Faith and Gaming: Losing

We’ve heard all the pithy sayings, aphorisms, witticisms, and proverbs that have been expounded on this subject. You can’t win them all. If anything can go wrong, it will. You can’t win for losing. There’s no sense worrying about it, nothing’s going to turn out all right. These are bits of the wisdom of this age. They have a certain appeal in them, reaching to that side of us that is tired of the struggle. As someone has written, the three rules of the game of life are one, you can’t win; two, you can’t even break even; and three, you can’t get out of the game.
Yet I, at least, hesitate at these. It’s not that they don’t strike a chord somewhere within me. It’s that I think the pessimism they reflect is not the hope we assert. We can win; we have been offered victory. Someone has said, I read the back of the book, and we win. Why do we keep expecting defeat?

It occurs to me as I pen these words that for the first readers, this will be published in the midst of the Christian Gamers Guild elections. I assure you that that was not the inspiration for this column. I wrote the first draft months in advance of that, and was then not even certain whether this was the year in which I would be up for re-election or not. These could well have been the last words I published as Chaplain, as someone else took over my duties here. Some might think in that case that I lost, in that I lost the election. I don’t see that as a competition; I don’t see it even as a potential setback. It would be nothing other than a signal to move in a new direction. So perhaps not all that we call defeat is that; perhaps it is only the thwarting of our personal ambitions, the pointer to a different direction, and not the loss of victory.

I consider our games, though. I know that in many cases it has been said that role playing games don’t have winners and losers. That’s often true, in the sense that we don’t compete against each other; yet in another sense, it is often the case that we will lose, in the sense that our goals will be thwarted. How does losing fit with our faith?

Major General George Armstrong Custer
Major General George Armstrong Custer

My mind tells me that it doesn’t matter; it’s just a game. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose. In that very excuse I see what may be the deeper danger. Am I being conditioned to accept defeat as part of life, instead of looking to God for victory? I realize that if so, this is something all of life has been trying to teach; that is small consolation. If it is an error to believe we have to accept defeat, engaging in leisure activities which encourage that belief can only complicate my efforts to renew my mind and become more Christ-like.

Perhaps, though, that is not what I am learning. Perhaps what I need to learn is that what I call losing is not defeat. Certainly I could embrace all those ideas about how defeat is inevitable and victory impossible, and let them drag me down with them. I do not need to do so. It is within the course material to learn a different lesson, and within my power to embrace that instead of this. I can come to understand that victory is assured despite the setbacks; that God is never defeated, and that if things don’t seem to be working out the way I expected it is very likely that I am missing the point.

Thus I embrace losing graciously (as we suggested in The Best) not because defeat is one of those things we all have in life, but because I know that the battles are not the war, that losing this fight does not mean our side has been defeated. We are more than conquerors in all things, in Him. A loss here or there is part of the story; how we overcome those losses part of the victory.

I had imagined for a moment when this idea was first brewing in my mind that I would be suggesting play in which the good guys can’t lose. I do recommend such play as one way to exhibit one truth about God. As I previously suggested in Justice, you can go one step short of that, by giving the good guys the edge so that they have a better chance to win. Some years back, one of the creators of Dungeons & Dragons confided that in designing the game he had attempted to skew the odds to favor the good guys. Yet now that I’ve looked at it, I realize that the important question is not whether, in the short term, the good guys win or lose, but whether we as Christian players see this within the context of our own assured victory despite the setbacks along the way. We win, ultimately. This is our assurance. If we let the losses in games and in life keep us focused on that assurance, they strengthen us in our faith, and so are good things.

This article was originally published in January 2004 on the Christian Gamers Guild’s website. The entire series remains available at its original URL.

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