Category: Faith in Play

Faith in Play #25: Impact

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.


Previous article:  The Christian Veneer.
Next article:  Fields to Harvest.

Faith in Play #24: The Christian Veneer

This is Faith in Play #24:  The Christian Veneer, for November 2019.


My attention was called to a crowdfunding effort for a Christian-themed game.  This was long enough ago that I expect, or at least hope, that nothing I say will impact the success of that funding effort, because it really looks like it might be a good game and I hope they succeed in bringing it to print.  However, it was presented to me through a Christian gaming forum, and the tag line was

Be the first of the wise men to reach the Christ child in Bethlehem. A new Christmas game tradition.

It was being produced by a company named Christian Haven, which is confusing because it appears that that actually is the name of the senior designer on the project, and not a clever idea for a name for a company that produces Christian games.

My gut reaction to that blurb was, how is it not a remake of Parcheesi?

In fairness, that’s a bad reaction on two fronts.  First, just because a game draws strongly on the design of another game doesn’t mean the new version is not as good or better than the old.  I spent many hours in past decades enjoying the game Sorry, which is essentially just Parcheesi with cards and a few other quirks; Trouble is also Parcheesi, but with the Pop-o-Matic® dice thing (a great idea for kids’ games because you can’t easily lose the dice).  Another version of Parcheesi could be a fine game, and shouldn’t be discounted simply for being a bit derivative.

It’s a bad reaction on the other front because the game is a lot more complicated than merely a remake of Parcheesi.  There appears to be the potential for intricate strategy, the involvement of random complications, and the necessity for resource management.  Its resemblance to the classic board game is minimal.

Yet my problem is whether it is a “Christian” game.

Perhaps I am too hasty.  Nothing on the funding page claims that this is a “Christian” game; it is billed as a “Christmas” game.  Christian Haven can’t help having been given that name.  On the other hand, one of the mechanics involves answering trivia questions, and half of these are Bible-based (the other half based on “history”).  It is clearly a game for Christians.  That of course does not make it a Christian game—there are many things marketed to and for Christians which in themselves are not “Christian” and which are sometimes even a bit dubious in their values.  I could raise issues with any game, but I have fewer complaints about this one than I have with Monopoly.

I am thrown back to that unanswerable question:  what would make a game “Christian?”  I proposed a design for an activity I called a Christian Game a couple years ago, and one of my readers teased that only I would call an exercise in Biblical exegesis a “game.”  I’ve commented before that I don’t have a definition of “game” that would include everything I would include and nothing I would exclude, and that only complicates the matter.  Yet I find it difficult to label anything “Christian” beyond people and groups of people and their interactions.  That in itself suggests that there ought to be something like a Christian game.  However, I’ve been Chaplain of the Christian Gamers Guild for about two decades now, and the only use of that phrase I can genuinely defend is that it identifies any game played in a Christian way by Christians.  You can’t put that in a box.  A Christian theme and a Bible trivia mechanic make a game that will appeal to Christians and not to others, but that’s just a coating on a game.  If it were about Muslim pilgrims racing to Mecca and had Koran trivia cards, it would be the same game for a different audience; that version would no more be a Muslim game than this one is a Christian one, because the game has not changed, only the veneer.

Again, none of this is passing judgment on whether the game in question is a good game.  It probably is.  I just don’t think it’s necessarily a Christian game, and wouldn’t want it marketed as such.

Editor’s note: The name of the game in question is Stella Nova: Journey of the Magi.


Previous article:  Kralc’s Law.
Next article:  Impact.

Faith in Play #23: Kralc’s Law

This is Faith in Play #23:  Kralc’s Law, for October 2019.


I don’t want to say that Arthur C. Clarke is famous for this; he is, after all, author of the book behind one of the most iconic of near-term science fiction space travel movies (have I limited that enough?), 2001:  A Space Odyssey.  However, he is quite frequently cited for one of his proposed “laws”, with sufficient prominence that it has become known as “Clarke’s Law”.  It states

Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic,

and a significant part of the point of the quote is to imply that magic never has to be the explanation for anything, because something we do not understand could well be technology beyond our knowledge.

I don’t know whether Clark believes in magic; I don’t know enough about the man.  James “The Amazing” Randi is a devout disbeliever and debunker, yet I read a short story by him years ago (in Omni Magazine) in which the lead character, a stage magician, discovers that there is real magic in the world outside his knowledge, and so seeks to learn it.  It is easy to assume that what we are watching has an entirely scientific explanation—what we would perhaps prejudicially call a “rational” or “logical” explanation.

