A couple studies were done recently to check how believable 5 and 6 year olds find stories that stretch the imagination.
In two studies, 5- and 6-year-old children were questioned about the status of the protagonist embedded in three different types of stories. In realistic stories that only included ordinary events, all children, irrespective of family background and schooling, claimed that the protagonist was a real person. In religious stories that included ordinarily impossible events brought about by divine intervention, claims about the status of the protagonist varied sharply with exposure to religion.
The abstract briefly touches on the reasons for that. Kids without exposure to religion treated the religious stories as fictional tales about fictional people. Children from church-going families/religiously educated believed them all to be true.
Upbringing also played a role in the studies in terms of fantasy and magic and how easily each group of kids would buy into them.
Secular children were more likely than religious children to judge the protagonist in such fantastical stories to be fictional. The results suggest that exposure to religious ideas has a powerful impact on children’s differentiation between reality and fiction, not just for religious stories but also for fantastical stories.
Ideally I’d be reading the studies rather than reporting on an abstract but some of this feels like “duh!” research. Then again, anecdotes aren’t science whereas now there is data to support any claims that religious upbringing can impede a person’s ability to tell fact from fiction.
I may have told this story previously but back in my university days I was friends with a woman who was from a very religious family. My secular lifestyle bothered her enough to try the witnessing business and offers to attend church and the like and, to be social, I did do some of that. It was a different time, before I ever heard the term Freethinkers let alone thought of myself in terms of unabashedly atheist, though I was.
I was also a fan of Star Trek and enjoyed reading the books based on it, too. One day we were near a particular used book store I’d been frequenting and she waited around in there while I browsed the shelves a bit and picked a couple things to buy. When we got outside my friend stopped me on the sidewalk and pretty much begged for me never to set foot in there again because she felt the devil in there.
Turned out she’d seen the wall of Dungeons and Dragons stuff and assumed the biblical worst about the place.
That’s upbringing for you. She was clearly fed some malarky about the dangers of role playing games on the soul and feared eternal damnation for herself and me simply by being in a room with the stuff. She probably prayed for me after.
These days it looks like opinion on D&D is divided. There are Christians playing Dungeons and Dragons:
Fantasy Magic is not Real World Magic
The magic that we are forbidden to practice in the Bible comes from one source – Satan. God and Satan are here in the real world with us. Fantasy stories take place in other worlds, in other realities that never have happened and never will.
It goes on to say that if the game takes place in a fantasy realm where magic is simply a tool they use like we use electricity, then it’s totally okay. (But notice that the writer does believe there’s really a Satan that can provide magic to those who want it in the real world.)
there is nothing in the description of this spell or any other spell in the D&D manuals that will instruct you how to cast it for “real”.
Here it reassures the reader that the manuals used in the game don’t translate into a real life magic books. If you want to set something on fire, you’ll need to use a match or lighter. You can’t wave your fingers and gabble about in some nonsense tongue made up by a writer and have that work.
Killing people is clearly wrong but killing an evil, nasty, slimy monster with 16 eyeballs in a fantasy game is great fun. However, you have a choice, and actions have consequences just like in real life. If you take your party and slaughter a village of innocents, word will get around about what you did and good characters will come after you. In fact, I have often found D&D contains lessons in morality.
I think any serious gamers would agree that there are lessons available to learn by playing the game be it lessons on strategy, game theory, or the power to win friends and influence people. Real applicable to the real world lessons on how to deal with problems effectively, how to get along with others, how to cope when the shit hits the fan.
But then there’s this guy, William Schnoebelen, and his anti-D&D article from 1989 when the D&D controversies were really on the public’s mind. He claims he’d been a witch high priest and a Satanist back in the 1970s-80s near the company where the game was created (somehow that matters).
In the late 1970’s, a couple of the game writers actually came to my wife and I as prominent “sorcerers” in the community. They wanted to make certain the rituals were authentic. For the most part, they are.
These two guys sat in our living room and took copious notes from us on how to make sure the rituals were truly right “from the book,” (this meaning that they actually came from magic grimoires or workbooks). They seemed satisfied with what they got and left us thankfully.
He doesn’t share the story of how he went from witchcraft and Satanism into hardcore bible quoting, unfortunately, but does go into detail about what he feels are the more unsavoury aspects of the game and its design for players and their roles. He also provides a list of people rumoured to have died because they played the game and let the violence of it dictate their fate.
Wikipedia offers another take on that controversy and the end result, futher noting that research into games of this nature and suicide risk is unfounded and any documentation from groups stating otherwise had poor research techniques and heavy bias.
So, back to the studies. If you’re already primed to believe magic is a real thing, that Satan is a real being, then anything remotely mystical and hand wavingly magical that you come across in a story is going to be a bit more legitimized than it would be for a person who hasn’t had the “magic is real!” exposure.