This is Faith in Play #33: Psionics, for August 2020.
About eighteen years ago, in July 2002, I published Faith and Gaming: Mind Powers, and thought I had said everything that needed to be said on the subject of psionic powers in fiction and games. It was republished fourteen years later on our refurbished reformatted website, August of 2016.
I could not have foreseen that seventeen years after it was originally written, November 2019, the republished copy would be discovered by someone who wanted to discuss it in enough detail that it has expanded to eighty comments, fewer than half of them contributed by our webmaster and me, filled with questions and links and references attempting to determine whether these “powers” were actually part of the “occult” practices condemned in Deuteronomy 18. Many Christians think so; for reasons covered in that article, I do not. However, the morass of commentary there obscures the critical points, and so I have returned to address the question again.
The issue we addressed was whether, within a fictional setting, it might be plausible to include characters who for one reason or another had developed “natural” mental abilities beyond those common to humans today—the mutant Jean Grey, for example. We demonstrated that in fact modern humans had mental abilities that were completely unknown less than two millennia ago, and that while it could not be said that we therefore would have greater powers in the future, it just as certainly could not be said that we would not. There was no harm in imagining such naturally developed mental abilities in fictional characters. Read more
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 #8: Redemption Story, for July 2018.
Years ago I wrote Faith and Gaming: Redemption, which was republished last spring. In it I made the distinction between the “Prodigal Stories” that we sometimes call stories of redemption and the real “Redemption Story”, the story of how the price was paid, how we were saved. I then addressed whether prodigal stories were inherently and specifically Christian, although I admit that the answer was a bit inconclusive—after all, even its creator says that Star Wars is about the fall and redemption of Anakin Skywalker (a.k.a. Darth Vader—you knew that, forget I mentioned it), but he would never claim it to be a Christian story.
Yet it never occurred to me to consider the other side of that, the actual redemption story, and whether that might be included in our games and stories. Further, I’m embarrassed to say, I find that it has been included in a number of stories with which I am familiar, so apparently it can be done.
The glaringly obvious example is the one I mentioned in that other article: the death and resurrection of Aslan in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe of The Chronicles of Narnia. The redemption in that particular telling is very individual: Aslan dies to save Edmund, although there is a hint of more in the statement that when the innocent dies for the guilty, the ancient magic would cause death to work backwards. It is one of the best pictures of the Redemption Story in fiction.
It is not alone, though. J. K. Rowling ultimately explained that she never wanted to tell anyone that the Harry Potter series was a Christian story because she believed that one fact would be the spoiler that gave away the ending. In the end, Harry voluntarily sacrifices his own life to save everyone at Hogwarts—and because of magic Voldemort never realized he had cast, Harry’s death becomes Voldemort’s defeat, and Harry returns to life to finish the dark wizard. We thus have the chosen one defeating evil by dying and returning to life.
I was further reminded, by the piece we wrote decades ago on The Problem with Pokémon, that in the Pokémon movie Ash also gives his life to save his friends, and is brought back to life. It has been a long time since I saw that movie, but it again appears that the self-sacrifice of a lead character was a redemptive act.
I don’t want to stretch this too far. Many stories include the hero sacrificing his own life; not all of them are redemption stories, and I’m not even completely certain all of these necessarily are. Yet they suggest that a redemption story is possible in a fictional setting. It is something that can be done in a book—I won’t say easily, but with care and skill successfully.
The much more difficult question is whether it can be done in a game, and if so how it would be done.
The critical problem is, who plays the redeemer? When Mel Gibson directed The Passion of Christ he cast himself in one on-screen role: his hands drove the nails. If I am the referee in such a game, is the most important character in the story, the central character who pays the redemptive price, one of my non-player characters? Or if it is one of the player characters, how do I make that work? I am all in favor of player characters making dramatic sacrificial deaths—Multiverser encourages them, because the death of a player character becomes the tool that moves him to another world, another story, so the player can both let the character die and and have him survive. However, how do I arrange the sacrificial death that leads to the redemptive resurrection? Does the player have to be in cahoots with me on that, or do I have to keep it a secret, hope he will make the sacrifice, and surprise him with the outcome? What if he balks at the sacrifice?
And after all that, would it be a necessarily Christian story?
That is a difficult question to answer. I don’t know whether the Pokémon movie was intended as a Christian story, or how many people recognized it as such, despite the fact that Pikachu won the big fight by repeatedly turning the other cheek until his attacker collapsed from exhaustion just before Ash made his sacrificial move. I do know that there are people who have read The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, and probably more who have seen the movie, who do not know it is a Christian story by a Christian author. It may again be one of those stories that you can tell, but without someone to call attention to it some will never recognize.
If any of you know of a game in which it was done, I would love to hear the story.
This is RPG-ology #1: Near Redundancy, for December 2017.
