Category: Faith in Play

Faith in Play #13: The Evils of Monopoly®

This is Faith in Play #13:  The Evils of Monopoly®, for December 2018.


It is perhaps almost a joke, that whenever uninformed people begin talking about the evils of role playing games a gamer will respond with the notion of the evils of the game Monopoly®.  I mentioned it myself in my 1997 article Confessions of a Dungeons & Dragons™ Addict.  (I do not know whether anyone else had mentioned it before me, and it was one of several games I cited in that article for various issues.)  Lately, though, the idea has nagged at me that there are numerous “dangers” in Monopoly® in particular, and it would be worth taking a moment to address the game.

Let’s begin with the one that is the most obvious:  the game promotes a mindset of greed.  To win the game you must become the “richest” player, accruing the most money and real estate of anyone in the game.  It is capitalism on steroids.

Sure, there are wealthy Christians in the world, and not all of them handle their wealth admirably.  Yet most of us would agree that the pursuit of money is not only wrong, it is a very alluring trap.  Learning as Paul to be content in luxury or poverty is not an easy lesson.  Monopoly teaches the opposite lesson, encouraging us to seek to be the wealthiest.

Yet the objection goes deeper.  There are plenty of games in which being the best is the way to win, and quite a few in which the score is given with dollar signs in front of it.  If it were only that you had to try to be better than everyone else at the table, well, a lot of games are like that, and Monopoly® might be excused.  However, unlike Parchessi or Life or many other games in which once one person wins everyone else loses, the rules of Monopoly® state that nobody wins until everyone else loses.  That is, in order to win the game you have to drive all the other players into bankruptcy.  You don’t win until you are the last man standing, financially.  We can accept that in a footrace once one person wins, everyone else loses.  This is more like a demolition derby, in which once everyone else loses, the one player remaining wins.

So those are perhaps the big objections to the game; but it would be a short and perhaps laughable article if those were the only problems.  The game also offers its “Chance” and “Community Chest” cards, and in doing so creates another notion to which Christians ought to object:  the idea that favorable and unfavorable events come to people at random.  You might win a beauty pageant, or have to go to jail, but it has nothing to do with anything you did, it is merely the roll of the dice and the draw of the cards that controls your fate.  As we discussed long ago in Faith and Gaming:  Mechanics, randomness is a theological problem wherever we encounter it.  Monopoly® does not suppose that God is behind these random distributions of good and ill; it teaches that such outcomes are random.

It also teaches that such random events are to some degree balanced.  A chance card can be benefit or bane, and the balance between them is such that you do not know whether to dread or anticipate as you reach for one.  God’s world is good; evil is found in it, and suffering, and this article is not about to resolve the issues involved in that.  However, a game that teaches us that good and evil balance out in the end is not a Christian game.  Good wins in the end, and there is more good than evil in our path, because God gives good gifts.  If we come away from a game thinking that the good and the bad balance each other in the end in life, we have learned the wrong lesson.  The truth is, much that we think bad is for our good, and thus is itself good, and the good in our lives outweighs the bad.

Let’s add one more issue to the pot:  if you pass “Go” you collect, in the original version, two hundred dollars.  That is, if you can survive long enough, the next paycheck will come and you’ll have money.  For many people that’s realistic, but it’s also teaching a lesson, that all you have to do is survive to the next paycheck.  Most of us make the mistake of thinking that our money comes from our hard work at our jobs; the fact is, our money comes from the grace of God–the jobs are only the vehicle by which it is delivered.  James warns us against relying on what will come tomorrow; Monopoly® encourages us to expect it.

I am not going to say not to play Monopoly®.  As board games go, it’s well designed and popular.  I am going to say to be wary of the lessons it teaches, and remind yourself of the truth.

Or find a more Christian game to play.


Previous article:  Fiction and Lies.
Next article:  Wickedness.

Faith in Play #12: Fiction and Lies

This is Faith in Play #12:  Fiction and Lies, for November 2018.


I once encountered someone who held the view that all of Jesus’ parables were literally true, that they were recountings of real events of which He in His omniscience was aware.  There really was a Good Samaritan, a Prodigal Son, a woman who lost a coin, a man who invited the poor to a wedding feast.  His brilliant theological argument was that if these were not true stories, then when Jesus told them He was lying, and since He was sinlessly perfect He never lied.

