Posts Tagged ‘role playing game’

Is Role-Play Gaming a Religious Exercise? Thoughts on Tolkien, Campbell and Role-Playing Games (pt. vi)

April 11, 2013

            What light does all of this shed on gaming?  Clearly, Fantasy is the primary element in any role-playing game, by definition.  From Bunnies and Burrows to The Sims, the players are playing a role.  They are engaged in a fantasy.  They are engaged in an act of sub-creation, and must give their Secondary Belief if the game is to have any significance—-otherwise it’s just as boring and pointless as pinball.  In some ways, role-playing games may be a purer expression of the imageo dei than any other art form, by their very nature.  First, the Dungeon Master or Storyteller (or whatever the referee is called) really is trying first to create a world.  Second, in most games there is an element of randomness in the world, which generally is used to simulate everything from genuinely random events (from a bar-fight to the weather) to the “free actions” of non-player characters.  In a book or movie, the author knows whether or not the princess will kiss the hero when he lifts his visor; but in an RPG the GM may choose not to control that event, but instead set probabilities and let the dice fall where they may.  A good GM can keep the plot moving in the desired direction no matter what random chance and the choices of players may be, without directly controlling those other events and never, ever overruling the free choices of the other players.  Is that not a good model for God’s Providence in the Primary World?  If the players actions are to be meaningful, the referee must step back, and let the players make free choices.  Some elements of the secondary world have to remain uncreated, undetermined until the players encounter them.  Some elements are delegated to the players themselves, so they become sub-creators within the sub-creation.  In a real role-playing game, the GM sets the parameters and the main features of the world within which other agents may act; given those boundaries, the players then seek to role-play lives they will find meaningful.

            Recovery seems more occasional.  I am not sure any player or gamemaster regularly experiences a re-visioning of the Primary World.  I have, at times, witnessed a player experience a Recovery of himself, where the player began to question his choices as a player and, from there, question his choices as a person.  But Escape is something that any good role-playing experience will offer.  This seems to be the main attraction of the RPG and the main reason these are distrusted by non-gamers.  For a time, the players enter into a world where people can fly, animals can talk, and hard work and talent really do lead to riches.

            But if RPGs can offer Escape, what about Consolation?  How far can they be evangelium, gospel, for the players?  Insofar as the plot of the scenario presents a eucatastrophe, it offers a foretaste of the Gospel, according to Tolkien’s essay.  Generally, this is not a sure thing.  For the players’ actions to have real significance, there has to be real risk.  (Again, this offers a real model for theodicy in the Primary World.)  Sometimes the balrog wins, and everyone has to roll up new characters.  But to keep players coming back, there has to be the belief that ultimately, the players can win.  The eucatastrophe must always be possible.  The arc of the Secondary World must bend towards justice, at least justice for the player characters, such that their virtues as players will eventually be rewarded.

To be continued….