by army ants, not you--and helps reduce conflict within the group. Some groups actively discourage characters who are too similar to the player--I don't play Wiccan characters, for example--for fear of blurring the player/character distinction. A character named after her player will be scorned by many groups.
This disconnect is not absolute. Most gaming groups put limits on how depraved the character can be, and will censure a player who oversteps; very few place no restrictions at all on characters' actions. (As an example, the Borgias game above allows fairly vile behavior, in keeping with its premise, but draws the line at rape.) In most groups, two characters may dislike one another without damaging the players' friendship; but groups vary as to whether the dislike can be expressed with actively harmful in-game actions, as this may be bad for group cohesion.
If I had to make a generalization about a very diverse hobby, I would say "The character is not the player; his actions must be kept within limits to preserve group cohesion and enjoyment, but his decisions should not be taken as a proxy for hers." Some games enforce this in the rules: a Call of Cthulhu character who sees a horror may snap and do something demented quite against the player's will.
Fundamentalist Christian critics of secular roleplaying games tend to deny the player/character distinction, holding that players are always morally culpable for their characters' actions. DragonRaid, intended as a tool of moral education, blurs or even erases the player/character line. This makes sense in terms of DragonRaid's goals, but it has strange and, in my eyes, somewhat self-defeating implications for actual gameplay.
I first encountered this issue when trying to make a DragonRaid character. Characters are described by nine attributes, "gifts of the spirit" including Joy, Hope, Faith, Love, and Peace. (A secular game might have Strength, Intelligence and so forth here.) I was puzzled when the random die rolls gave me a character with high Faith and Love, but low Joy and Peace. My spouse eventually suggested that the character was devout but sufffered from guilt and self-judgement, and I developed a characterization around this. I assumed that that was what I was supposed to do.
The sample adventure, however, immediately punctured this idea. At the beginning of the adventure the character is confronted with a troll tempting him with "gawking at bodies on the beach, buying all the clothes they could ever desire, and going to a music concert where there will be plenty of 'pleasure potions' (drugs)." 
As a secular roleplayer I am used to thinking "How would my character react to this?" Well, my character is a TwiceBorn crusader, someone chosen by his god to fight for righteousness, on a holy mission into Dragon country. Would he be tempted? His high Faith suggests that he might not. --Never mind that, would he accept drugs from a troll in a potential combat situation? Isn't this a trap? And incidentally, does my character care about clothes or music concerts? Are those part of his backstory at all?....
It rapidly became apparent that I'm not supposed to be asking those questions. I'm supposed to be asking if I want to gawk, shop, or do drugs. Despite having a named character with randomly determined attributes, I am actually supposed to be playing myself.
(I'm not sure what the attributes are for, frankly, as they do not guide character actions. Maybe they are best thought of as victory conditions: if you get all nine attributes to their maximum, you win.)
But there's a twist. If my character succumbs to the offer, the other characters will have to delay their mission in order to rescue him--he'll be "sin enchanted." Furthermore, my character's moral failing is meant to be seen as mine, and the gamemaster should "provide me with counseling and prayer." In order to lift the "sin enchantment" so that the adventure can proceed, the other players must disenchant my character by quoting Scripture to me until I understand my error.
The impression is that I am not really meant to roleplay myself: I am meant to roleplay a "best self" who always tries to do the right thing.
The adventure synopsis on the web site mentions that the moral challenges can become "much harder." The players are given a bible verse telling them that God is their hope. Their characters are then infected with a fatal disease. They are supposed to show unwavering hope. If they don't, the gamemaster stops the game so that they can think about it; the game can't go on until the players agree that hope is the correct response.
There are two difficulties with DragonRaid's approach. The first is that a temptation isn't very tempting if we know that it's not actually available. A pile of money on the table will tempt a dishonest person. A picture of money generally won't. In DragonRaid, if my character succumbs the gamemaster is not supposed to provide a juicy description of bodies, clothes, or drugs. He just states that the character is "sin enchanted" and I have to sit quietly while the other players practice their Scripture quotes on me. After a few iterations of this, it's not clear why I would feel tempted anymore, as there is no payoff. This is quite different from a real-world temptation. It's also different from the temptations possible in a secular roleplaying game: "If I lie to the guards, we can get into the castle without using up our invisibility potions" represents a temptation with a real in-game payoff.
This is less true for the negative temptation of despair in the poisoning scenario. Despair tempts us because struggling on seems harder than giving up, and this remains true in-game. (I wonder how often DragonRaid groups give up at this point.)
