|Arneson (L.) and Gygax
By Gygax's admission, that's why the early versions of the game sported demons and devils as possible opponents, but there were no stats for Satan. Much less stats for Jesus. It's also noteworthy that while such demonic foes were out and about, there were no angels. Gygax said he didn't feel right since 'demon' can be a generic bad guy found in many cultures, but angels were more specific to the Judeo-Christian tradition.
Now this wasn't a shock to me now, or when I first heard of it when I began researching the game ages ago. I've said it meant little to me for most of my life. It was that game the press attacked that was based on things like The Lord of the Rings. Only years later did I learn Gygax himself insisted any connection to Tolkien's works was just cheap marketing. According to him, he personally despised Tolkien's works (at least LoTR). I actually don't believe it, and have concluded Gygax is to be trusted with his memories in the same way George Lucas is to be trusted when talking about Star Wars.
When I first heard they were Christian, however, it didn't surprise me. For that matter, when I read this little article, it made perfect sense. Not only were they Christian, but the game itself was infused with an implicit Christianity. Beyond the clear biblical or cultural Christian references, an underlying Christian look and feel was there. The early art and references to pop Christian religious attitudes and items (such as crosses) were plentiful.
That's because the game was first published in 1974. That was the year I was in first grade. Believe it or not, a sort of Christian residue was still the default religious cultural reference in America at that point. In my public schools, the first few teachers I had brought a tremendous amount of 'Christian' into various subjects. At Thanksgiving we learned much about the pilgrims' Christian beliefs. At Christmas we learned about various Christian elements of the holiday, as well as learning and hearing the Christmas story itself.
|Christian looking clerics in 1978 Players Handbook
It was at this time, in ninth grade, I first heard of the game D&D. By then the recent editions of the game no longer had much in terms of Christian influence. New editions invented pantheons of fictional gods and goddesses, and explicitly Christian imagery and references were fast being replaced. Crosses were now generic 'holy symbols' and artwork was becoming more religiously, if not culturally, androgynous.Beyond the clear pushing of Christianity out of the social fabric, there were also generations at work. When I think of those teachers in my school teaching us about that baby in the manger, they were old. I mean near retirement. The first couple would retire only a few years after I had them as teachers. That means they were likely in their late 50s, early 60s. Meaning they started teaching when my parents were in school in the 1930s! Meaning they were schooled around then as well.
It's worth noting my kindergarten teacher was young, and an exception. In hindsight, we were likely her first teaching job. And while I have vivid memories of that first school Christmas, I remember nothing about the religious part. We read The Little Match Girl. We did Christmas bell art (I remember that like yesterday). We had a Christmas party with Santa. But nothing about the religious side. She would have been schooled in the 1960s. After third grade, my teachers were all in their early 50s to late 40s. None of them brought religion into the discussion either.
|Contrast: A modern cleric pic
Today, of course, it is the eradication of the whole cultural roots of the game. New editions of the game make sure to avoid any faux European medieval setting, and to sever the literary roots of the game when those roots are deemed hateful or offensive today. Specific references to historical or cultural items or monsters are purposefully edited out. On the off chance an old game concept from the past remains, outrage ensues and the publishers quickly expunge the offending reference. It goes without saying that anything remotely Christian is as far removed from modern versions of the game as they are from most modern church events held in a public setting.
So no, I wasn't surprised when I learned Gygax and Arnseon were Christian or Christian influenced. Nor did it shock me to learn just how seeped with Christian concepts the early game was. By the time churches joined the media's assault on the game in the 1980s, however, that was already beginning to pass, as it was in our nation in general. Perhaps that will teach them next time.