03 September 2015

Toward a Theology of Games

I've come to understand and believe a few things about games and gaming. As Christians, there is the idea that all things are to be done unto the Lord. In a rather nice philosophical bend, some authors of a book on Christian pipe smoking (for real, y'all) treated the idea with a great deal of seriousness. It's not 'Christian' pipe smoking because it's better or all that different from non-Christians using tobacco pipes it's 'Christian' because it's done by Christians and thusly done in thanks to the Lord. Let's call this division between 'Christian Something' and 'Non-Christian Something' the Line.

Personally I find myself wrestling with the Line. If something is good, then God has made it and we can thank Him for it. Does it really need a label? Should there be a Line? It doesn't take much psychological digging for me to find that much of my resistance to the idea comes from my experiences in 'Christian' music. When I was younger I tried to listen exclusively to Christian music, or at least music made by Christians. It quickly became very legalistic and binding. Moreover, people of like mind began to draw very petty and silly and unloving lines between 'us' and 'them'. The Line was real.

The same Line operates in 'Christian gaming' circles. On the one hand it's good to commiserate with fellow Christian gamers. On the other hand, the Line gets us into some crazy fits of legalism and bondage. Apparently the question of sinfulness in, say, playing a Necromancer in an RPG genuinely grates at the consciences of certain folks.




Simultaneously there is something to be said for times in which we use music that is specifically worshipful, or enter into community that is about God. For the person of faith there probably will always be a line (little L) across various parts of our lives until we learn to de-compartmentalize our beliefs. For Christians specifically this is the real freedom of Christ, the erasure of lines.

I've come to feel that everything is worship. God is in most everything. Where the Spirit of the Lord is there is freedom. While, as I said, there are times that are specifically positioned to be for God and about God, we needn't have labels. I've also come to learn that I'm potentially wrong about everything and that my doctrine will change within the span of a year (or ten).

Things being what they are, God being in (most) all things, I find that I am always philosophizing and theologizing in my own petty way. If God is in everything and everything is in Him (every good and perfect gift and all that) then it will do for us to put some words on it, on the things we love. A full 'Christian Theology of Gaming' is probably not in order, but there are a few things I've made note of over the years that may be helpful to others.

Gaming is the conflux of Art (or Design), Community, and Rules (or Order)

Art and good design are, in my opinion, tandem with life. Choose a post-apocalyptic setting of your choice, or one of those novels where totalitarianism has taken art out of people's lives, and we get a tiny peep of such a life without them. Harnessing art and good design is the gateway for gaming. Games, by their nature, call for good design and good art and, best of all, it is often accessible art and pragmatic design. Unlike other areas of life, you immediately and invariably feel and know the quality of the design because without it you're lost.

Community is just that, togetherness. People of sane mind want other people, or at least need them if they don't want them. One of the core understandings of the Christian should be our oneness with Christ and each other (John 17:22). Christ erased all division between people and inverted the pyramidal power structure of the world. We are meant to be together. Gaming (Tabletop gaming, and some video gaming) is a simple, beautiful way to get community. You have to solve problems together, compete together, learn the stupid rules together. Dividing walls go down. Atheist and Theist, black and white, Republican and Democrat all join together for the greater good of escaping castles or battling monsters.

Order is central to human life. Humans, aside from any religious structure, will always look for order. It's how our brains work; we seek order even when there is none. The universe is a scary place but control, rules, order are all parts of who we are, in varying degrees, across time and space. Understanding and ordering things is the basis of science and we all do it in our own little ways. Games create a lovely microcosm of beautiful order and control, again to varying degrees, with their rules. For some, if not most people, these things bring security and safety and help free us up from the baggage of daily living to enjoy ourselves for a span of time.

All of these things, Art, Community, and Rules, are aspects of God. The Holy Trinity is a picture of perfect community. Art is subcreation is the initial identity of God (Maker). Order is a God who created seasons, life, death, orbit, gravity, cellular structure, the water cycle, and so on. Games give us the tiniest peek at these things wrapped in the non-threatening, peace-granting mode of play.

Or it's just a bunch of nerds throwing dice at each other.

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