RPGs, Gaming, and Magic

S. Rune Emerson has a very interesting article discussing the blurred lines between fantasy games and magic:

D&D books have polytheism and instructions on potion and object enchantment which aren’t terribly inaccurate- they even make sigils and rune inscriptions which are pretty true-to-form.

White Wolf books teach what are essentially very small tidbits of occult traditions- tarot, astrology, blood magic, demonology… they teach just enough to get people interested.

Mind you, I don’t believe Vampire: the Requiem or Changeling: the Dreaming is going to teach a person how to summon spirits or sell their soul to Satan.  Quite the opposite- if you’re playing the game, you’re likely to learn all the important lessons we teach each other through faery tales and myths.  Chief among them- be careful what you wish for, and don’t make bargains with untrustworthy spirits.  So, I can’t really object to that at all, especially not in this day and age, where such knowledge has become commonplace due to pop culture references like Once Upon a Time and Charmed.

But the books and movies and such do expose us to the gnosis.  And the gnosis is what inspires real magic.

I once wrote a graduate level paper on RPGs and ritual. My thoughts were along these lines: 1) There exists a myth or story that the game is based upon – this may or may not be inspired by actual “historical” events. 2) Playing the game is a ritual act that allows you to experience the mythic event firsthand. 3) After playing the game, discussions and impressions will inform further interpretations of the mythic events, which will feed further game experiences.

As my example, I referred to Super Columbine Massacre RPG. While seen as in poor taste by many, the project was designed to allow the “player” to experience the event from a different perspective, and then discuss the experience with others to develop a new understanding of the event. If that isn’t a ritual action, I don’t know what is: Isn’t this what Wiccans do when celebrating the death and rebirth of the God?

So the relationship between RPGs and magical or religious actions is not new to me. And a lot of RPGs do rely upon actual mythologies or occult practices to flesh out their mechanics, as Emerson points out.

In my own practice, I have found the imagery and metaphors of many RPGs useful. In my journey work, magical actions I undertake are usually accompanied with video game graphics and sounds straight from Final Fantasy, and I often refer to Dungeons and Dragons class systems when discussing differences between types of magic.

But Emerson seems to be taking more of a Chaoist approach and pouring magic directly into the metaphor.

So… I started tweaking the systems.  A little change of definition here, a few new rules there, maybe an entire overhaul of these rules over here… and voila!  A Mage: the Awakening system which actually works as a spellcasting system!  Or perhaps an Amber Diceless variant which works perfectly for awakening new magical abilities in players.  Or maybe a d20 variation that relies upon tarot rather than a d20, with interesting results.

For me, now those disclaimers are not only untrue in subtle ways, they’re completely fallacious.  I have to warn kids not to play with my gaming books in the same way as I keep my grimoires out of their hands.

This has also given me an interesting and unique new trick-

I tend to create characters with real-world occult abilities, or real-life-based powers.  Consequently, these characters seem to be able to cheat the system I’m playing them in, and not in the “godmode” or “munchkin” way either.

They just… seem to roll better on certain things.  Or, because I gave them a skill at intuition, I seem to be able to figure out plot twists faster than normal.  Or my character’s powers with Fate actually seem to have an impact on the DM’s dice.

I’m interested in this beyond my academic association of games and ritual. How real are the game characters we create? If we thin the line between game and ritual enough, do we create the characters as throughtforms or egrigores that exists beyond our original intent? Do those characters truly develop a life of their own, and would another player using that character follow the traits of the character rather than their own gaming habits?

There’s a lot of interesting implications here for servitor creation and programming and the use of game mythologies and environments for magical goals. I’d love to heard further thoughts or ideas related to this.


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