Last December we published Thirteen Months in Review, in which I attempted to index everything that had been posted to the site in the previous thirteen months–the time from when our previous index, Overview of the Articles on the New Christian Gamers Guild Website, had been published. I am now attempting once again to summarize, this time a calendar year of material, for those who missed something or want to find something they remember. Read more
It is Christmas Eve. Merry Christmas.
It is the one holiday universally celebrated by Christians everywhere who celebrate holidays. Although we all celebrate Easter, we have different ways of determining the date so we don’t all celebrate it at the same time.
We might count that peculiar, because the date is almost arbitrary and certainly incorrect, at least if we mean the night of Jesus’ birth. I wondered, when I was younger, whether we meant that Jesus was born on Christmas Eve or on Christmas Night, which turns out to be a much more complicated question because the Jews start their days at sunset so Christmas Eve is the night of the twenty-fifth leading into the day of the twenty-fifth. But it’s moot anyway. Shepherds in Palestine didn’t tend their flocks by night in December; they did so in the spring.
I said the date is almost arbitrary; there are two reasons for it.
One is that despite our disagreements concerning the date of Easter (due largely because the western church was concerned to dissociate itself from Judaism and the eastern church was more interested in getting the date to coincide properly with Passover) we know it was in the spring, and were we to attempt to celebrate Jesus’ birth and death so close together it would create a rather crowded church calendar. Certainly there were a lot of other times we could have chosen, but April would just have been complicated. A fixed Christmas and a floating Easter might wind up on the same day, and obviously we would often have Advent overlapping Lent, which in traditional terms are simply incompatible. Christmas had to be at another time.
The other reason our forefathers chose December is connected to a policy of what we might call “holiday replacement”. We see it fairly obviously in connection with Halloween, in which we are accused of replacing the forgotten Celtic holiday of Samhain with Holy Evening or Reformation Day. Arguably Christmas replaces Yule, and in spots imperfectly as the use of not only Yule traditions but the very word itself to describe the holiday time appears sporadically. Yet it was not just Yule; every culture in the northern temperate climates of the globe recognized the winter solstice with some sort of ritual or celebration. This was the time when the days stopped getting shorter and began once more to lengthen, and our ancestors recognized that. It was celebrated, and the church knew you can’t deprive people of their celebrations. You can at best give them something else to celebrate. Thus the birth of Jesus was placed at the time everyone was celebrating the return of the sun, and we made a big deal of it, usurping the celebratory traditions of sun holidays throughout the world.
Yet it is in a very real sense an appropriate time for the celebration of this birth. It is of course an irrelevant coincidence that the words “sun” and “son” are homonyms in modern English (they were not so as recently as Shakespeare), but that does not make it insignificant. The winter solstice marks the beginning of the return of the light; while our astronomers declare it the beginning of winter it is in a very real sense the start of spring. From this point forward for half a year each day is a little longer, a little brighter, a little more lit. The light is coming into the world, a little bit at a time.
And so we celebrate a day two millennia ago when the light came into the world, and we choose to do so now, when we have reached our darkest days and the light is returning.
I, at least, cannot think of a better time metaphorically for this celebration.
This is RPG-ology #25: Transmats, for December 2019.
This article has been republished from Gaming Outpost’s Game Ideas Unlimited series from June, 2001, only slightly edited for republication here, originally entitled
Game Ideas Unlimited: Transmats.
Matter transmitters bug me. In short, I find them incredible in the most basic meaning of that word: I don’t believe them.
If by some chance you’ve avoided all science fiction, let me explain the matter transmission concept. A material object, possibly even a living object, is deconstructed particle by particle, and a complete record of the position, motion, and energy of each particle is recorded and transmitted to another location where an exact copy of the original is constructed particle by particle, having the same energy levels and motions and relative positions. It’s the teleporter of Star Trek, the transmat encountered on Doctor Who. Larry Niven envisioned such matter transmission booths replacing telephones. And there’s something about it all that I just don’t believe.
It actually is not the science. It is pseudo-science, certainly; someone is going to have to find a way around the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle if it’s going to work. But there’s a logic to it that suggests to me it will one day be accomplished. I don’t know that I will live long enough to have my molecules disintegrated and reintegrated, but I would be surprised if no one ever manages it.
What bothers me is the way in which this technology doesn’t matter in the worlds in which it is prevalent. To have done this is to have accomplished much more, but generally those aspects are not considered or even worse are discounted for insensible reasons. So bear with me while I take another look at transmat technology.
