Saving the Game a Christian podcast about tabletop roleplaying games, collaborative storytelling in RPGs, and other interesting topics

November 26, 2014  

"And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.

Hebrews 10:24-25

I've made no secret to anyone who knows me (or anyone who listens to the podcast) that I sit on the "introvert" side of the introvert-extrovert spectrum. It may come off as odd or even inaccurate to some, because my job is fairly asocial. I work in shipping and receiving, and for most of the year, I am a one-man department. Because of this, unlike a lot of introverts, I still have some social energy left in the evenings because my work doesn't drain it away, so friends often see a fairly lively, energetic side of me.

Or at least, they hear it. The blessing and the curse of the internet is that many of the people I consider my closest friends live in other states. I've never met some of them in person, though I've talked with them via VOIP services and game with some of them almost every week. I hope to meet them face-to-face at a convention one of these days.

And yet, that geographic separation doesn't make them any less my actual friends - in fact, I'd argue the opposite is true. Much like the more somber, slower pace of traditional services help put me in a better frame of mind for worship on Sunday morning, I often make friends better via the internet. I even met my wife that way. The slower pace of communications provided by forums and social media allows me to connect better with people, at least on a first-impression sort of basis. And it's typically less jarring and therefore easier to back out of a social media or forum conversation (or even end a VOIP call) than it is to leave a social gathering.

Some of the extroverts reading this are probably bristling now, ready with all kinds of admonitions that "internet socializing doesn't count." To which I can only say: which is more important to you - physical proximity, or mental and emotional engagement?

To shift gears slightly, this is one of the things that is also nice about gaming. It gives you another context so socialize in, with reasonably clear rules of engagement and something that all the participants are already invested in to talk about. Planning a job in Shadowrun or meticulously working your way through a dungeon crawl provides a greater level of conversational depth than simply talking about the weather, or at least it can. I'd argue it should.

By contrast, church can be an intimidating place, especially to the uninitiated. There are tons of rules, almost all of them unspoken, and the penalties for breaking them can be severe.  I think that sometimes we as Christians can get a little arbitrary of what we expect of people. Talking with other folks in the "geeky faith" community like my cohosts, Derek White, and Mike Perna DOES count as fellowship with other believers. If a new Christian is more comfortable fellowshipping with other believers at a slower pace online - that counts. If a long-time Christian is having problems with social anxiety or social fatigue and does the same thing - it still counts. To come back around to my earlier point, meeting together is being mentally present with each other, giving of your time and attention instead of merely displacing the air an arbitrary number of feet away from them.

Now, I'm not about to suggest that introverts and/or gamers of faith should never darken a church's door. There are a lot of things churches offer, particularly if you get involved. Opportunities to start "checking off some of the boxes" in the parable of the sheep and the goats are a big one. For example, I'd never have gotten involved with the local food pantry if not for some of the folks at my church, who opened that door for me. Another benefit is the ability to make connections with people who may not be as comfortable with technology. At 36, I'm about half the age of most of the folks who attend the traditional worship service I go to at my church. You're not likely to find most people in their seventies on Facebook unless you're one of their grandchildren (and even then you may not), but they often make fantastic mentors and role models. They have, after all, seen a lot of life in all those years. And there is something profoundly moving about being at a traditional candlelight Christmas service that no amount of high-definition video will ever replicate.

Still, I think there is a tremendous amount to be gained by taking advantage of the modern ability to engage folks we'd have never known existed in ages past. I've made real, lasting friendships, been challenged in my entrenched views, had some fantastic games, and grown in my faith - all without ever leaving my home.

November 11, 2014  

During our live episode, I asked Grant, mostly rhetorically, what kind of characters I play. My intention was to illustrate for the audience that I tend to play an archetype and then segue into noting that this is a fairly common practice. In so doing, I reminded myself of something I should have remembered, namely: "Don't ask Grant a question unless you're ready for an insightful answer."

Because Grant gave me an answer that I really didn't expect (though I probably should have): "You." And then he went on to enumerate his supporting evidence for that statement, which was more plentiful than I consciously realized.

Still, there's no denying that I put myself into my characters; up until recently, they almost all even shared my own eye and hair coloration (gray/brown). Player characters of mine are usually some member or former member of the "protector class" - military, espionage, or law enforcement. In a fantasy setting, they are typically tied to a god of protection, justice, or similar concepts. For reasons I mentioned in Episode 50, a lot of them had facial scars.

Something that few of you will know is that for years I was planning on a career in law enforcement. Learning what effects getting that wish would have on the rest of my life took the bloom off that rose, but I still have a deep appreciation for what Lt. Col Dave Grossman refers to as "sheepdogs" because I have a good idea what they sacrifice and put up with in order to fill those roles in society. Still, as much as I admire the sheepdogs in real life, that's only part of why I like playing them.