But the more severe difficulty with DragonRaid as a moral learning tool is that the gaming dynamic provides its own temptation, one far more pressing than bodies, clothes, or drugs: the temptation to answer tactically rather than morally, to deduce the "right" answer and tell the gamemaster what he wants to hear. Not only are the players tempted to do this, in some cases they are actually forced to, as with the fatal disease--the game cannot continue until the players say that their characters are hopeful, so eventually they will say it. At worst this may become inducement to lying.
Secular roleplaying, at least in some of its forms, asks the player to build a mental model of her character and then answer truthfully about that model ("would he really do that?"). Some games demand fidelity to the model even if the result is disastrous for the character or the whole group. The player's reward must then be her own satisfaction in a good portrayal, and perhaps the group's admiration for her sportsmanship.
DragonRaid seems actively hostile to the concept of being true to your character model. A DragonRaid character is a puppet, not a person. I'm not sure why they have names, except to lessen the scariness of scenes like the fatal disease by giving a bit more distance. I think the authors and audience of DragonRaid would be very uncomfortable rewarding their young players for depicting a character doing the morally wrong thing, even if that would be a truthful characterization. 
You might, I suppose, build a useful moral habit by constantly deducing the right response and then giving it. You will certainly learn to guess what the adult wants to hear. In the sample scenarios it is generally obvious: I don't think even my atheist thirteen-year-old would be in doubt. (He wouldn't play along, though. His tolerance for "tell them what they want to hear" is zilch.)
There are a few reasons, other than not knowing the "right" answer, why a player might give the "wrong" answer. She might feel rebellious toward God, the gamemaster, or the play group. She might enjoy the attention of having her character rescued. She might want to be seen as daringly bad by her peers. Whether the resulting game would encourage the player to be less rebellious or attention-getting is not clear to me; the situation moves away from rules and into group dynamics at that point. It seems unlikely to me, however, that anyone over the age of about eight would say "My character accepts the troll's shopping spree" simply because she wanted a shopping spree--at least, not more than once or twice, given the unpleasant consequences.
The authors of DragonRaid hope that roleplaying through the troll's temptation will reduce the player's desire for shopping sprees, or at least her propensity to go in for shopping sprees. That is a major point of the game. (Its other major point is the memorization of Scripture. From all accounts it is effective at that goal.)
How well will this kind of moral instruction work?
The players are unlikely (unless, again, they are very young) to think that the in-game consequences are any kind of literal representation of real-world consequences. The game outcomes are not "what will happen", they are "what authority wants you to think will happen." A major discovery made by most kids in their teens, if not earlier, is that authorities often want you to think things that are not actually true. It's especially problematic that the game never depicts the positive rewards of bad behavior. In reality, doing bad things often does bring short-term rewards. A scenario that denies this will not stand up to experience for long.
I question, therefore, whether DragonRaid will accomplish its goals of moral education. Is this because roleplaying is simply not a good tool for learning about morality?
That hasn't been my experience. I've been playing (secular) roleplaying games for about 33 years and I've been struck by their power as learning experiences. As one example, in my own games I have explored the dichotomy "An effective leader must admit his doubts or he cuts himself off from essential reality checks" and "An effective leader must conceal his doubts or his troops lose heart." I started out believing the first one, but gaming experiences have convinced me, somewhat painfully, that it's not as simple as that and the second position is sometimes correct.
The key difference from DragonRaid is that I learned this, but the gamemaster did not teach it to me. Instead, he tried to present difficult situations as accurately as possible, depicting realistic human (and alien and monster) reactions to the best of his abilities, as did the other players: and I had the chance to explore the consequences of hiding, or not hiding, my doubts about leadership. I saw followers holding back because they sensed the leader's uncertainty, and this cost us a couple of key battles. I also saw followers' loyalty collapse completely when they learned that a leader was deceiving them, and this cost us as well. I started out with a simplistic view ("always tell the truth") and ended up with a more complex one ("weigh the costs"). My current belief is that in emergencies it is often best to show no doubt, but the longer-term the situation and the more strategic your decisions, the more important it is to acknowledge uncertainty.
I don't know that the gamemaster or other players would agree with my conclusions, but they don't have to. They provided the push-back, the background of realistic reactions against which I could try out different moral theories. I have since had occasion to try some of those theories in real life, and they have stood up pretty well.
