I was in a conversation recently about how Game Masters manage factions—how do you track their activities and relationships? I use a technique of mind mapping. If you’ve never heard this term, a mind map is a drawing that abstracts the relationships between people, organizations, nations, etc into a spatial diagram. It can look similar to a flowchart, but it doesn’t necessarily progress to an end point. Here’s a sample of a map I used for planning a long-ago Unknown Armies campaign:
This is RPG-ology #21: Living In the Past, for August 2019.
All four of my grandparents have died. I have also lost my father, and both of my wife’s parents are gone. I had a long list of great uncles and great aunts at one time, but it has dwindled to nothing, and of my uncles and aunts I might still have one.
The five and dime at which I bought candy on my way home from school is gone, and I am one and a half hundred miles from where it once stood. There’s a long list of good friends with whom I have lost touch—Jay Fedigan, Artie Robins, Jeff Zurheide, Jack Haberer, not to mention Peggy Lisbona, Nancy Codispoti, Ann Hughes, and the girl to whom my mind often returns, on whom I had an impossible crush for two or three years beginning in second grade, Christie Newcomb. At least two of those people, all within a couple years of my age, are dead; and although I have spoken or corresponded with some within the past decade, I cannot say for certain that any one of them is still alive today.
No one will be surprised that the past is disappearing into—well, into the past. That’s expected. Young people will wonder why I even mention it. You’re living in the past, old man. Get over it. Life goes forward, and will leave you behind if you don’t keep up. I know this; I can sigh and let life leave me behind, or I can keep moving forward.
But I’ve got news for you.
You’re living in the past, too.
That talk you had with your girlfriend yesterday—that’s now in the past. Get over it; the moment has come and gone. Whatever you should have said, well, you didn’t, and you’re not going to be able to go back and fix that.
You got beat up last month. It’s in the past. It’s over, and fading faster and faster into oblivion. Ten years and you might not remember his name. Twenty years and you won’t remember that it happened. Yes it hurt, and it hurts, and you’re angry and upset about it. But it’s the past now. You can’t hold on to it; you might as well let it go.
That A+ you got on your math test (or was it the “letter” you received in varsity football, or the badge you earned in boy scouts, or the award you won for your picture or article)—well, that’s also in the past. Time is leaving it behind. You will eventually forget it. And everyone else will forget it long before you do.
Was breakfast good today? It’s gone already.
You are living in the past. Everything you know, everything you remember, everything you’ve ever said—even the thoughts you had when you started reading this article–everything is in the past. You can’t have it back.
Don’t feel bad about it. It’s the same for everyone else. In fact, it’s the same for the world, quite apart from the people. I’m one of those who are often quoting C. S. Lewis. There are enough of us out here that there ought to be a DSM-IV classification for us. So you’ll probably see his name in a lot of these articles if you stay with the series. This time he comes to mind because of a very simple observation he mentioned more than once: most people are already dead.
That is, of all the people ever born, only a very few are alive now.
This moment in time is interesting; if you could know everything that is happening at this instant, it would overwhelm you—even if your knowledge was limited to your own town, there would be more happening this instant than you could grasp, enough ideas for a lifetime of stories. Yet when compared with the past, this instant is no time at all, a desert devoid of interest. In trying to get readers to think and create, I often focus on now. Last month’s article, entitled Pay Attention, might at first glance have seemed to have been about the past—but it was actually about capturing the present, living in the moment and learning from what is around you immediately. Writing it down served to preserve it, certainly; but it also served to force you to notice it. The present is always a source of ideas. But the ideas you can get from the present are dwarfed by those you can get from the past.
Assuming you can find them.
My father was a ramblin’ wreck from Georgia Tech, and a helluvan engineer. He drove a reconditioned Model-T to school, poured fifty-weight oil into the crankcase to keep the worn bearings running smoothly, and had to crank-start it by hand on cold mornings. He played fourth sax (tenor) in a dance band to help pay for college, and went to work in an electronics lab for Western Union. When he was head of the lab, he proposed “Young’s Law.” Accidents occasionally happened in the lab, usually because someone didn’t have the right piece of equipment and so tried to use the wrong piece of equipment on the theory that it really wasn’t different; the results of such experiments were always strange and confusing. My father’s law reads, “Things that are not the same are different.” He missed World War II, having been enlisted just as the war ended. All this, and more, was before my birth.
He later took an interest in computers, and in the late 60’s spent a lot of time nagging the few computer tinkerers at the company to explain things to him. This led to a few courses, more investigation, and ultimately to his position as head of engineering for Western Union Data Services Corporation, where he designed systems before there were PC’s. He holds a couple of patents in focusing microwaves, but he says they really aren’t worth much because modern microwave applications rely on reflection rather than refraction.
He met my mother, a New York girl, after he started work in New York; he courted her for a while. She tried to pair him off with a girl from Virginia, thinking that two slow-moving southerners would be a good match, but he wouldn’t hear of it.
