Role playing games take us to other worlds, other times and places, some which were, some which might have been, some which yet might be, and even some that could not, as far as we understand, be. Because of this, they also challenge us at times to wrestle with answers to questions of morality that are not our own. In an age in which it was common, was polygamy wrong in the eyes of God? Would it be wrong for a human to eat an intelligent creature who is not human, given that it was as intelligent as a human but truly not related in any way that would make that cannibalism? Issues are raised in our games at times that don’t come up in our lives, because we don’t live in those worlds; yet we manage to find answers to these questions, and so come better to understand our own moral values.
Slavery is one of the more difficult and more common issues that arise in our games. Read more
We’ve heard all the pithy sayings, aphorisms, witticisms, and proverbs that have been expounded on this subject. You can’t win them all. If anything can go wrong, it will. You can’t win for losing. There’s no sense worrying about it, nothing’s going to turn out all right. These are bits of the wisdom of this age. They have a certain appeal in them, reaching to that side of us that is tired of the struggle. As someone has written, the three rules of the game of life are one, you can’t win; two, you can’t even break even; and three, you can’t get out of the game.
Yet I, at least, hesitate at these. It’s not that they don’t strike a chord somewhere within me. It’s that I think the pessimism they reflect is not Read more
I received a letter asking me about a game with an odd spelling. The spelling, Quigi, was not correct, and it took a second letter before I understood that my correspondent was talking about Ouija™, the Parker Bros. diversion which is sold with board games, which is alleged to facilitate contact with the spirit world. Is this, at least, an evil game?
My correspondent gave me an out; he said he would understand if I declared it was not a game. It’s tempting to do so anyway, as although I don’t have an articulable definition of “game” which covers everything I would include and nothing I would exclude, it is difficult for me to figure out in what sense a Ouija board is a game. However, it’s also begging the question. Is this popular diversion inherently and irredeemably evil? I’ve contended elsewhere that the devil doesn’t own anything. Could this be an exception? Read more
Some time back, someone asked me whether particular kinds of stories were inherently Christian stories, and I didn’t have an answer at that moment. I have since suggested, notably in considering Faust, Sorcerer, and Deals with the devil, that some stories might indeed be at least strongly if not inherently Christian. However, the questioner was not considering the Faustian story when he raised the question; he was thinking of the Prodigal story, the story of redemption, as that which is an inherently Christian story.
It’s a compelling notion. After all, one of the names often given to the central message of our faith is The Redemption Story, and thus we have good reason to ask whether all redemption stories necessarily tell of the truth in the gospel to some degree. Playing a character who fell and was then redeemed seems like it would fit perfectly into this mold, a parable of Christianity in a fictional setting.
Of course, the gospel is in a sense not that sort of redemption story; Read more
Three months ago, in Deals, I suggested something that flies in the face of much of the common wisdom about what is acceptable in gaming: I suggested that a game that focused on making deals with the devil was a very Christian game, which taught a very important Christian lesson to its players. Some have probably wondered since then whether I think there is anything at all that goes too far in role playing.
That would be at least a bit unfair. I have often said that there are things that go too far for me, and things of which others should at least be wary. Admittedly, I’ve never (that I recall) stated that any particular concept was inappropriate per se for all players, but I have said there were things that concern me, and two months back when we addressed Sex I suggested a few that were inappropriate for me (although not for everyone).
This month, there is something that concerns me. It is appropriate that it should fall in October, the month in which this column has traditionally addressed issues related to magic, because it is a matter concerning magic that has come to my attention of which I write. Read more
God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him, male and female He created them… The Lord God fashioned into a woman the rib which He had taken from the man, and brought her to the man.