Whether “lying” is actually always a “sin” is a complicated question, of course.  We abbreviate one of the Ten Commandments to “Thou Shalt Not Lie,” but it is better understood as “Thou Shalt Not Bear False Witness,” that is, do not commit perjury, do not testify falsely in a legal matter.  Jeremiah was at one point ordered by King Hezekiah not to tell anyone the real content of their conversation but to lie about it, and he complied with the command of the king rather than respond that as a prophet of God he should never lie.  On the other hand, when in the New Testament we are told to let our yes be yes and our no, no, and don’t swear to anything, the point seems fairly clearly to be that we should be the kind of people who tell the truth so consistently that no one would think we were lying when we said anything, or require any extreme affirmations of veracity to verify our statements.  There is a degree to which we should not lie.

I have to wonder, though, whether Jesus during His earthly ministry had the kind of omniscience attributed to Him by this argument.  We are told in Philippians 2 that He emptied Himself of His divine power and became human, and somehow I can’t see how He could retain absolute knowledge of everything and not count that as a divine ability.  Yet the budding theologian has a point:  the stories are either true or false, and if they are not true then Jesus was telling us falsehoods as if they were facts.  Does that not mean He was lying?

I think not.  I think there is a clear distinction between lying and telling fictional stories.  The difference is in the latter case you are in some sense using unreal events to entertain, convey ideas, perhaps educate.  In the former case you are using falsehoods to deceive.

I appeal to the example of Sophie Devereaux, actress and grifter in the television series Leverage.  When she is on stage pretending to be Maria in The Sound of Music or Willie Loman in Death of a Salesman, she is acting.  She does not mean for you to believe that she actually is Maria or Willie, but hopes that you will temporarily suspend your disbelief and accept the fiction for the sake of the story.  She is in those cases an actress.  When she is off stage introducing herself as a spokesman for a firm in Dubai or an art expert from the Vatican or a member of British nobility, she is attempting to deceive her audience, to get them not merely to suspend disbelief but to believe, to embrace the fiction as truth.  She is then a grifter, someone who steals by deception.  (We may applaud her motives, in the way we recognize the good in the rogue who uses his skills for good, but we must recognize that she is using deceit to achieve her objectives.)

A lie is specifically a falsehood presented for the purpose of deceiving the hearer.

What I see in the parables of Jesus is that it does not matter whether there actually was such a Samaritan, such a prodigal, or any of the other people, creatures, objects, or places included, and it does not matter whether we believe that these existed or acted in the ways presented.  What matters is that these possibly imaginary people, creatures, objects, and places are part of a story that conveys an important lesson, a message to the hearers.  We can choose to be like the Good Samaritan without believing that any such person actually existed, just as we can choose to emulate Peter or Lucy Pevensie, or Frodo Baggins, or Harry Potter or Hermione Granger.  We can learn the lesson of the Prodigal Son without thinking him more real than Draco Malfoy or the White Witch or Gollum.  The stories need not be true in order to convey truth.

Yet if this is unconvincing, let it be clear that Jesus often made statements that were not literally true, in order to convey truths.  He told us we were the light of the world when it is obvious we are not comprised of photons moving in waves.  He also labeled us the salt of the earth, and while several chemical salts are essential to our lives our bodies are mostly water, and very little salt.  He called us branches of a vine on which fruit grows, but we are not woody extensions of a plant.  If any false statement is a lie, these are all lies told by Jesus.  Yet we do not take them as lies.  We take them as analogies, metaphors, allegories, similes—in short, fictional statements which convey truths.

The parables need not be different in that regard.

Nor is it therefore conclusive that the telling of fictional stories is a sin because they are false.  What makes a falsehood a lie is the intention to deceive.  That is not the intention of our storytelling, which exists primarily to entertain, and often to educate, but which we know from the outset is not the truth but only a vehicle for truth.


Previous article:  Halloween.
Next article:  The Evils of Monopoly.

Faith in Play #11: Halloween

This is Faith in Play #11:  Halloween, for October 2018.


One of the unofficial “traditions” of the Faith and Gaming series was that in October we always talked about something related to magic.  It happened entirely by coincidence (and we have discussed that recently) the first year, and thereafter I looked for topics for October.  That seemed a reasonable tradition to maintain with the new series, so here it is October, and I’m looking for an appropriate subject for the month of Halloween.  It seems, though, that that itself might be one.