However, the reverse is also true. Read more

Faith in Play #22: Individualism

This is Faith in Play #22:  Individualism, for September 2019.


Quite a few years ago now I was playing a character in an experimental Attorney class in a game largely based on original Advanced Dungeons and Dragons™.  I had just successfully defended a player character (an Antipaladin) on a murder and robbery charge, and the player said to me, “Boy, your character must be really lawful.”

I answered, “No, he’s Chaotic Neutral.”

And that illustrates just why it is that the Chaos side of the alignment graph is so badly misunderstood and so poorly handled.  My attorney was Chaotic in the best traditions of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU):  he firmly believed that every person (character) had the right to be and to do whatever he wanted, as long as in doing so he did not unfairly infringe on the right of any other character to do or be what he wanted.  Although anarchy can be the consequence of chaos pushed to the extreme, chaos is not about anarchy, but about liberty.  It is the alignment expressed in the Bill of Rights, espoused by the Libertarian Party, and represented by Democracy. Read more

Faith in Play #21: Villainy

This is Faith in Play #21: Villainy, for August 2019.


It was a year ago, but I had a stack of articles in the queue when it happened, and decided not to disrupt the plan by answering what appeared to be a question from a Troll posted to our Facebook page (I managed to lose the link to the thread).  It was comprised primarily of the image below, and the question of what we think of it.  I think Facebook is a terrible place to attempt to hold serious discussions, but Bryan pointed him to Faith and Gaming:  Bad Things, about evil in the world, and I suggested Faith and Gaming:  Bad Guys, about playing the wicked character as a way to bring faith into the game.  I did not get a response to that, but I felt that there were valid concerns raised by the picture (I think that calling it a “meme” was wishful thinking on the part of whoever created it), even if it might have been posted by a troll.

If you can’t read the text, above the image it says

I like the villains in all my favorite movies, TV Shows, books, video games, etc.  They’re my favorite, I play the bad guy any chance I get.

The text balloon in the image itself then shows the two-faced person saying

Hi, I spend my free time promoting the opposite of my personal values.  I’m an honest person!

At the bottom it then continues

What do you mean you find it dubious that people would spend their precious free time and hard earned money on things they find morally repugnant?  I’m a really good person, I just love idolizing evil in *ALL* my recreational activities.  There’s no correlation, I promise!

And we are thus faced with the issue of whether someone who plays the villain at every opportunity is reflecting his true values and only pretending to be good in his regular relationships.  In a sense, which version of him is a role, and which is the reality?

This is the more potent a question for me, because as a novelist I am constantly creating the characters on the page, working out what they would do, and I have to understand them–and as I noted decades ago in a journal somewhere, I understand them because I find them inside me, facets of my own personality, my own identity, people I could have been, in a sense could be.  Sure, there is a degree to which I sometimes model characters after people I know, and thus I can ask myself what would Chris do, or John, or Ed, or any of the many other people whose identities contributed something to the composites that are my characters, but this only removes it slightly:  in order to understand Chris or John or Ed well enough to know what they would do, I have to find that part of me that resonates with them, in essence discovering them within myself, knowing what it would be like to be them.  So I am the heroes, but I am the villains, and the ordinary people between the extremes, the background characters, the important mentors and sidekicks, all, everyone, is found as part of who I am somewhere inside.  I have wickedness in me, enough to understand what motivates the wicked.

Arguably, though, I don’t always play the villain–that is, I don’t play the villain exclusively.  Yet I understand the villain, and I understand the appeal of playing him.  I prefer to be the hero, but I know people who usually play the villain, the thief, the rogue, the scoundrel.  (I know people who usually play the hero, as well, but that’s not the issue here.)

As we noted before, there are admirable qualities, lessons to be learned, from playing the rogue.  There are also ways, as discussed in those previously listed articles, to use playing the wicked as a means of throwing light on the truth, of bringing our faith into our games.  Not everyone who plays the villain, even who plays the villain regularly, does so because he is secretly a villain at heart.  It is possible that a particular individual finds that playing the evil character is the best way for him to show his companions just how wicked they are, and how much they need salvation.  There can be good reasons to play the bad guys.

None of which completely addresses the objection.  That is, there might well be players out there who want us to see them, in themselves, as basically good people, but who always love the villains and always play the villains because there is something in them that wants to be the villain.

