A Catholic perspective on the world and all the good things therein, especially books and food. Literature cum chocolate is the order of the day at The Crockery.

Location: A Collegetown, Undisclosed Location, United States

No longer a graduate student, Teresa is now a professional know-it-all.

Saturday, January 28, 2006


Catholic readers of my blog may very well be familiar with the work of cartoonist and tract writer Jack Chick. He's known in Catholic circles as a bad guy, because he has produced several anti-Catholic tracts. He's also known as a rather stupid bad guy, because his tracts- well, they just aren't very accurate. Not only are they misinformed, they aren't necessarily logical. Truth is, they can be downright funny, in a rather sad and ignorant sort of way. Ah, I remember the high times my family had laughing at The Death Cookie.

Catholics aren't the only people to think there's something a little. . . off. . . about Jack Chick's work. (Okay, more than a little.) After all, Chick tracts aren't only about Catholicism: they also cover such serious threats to Christianity as role playing games. Unfortunately, the author of "Dark Dungeons" doesn't appear to know a great deal about RPG culture. Someone else came along and made a Mystery Science Theater 3000-style criticism of Dark Dungeons which is well worth reading- particularly if you or anyone you love has an addition to paper-based RPGs.

The fact that this tract only deals with D&D style paper-based games begs the question: why doesn't this tract address the perils of computer games and online-gaming? Does Chick not know that these things exist? Or is role playing only dangerous when it has the potential to create or reinforce social bonds between live flesh-and-blood people? I would have thought that socially, getting together with the guys to play a game was healthier than sitting in front of a computer, alone, to play against the computer, but what do I know?

"Webwarlock's" MST3K-style commentary does a fine job of pointing out there inaccuracies and incoherencies of this tract, but let me just add something I noticed which I thought indicated the real root of some of Chick's anxieties:

Why does Debbie call the game master "Ms. Frost"? It appears that Ms. Frost is an adult, but I don't think high schoolers usually play role playing games with adults: they play them with their peers, or near-peers. If they did include older players in their gaming, I very much doubt they'd call them "Mr." or "Ms." "Debbie" and "Jane" are more like it. Certainly, if Jane calls Debbie "Debbie," Debbie would not respond by calling Jane "Ms. Frost." In our culture, we use titles for authority figures and/or work-related situations. We do not usually use titles for people with whom we are socializing, unless it is a formal occasion. First-name reciprocity would apply in most informal social events (that is, if you call me Teresa, I will assume that I may call you Joe-Bob, rather than Mr. Smith. My assumption is that if you really wanted me to call you Mr. Smith, you'd call me Ms. H.T.). Disparity in address usually applies only in cases where one person has authority over the other.

In fact, the most likely situation in which a high school student would address a young adult as Ms. (outside of a work situation) is in the classroom. Debbie might call Ms. Frost "Ms. Frost" if she were a teacher, or the parent of a friend. She would not call her "Ms" if she were merely the older sister of a friend. This inaccuracy may simply be just that: it might just show how out-of-touch with reality Mr. Chick is. When he was a high school student, he may very well have been in the habit of addressing all those older than him formally, even in the midst of game play. And he may very well not have realized how much less formally young people are today.

But it seems to me that there's more going on here, as we like to say in literary criticism. It's likely that Chick has cast an older woman -an adult who clearly serves as an authority figure- because he really fears that there are authority figures (teachers? parents of friends? who IS Ms. Frost, anyway?) whose goal is to lead children to dabble in the occult. These older adults, who have already been initiated, live only to corrupt young 'uns through the power of the game, which is somehow essential to the "spiritual development" of witches-in-training.

This, my friends, is paranoid. There are no wolves out there prowling around, trying to get children to play just one game. And if there were, they wouldn't be picking on the Debbies of the world- they'd be picking on the Joe-Bob's: a fact which makes "Webwarlock"'s comment about the fact that all the good characters in the tract are men, and the bad or susceptible ones women, a very astute one. Why is Chick worried about girls being subject to corruption this way? The Debbies of the world are seduced to the Dark Side (if they are seduced at all) by stupid teen novels and wretched television fair, not by D&D. So, Chick, I'm waiting. . . if you're so concerned about the souls of young women, when are you going to take on the public library and the advertising industry? Or is it that these institutions are too mainstream for you to tackle? I'm sure it's a lot easier to critique activities that appear to be fringe- after all, the public is already suspicious of them anyway.

Acknowledgements: Thanks to Evangelical Outpost for bringing this to my attention. This blog had a fine response to/reading of Chick's Halloween tract back in October.


Blogger Kevin Jones said...

My sister received from some Jansenist church lady an examination of conscience that condemned RPGs /D&D. My sister believed it for a bit, until my family promptly disabused her of the notion.

Since it is impossible for somebody to be perfectly wrong all the time, about the only truth you could wrangle from Chick's tract is to be cautious about RPGers who get their religious doctrines from Renaissance Faire carnies.

Did you ever see the Cthulu Jack Chick comic parody? It was threatened with a copyright infringement suit and taken down, but it was very funny.

4:03 AM  
Blogger Teresa H.T. said...

Sadly, I missed the Cthulu parody, though I've seen places where people are talking about it. Perhaps it lives on in memory all the more because of its short life span, just like James Dean. Hopefully, though, it wasn't like James Dean in any other way, because I always thought he was rather stupid.

1:37 PM  

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