If it seems to you like I just launched a new article series two weeks ago, congratulate yourself on your astute observation: Faith in Play #1: Reintroduction just appeared. That series is in a real sense a continuation of the Faith and Gaming series of a decade ago, dealing with the relationship between our leisure activities and our Christian faith. However, it was suggested that that series could also include articles on game theory and game play, drawing on the now lost Game Ideas Unlimited series I wrote for Gaming Outpost around the same time. That to my mind did not really fit the vision of the Faith in Play series, and I discovered that I had more to write for that series than I anticipated, and much more that could be written if these other areas were opened. Thus I suggested that I might write two distinct series of articles, this one covering the aspects of designing and running games that are less directly involved with issues of faith. Of course, as that series observes, everything in our life is related to our faith; it’s just that some parts of life are easier to discuss separately. Thus here is “RPG-ology”, the study of role playing games, presenting aspects of the hobby that are more practical, nuts-and-bolts concepts.
I said two weeks ago that when I introduce a new series I try to explain what the series is about and why I should be qualified to write it. Of course, I just did that for the other series, and a lot of this is redundant, because you can read there about my background as a gamer, my introduction to role playing games, my involvement in writing Multiverser, and my long-time defense of role playing games against critics. Much of that qualifies me for this as well, but there is more. Certainly I have been running role playing games since 1980 and spent the better part of the 90s creating one (and I am not alone in thinking that it is a particularly good one). I also became involved in discussions of role playing game theory and design in around 1997, with such well-known independent game designers as Ron Edwards and Vincent Baker, first at Gaming Outpost and later at The Forge. I have written articles on quite a few role playing web sites including RPGnet and RoleplayingTips.com; my article Applied Theory is at The Forge, I have six articles at Places to Go, People to Be (a series on Law and Enforcement in Imaginary Realms and another on Theory 101). My column at Gaming Outpost ran weekly for four years. Quite a few of these have been translated into French, republished at the French version of Places to Go, People to Be (the editor informs me that there are 18 of my articles translated there to this point) and some in print in Jeu de Rôle Magazine.
I have also corresponded with quite a few of those in the industry. Gary Gygax and I discussed alignment; I have a couple of stories told me by Dave Arneson. I won’t embarrass anyone else (either by inclusion or exclusion) by listing more names. Suffice it that I have a substantial curriculum vitae in the gaming world.
Further, as mentioned, I wrote over two hundred articles on the subject which have vanished with the demise of Gaming Outpost—but I have titles and descriptive blurbs for well over half of them, and memories of some of the others. There is good material in that—tricks to use in scenario design and play, secrets of good game masters, theory behind play, and more. So a lot of that lost material is likely to be recycled here as found new material. That might also be redundant—but as the recent successful run of the republication of Faith and Gaming demonstrates, even material that is still somewhere on the web is unknown to many who would enjoy it, and that would be all the more true of material that has vanished and is being re-written.
So I hope you’ll join me mid-month into the future as we discuss aspects of role playing games that offer ideas for play and design you might not have considered. I look forward to recovering some of these ideas.
This is Faith in Play #1: Reintroduction, for December 2017.
There is a sense in which this is the continuation of the Faith and Gaming series. I began writing that in April, 2001, and continued doing so every month for four years—and then stopped. It seemed to end abruptly to me, but as I looked back at it the final installment was an excellent last article, and it has stood the test of time as such, as the series was published first independently by me and then in an expanded book by Blackwyrm. The end seemed abrupt to me because it was occasioned by a computer crash at my end that took all my notes for future series articles (it ended the Game Ideas Unlimited series at Gaming Outpost as well), and at the time I could not see how to get back up to speed. However, it has been more than a decade—thirteen years this past April—since the series ended, and I am often asked, and often consider for myself, whether I am going to continue it. Part of my answer has always been a question: what remains for me to write? Yet there is always more to write; I just have to identify it and tackle it.
And thus there is another sense in which this is a new series—thus the new name, Faith in Play. Part of that is because I noticed from the vantage of years of hindsight that much that I had been writing specifically about role playing games applied much more broadly to all of life, and especially to all of our leisure activities. So with that in mind, I am again putting the fingers to the keys and producing more thoughts on how we integrate faith with life, and particularly with those parts of life that in some sense seem the least religious, the times when we are playing. C. S. Lewis more than once cited a conversation from Pride and Prejudice in which Mr. Bingley was explaining a ball, that is, a festival dance, to Miss Bingley, who had never attended one. Miss Bingley asked, “Would not conversation be much more rational than dancing?”, and Mr. Bingley replies, “Much more rational, but much less like a ball.” And that is the challenge we often face in our leisure activities: that they are what they are, not the least bit rational, and yet not for that reason unimportant. In some ways, how we spend our leisure time, what we do when we are having fun or relaxing, may be the most important part of our Christianity, because it is the one thing over which we have the most control, the one part of our lives in which we most express who and what we are, and usually the time when we are interacting with others most naturally.