In order to build a matter transmitter, you have to be able to disintegrate a target. This may seem obvious; yet in how many settings do they include matter transmitters and don’t include a simple disintegrating weapon? If I can find and disintegrate a dozen men on the surface of a planet far beneath me, why doesn’t it work as a weapon? Since I don’t have to worry about reproducing the object disintegrated, I should be able to destroy buildings, structures, perhaps entire cities.
But that’s just the beginning of my interest in disintegration. After all, I’m quite aware that if you disassemble a molecule, you convert it to an enormous amount of energy. The problems inherent in containing and controlling such levels of energy are another question; but why can’t this technology be used to generate power? Given the amount of energy in a mass the size of a human body, the energy required to initiate the disintegration reaction must be a tiny fraction. When the dilithium crystals are failing, why don’t we just throw furniture into the transporters and convert it to reserve power?
And the weapon use of such power is staggering. A moment ago I was talking about a disintegrator; but if you start to take apart the molecules of an object, you initiate nuclear decay on a massive scale. Every building, every person, every rock is a potential nuclear bomb whose massive energy can be explosively released with a bit of prodding from our disintegration technology. As it says in Multiverser, “a device which disintegrates without containment is a remote nuclear fission reaction stimulator.”
And that leads me to think about the containment. If I’ve built a transmat, I’ve found a way to contain the energy of complete nuclear collapse. I don’t know what those force fields will be like, but somehow I think they’ll be able to deflect or absorb unimaginable amounts of power. We are casually assuming the presence of a shield that could have easily contained the impact of Hiroshima. We are tossing those shields around as an everyday tool, without any consideration of their real power.
It’s probably not impossible to design a matter transmitter which reintegrates directly from the disintegration pattern; but it makes more sense to include a memory circuit. And most of the matter transmitters in most fiction at least imply the existence of such memory banks. That means that whenever you transfer an object from one point to another you also make a data copy of it; and as long as you have that data copy, all you need to do is add energy to it and you can make another–and another, and another, as many as you need. You can make a hundred dinners, a thousand starships, a million soldiers. But this is a largely untapped resource, and the excuses used are complete nonsense. Not enough energy? Easily rectified: throw a few rocks into the disintegrator. Pattern loss? This is as foolish as those badly-written spy shows where they are passing around the “only copy” of a computer program. If making a copy of a program deleted the original, it would make sense–but anyone who understands even a little about computer memory knows that even deleted data is still there until something replaces it. Keeping the file in memory is easier than losing it. But is the available memory too small? The memory circuit really only makes sense if it’s large enough for the entire file.
But writers go to great lengths to make it impossible to copy things, especially people. We are told that complex DNA molecules are imperfectly replicated such that life forms can’t be copied. But we know that life forms can be copied, because that’s what happens when we teleport them. Really, we’ve completely destroyed one body and built another identical to it. Besides, those “tiny molecular changes” are inconsistent with most of the other replication applications we can conceive. How many water molecules have to accidentally be mis-linked as hydrogen peroxide before the liquid is not merely bitter but deadly? How many mistakes can you make in the atomic structure of a metal object before the levels of radioactive decay are measurable? No, molecular copying has to be perfect for it to be useful at all; it doesn’t have to work substantially better to copy life forms than anything else.
Not only can we copy things, we can modify them. The applications of this have never been adequately explored. In fact, the medical applications alone are mind boggling. Did you break a bone? We disintegrate you, make an adjustment to the program, and reintegrate you with the bone corrected and fully strengthened. You can do the same thing with a ruptured spleen, or a hernia, or a defective heart valve. With a filtering program, you can completely remove every trace of a targeted virus or a chemical poison. If there’s chemical imbalance, whether insulin or hormones or neurotransmitters, you can adjust to correct levels. Body temperature can be corrected. With our growing knowledge of the human genome, we would be able not merely to instantly undo the effects of such genetic disorders as sickle-cell anemia or Chrone’s Disease but to reconfigure the genome itself to remove the cause. And when it comes to cosmetic surgery, well, “you ain’t seen nothin’ yet.” You want to be taller? We’ll re-craft your long bones and vertebrae. Overweight? We’ll filter out a hundred pounds of fat on one shot. We can add muscle mass in all the right places, turning a ninety-eight pound weakling to The Incredible Hulk in minutes. Forget hair dye; we can change the color of your eyes, the pigments in your skin, the length of your fingernails. Your facial structure can be completely rebuilt. If we want we can provide you with entirely alien features, or make you look like someone else. Giving you short blond hair in the morning and long dark hair by dinner is no problem at all.