There is that in all of us, I think.  We are all born sinners, selfish people who by game standards would be evil.  We like being selfish; it makes us feel good to think that there is someone who always puts us first, even if that someone is actually us.  Yet the critic is right.  If we enjoy that in our recreational activities, are we feeding something that we ought to starve in our real lives?  Are we pretending to be what we really want to be, instead of really wanting to be sons and daughters of God?

I think there are good reasons to play bad people.  They include trying to understand how sinners think so we can reach them, trying to show sinners the wickedness in their own lives, creating the contrast between good and evil so that the choice is made clear–there are certainly other good reasons to play the bad character.  The question, though, comes to our motivation:  do we really want to be the bad person, or are we doing this for a good reason?

So examine yourself to see if you are in the faith, and remember that whatever a person sows he will also reap.


Previous article:  The Problem with Protests.
Next article:  Individualism.

Faith in Play #20: The Problem with Protests

This is Faith in Play #20:  The Problem with Protests, for July 2019.


It was brought to my attention that twenty thousand well-meaning wrong-headed religious conservatives have signed a petition asking Netflix not to run a show produced by Amazon exclusively for Amazon Prime subscribers.  The show is a scripting by Neil Gaiman of a book he co-wrote with the late Terry Pratchett, and centers on an angel and a demon cooperating to prevent the Antichrist from coming to power and bringing the apocalypse.

The most cogent of the objections, I suppose, is that it makes Satanism seem light and acceptable.  That’s not really surprising, given that Pratchett was a brilliant humorist and satirist, and Gaiman is a respected fantasy author; one would expect anything they wrote together to be funny on some level.  Other complaints are just foolish, such as that God is voiced by a woman (God in Genesis clearly embodies all that is masculine and feminine in one being, and so could express Himself as Herself if that suited His/Her purpose), and that the Antichrist is portrayed as a normal child (we know so little about The Antichrist, or even if that’s a proper designation for any individual—the word appears only four times, all in John’s first two letters, and always in ways that suggest a generalized bunch of people who share the title and were active when John wrote).

I’m told that Netflix has agreed not to air the show, which is both funny and sad—sad because I don’t have an Amazon Prime account but I do have a Netflix account, so unless I give in to the pressure from my Patrons and spend the money on Amazon I’m not going to be able to see it, funny because of course Netflix was never going to be offered the opportunity to air it so it’s an empty concession.

And this highlights the first big problem with these Christian protests.  I am one of probably millions who would not have heard about this show but for the news of the petition.  Many will have considered subscribing to Amazon Prime for the opportunity to see it—a Neil Gaiman scripting of a book he co-wrote with Terry Pratchett is going to attract a lot of potential viewers, and Amazon could not have asked for better publicity.  When I was a boy, there was a cartoon show about a flying squirrel and his friend, a moose.  (It was originally entitled Rocky and His Friends, after the lead character Rocket J. Squirrel, but the sidekick became so popular he soon got equal billing in Rocky and Bullwinkle and then top billing as it became The Bullwinkle Show.)  At one point they did a story arc about the “search for the Kirward Derby”.  What we kids didn’t know was that at the time there was a successful television personality named Durward Kirby.  Reportedly Kirby threatened to sue, but Rocky producer Jay Adams replied by letter saying, “Please do, we need the publicity.”  That may be the first time anyone recognized that in the entertainment world there is no such thing as bad publicity, and loudly objecting to anything in that field can only make it more popular.  It is said that one of the reasons TSR did not more aggressively attempt to address Christian objections to Dungeons & Dragons back in the 80s was because the young people the game was targeting were more likely to want to know about a game that their parents and the churches condemned.  The probability that Amazon would have pulled the show in response to a petition was negligible, and so the only likely outcome of the petition is exactly what it achieved, advertising the show to many who would not otherwise have been aware of it.

That the petitioners don’t recognize this also makes them look foolish.  Of course, these particular petitioners look the more foolish because they petitioned the wrong network.  That is not only foolish in itself, it makes it blatantly evident that possibly not a single person who signed that petition knew what it was to which they were objecting—they had never seen the show, perhaps not even a trailer for it.  Had they seen it, at least some of them would have realized that it was not on Netflix but on Amazon, and so that ignorance is underscored in this case.  Yet apparently not even the people who started the petition saw the show, because they didn’t know it was on Amazon, either.  I don’t know who started the petition, but even if that person saw the show, for twenty thousand sheep to sign a petition against something about which they know only that one person didn’t like it—well, it reminds me of the Penn and Teller riff where they attend an environmental rally and get people to sign a petition to ban the potentially dangerous chemical di-hydrous oxygen (which is in fact water).  I’m not against anyone protesting for or against anything in which they believe, but I really do think that before you sign your name to a petition you ought to know what it is really protesting.  These people didn’t—and that is so frequently the case with petitions launched by the religious right that such petitions make religious people look more foolish.

