This is Faith in Play #29: Victims, for April 2020.
One of the early superhero role playing games gave us the concept of the “DNPC”, the “Dependent Non-Player Character”, the person who is in the story because the hero needs to save someone. Superman has Lois Lane (pictured) and Jimmy Olsen; Spiderman has Mary Jane and Aunt May. Within the mechanics of the game system, these people are identified as “weaknesses”, points at which an otherwise powerful hero can be attacked. If you want to cripple Superman, either you find some kryptonite or you kidnap Lois and Jimmy.
When I asked readers to suggest archetypes, someone suggested these, calling them victims. Indeed, within the sweep of the story there are these characters, and they are often important to the story. They create something at stake for the hero. You can create the threatened child or damsel in distress, but the threat is more potent if it is to a character who is more than two-dimensional, who is a friend of the hero.
Of course, no one particularly wants to play the victim, as necessary as the victim is. As popular as they are in television and movies, we don’t usually have party members whose primary function is to get in trouble and need to be rescued. I think if I sat down to group character creation for a campaign and one of the players said, “I want to be the guy the other characters are always having to save,” I would be stunned, and would suggest that he play something that contributed to the party in other ways, at least so that they would have a reason to want to save him. For most players, if they find their character caught or trapped or imprisoned, their first hope is usually that they will find a way to free themselves, not that their friends would come for them. Victim is unlikely to be a popular player character class.
Yet I think this reflects an important point for our real lives.
Paul wrote to the Philippians (Philippians 1:21ff) to the effect that he was confident that he would remain alive as long as they needed him. He wrote this from prison, at a time when it was entirely possible that any day the government would decide to decapitate him. Yet he was right: he was released from that prison and continued his ministry to Philippi and so many other places. We can take confidence from that that we, too, will remain alive as long as we are needed.
I’ll caveat first that neither we nor our loved ones are likely to be the best judges of when we are no longer needed. It seems to us that many husbands and wives, fathers and mothers, siblings and friends, die when we thought they were still needed. God knows whether we are needed, or whether His plan would be better served by our departure. This is not a promise of invulnerability nor even of longevity. It is a promise that our deaths will not leave our loved ones bereft of something necessary only we could have provided.
But it is the other side of that which matters to me here. Our world is also filled with the dependent–the infirm aged, the terminally ill, the severely disabled. We look at some of these and think that their caretakers would be better off were they to die. They might have contributed much to others during their productive lives, or they might never have done so, but in their present state they contribute nothing and consume much. Why does God keep these people alive? If Paul is right, that we will remain alive as long as needed and then go home to God, why are these seemingly useless people still here?
The answer is difficult, but it is that we need these people. We need people who need what we can give them and can give nothing back. It is those people who teach us how to love, how to put our love into action, how to do things that matter. If there were no people with needs, we could do nothing to meet those needs.
Once we understand that, there is one more step we must take: at some point in our lives we will probably be one of those people, one of those dependent non-player characters who need to be rescued by the hero, one of those needy people who can do nothing for themselves and nothing for those who help them. Those people are necessary to God’s plan for our lives, and we might one day be those people. Indeed, some of us might be those people already, wondering why God has us still alive given how much of a burden we are on others and how little we can contribute. The answer is that we contribute precisely by being a burden, by giving others the opportunity to help us.
So we learn this valuable lesson from the victim archetype: dependent people are a necessary part of God’s plan for us, and sometimes it is necessary for us to be those dependent people.