Author: M. J. Young, Chaplain

In addition to being the Chaplain of the Christian Gamers Guild for almost two decades, M. J. is co-creator of the Multiverser game system and its supplements, and a local musician in the southern New Jersey Christian music scene. More of his writing is found in many places, but especially at M. J. Young Net and the mark Joseph "young" web log.

Faith and Gaming: Losing

We’ve heard all the pithy sayings, aphorisms, witticisms, and proverbs that have been expounded on this subject. You can’t win them all. If anything can go wrong, it will. You can’t win for losing. There’s no sense worrying about it, nothing’s going to turn out all right. These are bits of the wisdom of this age. They have a certain appeal in them, reaching to that side of us that is tired of the struggle. As someone has written, the three rules of the game of life are one, you can’t win; two, you can’t even break even; and three, you can’t get out of the game.
31defeat
Yet I, at least, hesitate at these. It’s not that they don’t strike a chord somewhere within me. It’s that I think the pessimism they reflect is not Read more

Faith and Gaming: Ouija

"Ouija Board" by Deviant Art user musicismylife2010.
“Ouija Board” by Deviant Art user musicismylife2010.

I received a letter asking me about a game with an odd spelling. The spelling, Quigi, was not correct, and it took a second letter before I understood that my correspondent was talking about Ouija™, the Parker Bros. diversion which is sold with board games, which is alleged to facilitate contact with the spirit world. Is this, at least, an evil game?

My correspondent gave me an out; he said he would understand if I declared it was not a game. It’s tempting to do so anyway, as although I don’t have an articulable definition of “game” which covers everything I would include and nothing I would exclude, it is difficult for me to figure out in what sense a Ouija board is a game. However, it’s also begging the question. Is this popular diversion inherently and irredeemably evil? I’ve contended elsewhere that the devil doesn’t own anything. Could this be an exception? Read more

Faith and Gaming: Redemption

Some time back, someone asked me whether particular kinds of stories were inherently Christian stories, and I didn’t have an answer at that moment. I have since suggested, notably in considering Faust, Sorcerer, and Deals with the devil, that some stories might indeed be at least strongly if not inherently Christian. However, the questioner was not considering the Faustian story when he raised the question; he was thinking of the Prodigal story, the story of redemption, as that which is an inherently Christian story.

It’s a compelling notion. After all, one of the names often given to the central message of our faith is The Redemption Story, and thus we have good reason to ask whether all redemption stories necessarily tell of the truth in the gospel to some degree. Playing a character who fell and was then redeemed seems like it would fit perfectly into this mold, a parable of Christianity in a fictional setting.

Of course, the gospel is in a sense not that sort of redemption story; Read more

Faith and Gaming: A Concern

Three months ago, in Deals, I suggested something that flies in the face of much of the common wisdom about what is acceptable in gaming: I suggested that a game that focused on making deals with the devil was a very Christian game, which taught a very important Christian lesson to its players. Some have probably wondered since then whether I think there is anything at all that goes too far in role playing.

That would be at least a bit unfair. I have often said that there are things that go too far for me, and things of which others should at least be wary. Admittedly, I’ve never (that I recall) stated that any particular concept was inappropriate per se for all players, but I have said there were things that concern me, and two months back when we addressed Sex I suggested a few that were inappropriate for me (although not for everyone).

This month, there is something that concerns me. It is appropriate that it should fall in October, the month in which this column has traditionally addressed issues related to magic, because it is a matter concerning magic that has come to my attention of which I write. Read more

Faith and Gaming: Gender

God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him, male and female He created them… The Lord God fashioned into a woman the rib which He had taken from the man, and brought her to the man.
Genesis 1:27; 2:22, UNASB

Last month we were examining the inclusion of sex in our games, but in doing so we touched on something that goes far beyond sex: we briefly considered the problem of gender. We mentioned in passing that our fiction sometimes includes races which are not characterized by the same genders, let alone the same gender roles, as ours. To recall a few examples, the aliens of Enemy Mine combine masculine and feminine within themselves such that they have their own children on their own, each parent giving birth to children rather spontaneously without interaction with any other of its kind. The amoeba-like Dralasites of the game Star Frontiers switch genders during their ordinary life cycle,29aliens either producing spores or receiving spores depending on hormonal changes within themselves such that when in feminine form they might at any moment sprout a growth that would become the child of an unknown father. In the television version of Alien Nation, three genders are required to produce offspring: a male, a female, and an enabler to prepare the female for the male. These are just fictional notions, not realities, yet we know that there are microscopic organisms which do not have gender identities as we understand them, so the concepts are not entirely inconceivable.

