Faith and Gaming: Warriors

Friedrich der Grosse als Perseus

Last month we introduced the notion of Archetypes as collections not so much of skills and traits as of values and beliefs, character concepts which inform us about ourselves and our views of the world. This month that notion meets its first test, as we consider our first archetype. We start with one that is fairly simple: the warrior.

I should clarify that I do not by this designation mean anyone and everyone who fights, nor everyone who trains to engage in combat. I have in mind the soldier who fights to defend home and family. I’m aware that there are others, and we will consider the knight, the assassin, perhaps the barbarian, perhaps others, as distinct kinds of fighting men who represent something else. This is the simple man who fights because someone has to do it.

I have never been a fighter. I have no military record, and the closest I got to police work (apart from reading about it in law school) was as an unarmed security guard. I’ve never much admired people who fight, because in grade school many of them seemed to think that they could prove their values as human beings by assaulting me. (They then added insult to injury by complaining about the bites, scratches, and kick bruises delivered upon their persons in my defense. Apparently they were universally of the opinion that you were bound by their rules even if you refused to play the game.) Thus I don’t have a strong connection to the warrior as a concept. Yet the first time, after years of running games, that I was given the opportunity to play a character in a fantasy game, I chose not a priest nor a wizard but a fighter, a warrior type. Thus despite my distaste for people in real life who exemplify some of the vices of this character and my unfamiliarity with any of the reality of the life of soldiers, there is something here that does appeal to me.

I also note that God considered this important. In Judges 3:1f we read, “Now these are the nations which the Lord left, to test Israel by them (that is, all who had not experienced any of the wars of Canaan; [2]only in order that the generations of the sons of Israel might be taught war, those who had not experienced it formerly).” So apparently regardless of what I think about fighting, God thought it was very important that His people know something about it from experience. So what is it about the warrior that we value, or that we should value?

Writ in large letters on the warrior type is the idea we discussed a few months back, Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his Friends. Then we spoke of how this often means less than a life and death situation; but here we put life and death in stark relief. The warrior believes that there are some things, usually people, for which or whom it is worth dying, and worth killing. He doesn’t fight because it’s noble, nor because it’s fun, nor because it is profitable. He fights because it is necessary, because if he doesn’t do it maybe no one will, and if no one does it, those he loves may suffer and die.

Of course, he doesn’t always see how the current action protects his loved ones specifically. Sometimes the battle is far from home, and the people whose lives he is protecting are someone else’s family. In this, he represents something else to us. He shows us obedience to a higher authority, in the expectation that those from whom his orders come know what he does not, know how risking his life here protects his people elsewhere. It is that acceptance of the risk of death on the word of someone else that it is necessary that wins our respect.

In this, he also demonstrates the value of mutuality. I am fighting to defend your home and family, because it is ultimately in my interest to protect you. If I don’t defend you, you may fall to the enemy; then if the enemy comes to me, I, too, will fall, and will not have you to help me. Together we are strong, and the warrior teaches us of the importance of combining our strength against the foe.

The warrior is not without his vices, though. He stands forever on the edge of the danger that he will believe might makes right, that the fact that he can do something means that he has the right to do it. These are the bullies I dreaded in my youth; these are the tyrants who rule by force. He may think that because he has risked his life, those for whom he risked it must excuse his demanding attitudes and rude effrontery, that he is somehow better than the rest of us, more deserving of respect and less required to offer it. He may think our gratitude inadequate, our respect insufficient. These are the evils that exist just on the edge of those goods, the temptations to which he is subject.

Looking at the warrior, we see something of ourselves. On the positive side, we see that we value the willingness to risk death for something more important than life, to lay down our lives for our friends, and this is a good thing. We also see the value of obedience, as we often must obey God without knowing the reason at that moment. On the other side, though, there is the temptation to excuse our own actions based on the authority of someone else, someone who instructed us to do this as we have done it. There is also the temptation in all of us, the wish that we had the power to have things our own way, to force others to fit into our expectations. The demand for respect given the force of strength is a tyranny of its own, and a temptation to us all. These values and these dangers exist within our concept of the warrior.

Thus in playing the warrior, we can inform our play with these virtues, the willingness to die for those we love, and to do so obedient to someone we trust. We can also address the questions of personal responsibility in what we do, and the temptation to perceive strength as its own justification.

In looking at our first archetype, we find within it values to emulate and vices to recognize, ways to use the character to bring our faith into our games in tangible ways, even when he’s just a fighter.

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

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