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: Answers

I must credit James V. West for inspiring this column. On a game-related forum elsewhere on the world wide web, he raised a question, and then he answered it. Between when I read the question and when I read his answer, I had provided my own answer, which proved to be somewhat distinct from his, and yet to fit with his quite well. Reading his thoughts, I saw in them something of value for this column, and determined to convey them here, combined with my own.

The question concerned why people would be interested in playing a role playing game that wrestled with the meaning of life, of moral and ethical questions and problems. Read more

Faith and Gaming: Admonition

For three years this column has been presenting thoughts on our Christian faith and how it relates to our games. In that time we have considered some of the essential aspects of play, looked at how to express our faith through our games, our relationships with other players, some of the difficult issues that are raised, and the objections others have made to our hobby. We have covered a lot of ground and made a lot of progress, revealing at every turn that fantasy, science fiction, role playing games, and other hobby games are legitimate and even praiseworthy pursuits for Christians.

Yet there are still many Christians out there who do not understand, and who have become entrenched in their positions. Further, there are still gamers who reject Christianity without discussion. We are still more the outcasts of these two groups than the bridge between them. Read more

Faith and Gaming: Friends

As I write this, my wife is off rescuing one of her friends. This particular friend has lately found herself stranded in various places far from home; we aren’t quite clear how she gets to these places, but on more than one occasion of late, my wife has given her money to get busses or buy gas or otherwise arrange to get back to her currently somewhat distant home at the shore. Tonight she is stranded in a bar, about half an hour from us and an hour or so from her home if she had a car, which she does not. She expected to meet someone there who did not show; with such money as we can’t really spare but have in hand, my wife has headed out to rescue her, uncertain whether she is going to drive the added distance to the shore, put her on an expensive bus, or bring her back here. Read more

Faith and Gaming: Slavery

Role playing games take us to other worlds, other times and places, some which were, some which might have been, some which yet might be, and even some that could not, as far as we understand, be. Because of this, they also challenge us at times to wrestle with answers to questions of morality that are not our own. In an age in which it was common, was polygamy wrong in the eyes of God? Would it be wrong for a human to eat an intelligent creature who is not human, given that it was as intelligent as a human but truly not related in any way that would make that cannibalism? Issues are raised in our games at times that don’t come up in our lives, because we don’t live in those worlds; yet we manage to find answers to these questions, and so come better to understand our own moral values.

Slavery is one of the more difficult and more common issues that arise in our games. Read more

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.
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