Which further means that we become more marginalized.  Objecting to a fantasy television series on a limited access channel does not make us relevant; it makes us laughingstocks.  There go those Christians, once again condemning what they don’t understand.  They did it with rock music; they did it with role playing games; they did it with modern art.  Now once again they’re shooting off their mouths about what’s wrong with something about which they know absolutely nothing, and want us to believe that what they say has any meaning.  There’s no point listening to anything they say, because it’s obvious they don’t know what they’re talking about.  That’s what we’re teaching the world every time we sign another of these foolish counter-productive petitions.  If you’re wondering why no one listens when you preach the gospel, well, it’s because so much else that you said was nonsense that nonsense is what the world expects to hear from you.

I’m sure my request that we give up these petitions will fall on deaf ears.  I only hope that perhaps you might know better than to sign one in the future.  Certainly there are things in the world to which we ought to object, against which we ought to take a stand.  Do so, but only if you are personally informed concerning the object you are protesting and can, yourself, speak intelligently against it without regurgitating lines that you’ve been fed by someone who perhaps knows as little as you.

The title of the show is Good Omens.


Previous article:  Simulationism.
Next article:  Villainy.

Faith in Play #19: Simulationism

This is Faith in Play #19:  Simulationism, for June 2019.


One of the complications of discussing whether what’s called “simulationism” in Ron Edwards’ Big Model is that even Ron Edwards has had trouble figuring out what it is.  We have looked at gamism and narrativism, and decided that there are Christian values in those approaches to play, even if there are also pitfalls.  Yet if we’re going to consider simulationism, we’re going to have to understand what it is.

As I covered in the third part of Theory 101 for Places to Go, People to Be some years back, Creative Agenda (or the French translation Théorie 101 – 3e partie : Les propositions créatives), simulationism is driven by the desire to learn, to know, to experiment and understand.  That’s why it seems to have so many expressions–from the players who have their characters leap off cliffs because they have calculated that the fall won’t be fatal to those who become involved in the minutiae of combat to those who explore geography and culture.  Simulationism is expressed in other activities, in participating in war reenactments, watching travelogues and cooking shows, even taking college courses as a recreational activity.  For many people, the drive to know is what controls the way they play their games.  It is something of a vicarious experience, the feeling of being there, and so coming away with some notion of what it would be like to be there.

Simulationism is walking a mile in the other man’s shoes.  It is exploring what life would be like in another time or place.  It is learning, gaining knowledge.

I once had a debate with my brother in which he put forward as a premise that knowledge was inherently good, and that it was always good for knowledge to be disseminated to as many people as possible.  I objected to the premise.  Knowledge, I asserted, was a useful tool which could be used for good.  I think that is where this discussion ultimately takes us:  how will we use the knowledge we gain from our play, our experimentation, our vicarious experience?

That doesn’t mean that such play, such motivation, is wrong if we can’t identify the benefit before we play.  Scientists (and there’s a simulationist motivation if ever there was one) speak of the importance of “basic research”, that is, experimenting in directions with no immediate obvious value because when you don’t know what you might learn you can’t predict how it might be useful.  Many of our modern conveniences have their roots in someone simply wanting to know what would happen if, and then asking how that could be used.  Learning has value, even when we don’t always see the value immediately.  The high school student who challenges that he’s never going to need to know the math or science or history lessons he is forced to learn is short-sighted, and life will probably surprise him at some point.  Not everything we learn is useful, but it is often the case that we learn useful things from unexpected sources.

There are pitfalls in this.  Sometimes we want to know some things that it is better not to know.  We have all heard the idea that you “can’t unsee” something, and there are undoubtedly things you wish you’d never learned.  That doesn’t necessarily mean you shouldn’t have learned them–only that sometimes what we know is not always an encouragement to us.  We would like to keep our minds always on the good, pure, honorable, of good repute, excellent and worthy of praise, but then, we are also to be wise as serpents while being innocent as doves.  Maybe there are things you don’t need to know, that would tear down rather than build up–I am persuaded that I don’t need a comprehensive knowledge of horror movies, although I do need a working knowledge of some of the important ones (Poe, Shelley, Stoker, Alien, Terminator) just to do my job.  Maybe you need to know more; maybe you don’t need to know as much.  Yet learning is valuable, and simulationism is about wanting to learn.

