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Title: Three games about religion
Post by: Ron Edwards on June 08, 2011, 09:54:44 AM
Last fall, I conformed to a common stereotype about men in their mid-40s and apparently became obsessed with matters of religion. Its roots lie in my work on Shahida but that's all politics and history, very little to do with specific religious content. Still, I did a lot of reading of and about Judaic, Christian, and Muslim texts, and I suppose it's not too surprising that a lot of stuff went into the dark well at the bottom of my head and fermented.

So, long story short, I wrote three alpha game drafts, none of which is definitely titled yet, only one of which I've playtested, and which I strongly suspect are totally not suitable for presentation or discussion on the internet. Which ridiculously, I'm doing anyway right now.

First things first

These are not Story Games. They are arterially-spurting Narrativist, yes, but the whole connotation of the "story game" term is totally not applicable. That connotation, as I see it, is a cute little wind-up game which you sit down to and kind of free-associate into, and you move tokens around the table and stuff, and it spits back a fun little story for you. It will take care of that little task no matter what you say. Your job is to figure out how the currency works and at most, strategize about how to get a lot of the black tokens, or something of that sort. These are not like that. They demand commitment to the moment on the part of everyone playing, specifically, without reference to how things are going to go, without planning for the ending. Everyone has to read and know the rules; there cannot be a person who says, "Hey, look at this Ron Edwards hotness, let's sit down and I'll show it to you."

Furthermore, not one of them will give you a blowjob. They are written much more in the frame of mind I was in when writing Sorcerer: a set of musical instruments. Which is to say, at least in terms of my ideal, the first electric bass, for instance. So that's a real tricky aesthetic design goal: the consumer has to be skilled enough to understand what it can do when they see it, but it's new, so they don't really know they want this exact thing, but also has to really want it nevertheless. In other words, although they've never seen or tried an electric bass, they have to be musicians who will assess it in musical terms. Which adds up to a kind of arrogant take-it-or-leave-it presentation: (i) if you really want to try this for the right reasons, then it'll work for you; and (ii) if you don't, and you suffer and flail, it's no skin off my nose. Not nice, but as far as I can tell, necessary.

The reason I went into all this is worth explaining too. Usually, my design process grows right out of successful play. I do X when playing a particular game, and then I say, "Hey, X really made that game work well," and I manage to articulate X and make it the rules-basis for a new game. For example, the rules for scenes and conflicts in Trollbabe grew right out of the techniques that I found made Dust Devils work really well for our group, especially since they were so different from the techniques that worked well for us in playing Hero Wars. But these games or notes-for-games are different. Here, I was designing totally out of my comfort zone, combining techniques that I wasn't sure that worked with others that were frankly utterly new - raw inspiration, stuff that really shouldn't be let out of the workshop at this stage. I am completely ignorant concerning whether any given piece of the rules or the rules as a whole work at all.

So, OK, what are they?

1. The "red" game, which I'd love to call Estimated Prophet, or possibly The Stress of Her Regard, both of which are already commercially-important titles of other works, so I can't. It's about ordinary people who experience mysticism, revelation, and madness. It relies very heavily on a personal commitment to the concept of beauty. Overall it gives off a very strong whiff of Philip K. Dick's Valis, but also allowing for some Matrixy or Akira-ish glowing zaps. The system includes making a collage, really, actually right there at the table. Scissors and glue and all that.

2. The "ophite" game, which is definitely the most ambitious of the bunch. I'm not even sure how to describe it ... well, it's mainly about coming of age and confronting death. Both playing it as an experience and the fictional content draw heavily upon semi-autobiographical comics techniques, being highly conversational and unconstructed, as well as combining embarassingly revelatory naturalism with free-floating visual weirdness whenever you feel like it. It's also supposed to be short-form, at least potentially, meaning that a session might be as short as twenty minutes. And if that weren't odd enough, it also requires learning a made-up religion and being honest about your own early religious observance (and boy have I found that people lie like rugs about that!).

3. The closest to a real title, Relic, which is about a church as an institution and the various soap operas that occur at different historical stages of its existence. You play it backwards, chronologically, using both a sanctified skull and a page or two of religious text as touchpoints. I was a bit stalled out on this one since I couldn't seem to get away from its initial notes as a minor hack of In a Wicked Age, but then the Solitaire RPG Contest provided exactly the mental breakout I needed. You do have to put some writing time into the preparation, but after that, play is quite simple. It's the only one I've tried and I used the experience for the examples.

I want to stress that none of them are about religious belief, which as I see it, is a huge non-issue which tends to blot out all the relevant issues about religion through its very non-ness. It's kind of the opposite of the elephant in the room that no one will talk about; instead, it's the elephant which is not in the room but which no one will shut up about.

I've made the current write-ups available here (http://adept-press.com/works-in-progress/estimated-prophet-religion-games/) at the Adept website.

Related thoughts - warning, highly provocative

Here are two other notions which factored into these games' design, or at least, as far as I can tell in retrospect, given that I was musing over them more-or-less during the design period.

1. For a couple of years, I've been thinking a lot about how many of the role-players I've met in the last decade had strict religious upbringings. Many although not all of them come from the American evangelical tradition. Maybe "strict" is misleading; I've found that people will say, "Oh, it wasn't strict" and go on to describe hair-raising guilt trips and routine practices which are best described as behavior-mod indoctrination. In fact, I don't mind telling you this up-front, the main thing I've found is that many role-players flatly lie when it comes to admitting how they were raised in these terms. Or they deflect into what might as well be a lie when they go on and on about their current free-thinking atheism or exceptionally fuzzy feel-good alternate church, as a way of not actually saying how they were raised.

