Grant and Peter are back at it with part three of our Historical Heresies series. This time, we introduce a major competitor to Christianity in the Western Roman Empire, and a particularly interesting (read: complex and imaginative) Gnostic tradition: Manichaeism! We also provide one last plug for this year’s fundraiser for The Bodhana Group, and remind everyone to rate and review us on iTunes, Stitcher, and anywhere else you listen to our podcast on.
This is going to be another short one, because it’s a very busy time of year (“hustle and bustle” translates to “chaos, pandemonium, and/or anarchy” when you work in retail) but I’d be remiss if I didn’t wish you all Merry Christmas!
Also, while I’ve got you here: Grant and I will be recording our annual New Years bonus episode the next time we sit down to record, so if you’ve got any resolutions of your own you’d like to share with us, get them to us via comments or social media in the next few days.
Merry Christmas and a happy New Year, everybody!
It’s a shorter episode this week, due to recording right after Thanksgiving and Grant (and the rest of his household) being very sick. Still, that doesn’t stop us from plugging our Bodhana Group fundraiser before getting into our main topic: Group management! We talk about the holidays—because it’s that time of year—and what they do to games. Then, we discuss a number of issues which might arise and communication and management tools to alleviate group management problems. Enjoy!
The semester ends this week, and as a result, I’ve been spending a lot of quality time with my keyboard. Between this blog post and the last of the stuff I need to do for school, by the end of the night, I’ll have composed something like 3,000 words. Good thing I like to write! Speaking of writing, as inadvisable as I feel like it should be, I just can’t help myself when it comes to using gaming as a topic in my academic life. I’ve written papers about society’s trouble accepting role playing games as far back as 1997, and I’m working on a product critique of Magic: The Gathering for my intro to business class. (In fact, I’m writing this blog post while taking a break from writing that product critique!)
I’m not sure why I feel like I shouldn’t do this (maybe because I worry that my teachers will think anything related to something I do for fun if too frivolous for academic discussion?), but it doesn’t stop me from doing it at least once in almost every class I have to write for. I’ve got several reasons: I would love it if a teacher asked me about some game I’d mentioned in a paper (or indicated they already played it), I’ve found other gaming students to talk with that way, and I already know a fair bit about gaming, so research tends to be easier and new information I uncover tends to stay useful after the class is over. I’ve also met a decent number of other gamers in school settings (in fact, until I discovered podcasts, that was my primary source for meeting other gamers) so my academic life and my gaming life are kind of tied in my mind that way. The biggest reason though, is that I think over 20 years of hobby gaming in various forms has kind of rewired my brain.
If I don’t seem particularly upset about that last statement: I’m not. Gaming has given me a variety of useful tools for interacting with and describing the world around me, and I don’t even mean “gamifying” aspects of my life in the traditional “life hacking” way. D&D alignments provide useful analogies for describing personalities and behaviors of characters in fiction (and occasionally jokingly doing so with real people). Things like levels and character points provide a useful analogy for talking about things like competency or even privilege.
And then there’s all of the stuff that those of us that are apologists for the hobby always talk about: math, social skills, and especially problem solving are all part & parcel of the gaming experience. Gaming may not have taught me everything I know about working with a team, managing different personality types, and thinking on the fly, but it has supplied a lot of those lessons, and unlike the ones learned at work or in school, they have tended to be enjoyable rather than aggravating or even painful.
It’s not even just tabletop RPGs, although I do think they’re probably the single most beneficial type of gaming – I’ve learned teamwork in cooperative board games like Pandemic and especially when I was playing Left 4 Dead 2 with some friends on Steam. I’ve learned more than I’d ever have been able to tolerate learning in other ways about efficiency and system optimization (especially taking unnecessary components out) building Magic: The Gathering decks. (And while I’m talking about Magic, I’ve learned to manage disappointment and stress through it, too. Getting mana screwed in magic isn’t fun, but being able to tell your opponent they beat you fair & square after it happened to you is a valuable skill.) Play can be very beneficial when it stretches you – especially when you don’t realize it until after you’re done and decide to think about it.
School feeds back into gaming, too: the critical thinking skills you learn in particular are a handy tactical resource, and the “three ‘R’s” help a lot too. You need good reading and math skills just to play a game, and some writing practice helps keep your character’s backstory from being bland. In addition, I took a course in high school that dealt with etymology and root words. That may have been the single most valuable class of my entire primary educational career. The skills and knowledge I got in that class have been useful in every aspect of my life, but especially in gaming – science fiction and fantasy use a lot of esoteric terminology, and being able to crack it with root words rather than Google is really nice.
So maybe it’s not so odd that I keep pulling in references to gaming at school. After all, they compliment each other nicely.