As for her, she got her bachelor’s degree from City College in New York at nineteen. She had skipped a lot of half-grades in the New York City schools, and excelled in math. For quite a few years she worked as an efficiency expert for, I think, General Electric. If you visited her at home, you would see the efficiency expert side of her still maintaining everything in order even now in her nineties as her grandchildren are all adults and she has a couple of great-grandchildren. She left work to raise a family, and when the youngest was old enough she returned to teaching, mostly math, as a substitute primarily although she got roped into substituting full time for several years at one point. She has always looked young; the day after her college graduation, an immigrant bought her a lollipop.
When they were courting, they would ride the train together from Freeport Long Island to The City; they sat with an older man who had known my mother for some time. He did not think that the quiet, slow, polite Mississippi gentleman that was my father was at all right for my fast-paced New York mother. But one day, as my mother was yacking a mile a minute about nothing of any importance and the other two sat in silence listening, she abruptly stopped, and said, “Oh dear, I forgot what I was going to say.”
Quietly my father replied, “Don’t worry, dear. You’ll think of something else.”
Their companion roared with laughter, and accepted my father as the right man for my mother from then on.
So, what did your parents do? Have you ever asked? Did they tell you? Their lives are fading from their memories even as you read this; and they were full of stories. Life itself is an adventure. I’d think you’d want to know about them merely because they’re your parents, and thus in some sense your story. But if not, consider it a source of game, world, and character ideas.
This article has been slightly updated from Game Ideas Unlimited: Living In the Past, published at Gaming Outpost in the summer of 2001.
This is Faith in Play #4: Bad Friends, for March 2018.
This started with a bit of silliness that over the course of a few hours became considerably more serious.
It was a morning drive, and on the radio someone was talking about how Jesus had saved her marriage. She said that now her husband was her “best friend”.
I know it was sincere, and it was undoubtedly truly meaningful, but I’m afraid it is so cliché that I immediately noted to my wife, “You know, no one ever talks about their worst friend.” We laughed. I said that there must be a way I can use that for something, and we pondered how you would identify your “worst friend.”
A few hours later I shared the joke with my youngest son, who did not laugh but instead said that he knew exactly who his worst friend was.
There is something of an attitude in gaming groups that says we must be friends because we’re all gamers who get together to play. It’s like thinking that you must be friends with everyone who goes to the same bowling matches or bridge games or cocktail parties. I have talked about that before, in Faith and Gaming: Friends. I have also written in mark Joseph “young” web log post #93: What is a Friend? about two distinct concepts of friendship. I hold the word to a rather high bar. I think most of the people who think themselves my friends probably are only acquaintances who like playing games with me. That’s fine; it’s good to have acquaintances of that sort. You could even call them friends.
My son’s choice for “worst friend,” though, was enlightening. He named the high school friend who, after serving in Afghanistan, became a homeless drug addict. This boy seems impossible to help—give him shelter and food, and he takes advantage of the situation to steal from the house to buy drugs.
We have a short list of people who are not allowed inside the house. They are welcome to sit on the front deck and talk with people, and we will help them as we can, but the doorway is the boundary. I always explain it to them very simply: People who live here believe that you have stolen from them and that you will do so again. As long as you are never inside the house, no one can accuse you of having stolen anything from inside the house. Thus the rule protects you from being accused. It happens that it also protects them from the temptation of stealing from us. This friend is on that list.
As I considered this, I realized that there have been many people whom we treated as friends over the years who abused that status. More than once we had to discontinue having gaming groups play in our home because someone, never identified, stole things from us, and rebuilding a gaming group after something like that is not simple. If the people we entertain in our home are our friends, we have had some bad friends. What do we do about these people?
Love your enemies, and pray for those who mistreat you, so that you may become sons of your Father in heaven. For He makes His sun shine on the good and the bad, and gives the blessing of rain to the righteous and the unrighteous.
Let me be clear. I do not mean that you necessarily have to give your bad friends free rein of your home; I do not mean that you do not report theft or other crimes to the police. Sometimes the most loving thing you can do is put someone in jail—if indeed you are doing it as the best way to help them. We have had to do that at least once. What is expected, though, is that we continue to love the bad friends, even the worst friend, and to look for the best way to help them. We were never promised that showing love wouldn’t result in pain or injury to ourselves. We were promised that God would recognize His own image in us when we did so.
There is a footnote to this story. This was written about a year before it was published here, and in the intervening months my wife and I were both hospitalized and released with some severe restrictions on our activities. During this time that “worst friend” appeared, clean and sober, and stayed with us for an extended time, cooking and cleaning and otherwise making life possible for us while we were recuperating. No one is irredeemable, and a little love and grace and kindness can go a long way.
So show love to your friends, even the worst friend.
