Faith and Gaming: Fantasy

Often you will get advice from Christians suggesting that if you want to play role playing games as a Christian you need to remove the magic from the games. Don’t play the wizards, whatever you do; and if you have the choice, stick to science fiction games, or espionage or western or other settings in which there isn’t any magic. Magic, we are told, is a terrible thing which should be removed from our games as much as possible.
I’m going to go against the grain. One of the best ways I know to bring your faith to bear on the games you play is to infuse those games with magic.

Not so very long ago I was asked to write an article for The Expositor, explaining that role playing games were not the evil cult activities so many Christians believed them to be. As I considered how to condense so many answers to so many objections into one short article, I remembered somewhere reading that most game defenses wind up saying that games really aren’t bad after all. That’s not what I believe about games. I believe that games are good, that they actually encourage our faith and promote the gospel. Instead of making excuses and apologies for them, instead of answering objections and misunderstandings, I should be telling the world why role playing games are a wonderful gift from God. But why was that? It had something to do with why J. R. R. Tolkien and C. S. Lewis and Charles Williams wrote such wonderful books. I recognized what it was: it was the magic inherent in the fantasy. Fantasy books and fantasy games contain magic, and that is a very good and very important thing.

We’ve already addressed the objections to using magic in games; but I don’t mean to say now that it’s perfectly all right to include magic in your games. I mean that it is good to have magic in your games, that a game in which there is magic is a better game, a more Christian game, than one in which there is none.

Our world is filled with people who don’t believe in magic. They don’t believe in God, either, or the devil, or angels or demons. They discount any record of miracles as clearly myth, and are quite comfortable asserting that Jesus was a very good man who taught wonderful things during his life and then died, only to have His followers make up a lot of stories about Him. These ideas all fit with their view of the world, a world in which everything can be measured and studied. There are no more acts of God; they have been replaced with natural disasters. The morality which philosophers once called natural law and perceived as the presence of the divine speaking within the mortal is now considered learned pragmatism, the rules society requires for its existence drilled into our subconscious from an early age. This world does not believe in magic. It believes in science, in evolution, in medicine and physics and astronomy, in anything that will give it explanations that do not require us to go beyond this world—because beyond this world we come face to face with God. As long as there’s no magic, there’s no God; He isn’t necessary.
In my article, I observed that no one can watch a fantasy movie or read a fantasy story or play in a fantasy game without at least briefly losing that defense, coming face to face with the possibility that there is magic in the world. We Christians believe in a magical world. We believe that God is working in our lives and the lives of everyone around us, performing the work he has begun in us, calling the lost to Himself, and steering the course of nations toward the end of the age—all very magical things. Yet many of us insist on stories and games in which none of that is real. We should be insisting that the worlds from which magic has been removed—the westerns and spy stories and science fiction sagas—bring back the power of God, make magic a possibility within the story. Fantasy, I said, is apologetics to the heart—it is a way of undermining disbelief, of subtly suggesting that there is a greater reality undreamt by most.

A year ago I argued that magic was not a bad thing; as Halloween approaches, let me suggest that in our fiction and our games it is in fact a good thing, a thing which we should embrace and encourage. It is the path that leads the lost toward the greater truth.

This article was original published in October 2002 on the Christian Gamers Guild’s website. The entire series remains available at its original URL.

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