Rev. Derek White, a.k.a. “The Geekpreacher“, joins Grant and Peter once again! Derek joined us previously on Episode 38, “Christians on the Convention Scene”, and he’s back with us to discuss another weighty topic: Walter Wink’s “myth of redemptive violence” and René Girard’s concept of the “scapegoat” and collective violence. We also take a moment to remind everyone about our ongoing fundraiser for The Bodhana Group, and hear about Derek’s growing role as a convention pastor. Lastly, David LaMotte was kind enough to give us permission to use his song “Peter” in this episode; it was particularly appropriate, especially since David’s a Walter Wink fan too. If you enjoyed it, find more music at his website, and on iTunes, Spotify, and Google Play.
Also referenced in this episode: The GenCon 2015 Worship Service (and specifically, Derek’s “Here There Be Dragons” sermon); The GenCon 2015 “Faith and Gaming” panel; Walter Wink’s “Facing the myth of redemptive violence“; René Girard’s The Scapegoat; Dan Carlin’s “Hardcore History” podcast; and Ursula K. le Guin’s “The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas“.
It’s going to be a short blog post this week – Thanksgiving is on Thursday, and that means a lot of traveling and feasting for a lot of us. Because my wife and I have to hit two families, I don’t get a chance to do much (usually any) gaming on Thanksgiving, but if you do, I’d love to hear about any holiday gaming traditions you all have in the comments. We’ll see you next week with a podcast episode.
Grant and Peter reprise Episode 60’s “Gaming Curriculum” topic, with another set of suggested media! These are things we think you should read, watch, play, or experience away from the gaming table which will make you a better player and gamemaster. Check the full show notes below for links to everything we mentioned during the show! Plus, we spend a lot of time talking about Clockwork Empires—reflecting how much time Grant’s been putting into the game.
Don’t forget that we’re raising funds for The Bodhana Group, which uses tabletop RPGs in cognitive therapy applications for hurting children. For more details, visit our fundraiser page or listen to Episode 25, where we interviewed Bodhana’s Executive Director and learned all about the great work they do. If you want to help them, please consider giving to them this holiday season!
Fallout 4 comes out the day this blog post drops. Finally.
I’ve really enjoyed every prior game in the series that released for the PC, and with the one exception of Fallout Tactics (which fell victim to a late, game-breaking bug), I’ve finished all of them at least twice. It is probably my favorite video game series of all time, and news of a new installment still has the ability to turn me from a relatively sober and mature 37-year-old back into an excitable teenager, at least for a little while. My attitude about this aspect of my personality varies with my mood. At times, I think it’s cool that I can enjoy things enough that a new release can excite me before it even arrives. Other times, it bugs me that I can’t just rein it in until the thing arrives. And then, on a bit of a tangential note, I find myself lamenting the fact that I won’t get much time with the game until Wednesday evening, thanks to a church meeting I have to be at about an hour after I get home from work on Tuesday (and no, as much as I would like to, I will not be playing hooky from either work or the meeting).
It’s not just video games that can have this effect on me, either. I generally watch new Magic sets with at least some interest, and I’m actually not at all ashamed to admit that when we get a really good guest host lined up for one of the podcast episodes, that tends to psych me up, too. (Incidentally, we’ve got a returning guest for the episode we’ll record in two days and a really cool topic, to boot. I can’t wait to record this one!) And the start of a new campaign or adventure with my RPG group is way, way up there, too. My acceptance of my own enthusiasm seems to scale proportionately with how appropriate I judge it to be, but I feel it nonetheless. And in my introspective moments (which are frequent enough to provide a lot of blog fodder), I wonder why I can’t summon up this same level of excitement for the stuff I have to, or at least should do rather than just recreational activities.
The answer, I think, is novelty. Grant once said on either our podcast or another one that he appeared on that he felt bad for people who only live one life, and I can’t help but agree. Games allow us to inhabit whole other worlds in a way that even the best movies or books don’t. I remember Skyrim ads that read “live another life in another world” and I think that’s the effect that the best gaming experiences, whether digital or tabletop, create.
That brings up another question, though, one that I still don’t have an answer to: what moral responsibilities do our fictional selves in these fictional worlds have, and how much of that responsibility transfers back to us in the real world? The obvious temptation is to answer both questions with “none” and end the conversation there, but I think that may be too easy of an answer. At the same time, the standards are clearly different, and the context is wildly different, and it galls me to no end when I hear some of the more radical elements of my own faith insisting that there is no such thing as fiction or pretend. (I mean, for crying out loud – Jesus taught in parables. There is fiction authored by Christ Himself in the Bible.)