Many Christians do not celebrate Halloween.  There is almost a “fear of Halloween” aspect to it, that somehow although we have in some sense redeemed so many of the Pagan holy days—replacing Yule with Christmas and Beltane with Easter, for example—we have not managed to turn Samhain into a God-honoring Christian holiday despite renaming it “Holy Evening” and following it with “All Saints’ Day”.  We just don’t feel like it’s a Christian holiday.

Part of that is undoubtedly because of what Samhain was celebrating, and how it was being celebrated.  Of course, all of that is very sketchy—when Christianity came to the British Isles, the head druids reportedly came to hear the message, listened carefully, and announced that they were putting an end to the practice of their religion because the missionaries had brought the truth.  As a result much of the oral tradition was lost or at best garbled.  However, we have some information suggesting that Samhain was the new year holiday, and that there was this “no time” between sunset and sunrise, the old year ending at sunset and the new beginning at sunrise, or something like that, and during that intervening period of darkness the departed spirits could roam the world.

This was not necessarily entirely bad.  After all, if I did not have assurance she was heaven, I would number my grandmother among those departed spirits who might visit.  Extra place settings were laid to welcome departed family members to dinner.  However, there were other spirits roaming outside, and protections were required to keep them from harrassing the living.  There were things to fear.

At some point our celebrations involved dressing up as those departed spirits, roaming from house to house, and frightening homeowners into parting with treats.  This is the core of the celebration, and so it seems that here is the primary locus of the objection.

That might not be entirely true, of course.  After all, at some point “All Saints Day” got replaced, particularly among Lutherans, with “Reformation Day”.  The Halloween celebrations were likewise replaced with Reformation Day celebrations, and we can probably bet that a good part of that had nothing to do with celebrating Samhain or other Pagan holy days and everything to do with celebrating a day commemorating a lot of people the Roman Catholic Church had designated “Capital-S Saints”, a designation of which the Lutherans and other Protestants were at least skeptical.  Our Protestant forefathers were probably more concerned about the veneration of Christians of previous generations than they were about celebrations of Pagan holy days, the latter not being a significant factor in a largely Christianized Europe.  However, modern Lutherans who celebrate Reformation Day do so with a specific sense that this is an alternative to Halloween, so it is effectively the same position:  don’t celebrate Halloween because of its Pagan roots, celebrate this instead.

Further, if you pursue the objection, you wind up with different reasons for it.

Those who are most adamant in their objection base it on the claim that Samhain is a holy day for witches and Wiccans.  For what it’s worth, that might be true, but it’s not terribly relevant—modern witchcraft and Wicca is an early twentieth century religion, invented in an effort to recreate what someone imagined was the old religion of the Druids and other Pagans.  It has little or no historical roots prior to that, and that means they are co-opting our holiday.  Also, much of the evidence for this comes from people who have been seriously discredited—Mike Warnke was never a Satanist High Priest, and neither was William Schnoebelen, but both of them have influenced many Christians to believe that Halloween was dangerous based on their invented sensational pseudobiographies.  It would be a bit like asking Hugh Laurie for medical advice because he played Dr. Gregory House.

Some people seem to object to the make-believe involved, that children dress up and pretend to be someone else, and adults sanction this.  Children dress up and pretend to be someone else all the time.  What we call “role playing games” they call “make believe”, and they play cops and robbers, cowboys and indians, and a wealth of other “let’s pretend” games.  They also raid the old clothes in the attic and dress up to pretend that they’re adults.  These games are part of their exploration of self-identity, ways in which children figure out who they are and grow to become adults.  One special day that sanctions this does not make it more common, and quashing that day would not make it less so.

Yet there is an attitude among some that children should only pretend to be positive pretend persons—princes and princesses, firemen and nurses.  We might debate just exactly what persons are positive.  Would soldiers be positive, or not?  It might depend on whom you ask.  The father who is a marine would probably be proud to have his young son dress the part; the mother who lost a son in the war would likely be upset if her daughter did so.

Yet there is a side of this that such people are missing.  What happens when a child dresses as a vampire, a mummy, a ghost, some kind of monster?  What happens when the child role plays that which he quite reasonably or unreasonably fears?

The answer, according to some psychologists, is that it helps the child come to terms with his own fears.  He is afraid of ghosts, but here for a few hours he is the ghost, and in becoming the ghost discovers that perhaps ghosts are not something to fear.  By pretending to be the monsters, we remove the fear from them.

Take that with however many grains of salt you wish, but accept that there might just be good reasons to embrace the celebration of Halloween, even if you personally find it distasteful.


