This is Faith in Play #32: Zealots, for July 2020.
Some years back in one of my games an important local military official was murdered, and under the authority of their cavalier the party took over investigating the crime. They had out-of-character reason to believe that a certain local cleric and his two acolytes were responsible, so they focused on these. They had been told that the acolytes had taken vows of silence, but were intent on getting them to talk, so they used torture.
After the session I commented that their adventure “grades” were going to be penalized for acting against their alignment. One player objected. His character was a Neutral Good cleric/fighter, and he said that he could see penalizing him if he were Lawful Good, but somehow he did not think that he had to be quite as Good if he were “only” Neutral Good.
My response was, for what does a Neutral Good character stand, if not Good?
This is the trick to the “side alignments”, that they are ultimately about one value. In our miniseries on alignment we recognized that the character alignment is the True Religion of the characters in the game, and talked about what each of the four values means in Goodness, Wickedness, Order, and Individualism. We also considered neutrality in Believing Balance, and that can certainly impact how you play your side alignment. But ultimately someone who declares an alignment of Lawful Neutral has as first priority the interests of Law, the orderly preservation of the social order, and so with each of the side alignments it is the non-neutral part that ultimately matters.
And it matters pointedly. Someone who is Chaotic Neutral is zealously interested in the rights of individuals. The Neutral Evil character is unmitigatingly selfish. This is the one principle that drives your life, the one thing you believe matters, the one concept from which your actions spring.
For my player of the Neutral Good cleric, if he had been a corner alignment, there would be other values at play–but that’s really a subject for the next article in the series, the corner alignments. We’ll get to that.
This is RPG-ology #29: Political Correction, for April 2020.
The phrase has been around long enough that I cannot imagine anyone in the English-speaking world does not know what “politically correct” means. In the short form it means never saying anything that might offend any member of any minority group, whether or not such a person is present. I bring it up here, though, because just recently someone in a role playing group asked whether the concept had any impact on our games.
I hope that my readers are all literate enough to have read Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, and intelligent enough to have grasped its message. I have elsewhere cited it in relation to Freedom of Expression, and consider it one of the most important statements on the subject, perhaps second only to the famous dissenting opinion by Justice Oliver Wendall Holmes (also excerpted at that link). It is entirely un-American to censor speech; beyond that, it is dangerous for reasons discussed in that article.
The issue here, though, is about censoring the content of our games. My answer is similar, but with some additional thought.
Someone (I think perhaps the Reverend Paul Cardwell of the CARPGa) once gave me the expression in relation to role playing games the great thought experiment, and I find that to be an extremely apropos description. In many ways, games are about expressing and exploring ideas, creating characters who either share our beliefs or offer other beliefs, and pursuing where these beliefs lead through the conduct of the characters who hold them.
In my Faith in Play series I have been running an intermittent miniseries on alignment in Original Advanced Dungeons & Dragons™, and I discussed what “chaos” means in the entry Faith in Play #22: Individualism. I mentioned having played an attorney in one game, and the fact that this lawyer was not lawful but chaotic: he very much stood for the principles of the ACLU, the fact that everyone has the right to be and do whatever he wishes within the parameters that in so doing he does not interfere with the rights of others to do the same. I am not a member of the American Civil Liberties Union, and they sometimes support cases I would oppose–but I have a lot of respect for their defense of the First Amendment. Further, playing that attorney in that game allowed me to explore to what degree I agreed with them, believed that the rights of individuals needed to be defended as against the preferences of society at large.
In fact, it seems to me that this entire issue of “political correctness” is precisely about this: do individuals have the right to believe and say things that are offensive to other individuals? Do my freedoms include the right to be protected against anything I find offensive?
In my case, at least, they probably don’t. If you want to call me a dirty WOP, or a stupid Christian, or a narrowminded WASP, I have no recourse. I object that those are perjorative insults, but you are free to use them. But what about the game?
In one of my games, a half-orc player character insulted one of my non-player dwarfs. The dwarf took it in stride and responded, “Did your mother like orcs?” That certainly would have been politically incorrect if our rules applied to that world, but it was entirely appropriate within the context–and that is the key. Our worlds, be they fantasy, futuristic, historic, or something else, are filled with people whose views and prejudices are part of their time and place. In literature we use science fiction and fantasy to explore real-life issues. Enemy Mine is very much about overcoming racial prejudice, despite the fact that the tension is between humans and aliens. Captain Kirk says in Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, “I’ve always hated Klingons,” again exploring racial tensions. If you’ve never seen the classic movie Tick, Tick, Tick, you’ve missed a story that is very much about southern blacks and whites overcoming their differences. We use art, and particularly fiction, to explore these kinds of concepts. The characters within the stories are intentionally politically incorrect, because that is the only way we can convey our message.