However, at the same time, my conscience does nag at me just a bit when one of my characters does something bad in a virtual world. I do occasionally wonder where the line between fantasy and reality gets blurry, and where the capacity to simply think of this or that course of action starts to paint a picture of my character – my real, personal moral character, not my fictional avatar in the game world. I know there can be some value in exploring, or at least revealing, the dark corners of my soul, but at the same time, I think it’s probably possible to dive to deeply in those dark waters.
Or maybe I just like feeling heroic. Or maybe I’m just a softy. Or maybe all of the above. I don’t claim to have all the answers, but neither do I want to stop asking questions. I will tell you this, though: getting a new world to ask them in still excites me like nothing else.
Our holiday fundraiser for The Bodhana Group has officially begun! Grant and a recuperating Peter kick off this episode with a plug for that, before diving into the complex structure and philosophy of Gnosticism in order to lay a foundation for further episodes on specific Gnostic Christian sects. Grant provides an overview of core Gnostic beliefs, and how they connect to Christianity and Judaism (as well as other beliefs from around the Hellenistic world.) We touch on Kabbalah and modern Gnostic influences, and then spend some time discussing a major and newly-discovered Gnostic text: The Gospel of Judas. Grab a notepad, and enjoy!
Grant and I have been in the same physical location a few times, and we’ve been in the same RPG session many more times, but never both at once. All of the tabletop RPG sessions that included both of us have occurred when we were both at home, and I know from recent experience that our homes are roughly 12.5 hours of steady driving apart. This means that our gaming group has lived out its entire existence in VOIP (Voice Over Internet Protocol) land. Considering we’ve had multiple campaigns and have been together for almost all of Saving the Game‘s three-ish year history, I’d be so bold as to call our group successful.
I also know that, as a guy who is starting to see glimpses of 40 on the horizon, that the likelihood of me going out and gaming with strangers when I can do a little work and game with close friends instead is pretty low. I figured for this week’s blog post, I’d share a few thoughts and lessons collected from 3 years of regular VOIP gaming, because while nothing beats getting together with your group in meat space, sometimes that’s just not practical, or even possible.
- If you’re going to go to the trouble of coordinating an online game with people, make sure it’s a group you really want to game with. One of the advantages our gaming group enjoys is that we can actually game with people spread out over 1200+ miles of territory (and if we ever get our player in Colorado back, it’ll be even more than that). Put together your dream team – the really close friends who you gel with well socially and really enjoy interacting with.
- Set yourselves up some kind of permanent hub. We use a secret Facebook group, but there are all kinds of tools for making a private community online. Pick one that works for your group and use it – being able to work around last-minute scheduling issues and having a central repository for character sheets and reference documents is really useful.
- Have at least three ways to get in touch with everybody in the group. You should have the VOIP service itself, email addresses, and some type of real-time communication. Texting works well for this, but so does social media like Facebook or Twitter if the person checks it regularly. Nothing makes you suddenly worry if your friend is okay like them being 10 minutes late for a VOIP game.
- Be ready for some fluidity in starting times. Adult lives – they interfere, especially if the adults in question are students, parents, or in some way on-call professionally.
- Find a single VOIP client that works and stick with it. We’ve personally found that Google Hangouts work the best – Grant and I use them while recording Saving the Game episodes, too. Some folks are more comfortable with another option like Skype, though, and that can also work fine. The biggest trick is getting one that doesn’t crash anyone’s system. Once you’ve got that handled, you are, as they say, golden.
- Video can be nice, but it’s really not all that important. Being able to hear each other clearly is much more critical. If you’ve got to turn video off in the name of audio quality, do it and don’t look back. This is especially important if somebody is on a weak-to-moderate wifi signal. Along those same lines, if you can use a computer with a physical, wired connection to the router, do it. Finally, do what you need to to make sure everyone can hear everyone else. If you can hear someone fine but they can’t hear you, take the time to remedy the problem instead of trying to work around it.
- Figure out how you’re going to roll dice. We’ve rolled physical dice on the honor system and we’ve used online dice rollers. Both work fine, but give some thought to how you’ll handle this.
- Plan on shorter sessions. Two to four hours is probably all you’ll realistically get. Wearing even a comfortable headset can get a little chafing after a while.
- Stick with lighter systems. It’s easier to run them when you aren’t physically present to pass books around than crunchier systems. Savage Worlds works a lot better over VOIP than GURPS.
- Immersion can be both easier and more difficult. On the one hand, you’re in front of a box of distractions. On the other hand, if you can leave just the VOIP window or something relevant to the game up on screen, the screen itself can pull your eyes away from distractions. A headset helps too.
And that’s all I’ve got. As usual, I’d love to hear from anyone else who has experience with VOIP gaming. Do you agree or disagree with me? Did I miss something important? I’d love to hear in the comments.