So we find once again that Christians can find value in all three of the “creative agenda” that drive our play.  It’s just a matter of understanding how to do this to the glory of God and the edification of ourselves and others.


Previous article:  Order.
Next article:  The Problem with Protests.

Faith in Play #18: Order

This is Faith in Play #18:  Order, for May 2019.


A lot of people think that lawful (and specifically lawful good) is The Christian alignment in Dungeons & Dragons™.  They think this because they associate it with keeping the rules, and they think that Christianity is about keeping the rules.  I would disagree on two counts.  First, I don’t think Christianity is primarily about keeping rules—in fact, it might be that keeping rules has almost nothing to do with Christian faith.  Yet at the same time, I don’t think that the law alignment is really quite about keeping rules, either.  It’s fundamentally about something else entirely.

This is a continuation of our series on alignment as the True Religion in the Dungeons & Dragons™ game world, begun a year ago.  Since then we’ve considered Goodness and Wickedness, and I hope discovered that they were not what they are often thought to be.  We are now turning our heads sideways toward the other axis of the alignment graph, looking at law, which is opposed to chaos on the chart.

Somewhere C. S. Lewis contrasted two perceptions of humanity and society.  On the one hand, he said that if it were true that people are born, live a few decades, and die, and that’s the end of the story, they aren’t terribly important as individuals.  Some of them achieve greatness, and perhaps as Churchill said some have greatness thrust upon them, but even great men are small in the total picture.  They matter only to the degree that they serve the larger entity, society, the nation, perhaps the race.

It is this thinking which gives rise to the famous saying attributed to Mister Spock, The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the one.  In this conception of the universe, I don’t matter, and you don’t matter, but we can hope that humanity matters, that somehow we will as a people survive the planet, survive the sun, populate the universe, possibly become part of the larger society of intelligent creatures scattered among the stars.  It is not the individual that matters, but the collective, the sum of all individuals.

Therefore, by this thinking, the individual exists for the benefit of the society, and the society can sacrifice the individual, use the individual however it believes will best benefit the total.  As Caiaphas says, do you not see that it is better for one person to be killed for the sake of the nation?  People individually do not matter; society is what matters.

That is the core of the lawful alignment.  It expresses itself in many ways, including that there will be structure within the society, rules which bind the members.  It is important that the society function smoothly, that the society itself is healthy and prosperous.  It achieves that by laws, by customs, by taxes, by restrictions and permissions, by castes and privilege, by masters and slaves, employers and employees, and by anything else that keeps the society functioning as a society.

This sounds rather bleak, but it’s not all bad—it’s just not all good.  In fact, it’s neither good nor bad, in itself.  It’s simply a way of seeing the world in which we are more important than I, more important than you, or him, or her.  It is about whether each of us matters within the context of all of us, whether a government should put the whole of society above the needs of individual members.  It has the effect, pushed to the extreme, of making us cogs in a machine, but it can make the machine much better for all the cogs if it’s done right.

Of course, that is, as I cited from Lewis, the one hand.  The other hand is the view that people are at least potentially immortal, that we will outlive the universe.  That gives rise to the other side—but we’ll have to wait for another article to address that.


Previous article:  Narrativism.
Next article:  Simulationism.

Faith in Play #17: Narrativism

This is Faith in Play #17:  Narrativism, for April 2019.


Two months back we started seeking what might be a Christian approach to what is called Creative Agenda, by discussing gamism. Our conclusion was that gamism was not inimical to Christian faith, insofar as it encourages us to be our best and meet the challenges we face.

We did not conclude that it was “The Christian Way” to play; we did not touch on the other two identified agenda, narrativism and simulationism, at all. This month we’ll continue in the order in which they are commonly listed and look at narrativism.

Lady Macbeth Seizing the Daggers. 1812 Henry Fuseli

People mistakenly equate narrativist play with storytelling, but the gamist group will tell of the time they rode into the mountains, trapped the dragon in its cave, and after a hard-fought battle killed it, and how is that not a story? What distinguishes narrativism is more the focus of the story. Narrativists thrive on moral and ethical issues, emotional responses, and human relationships and interactions. Did you risk your life because you were in love with the princess? Did the sorceress accompany you because she hoped to tap some of the dragon’s power for herself? Was the dragon a proven danger to the community, or was this done simply because we wanted to be famous as dragonslayers? Stories of love and betrayal, of ambition and greed, of nobility and flaws, plots which could be ripped from the pages of Shakespeare, are the heart of narrativist play. It isn’t that you risked your life but why you risked your life that forms the story.

