Gen Con 2008 V: Gamer’s Delight – A Wrap Up

“In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.” –Matthew 5:16

From what I was told, that Matthew verse was Gary E. Gygax’s favorite Scripture and goes a long way to illuminating how Gary chose to live his life. Gary, co-creator of Dungeons and Dragons and founder of Gen Con, passed away earlier this year. His death sent reverberations throughout the gaming world and at Gen Con we were reminded of not only his legacy, but also of how many lives he touched. As D&D; sees its 4th edition this year, the equivalent of seeing a new pope, his loss was felt by the entire gaming community and community is what Gen Con is all about.

Gen Con is kind of like taking the typical high school hierarchy and inverting it. Suddenly the A/V squad, band members, and chess club as shoving jocks into lockers (literally, as Colts fans anxious to tour the newly opened Lukas Stadium had to give way to a parade of stormtroopers).

We all want a place where we can be included, where we can be who we are and not only accepted, but understood. For many folks, conventions like Gen Con are family reunions, where the blood of the family is found in their united passion for all things related to gaming.
The gaming community/culture encompasses writers, artists (like Steve and Becky Gilberts), gamers, collectors, role-players, filkers, and a whole host of like-minded individuals. The overwhelming spectacle of costumes, exhibits, games and activities takes four days to experience. Or at least do as much as possible. By Sunday, the body breaks down and almost everyone has “gamer’s cough”, that rasp from talking, laughing, partying, and gaming too much (while sleeping too little).

Of course there’s a hierarchy of nerds. Where would we be as a society and culture if we weren’t able to compartmentalize folks or better yet, rank them. Of course I consider myself in the upper echelon of nerdom (he who makes the list is automatically at the top). I’m good for a little Dungeons and Dragons, maybe a few games of Magic: the Gathering. I like my share of sci-fi shows. Star Trek (Deep Space Nine was the best. This isn’t even a discussion.) Babylon 5. Farscape. Dr. Who (Tom Baker and Christopher Eccleston – this isn’t even a discussion). So I’ll leave you with a few last Gen Con thoughts:

-Lucien Soulban was robbed at the ENnies!
-Seriously, spandex wasn’t made for everyone.
-Black nerds unite! (Cause we represented at Gen Con)
(And I may have one more follow up piece to the Gen Con Experience. I had to earn my free press pass.)

Gen Con 2008 IV: Christian Gamers Part II

Continued from Part I: The Sinister Minister and the Geek Preacher
Is this another way people can learn to minister to others through gaming?

Derek: We, as Christians, need to be social. We need to get outside the four walls of the church and be in our communities in every way. If you love to game, get out there and game. If you love to play golf, get out there and play golf with everybody else. Don’t segregate yourselves. We have ghettoized ourselves as a community and we need to break down the four walls, get out there, and be Christians and love people. And let them know we are Christians. Don’t just be a nice person. Let them know that “I’m a Christian and I’m going to love and care for you.” Do it in our games and do it in our every day lives.

Dave: Two stories about that. Seven years ago, I was living in an apartment and got a new neighbor. I was at work, my wife was helping them unpack, and said “oh, Dungeons and Dragons books. My husband used to play that kind of stuff. Fantasy’s not my genre and D&D; is not what I usually play, but I thought, “hey, it’s a way to get to know the neighbor.” And what was nifty was that on a Tuesday night, around 8:30, put the kids to bed, knock on the door and say “hey, how about we play for an hour.” That was really convenient. We got to know them really well and within five months, he started coming to church with me and he and his wife were baptized. He asked me if I would be the one who would baptize him and I was really honored.

But, a sadder story, is that a year and a half ago, a friend of a friend, who had just joined my game, died in his sleep. He was just 25 and it was real obvious that he wasn’t leading a godly life. But I was never able to bring up the topic of God to him. And the opportunity was closed. I decided from that point that anyone at my gaming table was going to know where I stand and if there’s any way that I can help, I will do that.

How can people better develop a sense of discernment when it comes to gaming?

Dave: I suppose the same way you develop discernment in any category: you learn by making mistakes. The only way to get good is to start off being bad.

Andy: I think prayer is key in everything that we do. When we’re trusting God to lead us, I think God will do that for us. And I think God will give us discernment even if we’re not emotionally or spiritually mature enough to have that discernment. If we’re trusting in Him, I think He comes through for us.

Derek: I’d add to it get a good education. We have so many people who are woefully ignorant about the origins of things. I am an uber-geek. At nine years old, I read Bullfinch’s mythology. So I understood when I read the D&D; books that this was based off Greek mythology. Many kids don’t have a good, classical education nor do their parents. Being married to a teacher makes me say this as well. So get a good education, have prayer, and the Bible better be central to a good Christian’s life in that. There’s no pat answer, you just have to work at it.

