The Jewishness of Dungeons & Dragons

(Photo: Janet Galore)

In a fascinating article for Tablet, a Jewish magazine, Liel Leibovitz argues that playing Dungeons & Dragons is a good analogy for the Jewish religious experience:

The first thing you need to know about D&D is that it takes place entirely in your head. It’s not a computer game. There’s no board, no visuals, only a manual, a few chewed-up pencils, and stacks of papers on which to record your statistical progress. Everything you do, from attacks on monsters to attempts at magic spells, is determined by the aforementioned dice. It’s hopelessly procedural, deeply detailed, wonderfully abstract, and decidedly conducive to argumentation. It is, in other words, a wholly Jewish experience.

Leibovitz remembers one gaming session in which some players argued with the Dungeon Master over the legality of one of his decisions. They cited the rules at length and ultimately persuaded the Dungeon Master to reverse his ruling. This experience, Leibovitz asserts, is quintessentially Jewish:

It hardly occurred to us at the time—adolescents aren’t known for their facility with insight—but we were engaging in more than a mere pastime for the socially awkward and the romantically inept. In the best tradition of rabbinic Judaism, we were studying in a small group, with an authoritative but by no means infallible scholar as our guide. We were being told a story—all good Dungeon Masters craft compelling ones, often based on existing campaigns but sometimes largely innovative—and the only way for us to follow that story, to be a part of it, was by following the rules. Or not following them: In the proud Jewish tradition of questioning and defiance, D&D allowed for, even encouraged, players to query one another, to cast doubt, to demand satisfaction. It provided a codex but acknowledged that the game only got interesting when players sought to interpret, adapt, or reject the rules, not follow them blindly. It offered clearly prescribed campaigns but allowed both human ingenuity and blind luck, represented by all those funky dice, to meddle with and reshape destiny. You don’t have to be a rabbi to realize that these are precisely the things religion does; in Avi’s room, strewn with pizza crusts and thoughts of monsters, we got the finest theological education.

-via Jeremy Barker


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I think it's more Buddhist than Jewish...lots of concentration and visualizations and the arguments are like koans with no formal answer.
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