Merry Christmas, from all of us to all of you.
Mike Perna of Innroads Ministries joins us at the appointed hour, to give our listeners some real, practical advice on running small gaming events for your church or community! First, though, we talk about a few other things, in no particular order: Our upcoming fundraiser for The Bodhana Group (keep an eye on our social media feeds for links to that!); the Game to Grow panel we hosted on spirituality in roleplaying games; players taking notes during games; the InSpectres game Grant just wrapped up; and Big Fandom Greenville (more on this next episode.)
We also tackle a great question from Patreon backer Doug, who asks “What, if anything, do you think is simply off-limits for a game? Is the answer different if we’re talking you personally, or for gaming in general?” (This turned out to be surprisingly relevant to our main topic!)
It’s a relatively light episode for news, so Grant and Peter have more time for the Patreon question and the main topic. It turns out they need it. Hospitality is a big, old-school StG topic and the hosts look at it from a number of angles and discuss how it applies in games, in the world around us, and at our gaming tables.
Grant and Peter handle the first of two topic voted on by Patreon backers: Anti-Heroes. After tackling another great Patreon backer question, the hosts dive in, and as it turns out, this is a more complicated and controversial topic than you might think. The episode covers everything from Biblical figures to Sherlock Holmes to Rincewind to The Punisher with some advice (and cautionary notes) for gaming along the way.
Grant and Peter take a few moments to catch up on-air, and then discuss two exciting upcoming projects: Game to Grow and our upcoming Patreon campaign, before discussing a surprisingly meaty topic: Healing and Injury. The discussion that follows touches on both the gaming-related and spiritual aspects of healing and injury and also discusses why you should be sure to remember that hospitals exist as more than just hit point dispensers in your games.
Spoiler Warning: Minor spoilers for Wolfenstein: The New Order and Spec Ops: The Line.
I ran into an interesting roadblock recently while playing Wolfenstein: The New Order. At the end of the first chapter of the game, you’re presented with a sadistic choice by the villain and the game is pretty insistent that you actually make it. Failing to choose gets your entire squad killed and when you reload the save, you’re right back at the decision point. I watched that scene where you stare down the villain and he kills your squad a half-dozen times and almost stopped playing entirely at that point. I was ultimately talked out of that decision by some of the other folks on the Gamers With Jobs forums, and while the material that follows is surprisingly rich for a FPS game, there’s still a nagging metaphorical splinter in my brain about how I really shouldn’t have betrayed that squad member just to continue the story. It seems that playing Spec Ops: The Line back in the day had more of a lasting impact on me than I’d given it credit for.
Spec Ops: The Line escalates the misfortune, chaos, and suffering caused by its hard-charging, hot-tempered protagonist steadily over the course of its story and eventually (mostly via loading screens) starts telling the player that they can make the awful things stop happening if they quit playing the game. That idea resurfaced in my mind as I was looking at the sadistic choice sequence in Wolfenstein.
I have a hard time with stories that require me to be treacherous or duplicitous to move forward. I actually stopped playing Fallout 4 before the end because I could see that was the way the story was headed, and I don’t like betraying the trust of even really bad people. I don’t like having to compromise morally to get to the rest of a story.
Yet even the stories central to my Christian faith include some treachery and betrayal. The infamous example is Judas Iscariot, of course, but the Biblical figure my parents named me after certainly had his share of less-than-stellar moments where loyalty was concerned. From trying to escalate Jesus’s mostly-peaceful arrest (that Jesus was cooperating with) into violence in John 18:10 over Jesus’s objections to his denial that he even knew Jesus in Luke 22, he demonstrated that, under enough stress, even his loyalty could crack.
And here’s the thing: Jesus forgave him. In John 21, Jesus not only forgives Peter, but also puts him to work. Once again, God shows his ability to work through and with human frailty to accomplish his purposes. Peter’s story continued beyond the act of betrayal.