Some of this appeared a year ago in mark Joseph “young” web log entry #208:  Halloween, in answer to a question on the subject.  The publishing world being the sort of confusing mess that it is, this page was written before that one, but that one might be useful for other reasons.

Previous article:  Goodness.
Next article:  Fiction and Lies.

Faith in Play #10: Goodness

This is Faith in Play #10:  Goodness, for September 2018.


Back in May I introduced the notion that in the original Dungeons & Dragons game, alignment was the True Religion of the game, what the characters ultimately fundamentally believed.  I did not at that time delve into what those religions were, but promised to return to the question in future articles.  This is the first of those, second in the alignment miniseries, dealing with the alignment aspect everyone always mentions first:  what does it mean to be Good, and what does a “Good” person believe?

First, let us be clear that “good”, in game terms, does not mean “obeying the rules” or something like that.  It is not a religion of laws, but a religion of attitude.  It is defined as the belief in promoting the greatest benefit for the greatest number.  The word beneficence is perhaps the best synonym for it.  Javan’s Feast was an example of good in action:  how do I help these poor people who are struggling to survive?  Good King Wenceslas, in initiating the practices of the Feast of Stephen (the day after Christmas, known in England as “Boxing Day” because Christians box up their spare and leftover food and deliver it to the poor), demonstrated the acts of a good-aligned person in giving one poor man food in the depths of winter.  A “good” person (or character) will break the law, if doing so will make the lives of others better.  If indeed Robin Hood robbed from the rich and gave to the poor, his actions were criminal—but decidedly good, which is why his story is so revered.

Good has a good reputation.  Most people, even most “evil” people, want to be perceived as “good”.  It is characteristically compassionate, caring for the needs of others, in a sense putting others before self.  Good people are generally against torture, will probably not perform it themselves, and will only tolerate it if it seems absolutely necesssary to rescue someone else or somehow beneficial to the one being tortured.  They are generally against unjustified killing—to put a sentient creature to death, there must be some evidence that the creature is guilty of some heinous evil and unlikely to be rehabilitated.  Killing orcs just because, hey, they’re orcs, is questionable.  Killing orcs because there is clear evidence that these orcs have committed felonious crimes against nearby human or similar settlements that need to be defended is certainly acceptable.

On the other hand, good people can be misled or misinformed, in essence wrong.  They can genuinely believe that certain actions promote the welfare of the greatest number of people which in fact do not.  At that point the question becomes whether they should have known better—is it that the orcs they killed were not involved in the attacks on the human settlements, but the characters had good reason to believe they were, or is it that orcs attacked the human settlements so humans are attacking random orc settlements?  Understanding good can be tricky, because people often do what we might think bad things for good reasons.  Many slavers genuinely believed that they were taking primitive sub-human creatures out of the poverty of their homeland into a better life as domesticated animals.  Indeed, most domesticated animals live longer than their wild counterparts, and are healthier and more comfortable along the way; why might it not be so for humans?  We abhor such practices—but our characters’ perception of the best possible benefit for the greatest number might well be something we would not perceive as “good” because of our own background.

There is a degree to which “good” is definitive of Christian love.  The game version probably does not need to be held to quite that standard of self-sacrifice and servanthood, but a saint who lives so would definitely be a clear example of the “good” alignment.  I hope that your own alignment is “good”, whatever alignment you prefer for your characters.


Previous article:  Clowns.
Next article:  Halloween.

Faith in Play #9: Clowns

This is Faith in Play #9:  Clowns, for August 2018.


When I thought I was reaching the end of the Faith and Gaming series, Christian Gamers Guild member Lynette Cowper (who wrote GURPS Rogues) suggested that I address Archetypes.  It was a challenging suggestion for me—I had never thought about characters in terms of archetypes.  However, I undertook it, and wrote about Warriors, Knights, Rogues, Wizards, and Holy Men before turning my attention to another subject (after all, that was half a year of monthly articles spent on one subject).  I think I might have had a couple other possible archetypes identified in my notes, which as I have previously reported were abruptly lost in a computer crash, but every time I turned my mind back to them, my impression was that I didn’t know any other “archetypes.”

Perhaps it was because I had run so much original Advanced Dungeons & Dragons™, and these really were the major character classes, almost everything else in the game falling into one of these groups.  On the other hand I could see that functionally a medic was a non-religious holy man, most techs were non-magical wizards, and maybe spies and ninjas are distinct from most other rogues, but not enough to warrant another article on the subject at that time.  Really, in my mind, archetypes were pretty much covered.