This is not the first time I have begun a new series of articles, and I generally begin with an introductory post. That post usually explains what it is I hope to write, and who I am that I feel qualified to write any such thing. Having explained the former, that leaves me with the awkward part of presenting my credentials. Read more
Over the past eighteen months, our diligent and dedicated webmaster Bryan has been republishing much of the material generated by and for the Christian Gamers Guild over the previous two decades in a new web format which is thought to be more accessible and is certainly better looking. That has included material from our e-zine The Way, the Truth, and the Dice, a couple of articles from elsewhere, some new material, and of course my own Faith and Gaming series. The upside of this is that many readers have discovered these articles for the first time. The downside, from my perspective, is that it became just a bit tougher for me to refer people to the articles—not individually, but as a collection. The old site had a single “Chaplain’s Corner” index that described and linked the entire series plus quite a few other articles on and off the site, and when people had questions about role playing or other hobby games I could (in addition to addressing the specific questions) refer them to that page for more information than they perhaps would have wanted. That page still has some valuable links, but Bryan agreed with me that now that the entire series has been relocated there ought to be a page that indexes it all at the new locations.
Several thoughts occurred to me as I undertook this. One was that there were a few articles I wrote which are excellent pieces not originally part of the Faith and Gaming series, and they should be included here. The second was that it would seem particularly arrogant of me to index my own contributions and ignore those excellent articles by everyone else, so I am going to attempt in essence to map the entire site—not in the old directory tree mapping style, but in something more useful. Read more
Therefore do not let what is for you a good thing be spoken of as evil.
These words of the Apostle Paul in Romans 14:16 are cause enough for us to tell the world that role playing games such as Dungeons & Dragons™ are a good thing which Christians can and perhaps should embrace, enjoy, and use to the glory of God, and to answer the calumnious misinformation spread by others. Yet the question is still asked why it matters if fantasy role playing games are wrongly accused of being evil. What harm is there in this mistake? Shouldn’t we be taking our stand on more important issues, and just letting the people who fear and condemn role playing games live with their error? It isn’t that important, is it? It won’t really make a difference in anyone’s life if a few pin-headed Christians are confused on a matter of a silly game and no one bothers to put things right, will it? Read more
I pondered what to write in this month’s column. Normally I’m not much for noting special events, but this column marks the conclusion of four years during which a new subject has been addressed each month, relating our faith to our gaming, exploring how we can make our game play specifically Christian. The hope is that such a milestone would be marked by one of the better entries in the series. It’s difficult to know, however, which articles will prove themselves particularly helpful until the responses start appearing, so there’s not much sense in focusing too much effort on that decision. Noting that this is about playing games that are peculiarly Christian, I realized I had a topic note that spoke of a specifically Christian story one might tell in a game.
Of course, it might be presumptive to begin by stating that it is a particularly Christian story. That would seem to be the first question. We have twice before examined stories that might be specifically Christian in their essence. In Deals it was the Faust story, the story of the man who sold his soul to the devil and didn’t really get what he wanted from it. In Goethe’s hands that was a very Christian story; the question is whether it would be so in the hands of the average role player. We also considered the Redemption story—not the Redemption Story, the story of Christ’s sacrifice for us, but the more personal story of the Prodigal, God’s effort to redeem us individually. It may be that this is a specifically Christian story; on the other hand, it appears in pop culture expressed by those who have no known commitment to our faith, so if it is a specifically Christian story it may have lost much of its impact in our post-Christian world. Read more
God of our fathers, Whose almighty hand
Leads forth in beauty all the starry band
Of shining worlds in splendor through the skies
Our grateful songs before Thy throne arise.
There’s an old joke about a comedians convention at which those in attendance didn’t bother to tell any jokes in their speeches, but rather referred to the jokes by number so everyone could think of the joke and laugh, and the speaker could get on with his speech. In much the same way, people who discuss philosophy and theology have given labels to a handful of ideas which attempt to prove that God exists. One of those, the one in which we are interested at the moment, is called the teleological argument for the existence of God. It’s an argument you’ve surely heard, but might not know by that name. Teleology is about design.
In the classic formation of the argument presented by William Paley in his Evidences of the Christian Religion, it is predicated that the existence of a watch demands the existence of a watchmaker. From this it is then argued that the universe has the marks of a designer, the act of an intelligence who or which put it all together. Hence there must be a god (not necessarily the Christian God, but at least a creative intelligence) responsible for the construction of the world. Read more
In The Wind in the Willows the main characters sing a Christmas carol which speaks of the animals as the first to “sing Noel”, to recognize Christ on Earth.
It is, of course, a fantasy; and perhaps more than that, it is a children’s fantasy. There is no reason to take it seriously. On the other hand, I’m sure I’ve encountered the idea of the animals around the manger worshipping Christ in other Christmas carols. Although I cannot think of an example at the moment, as December begins I suspect we will hear this idea somewhere in the days ahead. Is it all fantasy, or is there something here that we are missing? Read more