Faith and Gaming: Walking In Darkness

As children of God, we are charged to walk in the Light.

[I John 1:5] This is the message we have heard from Him and announce to you, that God is Light, and in Him there is no darkness at all. [6] If we say that we have fellowship with Him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth; [7] but if we walk in the Light as He Himself is in the Light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin. (UNASB)

Critics of role playing games would argue from this that those who spend their time in fantasy worlds filled with sorcerous magic, powerful demons, evil kingdoms, soul-stealing vampires, and foreign gods are walking in darkness, not in the light. Some would go beyond that and claim that being involved in godless science fiction worlds is equally wicked. They say (although, as we have seen in previous articles in this series, without much foundation) that to play such games is sin.
This criticism must be taken seriously. If we are walking in darkness, we must repent and walk in the light. If we are habitually committing sin, we must seek deliverance. This must be considered carefully. We protest that this activity is not sinful; it is in fact a good thing. We answer their objections in turn. Even before we address these, we agree as a preliminary that the gospel should infect every area of life; we wear our commitment to that on our sleeves for the world to see: we are Christians, who happen to enjoy games. We say that fundamentally these games are an opportunity to share our faith with others. We glorify God through a careful examination of the mechanics in our games, seeing how they help us grapple with His creation and His image in us. We argue that creating the worlds which are the settings for our games is a wonderful expression of that image. We discuss how the consideration of bad things helps us better to see the goodness and greatness of God who is above them. We show how the weaker brother argument isn’t about restricting freedom but encouraging it. We examine the very positive value of fantasy magic and the possible problem of taking God’s name in vain by using Him in a work of fiction. We explain that avoiding the appearance of evil doesn’t mean avoiding anything that appears evil, but avoiding evil regardless of its appearance. At every turn we are able to answer our critics, showing how their arguments cannot condemn us.

And the critics would be quick to observe that all of our protestations that this is not sin only demonstrate our guilt; for the passage quoted above continues to say something very like that.

[I John 1:8] If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us. [9] If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. [10] If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar and His word is not in us. (UNASB)

And here we are, claiming vociferously that the charges against us are unfounded because the thing with which we are charged (playing role playing games) is not sinful. Isn’t that exactly what John said we would say? Methinks he doth protest too much is the argument; if we are so emphatic about our innocence, doesn’t that prove our guilt?

There is something in all of this that echoes of Inquisition. The critics have decided that we are evil because they don’t like what we’re doing; and so they are condemning us, insisting that we must repent of what we are doing and agree with them that it is wicked so that we may be forgiven. They have not actually demonstrated that what we are doing is wrong. They have rather presumed our guilt and demanded our confession. They are already certain that we are walking in darkness, and they will brook no defense. We must yield, submit to their God-given authority, and admit that they are right and we were wrong. Until we are willing to stand with them and testify that we were once enslaved by Satan through a seemingly innocent game (and so give them more ammunition for their arguments) we stand condemned. But again, demonstrating that their methods are flawed doesn’t prove that they are mistaken; only that they have not proved they are correct. They can rail against games, and against the people who play them, and declare that we are in darkness; and if all we can say is, “you can’t prove that” we have not demonstrated our innocence. And we can argue that we should be presumed innocent until proven guilty; but the stain of the charges is in many minds sufficient to demonstrate that we must have done something wrong.

But perhaps we need to return to the scripture. After all, this all began with the charge that we were walking in darkness and should repent so as to walk in the light. What does it mean to say that we are walking in darkness? The critics would have you believe that it means all those things they say it means; that it is demonstrated by involvement in what they would call unseemly and questionable (and, they would say, sinful) activities. But does it say that in this passage? Or is this something that they, in their own wisdom, have concluded, overlaying their own understanding of the terms involved onto the text?

I want to say immediately that it is not wrong to bring your own understanding to the study of scripture. A significant part of the way we grow in our understanding of the things of God comes from recognizing that something we learned from Paul or Peter is connected to something we learned from John or James. It may well be that a passage does not fully explain itself, but that we can draw from it a fuller understanding by considering other passages elsewhere in the Bible which seem to relate. It is not always so easy as that—different writers may use the same words in different ways, and the same words may be used by the same writer to mean very different things. After all, the word “faith” even in English has three distinct meanings: that you believe (“Your faith has saved you”), what you believe (“the faith delivered to the saints”), and those who believe as you do (“the household of faith”). Yet generally we are enlightened by bringing what we have learned from one teacher to help understand another. But such interpretation cannot be used to say that a writer meant one thing when it is clear from his own words that he meant something else. And that is the case here. For although it is the next chapter, it is only in the next paragraph that John enlightens us further:

[I John 2:9] The one who says he is in the Light and yet hates his brother is in the darkness until now. [10] The one who loves his brother abides in the Light and there is no cause for stumbling in him. [11] But the one who hates his brother is in the darkness and walks in the darkness, and does not know where he is going because the darkness has blinded his eyes. (UNASB)

It may be used differently elsewhere in scripture, but in this passage clearly walking in darkness is not about going to places where sinners are found or being involved in non-religious human activities or enjoying worldly entertainment. It is about loving or hating other Christians, about whether you have the capacity to care for others and not to hate and condemn them if they are different from you. Walking in the light is about seeing each other as children of God, and building up each other, helping each other grow through kind, loving encouragement, through sharing our lives and our interests and the love of God within us.

So it would seem that Christian gamers are not walking in darkness. We have found a hobby through which we can glorify God and edify each other, something that allows us to share our lives and our faith with others (Christian and non-Christian alike) without being hateful or judgmental of anyone.

We encourage our readers to consider whether they, too, are walking in the light as explained by John. We have fellowship with one another, he says. That means we share our lives together and care for each other. It does not include creating reasons to exclude and despise other sincere believers who fully embrace the gospel and seek to serve God in all things.

We extend to the critics a warm invitation to come fellowship with us whenever they have the opportunity. Who knows? Maybe we can get together one night and play a game.

This article was original published in January 2002 on the Christian Gamers Guild’s website. The entire series remains available at its original URL.

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