However, when I was talking about doing this series, webmaster Bryan Ray wrote to me, “I always thought there was a lot of space in the Archetypes sub-series that you hadn’t yet explored.”  That caused me to reconsider my own conception of an “archetype”, to attempt to get out of my own box, as it were, and think about what else might be covered.  I recognized that in stories we often have character types that serve what we would call a story function.  They make the book better, the movie more entertaining.  And as I thought about movies, a few characters came to mind who are what I believe Jack Slater (addressing his boss in The Last Action Hero) called “comic relief.”  I remembered a reviewer complaining about the movie Willow that brownies Franjean and Rool were comic retreads of Star Wars robots C3PO and R2-D2, who were also there for comic relief, like having Abbott and Costello in a serious movie in which someone else is the star and the hero.  So I realized that this, too, was a type of character archetype, inserted to break the tension, to make the story a bit more fun.

I am calling them “clowns,” not just because they are funny.  They often appear at scene changes, breaking the main action with a lighter aside before returning us to the heroes.

I rarely see these in games, and even more rarely do I see players undertake playing them.  Everyone wants to be one of the heroes, one of the serious characters contributing to the victory in the game.  I have had occasion to use non-player characters for the function, but players often regard these a waste of what could be productive game time.  We tend to exclude clowns from many of our games.  Perhaps, though, we do our games a disservice in doing so.

Of course, the story function of clowns in movies and books is to break the tension and delay the resolution.  They are in that sense a bit like the horror movie trope in which we discover that the movement of the curtain is just the cat, and a moment later the monster pops out of the closet.  They take us away from the chase scene or the shootout or the face-off, entertain us for a moment, and then drop us back into the action eager to know what is going to happen next.

Yet as archetypes they are something more, and perhaps something very important.

Clowns remind us that not everything in life is serious, and that the parts that are not serious are not therefore unimportant.

Let me repeat that:  the parts that are not serious are not therefore unimportant.

The time you spend playing games with your friends is probably more important than the time you spend pushing papers or digging ditches or building machines at work.  We tend to confuse that which is most necessary with that which is most important.  The clowns are not necessary.  They do not contribute to the success of the plot (well, R2-D2 does, being a hero who saves the day in almost every Star Wars movie and usually over the comedic objections of C3PO—but someone else could have done it).  Fun is not necessary; we can live without it.  Yet it is important, because it is that which makes life enjoyable, in a sense which gives value (not meaning or purpose, again things which we tend to confuse) to living.  Clowns remind us that we should enjoy life, even in the midst of its seriousness.  C. S. Lewis told us, “Joy is the serious business of heaven.”  In a sense, the Christian life is about learning to enjoy, to enjoy our relationships with God and each other.  Game play is part of the enjoyment of those relationships; clowns are a serious reminder that it is not all serious, that we are here to have fun.

Of course, clowns also have their down side.  They are ineffectual; they rarely contribute to our success.  Yet when we realize that those goals, as noble and necessary as they often are, are not the ultimate purpose of our lives, we also recognize that our clowns are trying to remind us of this, and so even in their weakness they are strong, even in their folly they are wise, and they teach us to be weak and foolish so we may be strong and wise.


Previous article:  Redemption Story.
Next article:  Goodness.

Faith in Play #8: Redemption Story

This is Faith in Play #8:  Redemption Story, for July 2018.


Years ago I wrote Faith and Gaming:  Redemption, which was republished last spring.  In it I made the distinction between the “Prodigal Stories” that we sometimes call stories of redemption and the real “Redemption Story”, the story of how the price was paid, how we were saved.  I then addressed whether prodigal stories were inherently and specifically Christian, although I admit that the answer was a bit inconclusive—after all, even its creator says that Star Wars is about the fall and redemption of Anakin Skywalker (a.k.a. Darth Vader—you knew that, forget I mentioned it), but he would never claim it to be a Christian story.

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Yet it never occurred to me to consider the other side of that, the actual redemption story, and whether that might be included in our games and stories.  Further, I’m embarrassed to say, I find that it has been included in a number of stories with which I am familiar, so apparently it can be done.

Maybe.