Genesis 1:27; 2:22, UNASB
Last month we were examining the inclusion of sex in our games, but in doing so we touched on something that goes far beyond sex: we briefly considered the problem of gender. We mentioned in passing that our fiction sometimes includes races which are not characterized by the same genders, let alone the same gender roles, as ours. To recall a few examples, the aliens of Enemy Mine combine masculine and feminine within themselves such that they have their own children on their own, each parent giving birth to children rather spontaneously without interaction with any other of its kind. The amoeba-like Dralasites of the game Star Frontiers switch genders during their ordinary life cycle, either producing spores or receiving spores depending on hormonal changes within themselves such that when in feminine form they might at any moment sprout a growth that would become the child of an unknown father. In the television version of Alien Nation, three genders are required to produce offspring: a male, a female, and an enabler to prepare the female for the male. These are just fictional notions, not realities, yet we know that there are microscopic organisms which do not have gender identities as we understand them, so the concepts are not entirely inconceivable.
There is an ancient interpretive tradition of the Genesis passage quoted above which suggests that Man was initially created without gender distinction. It was thought that initially he had male and female within one being. This, according to the rabbis (and certainly it would seem so in other passages), was Read more
In the earliest articles of this series, we were looking at what might be considered the issues in role playing, those areas in which Christians might have concerns. We started with some fairly simple ones—the implications of various types of mechanics, the matter of creating settings which were different in any way from the world God created, the inclusion of bad things in our worlds. Then we started to get sidetracked, perhaps, into answering the many objections raised against role playing games, beginning with the weaker brother argument. We took many sidetracks and then started to talk about how we might actually involve our faith in our games in specific and intentional ways with the idea of playing the good guys, the first of eight generally on that subject, which included things as diverse as playing the bad guys and using Christian imagery. Then, abruptly, the focus changed when we talked about Pagans and whether modern Christian treatment of them was at all appropriate or Biblical. This opened up a new direction for the column—or perhaps merely returned us to the old direction, back to those matters which might be issues to us as gamers, such as battle and war and making deals with the devil. Read more
Thanks to Goethe, there is a very compelling story of a man named Faust, a man who made a deal with the devil. The story has become something of a cultural idea, such that the word “Faustian” is used to describe any effort to achieve something at too great a cost. Faust, according to the story, sold his soul to the devil.
I have not read the book, I am embarrassed to admit; there are many great books I have not had the opportunity to acquire or the time to peruse. I have been exposed to the core of the story through educational television, so I am aware that the deal did not work out so well for Faust. He discovered that everything the devil gave him was a cheat, and everything he had that might have been good his supposed benefactor managed to ruin. Yet in the end he found redemption. What interests me more is the idea that someone might make such a deal with the devil and not have the kinds of complaints Goethe suggested for his protagonist. There are always stories of people who sold their soul to the devil for what they really wanted; those deals fascinated me. Read more
Last month raised the matter of Battle. It took us to very personal matters of whether through our role playing we learn to view fighting as a preferred solution or a necessary evil. Yet it also introduced another question, the question of how to tell whether war is the right thing to do. That question is difficult to answer in reality; it is far more difficult to answer in fiction. Read more
I was recently re-reading my article Faith and Gaming: Christian Games (I often re-read my old material, and sometimes it gets me thinking afresh about issues previously addressed, so I write new ones like this one, usually posted over at the mark Joseph “young” web log). I think every time I read that article, which explains why I am not a big fan of “Christian” games, I remember something I created decades back in college which I called a “game” and which I “played” with a number of my more intelligent and/or educated Christian friends. I always think of writing it up to pass on to you, and I always nix the idea because some would say it’s not a game—but I think we had something like fun, certainly enjoyment, from playing it, or whatever we were doing. So here it is. I never named it. I suppose you could call it M. J. Young’s Bible Verse Game, if you need a name for it, or just The Bible Verse Game if you think it arrogant of me to put my name in it. (I only put my name in it because I’m sure there are scores, if not thousands, of other Bible verse games out there, but this is the only one I’ve played.)
As I noted in that article, I am not generally a fan of Christian games, for several reasons. I think this game, though, avoids most of the problems I’ve had with such games, and is particularly valuable for Christians to play with each other. Read more