Protectors typically have access that more mundane folks do not. The character that probably represented the "peak" of the archetype described above was a superhero called Overwatch that I played in a Mutants & Masterminds game years ago. Despite having fewer points in his powers than any of the other PCs, he was (by unanimous agreement) the most effective character in the game. You'll notice I said "effective" and not "powerful" there. Let me explain.

Overwatch had been in the Chicago PD, and the US Air Force and at the start of the game was working for the DHS. He had the power of arrest and official credentials. Furthermore, he had investigational skills and the mindset of a law enforcer. That meant that he could walk into a bank or convenience store and get access to their security camera feeds just by asking and nobody was suspicious of his motives. He could patrol an area in an unmarked law enforcement vehicle, but if he needed traffic out of his way, it was as simple as flipping on the lights and siren. He could get dossiers on known bad guys. He knew how to look for what was out of place in a scene, and unlike most superheroes, if someone came after him, on or off duty, they were messing with a sworn officer of the law, not some random civilian. With all of that, his flight, low-level super-strength and potent spatial manipulation abilities were just icing on the cake.

Paladins in a lot of fantasy settings enjoy similar benefits, and even former members of these professions retain their skills. They also benefit from a solid potential mix of brains, brawn, and social abilities, making them useful in a wide variety of situations in play. Given all of that, is it any wonder I enjoy that archetype so much?

Still, if for no other reason than I think Grant is getting sick of "Peter Characters," I'll probably try to break out of that wheelhouse next time I make a new PC. If nothing else, it'll be interesting to see how well I take to playing, for example, a wizard or a druid in a fantasy game, or perhaps a hacker or con man in a modern one.

At the very least, it'll give us something else to talk about on the podcast.

October 28, 2014  

Something you all may or may not know: I listen to every episode of Saving the Game after it releases. As the only regular host who has never done audio editing, if I don't make a conscious effort to listen to the episodes after they're released, I never get to hear them. Usually, that experience is just a nice refresher of an interesting conversation I had with some friends that happened to be recorded, but every now and then, I get hit with something like this: toward the end of our episode with Ken Hite, Ken asked a question in the segment about horror and Christianity that I didn't actually answer. Fatigue took over and I wound up going on a rambling tangent, but the question was good enough that after listening to the final episode and facepalming for a few minutes, I decided that it still deserved an answer.

The question was: “Any times when you've been playing horror games and thinking 'oh, that was a little close to the edge for me'?”

My answer back on the 2nd when we recorded was a long rambling monologue about using Christian tropes in horror, which completely missed the point of the question and also kind of cut my co-hosts off from that conversational road by the time it was over. (Sorry guys; I was not at my best that evening.)

The real answer is “Yes,” but the specific games weren't ones which I had in mind at the time.  The first example was in my friend Kevin's Ravenloft game which I've referenced a number of times on the podcast. Why I didn't remember it at the time of the recording is beyond me; Ravenloft is a horror setting, Branden brought Ravenloft up earlier in the podcast, and the Ravenloft game was one of my favorites of all time.

The point of the Ravenloft game was that the player characters were Dark Lords of Ravenloft that were getting second chances and didn't remember; I was given Lord Soth to play (though I didn't realize it until much later; Kevin's GMing skills made that revelation alone a pretty unsettling turn of events). During one of the sessions where my PC finally came to grips with who and what he was, Kevin co-opted me to play him as the evil person he used to be, and he did some pretty dark and cruel things. Ultimately, the rest of the party broke him out of the cycle of replaying evil memories and he was a changed (if still flawed) person, but that was pretty unsettling.

The second incident was at Fear the Con 7, in a con game of Ragnarok: Fate of the Norns. The story had us, a bunch of Viking warriors, fighting against some “servants of the White God” - Crusaders with the serial numbers filed off. The game didn't hammer on present-day Christianity at all, and in fact portrayed the Crusader analogs as pretty nasty, awful people (which a lot of them were). But when the party tracked several of them down and slew them, I still felt weird about it.

And I think those incidents both point to the same thing: sometimes the stuff that makes you the most uncomfortable has the potential to teach you the most if you can take some time and think about it afterward. The Ravenloft game taught me that playing evil, monstrous player characters, even in the short-term, was going to hold the ugly parts of my own soul up in a way that I didn't like; while there is some value in coming to grips with one's own dark side, I wonder if, at some point, it's just “feeding the bad wolf.” The Ragnarok game made confront some lingering “nationalism” over Christianity, which is something I still wonder about the lines with. There are pretty clear directives in scripture, particularly in the writings of Paul, to love each other in the church, but what do you do when a believer you have no way of influencing publicly espouses things you feel are wrong, or even downright despicable? What are the rules of engagement with co-religionists who have “snapped” and gone off the deep end in one way or another? And how do I react when the roles are flipped and someone confronts me? I don't have those answers, and I wish I did. Sometimes when you get close to the line, you can see why, how, and what you need to do differently. And sometimes? It's as murky as the mists of Ravenloft.


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