In light of all of the “what would Jesus do?” slogan, would Jesus game?

Dave: I think he certainly would. He sat and ate with “sinners”. He met the woman at the well and spoke with her. There’s a book called God Loves the Freaks (it’s the book centered on the site FansForChrist.org). In it, he takes the approach that Jesus approached everyone differently. He walks up to Zaccheus and says “hey, I’m going to have dinner at your house tonight.” And he talked to the wise young ruler, who was not all that wise, and said “I want you to give away all that you have and then come follow me.” He didn’t have any pat answers or pat approaches. He used people where they are as a way to get into their lives. And if Jesus was trying to minister to a gaming community, he would sit down and he would start gaming.

Derek: I would say that there’s not an easy answer to that question. I’m sure Jesus played games as a child. I’m sure He played games and used his imagination. A great book that I read was Christ the Lord by Anne Rice. Of course it was a fictionalized account of Jesus’ childhood but I think she does a great job of talking about some things.

But I also view Jesus’ life as His vocation. Jesus came for a purpose. So while He is fully man and fully God, I think sometimes we try to bring Jesus down to our level and that negates His vocation. What would Jesus do? Jesus came to seek and to save that which is lost. Jesus came to die on a cross to redeem an entire world that we might be resurrected and have new bodies and have a new life for all eternity with Him. When we ask ourselves those questions, we miss the central part of who Jesus is and that is the Redeemer of the world.

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Gen Con 2008 IV: Christian Gamers Part I

“We may throw the dice, but the Lord determines how they fall.” –Proverbs 16:33

The Church has a lot in common with gaming, from arguing over which edition (version) to use to arguing over the minutiae of gaming rules. So on a related note, the Christian Gamers Guild, founded in 1996, is an online community of Christians who play games of all kinds. They believe that “Christians have too long allowed non-Christians to dominate the imagined world of role-playing, which was originally inspired by Christian men like J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis (not to mention Dante, John Bunyan, and John Milton). And that it’s time to be a creative force in role-playing and other forms of faming for the true author of all creativity and imagination, Almighty God Himself.”

The Christian Gamers Guild not only had a panel on what it means to be a Christian gamer, but also held a standing room only traditional church service: including hymns, a sermon, and communion. Reverend Derek White preached out of Galatians 2:14-16 about the branding of the church, that what should define it should be to remember the poor, to be inclusive, and to love.
I had the chance to sit down with Rev. White, a United Methodist Church pastor; Dave Mattingly, the president of BlackWyrm Games, the exectutive director of the Games Publishers Association, and vice president of the Christian Gamers Guild; and Andy Mathews, the art director for Hero Games (Derek and Andy pictured).
How did the Christian Gamers Guild get started?

Dave: It’s primarily a mailing list, people gathering together to talk about how their games affect their faith and how their faith affects their games. Various issues of how do you deal with evil in a role-playing game or magic; where do you draw the line between what is good/right, and what is a hobby.

At your panel, you discussed the idea of honoring God in gaming. What sort of issues are involved in that?

Derek: At its plainest, we should be honoring God in all aspects of our life. As long as you honor Him in everything that you do, you’ll honor Him in your gaming.

Dave: And this is not a hard line in the sand of “you have to do this” and “you have to do that”. If you feel uncomfortable doing a certain thing in a game then don’t do it. We went through the “weaker brother argument” which is where some people feel okay eating meat that was sacrificed to a pagan idol and some did not. So when you’re with your friends who don’t feel comfortable, then don’t eat that pagan-sacrificed meat around them. But when you’re by yourself or with other who feel like you do, then it’s fine. You can go ahead and, in a super hero game, send your heroes to hell and have them make a deal with a demon to get back home. As long as those around the table are all okay with it, then it works.

Why do you think the church, as a whole, has been hesitant to embrace gaming?

Dave: A lot of it came from the suicide of Irving Pulling in the early 80s. A woman had lost track of her son for two years and blamed gaming. It’s a long story, but to us it looks like a case of bad parenting rather than some books. He struggled with manic depression and had been off his medication, yet it wasn’t her fault, it was these “weird” games that must’ve done it.

Derek: To add to that, I think today more and more churches are becoming open to gamers. Not as much as we’d like, but for the church to survive, and to be true to the biblical text, it must be inclusive.
And to many more than gamers. And I think that’s the easiest way. “So you’re going to reject someone because you don’t like gaming?” My response has been “good, because I don’t like golfers.”

Andy: In a lot of ways, gaming suffered from some bad design decisions and bad press. Some of the early D&D; books—Fiends Folio, Dieties and Demi-gods—it would be easy for someone not ready for it to see that and think the entire game was slanted against Christianity. The fact that you can play evil characters rubbed my mother the wrong way.

