Saturday, August 22, 2009

Yet Another Hot Button

I realize this is a little departure from my professed focus of Christian Fantasy Writing, but it's still a topic that bears discussion.

If you think that being a reader or writer of Christian fantasy fiction invited suspicious stares from the non-fantasy-reading world, try admitting to being both a Christian and a role playing game enthusiast. Role playing games (which shall be abbreviated RPGs from here) certainly have what the general populace regards as a "weird" following. I'll be the first to admit, gamers aren't ordinary. They spend Saturday afternoons huddled around a big table with a grid map, miniatures, stacks of rulebooks and resources, polygon dice and wild imaginations at work, rather than heading to the ballpark,mowing the lawn, or whatever other "normal" task their non-gaming counterparts may undertake on that same day. Or perhaps they take up residence in front of their computers for a few hours for a journey into another world.

Now, why is it that this past-time invites ridicule, or sometimes even venomous attacks from the non-role-playing community? Sadly, some of the vitriol is earned. People have made the news for neglecting their responsibilities in favor of escaping to their fictitious world of choice. Some gaming systems, and hence their players, glorify evil in any number of ways. Some people have forsaken real-world relationships for the construction of alter egos that exist only in a game. But are these poster children for "Why RPGs are evil" the majority? I would argue that those who choose to let a game take over their lives are few and far between.

But these are the gamers the outside world hears about in the media, reported on largely by people who have never seen the actual events of an RPG. The truth of the matter is, if you live a troubled "real" life, then you will abuse, exploit, over indulge in something, chances are. An obsession with sports, cars, wealth, or whatever else a mainstream person may latch onto simply doesn't garner as much attention, as these obsessions seem less "bizarre" to the general populace.

Now, to get even more focused on the problem, RPG's face another level of conflict in circles of "churched" people. There are people in every congregation who are quick to site "those kids who got so into RPG's that they committed suicide when their characters died" or "those sourcebooks with real occult spells in them." The first falls under the argument I made in the previous paragraph, the second falls to the discernment of the player.

I completely agree that if you want to call yourself both a Christian and a Gamer, you need to watch your step with which gaming system you use, and where you put your support and money. Systems that promote evil behavior among players, skirt too close to making flippant use of occult elements, or riddle their pages with art that profanes a Christian's sense of modesty should be avoided, in my opinion. But is the practice of essentially writing a collaborative story where multiple people have a hand in what the characters of that story will do, in and of itself, questionable?

I say no. If the character are working together toward an admirable goal, if the delineation between good an evil is discernible, if evil behavior has consequences, then I believe the RPG has a job to do. It can grow imaginations. It can offer fun social interaction between a group of good friends.

Like any pastime, when kept in perspective and enjoyed in moderation, the RPG needn't draw the ire of the Christian Community. Most people will never resonate with the past-time, and that's fine. We Christian RPGers just need to make sure that we live our lives beyond reproach, and always make sure we do not grieve God with anything we do in the name of fun. The RPG, like every other form of entertainment in this country, needs the Lord's people to hold their ground, and keep the tide of evil from washing over the entire activity.

2 comments:

  1. This is very interesting to me. I have known personally several people who were gamers (some still are). I have debated several people about the usefulness of playing RPG games (or video games in general). I generally took the stance of "It might not be wrong, but is it worthwhile?"

    In other words, what eternal benefits can come from playing video games? After reading your post, I am thinking over my views on the issue, relating your conception of clean RPGs with my hobby/ministry of writing Christian Fantasy. I am slowly seeing some light in what you say.

    Can you clarify what you are saying for me, possibly? Are you saying that it is possible to bring glory to God by playing good RPGs in the same way as writing Christian Fantasy can bring glory to God?

    With joy and peace in Christ,
    Jay Lauser aka Sir Emeth Mimetes

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  2. Hello Jay,
    Forgive my "lag time" in commenting in return on this...but here I am to try to piece together a coherent response.

    To clarify a tad, my realm of experience lies mainly with "tabletop" games, where people lug papers and books and all sit around eating snacks and role-playing in person. In that setting, I believe that there is a ministry of sorts. It may be a stretch, but hang with me.

    Tabletop RPG's, on the whole, are a time consuming hobby. To do them and "get anything done," the players spend a LOT of time together. Now, if the game master is running a clean game where noble, self sacrificing behavior earns rewards, then I believe that gives the players a fun place to spin tales together, as well as offers them the chance to explore the consequences of less-than-stellar behavior in a safe atmosphere. On the flip side, a game that encourages bad behavior because it's viewed as "fun?" For me, that's where the roleplaying systems fall down. For a game master to give rein to that sort of gaming indeed makes it not worthwhile.

    Whether the pasttime can glorify God, in my opinion, has a lot more to do with what the players do with the relationships they form through gaming. A game master can run a game that opens up discussions of the gospel in a way that is non-threatening to the unbeliever at the table. It takes a carefully designed plot that you're not likely to find in any pre-written module in a gaming store, though. And I also assert that such a discussion is only likely to bear fruit if the people involved have an established, personal relationship. The time investment spent at the gaming table can definitely foster that.

    Rpg's definitely bring together people from a wide spectrum of beliefs, and I view the game as a bit of mission field, I suppose. Much of it comes down to how we can engage the world, finding ways to reach them with the gospel without preaching to unlistening ears. The right game, wending its way through the right plot, under God-fearing leadership has the potential to do that. My prayer would be that those players who might have chosen to play all over the spectrum of good and evil would have hearts softened to the truth, and that within the pasttime, would grow to enjoy participating in sweeping plots that paint an allegorical picture of how we all must stand our ground against the tide of the evil of the world.

    Now, as for online RPG's...I'm biased a bit, but I don't think they serve to foster real, life-to-life relationships the way rolling dice and sharing a bowl of onion dip do. ;) But I would have to do more research to speak intelligently on that format. In my opinion, though, an online relationship is easy to discount. Click and close the window, and the naggin voice that has skirted to close to your heart is easily brushed aside.

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