August 2nd, 2012


Thesis on Religion in D:tF.

Through a hint, I came across a recent Canadian master's thesis on religion in Demon: the Fallen. Given my history and own research, it naturally interested me. You can find it here. Trenton Streck-Havill bases a lot of his ideas on Cover's book on tabletop rpg (which as you may know I don't think of as a very high-quality piece of research), and he uses the classical paradigm of study of religion, without addressing the cognitive angles at all, so the work itself had little initial attraction for me despite the topic.

I don't criticize master's theses much these days, but honestly, when someone writes "I do not deny that Huizinga, Caillois, and many other scholars of both religion and game theory, are right in their assessment of the gaming ritual as religious. Instead it is my opinion that these scholars have not yet studied the full breadth of religious expression provided by gaming." while himself completely ignoring cognitive study of religion, I do get somewhat irked.

Likewise, "An emphasis on narrative has likewise sparked the first vestiges of interest in the internal reality of the game setting. This is what I focus on in this discussion, and for the most part it is an entirely unexplored part of game studies. Jennifer Cover is perhaps the only scholar to give any theoretical thought to the notion of game reality, and even then it remains a survey of methodology and theory meant to assist others in tackling the subject." makes me wonder through what use of search engines he came to that conclusion of an unexplored territory.

Nevertheless, the author had some very insightful points about game rules relating to religion, and on game-internal logic. Demon is a very good choice of rpg for that. I've for fun analyzed it myself many years ago. So while I dislike certain parts of the work that seem to me both arrogant and ignorant, I can easily forgive those as common masters-thesis symptoms, and concentrate on the solid parts. I really liked several ideas on Setting, in Chapter Two, and it makes me in a way sad to know just how well those could have been presented with a wider set of references at the author's disposal. So I sincerely hope he continues his line of research.

(A note to scholars of role-playing rules: Even if you're not interested in the religion angle, give the thesis a look. It's got stuff on game mechanics creating game-internal reality that you may want to cite some day.)
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