Faith and Gaming: Awe

I was looking back at the article Good Guys in this series, as it discussed how we can bring our faith into our games by playing characters who directly express that faith, when it suddenly occurred to me that I could not remember a character playing that sense of awe we sometimes have when we enter the presence of God. Immediately I thought there were reasons; and it is worth perhaps exploring those reasons.

Most games I’ve seen in which there is a concept of the divine (apart from Multiverser and a few games designed specifically to be Christian) use an essentially polytheistic concept. It may well be that polytheism inherently waters down the degree to which the gods impress us. After all, if this is the god of one thing and that of another, and the best that can be said of the king of the gods is that the others are supposed to do what he says, not one of them is particularly powerful or awesome as compared with the God of gods who has all power in His hands. And not only are they individually less impressive, even collectively they somehow fail to measure up. The sum of the parts does not truly equal the whole. So we can blame polytheism for some of it.
Freska u kaloti krstionice, manastir Žièa, Srbija
Yet ancient polytheists had that sense of awe. Perhaps it is in part the modern mind. We don’t really believe in these deities, whether because we don’t believe in any or because we have come at least to glimpse the One True God. Even Zeus doesn’t impress us; we aren’t impressed by such beings.

Yet they, if they existed, would be very impressive beings indeed. One is tempted to draw the comparison between people and insects—the insects generally unaware that those huge things are alive until they suddenly move and terrify. It may just be that we’ve failed to render these supernatural giants in terms that are truly awe-inspiring.

I think that this is likely a significant part of the problem. I have been in games in which bold minor characters have dared to chat with gods as if they were ordinary people. I have seen capricious imaginary gods act like spoiled children with immense power. They as often as not pop on stage like Aladdin’s djinni, but not even the frighteningly powerful elemental spirit of the air of Arabic myth, but Robin Williams in blue skin making casual jokes while suggesting possible wishes. There is nothing frightening about these gods but that in their caprice they might throw a tantrum and kill someone. That can hardly be the foundation for true awe.

Yet perhaps one of the ways we can bring our faith alive within the game world is by having this awe, this fearful wonder, toward the gods, whatever form they take in our games. The referee might not play Zeus as the immortal king of the gods whose ways are so often inscrutable, but there is no reason we cannot react to him as if he were. The efforts of gods to make casual conversation with mortals should be met with much the same attitude taken by peasants when a nobleman asks them a question—a desire to provide the sought information politely, quickly, and accurately, and be removed from the attentions of the questioner as quickly as possible.

And if we are the referee and we have occasion for the gods to be involved in the affairs of men, let us keep it edgy. The players should never be sure what the deity is going to do or how it will work for them once a god is involved. It should be quite clear that the gods do not make casual conversation with mortals, and have concerns that are completely beyond our understanding. Gods should be something to fear even when we know them to be good.

C. S. Lewis spoke of a cleric he knew who looked forward to meeting Saint Paul. The cleric spoke of this anticipated meeting as if he and Paul would be as members of the same club having tea in the afternoon and chatting about theology. It did not seem to occur to the man, Lewis said, that Paul might be a person of such stature that we might tremble in his presence. I don’t know that there are such persons in heaven, apart from the Godhead, but the concept is important to bear in mind. Charles Williams wrote of a terrible good, something so good that its presence would cause terror in mortals, the desire to flee or hide or die rather than stand in that searing brilliance. Whatever the motivations or philosophies of the divinities that populate our supernatural realms, should they choose to interact with our characters they should feel this, and should portray it.

Putting the divine, even when it is only a minor divinity, back on the level at which awe is inspired is a good way to bring to mind the nature of God and so bring our faith into our games.

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