Let’s consider cooking. Insert the roast of your choice and enter the program. We can increase the temperature such that it is fully cooked in seconds. At the same time, we can screen out gristle and bone while dispersing the ideal amount of fat and moisture for the most tender servings. And spices can be added not merely to the surface but throughout the meat. It’s as easy to chill as to heat. Water can be turned to ice, cream and sugar to ice cream–we can even make Baked Alaska, with the hot cake and meringue surrounding the frozen center. Spoiled food is no longer a problem, as we can screen toxins from our meat and dairy product far more easily than we could from our bodies and serve them fresh and delicious.
Your wardrobe is as flexible as your imagination. Oh, there will still be designers; but instead of selling clothes they’ll sell computer files. And getting dressed won’t take long. Stumble out of bed in the morning into your transmat and execute the preprogrammed routine. A few seconds later you arrive at work dressed in a new suit cleaned and pressed, with your hair combed and your teeth clean. If you like you can even program a shot of caffeine already in your blood, or go one step better and clear those endorphins from your brain. After work, you enter another program into the transmat and go directly from work to the club; you arrive in a completely different outfit with your makeup redone and even a new hairstyle.
But we don’t have to stop there. Do you like being thirty-five? No reason for you to get any older–we’ll just save the pattern of your thirty-five-year-old body and restore you to that physical form with each trip. Or if you’d prefer being younger, we can probably do that too–maybe not the body you had then, but something very like it.
And of course everything that isn’t true of cloning is true of transmat copies: they have your personality, your memories, even your fingerprints, and they’re your age. Today there are people who are highly skilled to the point of indispensable; tomorrow we’ll be able to copy these people so that they can be in several places at once, and if something should happen to one he’s not entirely irreplaceable.
And we could go beyond that: we could design our own people. Once we know the basics of the human genome, we can modify it to suit our preferences; and unlike with genetic splicing, we don’t have to wait to see the results of our changes: we can birth the new person fully grown. And we don’t have to be limited to people. We could design and build a faster race horse, a smarter ape. We could design bodies completely different from anything we’ve seen. And if we like we can give them human levels of intelligence.
That, of course, leads to a much deeper question. Why is it that we don’t let our science fiction stories make copies of people? At least, whenever we do it’s usually an accident, and usually with serious complications. For television, it may be in part because of the technical problems of having multiple roles played by the same actor. But there are also moral and theological challenges raised.
As already said, everything that isn’t true about clones is true about transmat duplicates. At the moment of their creation, they match the pattern exactly. They will diverge from each other thereafter, as each acquires distinct experiences and memories, but depending on how established their characters are at the time the pattern is made they will always be similar. Which is the original? In truth, neither–both are copies, the original having been destroyed in the creation of the pattern. Neither has any more claim to being that person than the other; each has the same continuity of consciousness up to the moment the original was disintegrated. And you might argue that it is illegal, immoral, or unethical to make copies of people–but is that going to prevent it from happening, or force it underground?
But there’s a deeper problem, a theological problem which you have to answer before you can use a matter transmitter: is man merely the sum of his material parts? Is there nothing more, nothing intangible, what might be called spiritual? If there is, then when the body is disintegrated it would presumably leave a disembodied spirit; and when it is again reintegrated, some spirit would have to occupy it. It’s easy to hypothesize some sort of spiritual dimension such that the spirit of the man can travel any distance instantly and so be immediately reunited with the body; but it’s just as easy to imagine that some other disembodied spirit would fight him for that body–one of the dead, perhaps, or something worse. Also, if a man has one spirit, and you duplicate him, what spirit occupies the other body?
The presence of matter transmission technology in a game world has so many other implications it should be carefully considered before inclusion. If you’ve got it, you have the basis for uncounted changes to the world from its weapons of warfare to its basic social structure. You also have some very challenging story ideas from which to build adventures that can be as intellectually compelling as they are exciting.
Technology always changes the world in unanticipated ways. When you consider the effects it has in your world, make sure you don’t stop with the obvious.
Since the original publication of this article, I have been reliably informed that the property known as quantum non-locality will make it possible to overcome Heisenberg and possibly build a matter transmitter, but probably will not work for the communication system I envisioned in that linked article–although I did give permission to another science fiction author to use it in his work, and it has a plausibility to it.
This is Faith in Play #25: Impact, for December 2019.