There is an ancient interpretive tradition of the Genesis passage quoted above which suggests that Man was initially created without gender distinction. It was thought that initially he had male and female within one being. This, according to the rabbis (and certainly it would seem so in other passages), was Read more

Real and Imaginary Violence

Photo by Flikr user Chris Fithall.

Role playing games have been criticized for many things that are easily explained. Readers of this magazine don’t need to hear why the involvement of magic, false gods, or demons and devils isn’t a real objection to role playing per se. Or hear why it doesn’t matter if we play with non-Christians whose characters may reject God and His morality even more than they themselves have. But once all of these questions have been answered, one comes back that is not so easy to dismiss. Characters in role playing games have an alarming tendency to solve problems by the use of force, even what we would have to admit is at times violent, bloody, gory, unnecessary force. Yet Christians are called to turn the other cheek, to suffer when persecuted for the faith; in most games, that will get your character killed “right quick”—and this seems in some ways to mirror reality. Where would the world be today had not Christians in many countries joined with their countrymen to oppose Germany and Japan during World War II? And do we truly believe that Christians should not serve as police officers, soldiers, or in other potentially violent occupations? Although a few among us might say so, for most of us the idea that we should expect God to stop evildoers when we are not willing to do so ourselves is hardly more defensible than permitting them to continue harming others unopposed. Read more

Faith and Gaming: Sex

In the earliest articles of this series, we were looking at what might be considered the issues in role playing, those areas in which Christians might have concerns. We started with some fairly simple ones—the implications of various types of mechanics, the matter of creating settings which were different in any way from the world God created, the inclusion of bad things in our worlds. Then we started to get sidetracked, perhaps, into answering the many objections raised against role playing games, beginning with the weaker brother argument. We took many sidetracks and then started to talk about how we might actually involve our faith in our games in specific and intentional ways with the idea of playing the good guys, the first of eight generally on that subject, which included things as diverse as playing the bad guys and using Christian imagery. Then, abruptly, the focus changed when we talked about Pagans and whether modern Christian treatment of them was at all appropriate or Biblical. This opened up a new direction for the column—or perhaps merely returned us to the old direction, back to those matters which might be issues to us as gamers, such as battle and war and making deals with the devil. Read more

Faith and Gaming: Deals

Thanks to Goethe, there is a very compelling story of a man named Faust, a man who made a deal with the devil. The story has become something of a cultural idea, such that the word “Faustian” is used to describe any effort to achieve something at too great a cost. Faust, according to the story, sold his soul to the devil.

Faust und Mephisto beim Schachspiel (Faust and Mephisto Playing Chess)
Faust und Mephisto beim Schachspiel (Faust and Mephisto Playing Chess)

I have not read the book, I am embarrassed to admit; there are many great books I have not had the opportunity to acquire or the time to peruse. I have been exposed to the core of the story through educational television, so I am aware that the deal did not work out so well for Faust. He discovered that everything the devil gave him was a cheat, and everything he had that might have been good his supposed benefactor managed to ruin. Yet in the end he found redemption. What interests me more is the idea that someone might make such a deal with the devil and not have the kinds of complaints Goethe suggested for his protagonist. There are always stories of people who sold their soul to the devil for what they really wanted; those deals fascinated me. Read more

Magic: Essential to Faith, Essential to Fantasy

I believe in magic.

I see the world as a vast battlefield on which the supernatural armies of God and Satan struggle for the souls of men. Magic is rampant in this world. Every time a believer sins or a sinner repents, these are events of spiritual significance. To quote from the movie Ladyhawke, “I believe in miracles; it’s part of my job.” As I walk by faith or seek divine guidance, I’m tapping into power and knowledge from the supernatural realm—in short, magic.

I was first drawn to fantasy role play because of its magic. The worlds of those earliest games shared something in common with ours: the spiritual battle was manifest in the material realm. I played no game more Christian than this. While others criticized Dungeons & Dragons for its magic, demons, and deities, those were exactly the things for which I most praised it. Magic was alive and well in the fantasy world, and men were deeply involved in the immortal struggle.

Jack vs Aku by DeviantArt user JenJenRobot
Jack vs Aku by DeviantArt user JenJenRobot

Yet Christians are afraid of magic. Read more

Faith and Gaming: War

Last month raised the matter of Battle. It took us to very personal matters of whether through our role playing we learn to view fighting as a preferred solution or a necessary evil. Yet it also introduced another question, the question of how to tell whether war is the right thing to do. That question is difficult to answer in reality; it is far more difficult to answer in fiction. Read more