This is RPG-ology #2: Socializing, for January 2018.
Gamers have, or at least not so long ago had, an image of being socially inept. Many are thought to suffer from high-functioning autistism or Aspergerger Syndrome, to be highly intelligent but have difficulty identifying and expressing feelings, entering into relationships with other people. The “unwashed masses” once referred to immigrants coming to Ellis Island; now it perhaps describes GenCon.
I have written a fair amount about role playing game theory. I participated in discussions with (Sorcerer author) Ron Edwards, (Dogs in the Vineyard author) Vincent Baker, and others, in the late 1990s at Gaming Outpost and later at The Forge, as what began as “GNS” (for “Gamism, Narrativism, Simulationism”) expanded into something Ron calls “The Big Model”. My own explanations of that are still at Places to Go, People to Be as Theory 101: System and the Shared Imagined Space, The Impossible Thing Before Breakfast, and Creative Agenda (also appearing in translation on the French version of the site and in print in Jeu de Rôle Magazine), and I would like to think I contributed at least a little to the development of that theory.
What The Big Model had at its root was the recognition of something that is in one sense completely obvious and in another completely overlooked: game playing is a social activity. It is a way in which people interact with each other within a structured setting, and thus we can reasonably say that it is a structured social situation.
This intrigues me, because I have recognized about myself that I do not do well in unstructured social situations—parties in which people mingle and eat and drink and chat, for example, or that social hour that’s really only about fifteen minutes after the church service. I don’t know what to do, how to interact, in a sense what my role is. I do well in classrooms, whether teacher or student, because I understand the roles and play my part. I similarly do well in worship services, in discussion groups—any situation in which the roles are generally structured and everyone knows what to do, how to act and interact.
What is more interesting, though, is that a role playing game is itself a structured social situation, that is, a gathering of people interacting with each other following an agreed set of rules for that interaction, which itself is about creating a social situation—the interactions of the imagined characters within the game. Thus people like us, people who have trouble relating to other people in unstructured social situations, enter into a structured social situation in which we are cooperating in the creation of a story about people interacting with each other in an unstructured social situation. We are, in a sense, teaching ourselves how it’s done by simulating such situations and relationships and interactions between imaginary characters. We learn how to socialize by creating characters who do that, and we do so by social interactions.
Thus as we come away from our games into the real world, we bring with us this picture of how people converse, how they relate, how they interact, from having attempted to reproduce that kind of conversation, relationship, interaction, in microcosm. We then begin to become more like our characters, more able to be like other people, to socialize in unstructured situations.
I still have trouble with multi-party conversations—I never know when it’s my turn to speak, whether to hold on to that thing I was going to say and say it later when it’s no longer apropos, or drop it and hope that whenever it’s my turn to talk I will know it and have something to say. I never have that problem during the game, because the rules, the fundamentally social rules, provide the structure that informs those questions. But gradually what I have learned about character interactions has worked its way back into my life, into human social interactions.
We the geeks of the world have created our own therapy, a social activity that teaches social interaction.
Who would have guessed.
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
As I write this, my wife is off rescuing one of her friends. This particular friend has lately found herself stranded in various places far from home; we aren’t quite clear how she gets to these places, but on more than one occasion of late, my wife has given her money to get busses or buy gas or otherwise arrange to get back to her currently somewhat distant home at the shore. Tonight she is stranded in a bar, about half an hour from us and an hour or so from her home if she had a car, which she does not. She expected to meet someone there who did not show; with such money as we can’t really spare but have in hand, my wife has headed out to rescue her, uncertain whether she is going to drive the added distance to the shore, put her on an expensive bus, or bring her back here. 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
In recent months we have drifted away from the central purpose of this series—that of examining how our faith and our gaming hobby may be integrated—into responding to the criticisms of other Christians. This is in some ways a necessary part of what we are doing. If well-intentioned Christians think that our hobby is wrong, we need to examine what they say and what we do very closely. But to some degree, the critics have derailed us, pulling us away from the basics of our discussion. It’s time to get back on track. To do this, we’re going to travel back to the fundamentals, where we began.
And the seed whose fruit is righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.
—James 3:18, UNASB Read more
The following article was originally published in May 2001 on the Christian Gamers Guild’s website. The entire series remains available at its original URL.
As I pondered where to begin our discussion of faith and gaming, I wanted to address the most fundamental aspect of our games; but I then had to debate with myself exactly what part of a role playing game is that most fundamental aspect. I decided immediately that it wasn’t the worlds in which we played; as basic as these are to the make-believe play of our youth, these are rather a layer on top of the basics. Characters, similarly, are part of the game, but an added part. Did that mean that mechanics were the fundamental aspect? After all, all games have mechanics; role playing games are most defined as games because of mechanics. And so I was preparing to write a page about Christianity and game mechanics.
And then it occurred to me that I was looking in the wrong place. Read more