In that sense, narrativism is about posing life questions and exploring possible answers—and in that sense we discussed this long ago in Faith and Gaming:  Answers, that role playing of this sort allows us to practice making moral, ethical, and personal decisions, in a petri dish environment that allows us to consider the consequences without suffering them. It permits us to communicate about our beliefs and explore alternatives in ways that are non-confrontational.

Anything that facilitates communication about beliefs is a worthwhile pursuit for Christians, both among ourselves and in groups with unbelievers. Narrativism thus has much to commend it as a Christian approach to play.

There are hazards, however. Just as the context of play enables us to express beliefs, it enables others to challenge those beliefs, to explore the weaknesses in what we claim. C. S. Lewis once said that at any given moment the weakest doctrine in Christianity always seemed to be the one he had just successfully defended, because at that moment it seemed that the truth of that doctrine depended entirely upon his own meager abilities to defend it, and not on God. Any time we put our beliefs in front of others, we can expect that they will be attacked, and the weaknesses uncovered. It might well seem that what you believe is not unassailable, as others bring their beliefs against it within the context of play. This, too, though, can be beneficial, as our beliefs are strengthened by our recognition that God, and not we, is the foundation for truth, and our understanding is imperfect but improving. Narrativism gives us this opportunity, if we can grasp it.

So again it appears that narrativism is also an approach to play that is not unchristian.

We’ll look at simulationism in a couple months.


Previous article:  Mourning.
Next article:  Order.

Faith in Play #16: Mourning

This is Faith in Play #16:  Mourning, for March 2019.


Dearly beloved, we gather today to mourn the passing of our companion Ralph, a bold adventurer who met his fate defending his friends and companions.  Although we are greatly saddened at this loss, we can take some comfort in the knowledge that Ralph was a non-player character, and his loss of little consequence to the ongoing game as he will be replaced by a new recruit during the party’s next visit to town.

I once commented in Game Ideas Unlimited that game characters often died with very little recognition of their deaths within the game world.  At the time I had just helped my sons bury a family cat, and noted that the life, and the death, of this small animal mattered to them, impacted them.  I wondered that in so many of the games I had played, the deaths of character party members were of less consequence to the other characters in the party.  It was as if death did not matter to them.

I have run many hours of Multiverser, and in that game we have what Ron Edwards said was an excellent answer to character death:  when a player character dies, he starts again in another universe in a new adventure.  However, I have also run many hours of Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, and played in several other role playing games.  I remember when a beloved Gamma World character was killed I was in such shock that I played the rest of the night from the couch across the room (the living room end of a long living room-dining room), despite the fact that I had two characters in the game and the one who was still alive was the leader of the group.  Even in Multiverser, non-player characters who matter sometimes die.  Yet player characters somehow fail to mourn them.

Mourning is something of a sticky issue in Christendom.  I am at an age at which I sometimes hear that people I have not seen for decades, such as college friends, have died.  My reaction is often that they were always more fortunate than I, and now they get to go home first.  There are churches in which funerals are if not upbeat at least positive.  One woman who had reached the age of one hundred and five and still got someone to transport her from the nursing home to church every weekend commented to her pastor that she’d better die soon or the family was likely to think that she’s not coming.  We speak of the joy of the afterlife, but find ourselves mourning when those we love have entered it.

Of course, the best explanation is that we are not really sad for them, but for ourselves.  I lost my father a few years back, and I still miss him.  Our best man and the girl who sang at our wedding have both succumbed to cancer, and many times I had wished I could see them again.  We have lost opportunities to connect again in this life with people who mattered to us.  We should be glad for them, but still we are sad for ourselves, for our loss.  I am not sorry that they died, really; I am sorry that I have lost them.  For now.

Yet what do our characters believe?  How do they regard the deaths of their comrades and companions and acquaintances?  Do they even have friends, and if so will they miss them when they’re gone?

If so, why is it that I don’t recall ever having a game character attend a funeral?

It seems that our imaginary characters fail to be human in this critical way.  We fail to feel the pain of loss when one of our number dies.  It is a real pain which we feel in our ordinary lives, and to be human in this way, to have our imagined characters care about each other, communicates something about love to others in the game.  It says that we care about them, that people like them matter to us, reflected in the fact that people like their characters matter to our character.  It is a sad moment when someone dies, and it should be so for game characters—even for those non-player characters whose loss doesn’t really impact the players.


Previous article:  Gamism.
Next article:  Narrativism.