Faith and Gaming: Wizards

I will confess that I specifically saved this one of the Archetypes for this month. It has been something of a tradition to cover subjects related to game magic in October, begun inadvertently when I addressed the objections to Magic that first year and then returned to it a year later when I recommended Fantasy as a particularly Christian medium one year later. A Concern expressed last year also related to magic in games, so at this point it seems that in the month in which Halloween appears I must say something that is related to game magic. In fact, I already have a topic for next year’s October article, so I guess I’m taking the tradition seriously.

Seriousness is one of the characteristics of this month’s character type, the wizard. We would normally call him studious, probably learned, perhaps educated. The wizard is the sort of person who knows great secrets because he applies himself; and because of the breadth and depth of his knowledge, he wields great power. Merlin of Arthurian legend is the prototype for this character, and Gandalf of Middle Earth (Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit) and Dumbledore of Hogwart’s Academy (the Harry Potter series) both capture the concept beautifully. These are men who know, and because they know, they can do.

The scientist or technologist is a modern expression of the same idea. Like the wizard, he is dedicated to understanding the nature of reality, to unlock its secrets and the power within them. Thomas Alva Edison was dubbed The Wizard of Menlo Park, and although he was not strictly speaking a scientist, his ability to learn and harness knowledge as the basis for power has elevated him to legendary status even as his world fades into quaint obscurity with the dawn of another century.

In this, we have much to admire. The notion of a person being dedicated to learning, to the pursuit of knowledge, is commendable, even exemplary. Knowledge is power, the axiom goes, and there clearly is value in that which encourages us to learn.

Yet there are many hazards and temptations in this character as well. As with the Warriors, we have the danger that this character will come to believe that if he can do it, he may. In my forthcoming novel Old Verses New (sequel to Verse Three, Chapter One), one of the characters becomes so powerful that she begins casually using her powers for her own convenience, and does some rather arrogant and offensive acts—harmless, from one perspective, but certainly rude and inappropriate. She has to deal with the fact that her ability does not give her the right to ignore the feelings of others; that is a temptation from which we may all learn at times.

There is also the belief among wizards, scientists not excepted, that because they comprehend the powers with which they dabble, they have rendered them safe. It is natural to think that the ability to control and direct the energy makes it harmless. That is an error to which many fall prey, a fault in the archetype of which to be wary. Whether investigating the nature of the elements and the powers they contain is a safe course for a wizard is certainly open to debate; the uncertainties we have today concerning nuclear power may put those debates in focus, as in many ways they are the same questions. Similarly, the wizard delves into the fundamental nature of life, trying to understand it and to harness its power for his own ends; genetic engineering has already done much to benefit the world, but as the first movie in the recent Spiderman series shows, we have not yet agreed that dabbling in such things is entirely safe, whatever our wizards may say. Power is dangerous, and although for the moment it may be within our control, we should always be watchful for the possibility that we might lose control of that power, not to someone else (which would still be controlled power), but to itself. Our ability to understand the powers we tap should not lull us into believing they are not dangerous. That is a temptation in this character, and a lesson that could be unfolded through him.

At the same time, it could be said that this archetype presents us with an obligation. Those who have the ability to do should, and perhaps inevitably will, change the world. The power is given not merely for our benefit, but for the benefit of all. There is the temptation to keep the benefits of our learning for ourselves, against the call to use the power we have found to make the world better. There is also the temptation to believe that because our power comes from knowledge, we must also have the knowledge of how to make the world better, of what it would be if it were perfect. Thus the tension arises between whether we are truly improving the world or merely conforming it to our own preferences—not the same things at all.

I have noted before that the difference between magic and technology, at least in game worlds, is most commonly one of color, except that the former declares the existence of a supernatural world and the latter does not. Here again we find them closely related, as the wizard archetype speaks as much of the scientist as of the magician, of the one who seeks knowledge so as to harness it for power. It is good to want to understand the world, and it is good to want to change it; but we must consider whether we are changing it for good.

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

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