Thursday, October 04, 2007

Gamemastering and Theological Language

Some of you know that I'm an avid fan of Star Wars and play the Star Wars Role-Playing Game.

Well, I should be more precise. I don't play the Star Wars RPG. I game master it. As GM, I'm responsible for narrating the world, describing the actions of non-player characters, making sure the game runs according to the rules. For instance, my four wonderful players' characters enter a cantina. I'm responsible to tell them what's special about the cantina, what kind of music is playing, how the tables are arranged, and what kinds of aliens are lined up at the bar. I also have to make those aliens come alive to the players. One of them has been nursing a grudge, for instance, and is looking for revenge. When the Gungan, grudge-carrying, vibro-axe wielding thug finally makes her move, I have to make sure the combat rules are taken into account. And this scene is part of a larger story, one that has its own goals, and is the conjunction of this larger story and the individual stories of the character's involved.

I love GM'ing.

I also love theology.

From many hours of practice in both RPG's and theology, I think there is this similarity worth noting: both GM'ing and theologizing are about narrating an unseen world and encouraging participation in it.

In Star Wars, the unseen world exists in the imagination and provides a context for heroic deeds and epic story-telling. In Christian faith, the unseen world exists all around us (if we have the eyes to see it) and provides a context . . . for heroic deeds and epic story-telling. There is a huge difference, though, since a 'heroic deed' is something far different in Star Wars than in Christianity. In one, the hero (Luke) overthrows the tyrant (the Emperor) through strength and honor. In the other, the hero (Jesus) overthrows the tyrant (Sin, Death, the Devil, and our twisted hearts) through weakness and shame. The similarities illumine the differences.

In the Star Wars RPG, I'm GM'ing, but I'd be bummed if the players just stared at me. I want the players to play the game, to participate in the world we're creating together. In Christian faith, I'm theologizing, sure, but I'd be really bummed if the people I'm around and with didn't have eyes to see the unseen world impinging on their own meager constructions, to really participate in the inbreaking Kingdom of God. In one, I narrate an escape from reality into an alternate, sub-reality. In the other, I want to narrate an escape to Reality, the reality as described, lived, and enacted in the Revelation of God in Jesus Christ. Again the similarities illumine the differences.

In conclusion, I do want to highlight one similarity as a type of analogical apology for theologizing. Without good GM'ing, the players can't 'see' the world in which they must play. They stumble blindly without guidance. Similarly, without good theology, Christians can't 'see' the world in which they are already playing the wrong game. In both, knowing the 'rules' is not enough, getting together in a gaming 'community' is not enough. Both require clear and evocative presentations of the world in which we play. Without that, both RPGs and Christian faith fall into meaninglessness. Insofar as the GM and the theologian can clearly and evocatively present the world (and are freed by their communities to do that), they will bring life and goodness. Insofar as they do not (or are not free to), they will bring darkness and illusion. Abuse does not bar use. Gamers call for good gamemasters. Christians should call for good theologians.

4 comments:

WTM said...

Nice! This is especially interesting in light of Barth's saying that if he was to be anything other than a theologian, he would want to be a traffic cop because the two are so much alike.

Jason said...

How interesting! Where did Barth make that comment?

WTM said...

In a video-recorded interview with the BBC.

Rich said...

You have a lot of free time on your hands, brother. ;)

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