The great danger of this approach is that the player may not learn the "right" lesson. My character Markus committed a gross sexual impropriety, by both his society's standards and mine. Markus argued that, due to circumstances, he was justified. The in-game situation was complex and ambiguous: it offered no clear-cut answers. During the game I found myself swayed by Markus' self-justifications to the point that I became personally angry when observers told me Markus was in the wrong. Looking back many years later, I think Markus was wrong. I had a ringside seat in his forays into self-deception, which was a learning experience in itself; but along the way I ended up defending a position on sexual morality that, in retrospect, was more about my own seduction (Markus was a favorite character) than about my core values. I'm still uncomfortable about that game.
This is the risk that DragonRaid won't take. By making the gamemaster the arbiter of moral authority, the game insulates itself against the possibility of players reaching unapproved moral conclusions. But in the process it destroys practically all of its potential for moral improvement. Once you stack the deck, it's not a real game anymore. There's no quasi-real gameworld pushing back; there's only the gamemaster, a fallible mortal just like the rest of us, with his own agenda and his own blind spots. By their teens if not sooner, the players are likely to realize this.
My credo as a gamer and writer is that if you want truth to come from fiction, you must be true to your fiction--never subordinating it to your message, no matter how virtuous. My spouse sometimes comes out of combat-heavy roleplaying scenarios with a moral attitude of "Get them before they get you." I find this deplorable, and we've had nasty real-world quarrels over it. But if I manipulate the gaming scenarios so that "Get them before they get you" is never the right choice, I'm no longer true to my fiction, and its ability to test or explore any moral question will immediately vanish. In a falsified world it's just my word against his, whereas if we both play as truthfully as we can, we may actually learn something neither of us knew before.
I have seen an example of this which truly amazed me. We played a game in which my character Jayhawk was captured by the enemy and held hostage. For various reasons we chose to play out the captivity in day-by-day detail. In the end, Jayhawk ended up siding with her captors against her former friends at the final confrontation. Her motives were complex and not altogether wicked, but it was still a horrifying betrayal.
I was shocked by the way my character behaved. I felt no doubt that I had depicted her accurately, but why had she done it? I did some reading, and encountered descriptions of Stockholm Syndrome that closely matched what we had seen in the game. Apparently we had found this out on our own, simply by following the situation in emotional and psychological detail. I don't think I would have understood those descriptions if I hadn't lived the situation "firsthand."
This is, in my view, one of the things roleplaying is good for. (It is also a lot of fun, intellectually challenging, a good social opportunity--like all forms of art, it has multiple uses.) DragonRaid attempts to use roleplaying as a teaching tool, but by heavy-handedly demanding control over what the student learns, it paradoxically guarantees that, except for the very young and very naive, its lessons aren't likely to be learned at all. In fact, the most likely lesson, the one the game really supports, is "No matter what you think, say what Authority wants to hear."
I sincerely hope that that's not the message the authors intend. But they aren't true to their fictional reality, and in my view there is no substitute.
 Peaceful acceptance of death is not an option. Perhaps this is because the DragonRaid world is allegorical, and it would represent spiritual death, damnation. The disease is caused by falling into dirty water, which could symbolize some kind of contamination by worldly wickedness. On the other hand, perhaps death just represents death.
I'm not at all clear which parts of the DragonRaid world are meant to be taken allegorically. As young children tend to be literal-minded, the intended audience is probably likely to take it literally even if that wasn't the intent.
I hope that no kids come away from this with the idea that if you are a good person God won't allow you to die. It is terrible to face a loved one's death from that perspective, because now you must choose between your faith in God and your belief in the loved one's goodness.↩
 The DragonRaid gamemaster is allowed to depict evil actions, however. This distinction also appears in secular roleplaying: some groups require that all of the players' characters be good guys, but no one puts this restriction on the gamemaster.↩
 I remember a secular roleplaying game where the gamemaster's apparent purpose was to have the players admire and emulate his super-powerful character. What he actually got was a group of adult players bending all their efforts to get a burr under the saddle of Mr. Perfect. Kids can certainly react this way too.↩
 Since the consequences come from the gamemaster, he must be willing to claim moral superiority to the players--otherwise speaking for God and rebuking the players' sins will not be viable. It would be difficult for adults to play DragonRaid unless one of them was recognized as the group's authority figure. I certainly couldn't get away with it with any of my gaming groups! I have played gods, though with great trepidation, but only the characters' gods, not the
players'. Even then I try to avoid delivering moral pronouncements in character as a god, lest I show all too clearly that I am only human.↩
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