This is Faith in Play #68: Prayer, for July 2023.
This arose in discussion on the Christian Gamers Guild mailing list. It seems that someone mentioned a new role playing game in which players were expected to verbalize the in-game prayers of their fictional characters to the real God. Guild members had mixed reactions to this.
Perhaps not surprisingly, quite a few were very uncomfortable with the idea. One commented that he does not play clerics because he doesn’t want to be in the position of having to pretend to pray to any deity, but pretending to pray to The God was even more complicated.
I find the issue a bit more complicated than that, though. I write fiction, and some of my characters are Christians, and some have faith in other gods, so I am frequently writing prayers that they pray. In games there is an aspect called identification that the player is in some sense doing what the character does and feeling what the character experiences. Yet some of that bleeds through to my writing, as in order to write credibly from the perspective of a character I have to think like that character, find that character within me and express it–very like role playing. On the other side of the coin, to some degree playing a character in a game is, at least for me, very like writing a part in a story. It is something like improvisational theater.
It also makes a difference that I played and still run a significant amount of Multiverser, an I-game in which the player plays himself, a representation of who he is in reality converted to a game character. That means that there have been times when my character, who is me in the game, was praying, and I expressed what he, that is I, said as part of play. I have had quite a few Christians play over the years, and some of them have prayed quite a bit, particularly writing their prayers in online forums. Prayer is a vital part of life, I think, and certainly a vital part of the lives of believers. If you are playing a religious character in a game, it is natural that you would pray, even if it’s not a priest; if it’s a Christian, of course you are going to pray to The God, in the name of Jesus Christ.
Yet this is still problematic. As I discussed back in Faith and Gaming: In Vain, about including deities in the game world, we have trouble knowing how God will answer our real prayers; how can we guess how He will respond to fictional prayers of fictional characters? Is this on some level sacrilege?
Yet there is a problem in that in connection with fiction itself. Fictional characters can’t be saved; they can’t really believe. They are portrayed as believers, written as characters who are saved. Their entire existence is insubstantial; they do not exist in any real sense. Yet if we are creating fiction–on paper or in play–a portrayal of reality demands that we include characters who are Christians, and who pray to The God as part of practicing their faith. As unnatural as it seems to pray in character, it is at least as unnatural for Christian characters not to pray.
Yet as C. S. Lewis has somewhere suggested, if God is God, it is not possible to imagine a world in which God is not God, and therefore whatever we imagine, somewhere in all of our worlds God is behind them, and someone is going to believe and worship. The more difficult question then becomes whether you play a character who knows and loves God, or not.
We all have our comfort levels, and some players are never going to be comfortable humanizing their characters to the point that they can portray them praying in games. Yet it is a valid part of life to include in games, and in some ways important to capturing the reality. Don’t let me push you out of your own comfort zone, but don’t exclude something from play without at least considering whether it should be part of your imagined reality.