There are ultimately two views of the universe. It is not quite so simple as the Christian view versus everyone else; that which Christians believe about the universe is shared by many other people. But the prevailing view of the age is not the Christian view; and if we are to bring our faith to bear in our games, perhaps we can start by creating worlds in which the Christian view is a bit more clearly true.
Today the common attitude, expressed throughout popular culture, can be easily summarized thus: Life is not fair; get over it. Why do the wicked prosper? Or is it just that the prosperous can afford to be wicked? Why do good people suffer, and particularly why is it that bad people can step on them and get away with it? The answer the world gives today is that life is unfair, and then you die, and there’s no use complaining about it along the way.
But the Bible gives us a different answer. We are assured that there is a righteous God, a righteous judge, before whom all will be judged. Those who are good will be rewarded, while those who are evil will be punished. In fact, the righteousness of God demands that He not only will do good but will also assure that good is done, that He will reward the righteous and punish the wicked.
I thought about this a bit as I was considering this article. Why is it not enough for God to be good Himself? Why is He responsible to see to it that the righteous are rewarded, the wicked punished? This is not the whole answer, but it is part of it. God created it all; He is responsible for its very existence. If anything bad is done by anything or anyone He created, He is at least indirectly responsible. It is thus necessary that the consequences of evil must ultimately impact the perpetrators of evil; it is necessary that He ensure that anyone in His creation who has caused harm faces the penalty for those actions. It is likewise His responsibility that any innocent who is harmed must be recompensed, must be made whole, repaid for the injury suffered.
This is in fact part of the magical world view of which we spoke last month. The Power behind the universe cares. Those who do good will benefit from doing good, while those who cause pain will be punished. It is not solely a Christian conception of the world; many supernatural religions share the basic concept that there is real force behind moral imperatives, that to break the moral law is to incur supernatural wrath. Christians recognize God as the Righteous Judge who rewards and punishes; we recognize that reward and punishment may be delayed, and that some will not obtain their just desserts, for good or ill, in this life. But we insist that justice will prevail, that ultimately God will be proved righteous, as everyone gets what he deserves.
But what is your game world like? Is it a world in which the wicked are ultimately punished and the righteous ultimately rewarded? Put more bluntly, does your world suggest a Christian view of moral justice, or a modern nihilistic notion that evil is a matter of one’s personal preference? This doesn’t even ask whether God exists; it only asks whether the world is constituted in the way it would be if He did.
Some years ago in my article Morality and Consequences: Overlooked Gaming Essentials* I suggested simple, practical ways in which referees could and should bring the consequences of character actions into the game. How are the characters treated by others, whether commoners or noblemen? Are they beloved heroes, or feared villains? Has their conduct earned them the attentions of law enforcement, or perhaps the pursuit of a blood avenger seeking retribution for a wrong suffered by his family? Too often player characters are allowed the luxury of destroying the lives of others around them without anyone so much as complaining. If they’ve offended so many, why hasn’t someone put a curse on them, or hired a bounty hunter to catch them, or an assassin to kill them? If, on the other hand, they have helped many, do they now have friends to whom they can turn when they are in need? Even without any suggestion of supernatural intervention, a referee could easily bring a greater sense of justice into his game world.
But it needn’t stop there. If a character has offended the moral justice of the universe, will his luck run out? Can the referee assess penalties on rolls, so that he hits a bit less often and takes a bit more punishment in combat? Can his skills fail him more often? There is no reason for player characters to get away with murder, literally or figuratively. If they are guilty, let their guilt catch up with them.
At the same time, characters who show mercy and act justly might find rewards in their path. The treasures which fall to them might be more valuable than anticipated; the problems more easily solved.
There will be those who say it is not fair; it is not fair, they will say, for the good guys to have the advantage and the bad guys to be penalized. But then, fair is exactly what it is: for those who have attempted to prosper by taking advantage of others, it is only fair that they should lose their ill-gotten gains, and for those who have done whatever they could to help those less fortunate than themselves, it is only fair that the universe should smile on them and make their lives easier as well. It is perfectly fair, if the world is run by a just God, for justice to express itself in our daily lives.
In our world, we know that Christ will separate the sheep from the goats, reward the one and punish the other, in the life that awaits beyond the grave. In our games, players don’t generally care—if their favorite mercenary is burning in hell for eternity, it doesn’t touch them as they create a new character. But if justice comes upon them in tangible ways during the game, they will see that crime does not pay, that ultimately the universe itself opposes the wicked and rewards the righteous. Maybe they’ll realize that God has made it so; maybe they will just accept that in this game it pays to be the good guy. But either way, a bit of light has shone into their lives through the game.
*Morality and Consequences: Overlooked Gaming Essentials is another of those Gaming Outpost articles regrettably lost to the inexorable march of progress, but more recently recovered and republished by the author here.
This article was originally published in November 2002 on the Christian Gamers Guild’s website. The entire series remains available at its original URL.