There is a caveat here. We are gathered at the gaming table to have fun, to enjoy ourselves. Every one of us has limits, lines we do not want to cross. How graphic is the violence, or the sex? Are there particular abberations which bother someone at the table? Some won’t want to play a game that explores rape, or abortion, or–well, there are many aspects of reality that make us uncomfortable individually, and when we get together to play a game we should know what those lines are and not cross them, not make our fellow players uncomfortable.
I don’t believe in being politically correct. I also don’t believe in being impolite to people. That doesn’t mean that I can’t have rude characters in my games or my books or my stories. That political incorrectness is sometimes necessary to explore ideas and beliefs that are different from our own, and so come to understand each other better.
This is Faith in Play #26: Fields to Harvest, for January 2020.
Last month I wrote about the impact the Christian Gamers Guild has had on Christians and on gamers. I noted that there were now many other “geek ministries” trying to make a difference. In fact, between when I wrote that article and when it appeared I began to wonder whether we had become superfluous. Role playing games had moved almost entirely from feared activities suspected of cult and occult connections to mainstream entertainment embraced by ordinary people worldwide. Video games now pull more income than movies, as an industry. Board games are on the rise. Even such “fringe” geek activities as anime and cosplay are moving into the mainstream. Certainly there are still some believers who embrace errors taught decades ago about the evils of such entertainments, but they are a vanishing breed. I thus wonder if my job, defending hobby games to Christians, has become moot.
Then an odd thing happened.
You may know that I write two article series published here at the Christian Gamers Guild. This one, Faith in Play, was envisioned as a resurrection of the notions of the Faith and Gaming series originally published in the early aughts and still on our site, looking at the intersection between our faith and our leisure activities. However, when it was proposed, our webmaster said he hoped it would include material similar to and possibly drawn from the Game Ideas Unlimited series I did weekly for four years at Gaming Outpost, most of it lost when that site died. (Some of it has been preserved in French translation at the Places to Go, People to Be French site, and indeed I also wrote material for the Australian Places to Go, People to Be, and for RPGnet, RoleplayingTips.com, MysticAgesOnline, and several other role playing game sites, not all of which still exist.) Not seeing that as part of the faith and play connection, I suggested instead that I do a second series, which eventually was named RPG-ology, strictly about role playing game play, design, and theory. Thus I contribute two articles each month to the site, aimed at slightly different audience interests.
I was responding to a post on a Facebook role playing gamer group, and the question was something I had addressed in one of the RPG-ology pieces, so I linked the article. As I recall it was one that had been only slightly edited from a Game Ideas Unlimited original, and so had once appeared nearly the same at Gaming Outpost. Bryan has somehow cleverly set up the site such that such links are branded: the image shows the name of the article and the Christian Gamers Guild logo when it appears in preview on social media sites. Seeing the logo, one of the participants in the Facebook thread commented that he never read articles on Christian web sites. He said they had a certain “smell” to them.
I don’t know quite how to react to that. Read more
This is Faith in Play #22: Individualism, for September 2019.
Quite a few years ago now I was playing a character in an experimental Attorney class in a game largely based on original Advanced Dungeons and Dragons™. I had just successfully defended a player character (an Antipaladin) on a murder and robbery charge, and the player said to me, “Boy, your character must be really lawful.”
I answered, “No, he’s Chaotic Neutral.”
And that illustrates just why it is that the Chaos side of the alignment graph is so badly misunderstood and so poorly handled. My attorney was Chaotic in the best traditions of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU): he firmly believed that every person (character) had the right to be and to do whatever he wanted, as long as in doing so he did not unfairly infringe on the right of any other character to do or be what he wanted. Although anarchy can be the consequence of chaos pushed to the extreme, chaos is not about anarchy, but about liberty. It is the alignment expressed in the Bill of Rights, espoused by the Libertarian Party, and represented by Democracy. Read more
This is Faith in Play #6: True Religion, for May 2018.
In the earliest versions of Dungeons & Dragons™, the original role playing game from which all others (including those electronic games that call themselves “RPGs”) are descended, there was a rules section known as alignment. Many players did not understand it; many gamers did not use it; it was often badly abused. However, I think it was one of the best and most important parts of the game, and I often defended and explained it.
I am going to make the perhaps rather absurd claim that I am a recognized authority on the subject of alignment in original Advanced Dungeons & Dragons™. I know, that’s ridiculous. However, I am also going to prove it. When Gary Gygax was promoting his Lejendary Journeys role playing game, he placed on his web site exactly two links to pages related to Dungeons & Dragons™ One was to my Alignment Quiz, which had already been coded into an automated version by a Cal Tech computer student and translated into German. The other was my page on choosing character alignment in my Dungeons & Dragons™ character creation web site. He apparently believed I had a solid understanding of the issues.
So big deal. I’m an expert in a game mechanic concept that isn’t even used by most of the few people who still play that game. However, even if you don’t use it, don’t play that game, I think alignment is important to understand, because ultimately the character alignment was the real religious beliefs of the characters in the game world. Read more