Derek: Even though Gary (Gygax) said in numerous Dragon articles that you shouldn’t play evil characters. He put it there so that there could be a balance of the alignments so that the DM would have the evil characters. But Gary, the game’s creator, steadfastly referred to [D&D;] as heroic fantasy and that’s what he always wanted to see people do. Now don’t get me wrong, he didn’t mind seeing them take a bad path or a dark turn, but it would be like falling away and coming back.

How would you respond to people saying that magic is glorified through role-playing?

Derek: The first thing I’d do is laugh to be honest. I know people that I’ve talked to, that are friends, who are Wiccans or pagans and they laugh at the concept because their own view of these spells are so completely different. A lot of it was just Gary’s sense of humor. To say that it glorifies magic, I’d say “okay, then what about you guys that like to play Risk or Axis and Allies? Are you glorifying war? Or Monopoly … so you glorify greed?” It’s nothing more than a game. You glorify what you want to glorify.

Dave: One of the things we can do is show that evil does have consequences. The game master can say “okay, if you really want to torture your prisoner for information when there’s no real need to … you can do that but it will come back on you.”

Do you think there is a moral stumbling block to playing evil characters?

Dave: As a game master, we have to role play evil characters: we are all of the antagonists in one person. While the player characters play heroes. Sometimes we have to come up with sick, twisted characters and play them out in order to make our heroes shine more brightly.

Derek: I’d have to agree with that. But I’ve seen some people work through some issues playing evil characters. As I’ve run games, and I’ve had people want to play an evil character, sure I’ll let them do that because I like to tell a story and I want my game worlds to be consistent. They face the consequences of their actions. But I’ve also seen these people, some Christian, some adamantly not, want to turn their character around and want to make their character better. And sometimes I see people just go down this dark, dark path and I realized—as a friend, not as a minis
ter, but as a friend—that they were dealing with some issues in their own lives and they were trying to find an outlet in the game. The thing is, as a mature friend, what do I do? Do I condemn them or say “wait a second”? to me, it’s like any other game. When I was playing baseball with my brothers and I’d see my brother just pounding the ball it was just coming off, I knew my brother was angry about something. There’s always something going on.

That’s the good thing about the social aspect of a game, is that in the many games I’ve just played in as a player, other folks will come up to me and say “you know, his girlfriend just broke up with him.” It lets me see them as a real human being.

(to be continued)

Jesus Christ is Not a Weapon … Unless it’s a +4 Christ of Ogre-Slaying

And now, a random gmail chat rant brought to you courtesy of John C. Hay:

John: So – is there a parallel between the various editions of D&D; and the schisms in the church? I mean you’ve got 1st edition, it’s esoteric and hard to follow, but it points the way. It’s tied to some older stuff, mostly miniatures wargaming, but tries to give it more meaning.

me: i’ll just give you fair warning now. i’m probably going to blog this.

John: Analog Gamer started the metaphor on accident. I think he fails to realize how appropriate it is. 2nd edition comes along – it says ‘here – this is the truth of it. what we’ve been trying to say all along but it kinda got lost somehow, what with you Monty-Haul gamers. Behold the love of THAC0, your source of solutions. well at least in this one situation. everything else is blind luck really. 3.0 and 3.5 come along, and it’s like the Lutheran schism. Gamers nailed a list of issues to the door of 2.0 and said look is this fun? or is it Creatures and Calculus. 3.5 refines the original 3.0, but schisms off again, streamlining things. Making it more approachable to the masses. And now we have 4.0 coming. this grand fusion with the modern world – computer integration (and the recognition that laptops are part of the gaming table now), simplified, one-system-fits-all rules, and the sort of simplicity that can bring in people off the streets. I can’t decide if I should be horrified at the parallel or burned at the stake for making it.

me: would this be the postmodern edition?

John: either post-modern, or possibly Prosperity Theology. grins Maybe it’s the evangelical movement. it’s finally easy enough that you can bring anyone in to play.

me: bringing the game to the masses

John: but 2.0 is definitely Catholicism. weighty, rule heavy, cumbersome and presided over by Pope Gygax. may he rest in peace.

me: one of us is going to hell.

John: at the very least. of course even playing D&D; makes my soul forfeit. then again – look at how strictly proponents of a particular system cling to it – there are still people who only play 2nd edition … and there’s an army of 3.5 events scheduled for GenCon.

me: and, ironically, i got tired of the constant in-fighting of D&D; and switched to palladium. which got back to the essence of what D&D; was about. as part of my spiritual/D&D; journey, i spent some time with the weird west stuff. which gave me an excuse to do lucien’s module.

John: Nice. I have all his stuff for Mutants and Masterminds. But I’m a fan of Superheroes games.

me: lucien. errant prophet of the D&D; church

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