Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Spiritual Roleplaying

Last time we ran into a problem: even if you try to incorporate spiritual matters into a game, you wind up with an underlying non-spiritual worldview. Salvation can apparently become a die roll.

So what's the alternative?

Well, we can try to sidestep the randomness problem by using a diceless game, but that alone can be a superficial answer. I'm going to consider possibilities based on GNS Theory--yes, I know it's old in some ways, but it gives us some useful terms. (For a more general overview of theories, check here.) Specifically, a game or player may be

Gameist--looking at the game as a problem to be solved by improving stats, gear, etc.
Narrativist--looking at the game as a storytelling experience
Simulationist--trying to recreate the world or a genre faithfully.

I would suggest that Gameist systems are no more problematic than chess or go. Even if they are technically RPGs and immersive, they are pursued at a fairly superficial or abstract level. These can be a lot of fun, too.

Simulationist systems can be a problem, because they are very immersive (though abstraction still matters). There is no way to simulate spiritual phenomena, so I would have a problem with a strictly Simulationist system. (But see below.)

Narrativist systems are the most promising. The Bible itself is mostly a collection of stories, and Jesus was fond of parables. So Narrativism closely matches what God has revealed about the world. There's a good intro here. Although it's technically possible to play most games from a Narrativist perspective, it seems to me that rules-lite/non-Simulationist systems would work the best. (On the other hand, I always admired Chivalry and Sorcery in High School and early college...)

So instead of using dice to figure out whether a character converts, why not do what I would do in one of my stories? Consider the character and the situation (and the effect on the story as a whole) and act accordingly. We do not live in a random universe but in an authored universe. Modelling that in a roleplaying game could open the door to God.

Next we'll look at a problem that arises even from a non-random, Narrativist activity, however.

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