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2 more ways Scientology resembles a broken role-playing game

In the second part of a two-part series, the Daily Dot examines two more features that role-playing games-turned-cults have in common with Scientology.


Aja Romano


Posted on Aug 10, 2012   Updated on Jun 2, 2021, 1:01 pm CDT

Yesterday, the Daily Dot reported on ways the international cult Scientology resembles both normal, healthy role-playing games (RPGs) and unhealthy ones that can even become cults themselves. In the conclusion to our two-part series, today we bring you two more traits that Scientology has in common with RPGs.

3) Keep the crises rolling

Even regular RPGs can turn into epic timesucks. Rare is the person who hasn’t lost a few hours of sleep to their RPG. One anime fan told the Daily Dot anonymously, “Once I stayed up nearly two days during a private chat RPG. It was just a really intense session.”

In this articulate breakdown of sick systems, LiveJournal user issendai lists the characteristics of a system—be it personal, professional, or otherwise—that perpetuates its own dysfunction. Among the traits of a broken system are keeping your members busy, too tired to think, and emotionally involved.

The way you do that, issendai says? “Keep the crises rolling.”

A fan named Mela is a victim of a roleplay-based cult that grew out of Final Fantasy VII fandom. This was an RPG based on the Otakukin belief of sharing spirits with fictional characters—in this case, characters from the popular video game Final Fantasy VII.

The RPG spiraled into a scam that impacted dozens of people and spanned at least six years, ultimately expanding to Suikoden fandom, ending up on Housemate Horror, and finding its way to Something Awful. Victims were scammed for thousands of dollars, and some believe the cult may still be going on.

The FFVII RPG was always in a state of crisis. Mela recalls interacting with one of the heads of the cult household: “All this time she was telling me how important I was to her special plan, and how the world needed us to stick together so we could conquer evil, etc.”

Role-playing-gamer turned cult leader Jordan Wood coerced his victims into spending years interacting with fictional characters from The Lord of the Rings. One victim, Abbey Stone, recalls that life in his home was always high-stress: “There were endless missions,” she writes, but adds:

“I’m no longer on world-changing missions. Because once I let go of the fantasy, once I said no more, I realized I hadn’t been changing the world. I was playing pretend with someone who was using me to perpetuate his own imaginary world.”

For Scientology, the crisis involves making you believe that there are hundreds and thousands (and later, millions) of alien souls invading your body. At every stage of Scientology’s “OT” levels, members discover yet more aliens inhabiting their bodies that need to be dealt with and purged.

4) Multiple realities

“He or she has the ability to create new and better realities in improved conditions,” said Tom Cruise in his infamous leaked video explaining what it’s like to be a Scientologist. “We are the authorities on the mind,” he insisted. “We are the authorities on improving conditions.”

Scientologists manipulate reality at the basic level of auditing, or as their own website puts it, “the process of asking specifically worded questions designed to help one find and handle areas of distress.” Using their E-meter “technology,” they attempt to locate sources of trauma.

One former Scientologist wrote about the auditing process:

“In auditing, the preclear is utterly dependent upon the auditor to confirm that these incidents are real. It all depends on what the E-meter is doing. If the meter says the incident is real, then it is. Gradually it becomes easier and easier for the preclear to believe that these past life incidents really happened.… All Scientologists believe that these incidents they find in their auditing really happened to them. They believe that they have memories going back thousands of years, millions of years, even billions of years.”

Last year, another member of Wood’s cult who was 14 years old at the time she lived in the group, wrote of her experiences: “After Andy and his, uh, friends….I didn’t know HOW one was supposed to experience reality… Were Raz and Tai real because my neurons fired off signals indicating a hand on my skin, a voice in my head, that tingling you get when someone’s close by, a face?”

Healthy RPGs never encourage blurring of reality and fantasy, but as the previous article discussed, in a broken RPG, lines between roleplaying characters and lifestyle-based roleplays can turn into a blurred fantasy/reality divide. In addition to the previously discussed wide-ranging realm of Multiples, Plurals, Otherkin, Factives, Otakukin, and Fictives, we also have Soulbonding, which is what happens when people believe themselves to have formed deep bonds, romantic or otherwise, with the people they channel.

Perhaps the most notorious example of this are the Snapewives, a group of middle-aged women who each believed themselves to be consorts of Severus Snape. When challenged about their belief that they were each married to the famously brash Harry Potter professor, the Snapewives defended their activities as an exercise of imagination. Yet, they serve as a classic example of the way unhealthy roleplaying can distort what’s real.

The basic tenets of Scientology were allegedly created through made-up personalities: according to a court affidavit from Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard’s son, the 280 test cases that provided the supposedly factual basis for his 1950 bestseller Dianetics all came from Hubbard’s own head.

“My father represented orally and in writing that his theories relating to the “science of the mind” were based on 30 years of case studies conducted on a scientific basis by him as a nuclear physicist and scientist… [T]he above stated representations are false. My father wrote his books off the top of his head based on his imagination. There were no case studies. He is not a nuclear physicist and flunked nearly all of his science related courses in high school and college.”

Though many people believe that Hubbard began Scientology purely to make money, there are literal elements of roleplaying and fantasy world-building built into the tenets of the religion, beginning with the actual ideas he incorporated from his science-fiction writing, proceeding through the roleplay scripting of auditing sessions, and, perhaps most importantly, the structuring of “therapy” around the subject’s ability to remember past lives.

Writing about this phenomenon recently for the Village Voice (whose Scientology coverage is always par excellence), journalist Tony Ortega had a realization:

“Why question Hubbard’s tale about mass alien genocide 75 million years ago, when you’ve been ‘seeing’ yourself as some kind of Buck Rogers fighting enemies and bedding beauties from one end of the galaxy to the other?…. With this new realization, I went back to some of my ex-Scientology sources to put it to them: had they been holding out on me a little about their own Star Wars-like adventures?”

Essentially, Ortega has realized that the same creative thrill that leads RPG members to spend hours of their lives creating fantasy worlds also applies to Scientology members who are taught to believe that those worlds are real.

Photo via CradleApex/Flickr

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*First Published: Aug 10, 2012, 3:57 pm CDT