Category: Faith in Play

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.

Faith in Play #15: Gamism

This is Faith in Play #15:  Gamism, for February 2019.


Glancing back over previous articles, I am often reminded that although I did an article on DFK—Drama, Fortune, and Karma, Faith and Gaming:  Mechanics—I never addressed the more controversial three-letter set found in Ron Edwards’ Big Model, GNS.  After all, what we get out of playing our games is a significant part of how our faith is involved, and ought to be considered.

If you don’t know what GNS is, or have never heard of “Creative Agenda”, or simply aren’t sure of the meanings of these frequently-bantered terms from previous decades, my own summary is available at Places to Go, People to Be as Theory 101:  Creative Agenda (or on their French site as Théorie 101 – 3e partie : Les propositions créatives).  The short version is that a creative agenda is what any given player enjoys and seeks to maximize when he plays a game.  Ron hates short versions; he does not think them accurate, and he’s probably right.  Meanwhile, players hate to be labeled, categorized, pigeonholed, so if you tell someone he’s gamist, he’s likely to challenge you.

There’s a joke there.  Never mind.

Gamism has a particular stigma, because it is the agenda of munchkins and rules lawyers, and these are regarded by many as among the most irksome players in the games.  However, despite the fact that such players usually are gamist, they don’t define gamism.  Read more

Faith in Play #14: Wickedness

This is Faith in Play #14:  Wickedness, for January 2019.


In discussing Dungeons & Dragons® alignment, as we began last May with True Religion and continued looking at that which the game calls “good” in Goodness, it is important to remember that each alignment is something in which people actually believe.  That becomes a problem when we turn our attention to “evil,” because we tend to stereotype it in cartoonish ways, with villains who are depraved and monsters that are sadistic.  In so doing, we reassure ourselves that we are not evil, because we are not like that.  Yet in defining that which is the polar opposite of “good” or beneficent, the game has something far more subtle, far less heinous, in view.  Evil is embraced as a belief by perfectly sane sound reasonable people, not just Cthulhu cultists and reclusive Shakespearean witches.  It is something people—even respected famous people—believe to be the way the world is and how we ought to respond within it.  In fact, if you examine yourself carefully, you might discover that you yourself are aligned “evil,” or at least have some significant aspects in your true beliefs that reflect an “evil” world view. Read more

Thirteen Months in Review

Last November we published Overview of the Articles on the New Christian Gamers Guild Website, in which I attempted to index everything that had been posted to the site in the previous eighteen months–the time from when our capable webmaster Bryan launched the new web log-driven format through the republication of the entire Faith and Gaming series.  It was a lot of material, and a long index.

I decided not to let it run quite so long this time, but to try to index the entire year plus only one extra month, those articles posted in December 2017 after the Overview had been released.  It really was the beginning of this year, because the first articles in the two major monthly series appeared then–that’s right, Faith in Play and RPG-ology have now both been running for thirteen months, a baker’s dozen of each.  There have also been quite a few articles on other subjects and from other authors.  So before we reach an overwhelming amount of material, here’s a look at everything we released in 2018, and a bit earlier.

Let’s start with the first article of December, and put all of that series together this time.  Faith in Play was envisioned as a continuation, thirteen years later, of Faith and Gaming, tackling the same kinds of issues and perhaps expanding from the focus on role playing games to look more broadly at leisure activities of all kinds–without forgetting the role playing games.  The series included:

  1. #1:  Reintroduction December 5, 2017 introduces the new series as a second volume of Faith and Gaming, an exploration of how our Christianity impacts our leisure activities.
  2. #2:  Portals January 2, 2018 looks at how the fantasy and science fiction connections between universes become a metaphor for the reality we experience as God is moving us to the new world.
  3. #3:  Javan’s Feast February 6, 2018 recalls an event in a game in which a character had a positive impact on the players.
  4. #4:  Bad Friends March 6, 2018 discusses the people in life who mistreat us, and how we respond.
  5. #5:  Fear April 3, 2018 looks at the cause of in-game fearlessness and applies it to the rest of our lives.
  6. #6:  True Religion May 1, 2018 begins the alignment miniseries with the focus on what we believe controlling what we do.
  7. #7:  Coincidence June 5, 2018 discusses syncronicity and events which seem almost to have been manipulated.
  8. #8:  Redemption Story July 3, 2018 considers stories which mirror the redeeming act of our salvation, and whether that can be done in a game.
  9. #9:  Clowns August 7, 2018 returns to the archetypes subseries with a look at the importance of comic relief characters.
  10. #10:  Goodness September 4, 2018 continues the alignment series with a consideration of what it means, in game terms, to be Good.
  11. #11:  Halloween October 2, 2018 presents a defense of the celebration of what is essentially a secular holiday.
  12. #12:  Fiction and Lies November 6, 2018 discusses whether telling fictional stories is a “sin of lying”.
  13. #13:  The Evils of Monopoly® December 4, 2018 delves into the dangers the game poses to our theology.

