Faith and Gaming: Samaritan

“The Good Samaritan”. Balthasar van Cortbemde, 1647

I pondered what to write in this month’s column. Normally I’m not much for noting special events, but this column marks the conclusion of four years during which a new subject has been addressed each month, relating our faith to our gaming, exploring how we can make our game play specifically Christian. The hope is that such a milestone would be marked by one of the better entries in the series. It’s difficult to know, however, which articles will prove themselves particularly helpful until the responses start appearing, so there’s not much sense in focusing too much effort on that decision. Noting that this is about playing games that are peculiarly Christian, I realized I had a topic note that spoke of a specifically Christian story one might tell in a game.

Of course, it might be presumptive to begin by stating that it is a particularly Christian story. That would seem to be the first question. We have twice before examined stories that might be specifically Christian in their essence. In Deals it was the Faust story, the story of the man who sold his soul to the devil and didn’t really get what he wanted from it. In Goethe’s hands that was a very Christian story; the question is whether it would be so in the hands of the average role player. We also considered the Redemption story—not the Redemption Story, the story of Christ’s sacrifice for us, but the more personal story of the Prodigal, God’s effort to redeem us individually. It may be that this is a specifically Christian story; on the other hand, it appears in pop culture expressed by those who have no known commitment to our faith, so if it is a specifically Christian story it may have lost much of its impact in our post-Christian world.

The story at issue this month is that of the Good Samaritan. Jesus was asked who should be recognized as a neighbor, that is, who should be loved as one loves oneself. He told the tale of a foreigner who cared for a wounded and helpless Jew. In another time and place, this story might have been that of the caring Irishman, the compassionate Negro, or the Hispanic with a heart. It was about the man for whom no one among these people could ever care or imagine as being human, let alone worth loving. That the Samaritan cared for the Jew was shocking. I can imagine some of the elders of Israel telling their children, “It was only a story; it couldn’t really happen.” Jesus said it could and should happen. That was the point of the story.

Could the tale be retold in a different setting? Certainly it could. It might be a Jew tending the wounds of a Nazi soldier, a Palestinian ministering to the needs of a Jew, a Bajoran stopping to help a Cardassian, an orc tending an elf. The theme is universal. As long as there are factions in the universe and hatred grows between them, there is potential to tell this story anew.

Can it be told through role playing? I’ve heard Keith Green’s telling of the tale in song; if it can cross to so foreign a medium as that, translating it to a role playing situation should be relatively simple.

What remains unclear, however, is whether this is a specifically Christian story. Certainly it is a story told by Christ. It presents Christian concepts and values clearly. You would be hard pressed to find a story with a better claim to that label.

Yet the difficulty lies in the execution. Obviously, not all stories of good people helping people who hate them are Good Samaritan stories, and Christianity does not have a corner on the production of such stories. Simply doing good deeds may be an expression of genuine love for others, but it might as easily be the hallmark of works righteousness. From a certain perspective, you could duplicate all the details of the story and miss the point completely.

On the other hand, the expression of love for enemies may be one of the most specifically Christian ideals in the world. Finding ways to act out such love in a game world, whether through your own player character or through non-player characters interacting with the player characters, may be one of the best ways to proclaim the gospel in a fictional setting available to us. Done right, this could be an excellent opportunity to bring faith to bear on the game.

This article was originally published in March 2005 on the Christian Gamers Guild’s website. The entire series remains available at its original URL.

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