Blog: Community at a Distance

"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.

Episode 50 - Live - Making Interesting Characters (Part 2)

It's Part Two of the special LIVE recording we did with listener questions to celebrate fifty episodes of STG! Thanks again to everyone who participated, and thanks to everyone who's kept us going all this time! If you missed it, you can re-watch the whole, unedited show on YouTube or listen to Part One right here.

Scripture: Proverbs 17:17, Romans 8:35, James 1:2-4

Blog: Who Do You Play?

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.

Episode 50 - Live - Making Interesting Characters (Part 1)

For our 50th episode, we wanted to do something a little special: A live episode recorded via Hangouts On-Air, with listener questions and responses! It turned out amazingly well, and we're excited to do another one in the future. Thanks to everyone who participated, and thanks to everyone who's kept us going for fifty episodes and more! If you missed it, you can re-watch the whole, unedited show on YouTube (and marvel at the amount of editing Branden does to make our episodes sound halfway decent.)

Show notes: Our fundraiser for The Bodhana Group has started, and you can help us support their excellent work here! Also, visit our store, and buy something for someone you think might like the show and the gift—Christmas is coming up, after all.

Scripture: Proverbs 17:17, Romans 8:35, James 1:2-4