Back in maybe 1981 when I first started explaining on contemporary Christian radio station WNNN-FM that Dungeons & Dragons™ was not some evil cult activity but a very Christian game, I was as a lone voice crying in the wilderness. In 1997 when I first posted Confessions of a Dungeons & Dragons(TM) Addict, Webcrawler (the original search engine) and Yahoo! (at the time a directory maintained by people reading and indexing web pages) between them had a dozen pages on Christianity and role playing games—half of them against. So sparse was the defense of gaming against the assaults of well-meaning misguided Christians that within days of my posting that page Reverend Jim Aubuchon knew it was there and invited me to join his newly-formed Christian Role Playing Game Association, which within two years would become the Christian Gamers Guild.
I’d like to say that I immediately saw the benefit of joining my ministry with that of others. That is not how it happened—but I have told that story elsewhere. Suffice it that God saw the benefit of putting me on their team.
Today the voices that rage against the evils of role playing games have been isolated to pockets of cranks, and most of the world knows that Dungeons & Dragons™ is not a cult but just a game, and a good game at that. Meanwhile, there are so many people who in an organized way are involved in some kind of ministry involving gaming that there is a Facebook group specifically for such groups, and even though I am one of the moderators of that group and I have more than once read the article on this site naming many of them, Our Friends and Allies—August 2019 by Bryan Ray, I have no idea who they all are or what they all do.
Did we start something?
I can’t make any grand claims for the Christian Gamers Guild. When Reverend Paul Cardwell joined us for a while, he was already working with The Committee for the Advancement of Role Playing Games. I don’t know when Bill Walton launched The Escapist, but he has never been a member of our group to the best of my knowledge. Michael Stackpole and Tracy Hickman were working on rebutting anti-D&D arguments independently of me for as long as I had been doing it.
On the other hand, I know that at least a few of those currently part of that group of game and hobby ministers were at one point members of the Guild now using their talents in other ways. Further, I know that we had an impact beyond them. Just recently (now a few months ago, but only days as I draft this) someone found me on Facebook and reported that two of the articles I wrote in the late 90s (the aforementioned Confessions and the recently unburied and republished Morality and Consequences: Overlooked Roleplay Essentials) had had a positive impact on his life and marriage, as they helped persuade his wife that his gaming interest was not something evil. That was someone I helped twenty years ago of whom I only just became aware. They use to say in media that you will hear from one out of a hundred listeners or readers. That suggests there were a lot more that I helped whom I will never know were helped.
So what, am I patting myself on the back and giving praise to the organization of which I am so visible a member?
That is not my intention.
I wrote that first article because I saw a wrong that needed to be addressed. In fact, I drafted the original sometime in the mid eighties, based on notes from the arguments I’d made on the radio prior to that. I did it because I saw a need. It made it to the web in large part because I had it already largely drafted and needed material for a web site that would draw attention to the game I had just published. I had no intentions nor expectations of becoming a recognized defender of hobby games—that was God’s decision. What I want to convey to you is that if you do what God has put in front of you, if you right the wrongs you see at hand in the ways you see to do so, you will ultimately have far more impact than you imagine. You will change lives simply by becoming involved in them.
There is a local pastor whose church is not more than five miles from my house; I know him because his mother and I attend the same church. One particularly cold night he found a homeless man trying to shelter himself on the front steps of his church. He took care of that man that night—but he thought he, and his church, ought to be doing more for the many homeless on the streets of their small city. One had recently died trying to take shelter in or obtain clothes from a clothing donation box. He started opening the church sanctuary on cold or stormy winter nights for homeless people to sleep on the pews. He worked with other churches in the city and with city officials and police, establishing a program called Code Blue to identify potentially harsh weather, and soon managed to set up places where such people could sleep on such nights, not only in his city but in the two other major urban centers in our county. This was not enough; creating something called the M25 Initiative (for Matthew chapter 25), he got people working on finding and fixing abandoned houses and moving homeless families into them. They are approaching a hundred families so helped—and with their initiative, the State has passed legislation supporting such efforts in every county, and local businesses including the major hospital chain have helped fund and manage the program. (The hospital says that putting people in homes reduces the numbers coming to the Emergency Room for shelter on such nights.) Reverend Robin Weinstein has, I think, had far more impact on people’s lives than I have had, but it began because he insisted on giving a homeless man shelter on a cold night.
People always say, “Let yourself be used by God.” Yet the hearers often respond, at least within themselves, “How?” The answer is right here: do what you see in front of you to help people and correct wrongs, and God will use you in that, and open more in front of you.