“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.