The following article was originally published in May 2001 on the Christian Gamers Guild’s website. The entire series remains available at its original URL.
As I pondered where to begin our discussion of faith and gaming, I wanted to address the most fundamental aspect of our games; but I then had to debate with myself exactly what part of a role playing game is that most fundamental aspect. I decided immediately that it wasn’t the worlds in which we played; as basic as these are to the make-believe play of our youth, these are rather a layer on top of the basics. Characters, similarly, are part of the game, but an added part. Did that mean that mechanics were the fundamental aspect? After all, all games have mechanics; role playing games are most defined as games because of mechanics. And so I was preparing to write a page about Christianity and game mechanics.
And then it occurred to me that I was looking in the wrong place. The mechanics are not the fundamentals of our gaming experience. Although these are essential (in the sense that they are part of the essence of the game), they, too, are a layer on the real base of the game experience.
Role playing games are, at the very root, a form of social interaction.
And so it is that I come to this column, which was expected to be about the very narrow idea of how we integrate our faith with a tiny fraction of our existence, an insignificant hobby that a few million people share and the bulk of the world has never imagined, and find myself faced with an issue that is nearly as encompassing as life itself: How do we integrate our faith with our friendships?
If you’re like me, your mental concordance has probably already pulled a few key verses about friends—lay down your life for; closer than a brother; if you do as I command—but truth be told, there isn’t much in these that help us to understand how to be friends with people, or how to be people with friends. And we could provide a wealth of ideas about this which range from good sportsmanship to nagging evangelism, none of which are particularly useful. If we’re going to have a biblical perspective on friendships, we’re going to have to go beyond simple texts and understand why we have relationships at all.
And the fact is that we have two kinds of relationships, because we relate to two kinds of people.
My brother has said that there are two kinds of people in the world: those who divide the world into two kinds of people and those who don’t. It seems to me that God does divide the world into two kinds of people: those who are for us and those who are against us, the sheep and the goats, those born of the spirit and those born of the flesh. Anyone can be a member of either group; everyone starts in one group, and some of us are somehow dragged to the other. But to understand why we have friends, we have to understand that we have friends in each group, and we have those friends for many reasons, some of which are the same but some different.
Hopefully some of your friends are Christians; and hopefully some of your Christian friends are actually friends, people who will spend time with you doing things that aren’t always so obviously connected to religious things. Faith has to do with every aspect of your life; but that doesn’t mean that every aspect of your life has to feel like a church service. You can glorify God through things that don’t seem to have any connection to religion; you’re called to do that. Getting together with Christians to watch a movie or have a barbecue or even play a game is a perfectly legitimate form of fellowship, even if somehow God is never actually mentioned directly.
But what is the point of fellowship? It has many points. Paul tells us that the thanks of many are raised to God when He answers the prayers of many—that is, God likes to have us in large numbers agree in prayer for things because then when He answers there will be large numbers of us thanking Him. But more essentially for us, fellowship is about edification; it’s about each of us building good things in the lives of all of us. I could go into great detail on this—but as I’ve already done so elsewhere I’ll suffice it to say that you have something important to offer to other Christians, something that only you can contribute to the Body of Christ in the same ways and to the same degree as you can do it, and the Christians God has brought into your life need you to do that. If you fail them, they will be less what God intended them to be. At the same time, they are there to do the same for you.
Again, this doesn’t mean some super-spiritual Bible-quoting camp meeting. Nor does it mean moralizing about what you or they should have done as Christians in the game. It means helping each other grow in grace and knowledge, loving each other and building relationships of trust and mutual support.
It means coming to that point where, if called upon, you would lay down your lives for each other; and you would make even greater sacrifices, if they were necessary.
But what about those friendships with those others? Are we supposed to be edified by these, too? Are we supposed to build them up, help them grow? They don’t even know God; how should they be part of His work? But the answer is yes, these too are here for you to love, from whom you may learn, and to whom you may give much. In some sense, you will give and gain less from these, because they don’t know the truth and don’t understand your values and your commitment. But in another sense, what passes between you is of far greater value. You are in their lives to be a light showing the truth, to be salt preserving and purifying the world, to be life in the midst of their death. It is by knowing you, knowing someone who cares about them and shares his life with them because of some God that they never imagined mattered, that they begin to turn to that God to meet the needs in their own lives. That’s not because you keep hitting them over the head with the Gospel every time you see them. It’s because you live that Gospel in their midst, and they can’t deny the reality of it in your life.
So the fundamental aspect of integrating faith and gaming is the simplest: in all that you do, be who God has made you to be. Shine in the darkness. Use your gifts to serve others, to heal and restore and build up. And use this opportunity to love the people God has brought into your life, and to learn and grow through those relationships.
And in that sense, the game doesn’t matter at all. It’s only the catalyst, the excuse that brings people together. While the game is played, you are integrating your life with the lives of those sharing the time with you, bringing that bit of God that is within you into contact with them, making their lives better as they do the same for you.
You’ve just taken the first step toward integrating your faith into your entire life.