This is Faith in Play #50: Mercenaries, for January 2022.
Recently my attention was called to our article Faith and Gaming: Warriors, written about two decades ago, the first entry in our miniseries on Archetypes, looking at types of characters and how they reflect and challenge our faith. I remembered that I followed it with one on Knights, making the distinction between those who fight because someone has to do it and those who fight for glory and honor. Yet it occurred to me that there is another category, those who fight for the money, the Mercenaries.
Finding the negatives of the archetype is not at all difficult. The very word “mercenary” has a sting to it, referring to dubious actions done strictly for the money. There are no principles at stake here, no love for country or family, no honor, no zeal. This is someone willing to maim, kill, and destroy simply for the paycheck.
Of course, in our fiction when one of the heroes is a mercenary, usually he came to a cynical viewpoint honestly. He may have had honor or patriotism or some other laudable motivation when he first joined an army somewhere. Then he learned two things: first, that he was good at this, and second, that the values that had brought him here were questionable, perhaps not really shared by those who were giving the orders. He joined the army to protect the country, but found that he was really protecting the oil companies. He went to war to stop some wickedness somewhere but then realized that the wickedness was on both sides. He fought for his country, but when the fight ended his country abandoned him and all he knew was fighting. So now he fights for the paycheck, not caring for whom he fights or who will lose. In a sense he comes by his dishonesty honestly.
In this there are certainly lessons for us. We should be wary of losing our values simply because others do not share them. That the world is full of evil on all sides does not mean there is no good to be defended, nor that there is no one defending the good. Things are not perfect; neither are we. That does not excuse losing the good that we have.
Yet the question then becomes, what merit is there in this archetype?
I asked other gamers about this, and as they gave me their thoughts it struck me that the heart of playing a mercenary is the question of personal integrity. For example, the first point raised was honoring the contract, and we’ve probably all heard the line, “Whatever he’s paying you, I’ll double it.” If the mercenary is in it for the money, can he be bought off? Taking the bounty hunter as an example, will the fugitive be able to offer him enough money for him to abandon the quest? A deal is a deal, and the question is whether this mercenary’s word is his bond.
Similarly, there is the question of loyalty to the group. There have been mercenary companies in history, whose leaders hire them out to various factions in battles, sometimes changing for which side in a conflict they are fighting. If a member of the company disagreed with such a decision, he faced a moral decision: does he honor his contract to the company, or desert and face possible penalties of desertion? Companies often were like bands of brothers, and some people were conscripted as a way of settling debts but then remained in the company after the debt was paid because of the comradeship. Do you remain loyal to your companions even when the group is pursuing a goal with which you disagree?
It was pointed out that contracted mercenaries are always on call, that they respond at what we would call the drop of a hat. Readiness means that when the leader says it’s time to move, we are out the door. Similarly, it also means having the best equipment available to you. The good mercenary spends his spare money not on drink or women or parties but on weapons and combat gear, to be more ready for the next fight than his opponent. Arguably this is an excellent metaphor for the good Christian, as we are always ready to give a defense, preparing ourselves through prayer and study to do what God directs immediately and to be fully equipped to do it when the time comes.
So it seems that despite its reputation, the mercenary offers many opportunities to express aspects of our faith in the game, and to consider how that faith applies in our lives.
My thanks to the Christian Gamers Guild for their input on this and the next two articles in this series, and particularly to Dave Mattingly, Mike Garcia, John Stieber, Rodney Barnes, Bryan Ray, Jason Vasché, and Tim Brown.