Two weeks later, the RPG-ology series launched.  Discussions about the Faith in Play series suggested that we should also cover subjects from the long-lost Game Ideas Unlimited series that had run at Gaming Outpost–articles about game theory, design, and play–but that this should be distinguished from the other series as its own set.  This series so far has included:

  1. #1:  Near Redundancy December 19, 2017 introduces the other new series as a return to some of the Game Ideas Unlimited topics, ideas for game theory, design, and play.
  2. #2:  Socializing January 16, 2018 explores the fact that those of us who have trouble relating to people have created a game that teaches us how people relate to each other, through a relationship process.
  3. #3:  History of Hit Points February 20, 2018 explains why hit points are still popularly used, and what they contribute to game play.
  4. #4:  The Big Game March 20, 2018 gives instructions for running games with large numbers of players.
  5. #5:  Country Roads April 17, 2018 discusses how to design the main roads connecting places in a fictional world.
  6. #6:  Name Ideas Unlimited May 15, 2018 suggests ways to provide names for everything in the fictional world.
  7. #7:  Playing Fair June 19, 2018 explains why a good referee can’t kill any character any time he wants.
  8. #8:  The Illusion of Choice July 17, 2018 gives the basics of the “directorial” technique of organizing an adventure such that the encounters occur in sequence wherever the characters choose to go.
  9. #9:  Three Doors August 21, 2018 uses the Savant logic problem to introduce the concept of understanding your referee’s motivation and adjusting your play accordingly.
  10. #10:  Labyrinths September 18, 2018 explains the concepts of labyrinths and mazes with design ideas and examples.
  11. #11:  Scared October 16, 2018 discusses what frightens people, and how to use that.
  12. #12:  Aphorisms November 20, 2018 suggests one way to build cultural variety within game worlds.
  13. #13:  Cities December 18, 2018 talks about where cities will appear in the world and why.

R. C. Brooks gave us more of his D20 game, Lands in the Clouds, with:

  • House of Wren (Renewal) by R. C. Brooks, December 12, 2017 presenting a clerical order focusing on stress relief.
  • House of Arocon (Knowledge) by R. C. Brooks, January 9, 2018 presenting a clerical order that deals in knowledge and books.
  • House of Beyan (Earth) by R. C. Brooks, February 13, 2018 presenting a clerical order that deals with all things related to matter, from vegetables to stone.
  • House of Keen (Air), by R. C. Brooks, April 10, 2018, presents the clerical order related to air and gases.
  • House of Sukan (Fire), by R. C. Brooks, June 12, 2018, presents the clerical order related to fire and burns.
  • House of Coursan (War), by R. C. Brooks, July 10, 2018, presents the clerical order related to military defense.
  • House of Curren (Travel), by R. C. Brooks, August 14, 2018, presents a clerical order related to vehicles and mounts and all aspects of travel.
  • House of Foura (Luck), by R. C. Brooks, September 11, 2018, presents a clerical order involved in the manipulation of fortune.
  • House of Wold (Prophecy), by R. C. Brooks, October 9, 2018, presents a clerical order whose task is to warn of impending ill.
  • Multiple Gifts, by R. C. Brooks, November 13, 2018, discusses the possibility of a character having more than one spiritual/magical ability.

And Michael Garcia continued to enthrall us with recountings of adventures in his games, including:

  • Screams in Store by Michael Garcia, December 26, 2017 in which the now familiar Winchester team walks into a trap and discovers that goblins are not easy opponents;
  • Ants in the Darkness by Michael Garcia, February 27, 2018, in which the Beckett group of adventurers on a dungeon crawl encounter serious trouble.
  • Battle on the Beach by Michael Garcia, March 27, 2018, in which the Winchester team pursues a group of robber knights with a hostage, catching them on a beach.
  • Treasure Identification by Michael Garcia, April 24, 2018, in which the Beckett team argues about magical treasure.
  • Bandits Rock by Michael Garcia, May 22, 2018, in which a contingent from the Winchester team gets into serious trouble while spelunking on a scouting mission.
  • Terror in the Tower, part 1, by Michael Garcia, July 24, 2018, in which the Beckett group approaches and enters what they believe is a ruined temple.
  • Terror in the Tower, part 2, by Michael Garcia, September 25, 2018, in which the Beckett group encounters trouble at the entrance to the temple.
  • Terror in the Tower, part 3, by Michael Garcia, November 27, 2018, in which the Beckett group sends an advance team into the tower, and out again.

…and also notes on his world and his special rules, such as:

We had a few insights from Bryan Ray, including:

  • What Does God Think About Hacking?, by Bryan Ray, January 30, 2018, which explored several different meanings of the word and which of those might be sinful.
  • Monkey Business, a Circuit Breakers adventure, by Bryan Ray, May 29, 2018, with a sequel to last year’s Prime Time Adventures play report giving the extended story of a game session.
  • Tales From the Loop, by Bryan Ray, October 30, 2018, a review of a role playing game of that name.
  • Controlled by Fear, by Bryan Ray, December 11, 2018, recalling the benefits that came from running a horror role playing game for a church group.

We also had a few articles giving information about upcoming conventions where chapel services or other Christian opportunities were scheduled:

  • Con Chapel: Beginnings by Eric Van Denhende, January 28, 2018, covering information on February and March as available in late January.
  • CGG Events at Gen Con 2018, by Bryan Ray, July 31, 2018, giving information about the Sunday morning worship service and the Friday afternoon Christianity & Gaming panel.

—M. J. Young

Chaplain, Christian Gamers Guild

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.