The glaringly obvious example is the one I mentioned in that other article:  the death and resurrection of Aslan in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe of The Chronicles of Narnia.  The redemption in that particular telling is very individual:  Aslan dies to save Edmund, although there is a hint of more in the statement that when the innocent dies for the guilty, the ancient magic would cause death to work backwards.  It is one of the best pictures of the Redemption Story in fiction.

It is not alone, though.  J. K. Rowling ultimately explained that she never wanted to tell anyone that the Harry Potter series was a Christian story because she believed that one fact would be the spoiler that gave away the ending.  In the end, Harry voluntarily sacrifices his own life to save everyone at Hogwarts—and because of magic Voldemort never realized he had cast, Harry’s death becomes Voldemort’s defeat, and Harry returns to life to finish the dark wizard.  We thus have the chosen one defeating evil by dying and returning to life.

I was further reminded, by the piece we wrote decades ago on The Problem with Pokémon, that in the Pokémon movie Ash also gives his life to save his friends, and is brought back to life.  It has been a long time since I saw that movie, but it again appears that the self-sacrifice of a lead character was a redemptive act.

I don’t want to stretch this too far.  Many stories include the hero sacrificing his own life; not all of them are redemption stories, and I’m not even completely certain all of these necessarily are.  Yet they suggest that a redemption story is possible in a fictional setting.  It is something that can be done in a book—I won’t say easily, but with care and skill successfully.

The much more difficult question is whether it can be done in a game, and if so how it would be done.

The critical problem is, who plays the redeemer?  When Mel Gibson directed The Passion of Christ he cast himself in one on-screen role:  his hands drove the nails.  If I am the referee in such a game, is the most important character in the story, the central character who pays the redemptive price, one of my non-player characters?  Or if it is one of the player characters, how do I make that work?  I am all in favor of player characters making dramatic sacrificial deaths—Multiverser encourages them, because the death of a player character becomes the tool that moves him to another world, another story, so the player can both let the character die and and have him survive.  However, how do I arrange the sacrificial death that leads to the redemptive resurrection?  Does the player have to be in cahoots with me on that, or do I have to keep it a secret, hope he will make the sacrifice, and surprise him with the outcome?  What if he balks at the sacrifice?

And after all that, would it be a necessarily Christian story?

That is a difficult question to answer.  I don’t know whether the Pokémon movie was intended as a Christian story, or how many people recognized it as such, despite the fact that Pikachu won the big fight by repeatedly turning the other cheek until his attacker collapsed from exhaustion just before Ash made his sacrificial move.  I do know that there are people who have read The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, and probably more who have seen the movie, who do not know it is a Christian story by a Christian author.  It may again be one of those stories that you can tell, but without someone to call attention to it some will never recognize.

If any of you know of a game in which it was done, I would love to hear the story.


Previous article:  Coincidence.
Next article:  Clowns.

Faith in Play #7: Coincidence

This is Faith in Play #7: Coincidence, for June 2018.


If you follow this series, odds are fairly good that you followed, or at least were aware of, the previous series, Faith and Gaming. It originally ran monthly, as this one is scheduled to do, beginning in April of 2001 and ending in that same month in 2005. The series was always popular, was compiled with several other articles on the subject and released in printed form twice, and then in May of 2016 the Christian Gamers Guild decided to republish it as part of a website overhaul. My contribution to that reposting process amounted to giving permission for it and sometimes finding free artwork that fit with upcoming articles, if I managed to get to that before our efficient webmaster.

I mention this because something happened in that process that got me thinking, and since I had already committed to writing this series I made a note of it for this article. What happened was, in the very literal sense, a co-incidence: two events occurring simultaneously without an identifiable causal connection between them. I mentioned it then, but did not pursue it, and it’s worth taking a moment to discuss it now.

Bryan Ray, our diligent webmaster, had begun posting the Faith and Gaming series, as I mentioned, on May 10th, 2016. It was a Tuesday. At that point he had quite a volume of material to post, given the years for which the Guild had been publishing material and the people willing to contribute, so he was posting material every Tuesday and Thursday, and an installment of Faith and Gaming hit the web every week, on Tuesday. He ran through the first seventeen of the forty-nine original series articles at that rate, along with materials by quite a few other contributors and one other of mine, and then on September 1st realized that he was going to exhaust the stores faster than new material would replace it, so he cut back to posting on Tuesday only. Faith and Gaming appeared every other week thereafter.

