Faith and Gaming: Settings

The following article was originally published in July 2001 on the Christian Gamers Guild’s website. The entire series remains available at its original URL.

I’m going to challenge you today with a question that maybe you have never asked yourself, and yet you have probably answered—and further, that you have probably answered both yes and no in different situations.

Is it wrong for us as Christians to imagine a world that is different from the one God created for us?

I suspect that you have probably just now reacted with, “No, of course not,” maybe even so strong as “That’s ridiculous.” Yet I also wonder if that’s what you really think. But perhaps you don’t see the problem because the question is too general. Perhaps it is just that there are particular kinds of worlds you consider wrong to imagine.

Is it wrong to imagine a world in which magic isn’t evil? This is a particularly vexing question for many Christians, and some who would accept the inclusion of magic in a book by a “strong Christian” such as C. S. Lewis would at the same time say that the rest of us should avoid imagining such things as good or even acceptable. Sorcery is condemned in scripture. Is it offensive to God to suggest that in another world it might be right?

Is it wrong to imagine a high technology Utopian future? Star Trek presents us with a world centuries in our future in which most of our problems have been solved (at least on earth) by the cooperation of humanity and the advances of technology. You can condemn the concept of the show for being godless; but really, if you were to fix that—if God were recognized at least as clearly as He as been in the past—would that make it a right thing to do? Aren’t we, as Christians, supposed to be looking for the return of Christ any minute? Paul clearly expected Jesus to be back in his own lifetime. Isn’t there something inherently contradictory about holding to the Blessed Hope and imagining a future world in which we have solved our current problems?

But is it any better to imagine an apocalyptic future—not the biblical apocalypse, but the sort of science fiction view that the world will have destroyed itself (whether by ecological disaster, nuclear war, or other technological crisis)? This is an even more vexing question. Again, we’re looking for the return of Christ. Doesn’t imagining this bleak future suggest that He’s not coming soon, as surely as imagining a world in which we solve our own problems?

Credit: ESO/L. Calçada
Credit: ESO/L. Calçada

Perhaps we can imagine life on other planets. But what is the status of these aliens in regard to redemption? Do you want to suggest that somewhere in the universe there is an unfallen race, in no need of redemption? Or do you imagine that, like Adam, they, too, fell, and need salvation—or even that they, too, are guilty because of Adam’s fall? Are they waiting for us to bring the gospel to them—and what theory of soteriology imputes righteousness by Christ’s sacrifice to those who are not Adam’s seed? Or will you cheapen the death of the Son of God by suggesting that it was repeated on a million crosses on a million hills under a million different suns?

Or is there a sentient race somewhere in the universe that God has condemned to eternal damnation?

And you don’t soften any of these objections by putting them in another universe.

I needed you to appreciate the magnitude of the problem. Imagining a universe that is not like ours has implications that go much deeper than merely whether you can give God a different name. (We only call him “God” because we speak English. If we lived in Galilee when Christ was there, we’d have called Him Theos or Kyrios, or perhaps Adonai. We don’t use the name of God as it is, so this seems a small problem ultimately.) Integrating faith and gaming must at some point address the question of whether we can imagine things as they never were or would be and be true to our faith. That is the question posed by setting.

But, as you probably know, I co-wrote Multiverser: The Game*, a role playing game which at its core postulates that every world anyone could imagine actually exists. If it’s wrong to imagine a universe that isn’t like ours, then I am guilty many times over, not only of having done so, but of the far worse crime of having encouraged others to do the same.

And it won’t surprise you to read that I don’t believe there is anything sinful about imagining worlds which are contrary in any way to what God has created. But just because I say it isn’t so doesn’t mean it isn’t so. There is good reason to question the righteousness of this practice. There must be good reason to defend it.

In the beginning, we are told, God created the heavens and the earth. God tells us about himself. He tells us how, step by step, he built the universe. He tells us that he looked at each step and declared it good. In the first twenty-five verses of the Bible, no matter whose version you use, we learn a very few key things about God. We learn that He creates, that He imagines things and brings them into existence in some form. We learn that He believes the things He creates are good. We learn that he gives names to some of the things He makes, and that His creation is accomplished largely by things being spoken into existence. And really, that’s all we know about God at the end of those twenty-five verses.

But in the twenty-sixth verse, we learn that God decided to make man to be like Himself. And in the twenty-seventh verse we learn that God did make man to be like Himself. And for millennia men have argued about just what that means, to be made in the image and likeness of God. Yet it’s clear that it must mean that man is like God in those ways already revealed about God. That is, the Bible tells us for twenty-five verses, “God is like this;” then in the next two verses it says, “Man is like God”—and it must mean, “Man is like this, too.” Man creates things, judges his own creations as good or bad, and gives names to his creations. And those creations are to a large degree brought into existence by our words. This is the very image of God in us, the very thing we were made to be able to do.

And so I ask the reverse question. Could it possibly be right for us as Christians not to express the image of God within us by imagining worlds that are different from the one He created? Isn’t it incumbent upon us to create, to invent, to speak into being worlds of our own imagining? And doesn’t making them truly different magnify that image of God?

We could debate whether we should create heroic settings or dark settings—and perhaps eventually we will. But let us understand that we should create worlds, we should invent settings; and that whatever settings we invent will be different from the reality created by God, but that does not make them bad or evil, or make us sinful for having done so. The elements of our worlds will be like those of His world; we cannot avoid that, for it is all we know. But they will also be different, combined in different ways, revealing truth about us, about God, and about this creation. And in so doing, they will glorify Him, profit us, and edify others.

*editor’s note: The Multiverser web page has been inactive for some time. The link here leads to the last known image on the Internet Archive. 

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