a Christian podcast about tabletop RPGs and collaborative storytelling

My Virtual Self

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.

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