The coincidence is that the twenty-ninth article in the series appeared on February 14th, 2017. At the time it was decided to post on Tuesdays and not Thursdays, no one was aware that Valentine’s Day would fall on a Tuesday, nor gave it much thought. Nor did anyone ever count out what article would appear when, other than calculating when the series would end so we could know when to start this one. However, the twenty-ninth article, which by this string of unrelated unconsidered causes happened to fall on that particular romantic holiday, is Faith and Gaming: Sex, discussing the propriety of sexual relationships within our role playing game worlds.

It was unexpectedly appropriate. Yet, as I hope I have persuaded you, none of us took any specific steps to make that happen. I did not realize it was happening until I saw it that morning.

These “coincidences” are interesting because they happen. I worked in Christian radio for a time, and there were stories of “mistakes” that were exactly what was needed. One that came to me was that the disk jockey had started a prerecorded program that came to us on a vinyl disk, and had left the studio to get his lunch; he had half an hour, he figured, so he took his time. A few minutes into the program, the record started skipping. Meanwhile, someone was listening. He was in his car, headed for the Delaware Memorial Bridge with the notion that he would get around the safeguards and jump into the Delaware River below. He flipped the station on his car radio and somehow hit us, where he heard the record skipping—a man saying, “Jesus…Jesus…Jesus…Jesus” for perhaps twenty minutes before the DJ caught it. Once the station identifier played, the man found a phone and called; he did not jump into the river.

I’ve written a book under the title Why I Believe which discusses the evidences for the existence of God and the divinity of Jesus, and one of those evidences is something Carl Jung called synchronicity and Wolfgang Pauli attempted to explain. It is about coincidences that defy the odds to the point that it is thought they must have an “a-causal connection”, that is, that two events regularly occur together without either causing the other or being effects of the same cause. Their occurrence strongly suggests the existence of something like a god, pulling the strings behind the scenes. How many fictional detectives have said, “I don’t believe in coincidences”? Whenever two events seem suspiciously connected, we always assume that someone had a hand in them. I recently heard a quote from Albert Einstein: “Coincidence is God’s way of remaining anonymous.”

It can be argued, but then, in our role playing games we actually have someone like a god pulling the strings behind the screens. In Multiverser we call him the referee, but his original title was Dungeon Master, and he has been called Game Master, Storyteller, and many other titles over the years. That means that those incredible coincidences can happen precisely because someone manipulated events behind the scenes—and if a referee is going to “play god” in his game, what better way to do so than to create exactly the kinds of events that look like someone up there likes someone down here, or conversely does not like them much?

Of course, you couldn’t do it all the time; you couldn’t really do it very often, probably, or it would seem contrived. However, you could do it in critical moments. You probably already do—you fudge dice, decide that the reinforcements for the player characters arrive in the nick of time or those for the villains are too late. You just aren’t sure of the justification for it. In Multiverser we included a “General Effects Roll” system, by which when the referee was not sure what was going to happen a die roll would guide him as to whether the outcome was generally good (from the character’s perspective) or generally bad, and the extreme rolls called for the one-in-a-thousand outcomes, good or bad. That kept it controlled, and balanced—but it doesn’t need to be so rigorous.

The point is, inexplicable coincidences happen, just as if someone were causing them, and there’s no particular reason why you, as referee, can’t be that someone.


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Faith in Play #6: True Religion

This is Faith in Play #6:  True Religion, for May 2018.


In the earliest versions of Dungeons & Dragons™, the original role playing game from which all others (including those electronic games that call themselves “RPGs”) are descended, there was a rules section known as alignment.  Many players did not understand it; many gamers did not use it; it was often badly abused.  However, I think it was one of the best and most important parts of the game, and I often defended and explained it.

I am going to make the perhaps rather absurd claim that I am a recognized authority on the subject of alignment in original Advanced Dungeons & Dragons™.  I know, that’s ridiculous.  However, I am also going to prove it.  When Gary Gygax was promoting his Lejendary Journeys role playing game, he placed on his web site exactly two links to pages related to Dungeons & Dragons™  One was to my Alignment Quiz, which had already been coded into an automated version by a Cal Tech computer student and translated into German.  The other was my page on choosing character alignment in my Dungeons & Dragons™ character creation web site.  He apparently believed I had a solid understanding of the issues.

So big deal.  I’m an expert in a game mechanic concept that isn’t even used by most of the few people who still play that game.  However, even if you don’t use it, don’t play that game, I think alignment is important to understand, because ultimately the character alignment was the real religious beliefs of the characters in the game world.  Read more

Faith in Play #5: Fear

This is Faith in Play #5: Fear, for April 2018.


