Many years ago I was at summer camp; it was a rather unusual summer camp. It was run by the United Presbyterian Church on the Lebanon, New Jersey, campgrounds of the American Baptist Convention, and it was for high school aged students who loved to perform music, giving them the opportunity to work under the baton of one of the best conductors alive—who happened to be Jewish. We learned to sing and play some of the greatest music ever written, by Bach and Handel, Mozart and Mendelssohn. Oh, we did the Bible things, too, and the summer camp things, but ultimately this was music camp, and we did music.
One of those who was primarily responsible for running the camp was a Presbyterian minister generally known as Pastor Tom. I remember him sharing informally one day with a few of us. There are many ways to glorify God, he said. The way we’re doing that here is by producing the best music we are able to produce. I came to realize that he was right, that God was truly glorified by the music we sang, because we all did our best and created something wonderful.
I’ve come to realize over time that this same concept, of doing things as well as we can to glorify God, applies to much more than music. It applies to everything in our lives. We can do all things to the glory of God, and we can truly glorify Him by doing them well. In a sense, we show how great our Creator is by being the best creations we can be. What we do in our families, in our jobs, in our churches, in our leisure activities, all can glorify God by being done to the best of our ability.
That means you can bring your faith into your gaming simply by playing well.
What does it mean to play well? It means many things.
Playing well means playing smart. In a role playing game, that usually means thinking about the situation, and working with the other players to solve the problems and achieve the objectives. It can mean working against the other players when their character objectives are contrary to yours, and if so it means to do that intelligently and effectively. In some games it means to play to win—and that is in some sense true of many role playing games. Trying to be the best player you can be means to play the game well.
Playing well also means playing graciously. Other players are involved and should be treated with respect. Losses should be accepted without griping or complaining, but also victories, while certainly often cause for celebration, should not become cause for gloating or arrogance. It might be fun to be the superhero who can do everything and save everyone else all the time, but it can’t be so much fun for them. Be sure you’re playing in a way that allows everyone to be involved, and to have fun. Being a good player means playing well with others.
Playing well means knowing your limitations, whether they are in the game or in yourself. Make sensible decisions about what you can do, how much you can play, and what lines you draw for yourself. Then observe them. College students may be able once in a while to play straight through the weekend without sleeping, but high school kids should be certain their parents know they’re all right and older married players should not let the game interfere with their lives. Even college kids should not let play prevent them from studying. Some games are more graphic than others, some more tense, some more bleak. Know what games might be a problem for you, and steer away from these. A good player doesn’t cross his own boundaries.
These all sound like very basic ideas. Most of the readers of this series may think there’s nothing here they don’t already know. But there is something very important here of which we all need to be reminded. Too often we ask the question of how we can bring our faith into our games, and we think the answer is somehow connected to teaching others theology or having an opportunity to drop bits of the gospel into play. The answer is a lot more basic than that. Bring your faith into your game by being a good player, the sort with whom others enjoy playing. Probably you won’t hide the content of your faith from them; what they need far more than that is to see the outcome of your faith, the kind of life you lead when you’re with them. By being a great player and a great friend, you do more to bring your faith to bear on the game than you could by roleplaying Billy Graham or Thomas Aquinas or even Jesus Christ. You let people see what kind of person you are, and you make them want to be like you. That is ultimately the goal of bringing faith into these games in most cases; and this is how it is best achieved.
We have already discussed ways to incorporate Christian content into games; we will probably have more on this in the future. But it is Christian conduct, not Christian content, that will truly impact the other players; and it is yours, not your character’s, that matters most.
This article was original published in December 2002 on the Christian Gamers Guild’s website. The entire series remains available at its original URL.