A short time ago someone writing to thank the Christian Gamers Guild for this Faith and Gaming series asked a question which had not been addressed, and which perhaps should have been recognized and addressed long before this, given the thoughts in our Preliminaries: how, in practical terms, do we integrate our faith into our gaming? That is, when we are in the middle of playing a game, how do we bring our faith to bear? I have addressed the question briefly elsewhere before, but if we’re speaking of integrating faith and gaming, this would seem to be close to the heart of the matter. So we will consider some ideas of how to bring faith into games.
In most role playing games, the referee has a very different position in the game from that of the players; both can bring their faith to bear in play, but because they have different roles they generally do so in different ways. We will begin with ways in which players can do this. In some ways, it is more difficult to bring your faith to the game as a player, because you control less. Yet there are undoubtedly more players in this hobby than referees—even in those gaming groups in which the job of running the game is shared, there are players who don’t do it. Besides, most of the things a player can do a referee can do in a similar manner. Thus by starting with things the players can do, we will provide more help to more people sooner.
One of the most obvious ways to bring faith into the game is to play a character who expresses your faith.
I want to emphasize that this is not the only way to show your faith in the game. While it may be useful to play a character whose faith is akin to your own, it should not be thought that to do otherwise is to deny your faith. There are many ways to use game characters to express your faith; having one who espouses what you believe is only one of these. But it is a good place to start.
At the same time, it isn’t necessarily always possible, necessary, or even good to play a character whose faith is identical to your own. In Multiverser™ you can play yourself, and so bring your religion into the game in detail; in Dungeons & Dragons™ you are probably stuck with whatever gods and religions the referee includes in his game world. But that doesn’t mean you can’t play a character who expresses aspects of your faith—you just have to give a bit more thought to what it is that you believe.
One aspect of faith that can be expressed in almost any game is devotion. There is a sense in which what the character believes may be at least a little less important than that he is wholly dedicated to that belief. If your character takes time out for prayer and meditation, or whatever rituals and observances are appropriate to his faith, without regard for wanting something back from the deity, it shows that he, like you, considers matters of religion to be important, worth the time and energy involved in pursuing them. If he also makes a point of living his life according to the precepts of his faith, that further illustrates your conviction that faith matters.
You can also be mindful that good characters should do good works. I have often told the tale of my cavalier, a good knight whose efforts to investigate a rumor of evil and danger had incidentally made him moderately well to do, using a large sum of his money to feed the poor in the dead of winter. His approach may have been impractical and flawed, but the very act shook the other players and even the referee. Some who had been playing for decades and others who although younger had never known a world without role playing games had never seen a character perform any act of personal charity, let alone something on a scale suitable to the wealth such characters typically collected. Place yourself in that world and do something good, something clearly motivated by the selflessness that springs from your character’s beliefs. Spend his off days ministering to the needs of others, whether by tending the sick, feeding the poor, teaching, fixing community facilities, or whatever it is that your character can do. Most game characters, whatever their claims, tend to live for themselves. Make yours a character who lives for others.
The expression of character beliefs can appear in many other ways. Understanding the implications of your character’s faith can be one of the most powerful tools in using him. Does your character believe in the rights of individuals? Is he committed enough to that to oppose the slave trade openly? Is he intent on serving justice? If so, how will he react to a bad law?
This brings up another important point. A character can be an expression of part of the player’s beliefs and still be effective. Christianity is complex, and Christian values are multi-faceted. Games are by necessity less dimensional than reality, and characters less complex than people. Your character can express justice, or mercy, or freedom, or holiness, or caring—that’s five major aspects of all that God intends for us, any one of which could become the focal point for a character’s values. There are certainly more possibilities; and they can be in combination. Would not a holy knight trying to find the balance between justice and mercy be a wonderful foil for raising theological issues? What about a soldier trying to measure the value of freedom against the need for law? By infusing your characters with Christian values—even just some Christian values—you create a space within the game for your faith.
This is not the only way; there is no only way. There are other ways to express our faith in our games, but this should get us started.
This article was original published in August 2002 on the Christian Gamers Guild’s website. The entire series remains available at its original URL.