I heard a comment on the radio to the effect that fear is a problem for intelligent imaginative people. The argument was that such people readily envision all kinds of terrifying possible outcomes of any situation, and so give themselves negative expectations. Stupid people, it was argued, don’t see what’s coming, but intelligent people think about all the possible outcomes and consequences in advance.

I am not persuaded. It is, after all, quite possible for someone to be afraid because they have been in a situation like this before and it led to a bad outcome; it is also quite possible to be frightened by a completely unfamiliar situation because you realize that you have no idea what might happen next. However, I can see that it is often the case that intelligent imaginative people frighten ourselves with what we conceive as possibly happening in the future. During the Cold War there were probably millions of people for whom the threat of nuclear annihilation was only a theoretical possibility discussed by politicians and military leaders and of no real concern to someone trying to get through the problems of ordinary life. It was intelligent writers, intelligent leaders, people with the ability to imagine what might happen, who were truly terrified of the possibilities. So there is some merit in the notion.

That caused me to wonder about the players in my games, and to suspect that you have seen something of the same in yours. Read more

Faith in Play #4: Bad Friends

This is Faith in Play #4: Bad Friends, for March 2018.


This started with a bit of silliness that over the course of a few hours became considerably more serious.

It was a morning drive, and on the radio someone was talking about how Jesus had saved her marriage. She said that now her husband was her “best friend”.

I know it was sincere, and it was undoubtedly truly meaningful, but I’m afraid it is so cliché that I immediately noted to my wife, “You know, no one ever talks about their worst friend.” We laughed. I said that there must be a way I can use that for something, and we pondered how you would identify your “worst friend.”

A few hours later I shared the joke with my youngest son, who did not laugh but instead said that he knew exactly who his worst friend was.

There is something of an attitude in gaming groups that says we must be friends because we’re all gamers who get together to play. It’s like thinking that you must be friends with everyone who goes to the same bowling matches or bridge games or cocktail parties. I have talked about that before, in Faith and Gaming: Friends. I have also written in mark Joseph “young” web log post #93: What is a Friend? about two distinct concepts of friendship. I hold the word to a rather high bar. I think most of the people who think themselves my friends probably are only acquaintances who like playing games with me. That’s fine; it’s good to have acquaintances of that sort. You could even call them friends.

My son’s choice for “worst friend,” though, was enlightening. He named the high school friend who, after serving in Afghanistan, became a homeless drug addict. This boy seems impossible to help—give him shelter and food, and he takes advantage of the situation to steal from the house to buy drugs.

We have a short list of people who are not allowed inside the house. They are welcome to sit on the front deck and talk with people, and we will help them as we can, but the doorway is the boundary. I always explain it to them very simply: People who live here believe that you have stolen from them and that you will do so again. As long as you are never inside the house, no one can accuse you of having stolen anything from inside the house. Thus the rule protects you from being accused. It happens that it also protects them from the temptation of stealing from us. This friend is on that list.

As I considered this, I realized that there have been many people whom we treated as friends over the years who abused that status. More than once we had to discontinue having gaming groups play in our home because someone, never identified, stole things from us, and rebuilding a gaming group after something like that is not simple. If the people we entertain in our home are our friends, we have had some bad friends. What do we do about these people?

Love your enemies, and pray for those who mistreat you, so that you may become sons of your Father in heaven. For He makes His sun shine on the good and the bad, and gives the blessing of rain to the righteous and the unrighteous.

Let me be clear. I do not mean that you necessarily have to give your bad friends free rein of your home; I do not mean that you do not report theft or other crimes to the police. Sometimes the most loving thing you can do is put someone in jail—if indeed you are doing it as the best way to help them. We have had to do that at least once. What is expected, though, is that we continue to love the bad friends, even the worst friend, and to look for the best way to help them. We were never promised that showing love wouldn’t result in pain or injury to ourselves. We were promised that God would recognize His own image in us when we did so.

There is a footnote to this story. This was written about a year before it was published here, and in the intervening months my wife and I were both hospitalized and released with some severe restrictions on our activities. During this time that “worst friend” appeared, clean and sober, and stayed with us for an extended time, cooking and cleaning and otherwise making life possible for us while we were recuperating. No one is irredeemable, and a little love and grace and kindness can go a long way.

So show love to your friends, even the worst friend.


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