And that brings me to a realization that I had only after I started writing this blog post. A lot of my supposed virtue in games (and in life, if I’m going to be at all honest) comes from a well of pride. “I’ll defy the villain even if he kills an entire squad instead of just one of them. My integrity is worth more than those lives.” No, actually, it’s not. And it’s further not necessarily doing anyone any good to insist on always playing the good guy in everything. Now, it may not be harming anything either, and certainly playing upstanding characters can be a lot of fun, but when my internal narrative is such that I’ve convinced myself that I can’t play someone with major character flaws in a fictional context because that would reflect poorly on me, then perhaps it’s time to stretch a bit, especially because I have a nasty streak that I sometimes subconsciously feel I can let out as long as it’s fueled by “a good cause.” Like a lot of people of faith over the years, I have a problem with wanting to cultivate an image of outward purity when the truth is that on some essential level, I have the potential to be absolutely monstrous.
Fortunately, at times like this, I have my co-host. Grant has been running a Rogue Trader game for us, and as many of you are no doubt aware, the Warhammer 40k universe is a little thin on people of flawless virtue. My aloof, toaster-obsessed, pipe-smoking Explorator may be a humorous and strange character, but he’s not anyone’s role model. In fact, he’s even a poor example by the warped standards of his own society. But he’s also not a channel for sadism and cruelty – he’s just a self-interested, socially inept guy who is also a little weird. And while playing him isn’t as comfortable as playing some of my previous characters, at least he’s getting me to remove at least a few inches of the self-righteous stick I have lodged in my hindquarters, or to put it another way, it’s allowing me to start sawing off parts of the log I have in my eye so I can start getting rid of it. Unfortunately, that’s a long log. I have a feeling I’m going to be sawing for quite some time.
Grant’s second child is here and everybody is doing well!
Grant and Peter discuss some recent news, including Gamerati’s taking over of RPGpodcasts.com (a very good thing) and the upcoming Tavern Con and Electric City Comic Con, then get down to discussing the main topic: fear in RPGs. A lot of gaming groups have trouble handling fear in-game. Grant and Peter discuss some common reasons for the trouble and offer a number of potential solutions.
Tavern Con (no official link yet)
Episode 45 – Unity vs. Uniformity (With Ed Healy)
Electric City Comic Con
Gameable Pixar Podcast, Bonus episode 33: The Corpse Bride
Games Store Prophets Bonus Content: Darkest Dungeon
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“.
Reverend Jason D. Wood, a full-time pastor and gamer, joins Grant and Peter to help introduce roleplaying games to the curious! Jason writes for The Mad Adventurers Society as The Mad Cleric, giving out gaming advice and life advice for gamers in equal measure, and contributes to the Mad Adventurers’ Potelbat and Potelbat Yalp podcasts. (He’s most accessible on Twitter as @Wood_JasonD.)
Jason joins us for a very special episode: An introduction to roleplaying games for the curious and the uninitiated. As a sort of companion piece to our very first episode (“Are RPGs Evil?“), this episode is designed to be a resource for those who’ve never played before, and want to (or feel the need to) know more about them. We outline the general conceits of RPGs, explain system and setting, discuss why they’re so much fun, and elaborate on some of the positive benefits of roleplaying games. (In particular, we spend some time talking about The Bodhana Group; new listeners should listen to Episode 25, “Therapeutic Roleplaying (with Jack Berkenstock Jr.)” for more on that. They’re awesome.) Finally, we wrap up with some advice on getting started in roleplaying games, whether individually, as a family, or as a church activity.
Grant and Peter are back, and talking about creatures great and small! Inspired by M. J. Young’s 2004 Faith and Gaming article “Animals” (written for the Christian Gamers’ Guild), Grant and Peter discuss the wide variety of animals seen in roleplaying games and the real world. Then, we talk about how to use them effectively in your story and setting, and some pitfalls to keep in mind when the focus shifts to pets and other creatures at the table. Plus, we’re going to Fear the Con 8 and you should too!