Clinton was a Baptist from the holy-roller 'Bama tradition. Vincent was a Mormon. Jim Henley was some sort of squeaky-clean evangelical Protestant, Presbyterian maybe or something like that. It goes on and on, nowadays with Joel, Kevin, Sydney, Clyde, and many others. And these are just the ones who are being up-front about their backgrounds. It doesn't surprise me that at least some of them seem to congregate (heh) at Vincent's blog, and I often get the idea that there's a need being met there on a level which only makes sense to the people I'm talking about.

What I'm saying is that this is kind of an unspoken commonality or at least well-represented demographic which may well be a primary source from which RPG hobbyist culture is fed, every generation. I think role-playing for this demographic was the most daring and scary rebellious thing they were able to do,  What I'm saying most especially is that openly discussing this issue is so chilled and so not honest that it chokes up and stifles many other discussions. Even those who are up-front about their backgrounds do so only in the context of saying how Not Like That they are now.

I'm not part of it, coming instead from the radical left coast from a very distinct and brief time period, hence part of a scene or subculture which has no corresponding members of older or younger vintage. As a similar example with different details, neither was Josh Neff, who's a classic deep-red commie Jewish American, also a vanishing demographic. For us and a few others, role-playing wasn't our way to rebel against mommy and daddy and God. Nor did BADD rear up as a meaningful threat to my participation in the hobby. I think that's why my deeply underground, deeply politicized take on fantasy and sex (see Naked Went the Gamer (http://adept-press.com/ideas-and-discourse/other-essays/naked-went-the-gamer/)) is so foreign to many role-players, and why I'm dismissive and bored regarding perceived mainstream views about role-playing, instead of fearing them.

The following points aren't intended to describe any single individual, but two or three per person do seem to show up again and again among the role-players I've been thinking about.

i) A strong tendency toward rebellious-looking attire and hair, frequently hippie-pagan but also sometimes punky - and completely divorced from the original political context in which these looks originated.
ii) A strong tendency toward prudishness in RPG content once you get past the original rebellion of playing RPGs at all. It's a weird kind of Victorian prudishness, though, perfectly accepting of extreme porn when it's "in its place," i.e., available in private and quite distanced from anything resembling ordinary or public human interactions.
iii) A strong tendency toward saving and helping others especially in anonymous masses, often in the full assumption that one knows exactly what to do and think better than they do. (i.e. despite breaking with one's natal church, retaining and even elevating its presumption of secret spiritual insight over that of humanity; i.e., not joining the ignorant mass "down there" but rather elevating above the church to a third plane of super-insight)
iv) An overwhelming need, even anxiety, regarding being liked, as opposed merely to operating in one's own terms and letting being liked find its own level.
v) Bright as hell, full of ideas, but often choked-up and anxious when it comes to implementing them.
vi) Surprising tolerance for militarism in details and even in full-blown political content, both in fiction and in life, to the extent of occasional fetishism and not recognizing military criticism or satire.
vii) A very strong commitment to a new name representing their break with their old upbringing, whether legally changed or a username or whatever.

Food for thought, perhaps.

2. Here's a video of some of my recent talk at InterNosCon 2011: No one talks about religion in role-playing (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sFoJTsoXIHI) (the sound is crappy). The event was longer than 52 minutes; I figure the substantial talk lasted for another forty minutes or so, but I don't know if the rest is going to be posted. Key points include:

i) "Religion" as a term needs to be broken into four independent components to make sense: belief, observance, institution, and culture. Again and again, the current discourse clearly displays the need to get past the first and to recognize it as a non-issue, especially the misconception that it provides the foundation for all the others. As I see it, getting past that first term means that we will recognize that the other three are glaringly present and involved in our lives. (My example in the talk: as a self-described non-religious person, with the most political and non-spiritual Unitarianism as the only formal influence, I wear a wedding band. I can rationalize it and babble about it all I want, but the point is that my culture is Christian, like it or not, and I am of it as well as merely being in it.)

ii) Texts used for religious books - especially the fragmentary older ones which have been folded into what can only be called "church books" - often say and depict nothing like what the church doctrines claim they do. When I sit down and read them without being distracted by doctrine, I find that they are often mainly about people: families, politics, sex, power, obligations, cheating, and all that stuff, and frequently taken to rather shocking extremes. My take is that a very great deal of human discourse about really quite relevant issues has been conducted through such texts, and to reject or abandon familiarity with them on the basis of objecting to the metaphysics would be a stupid thing to do. Note that this point is not the same as the common desires to uncover the "real" religion through seeking backwards through texts, or to discover historical authenticity or lack thereof through such seeking. Those aims don't interest me very much.

iii) Religion in RPG settings is generally flawed to the point of absence, especially in the adventuring-party context of D&D-type fantasy, mercenary high-tech like Shadowrun, and anything based on those. Either it provides a skill-set for utility purposes or a setting-context for villainy. The main exceptions I identified were the Glorantha setting, especially in the post-millenial games starting with Hero Wars; the Church of the Celestial Sun in Fading Suns; and a couple of others I'm probably forgetting. Davide Losito (in the video, sitting to my right) offered some examples of churches used as centers of resistance against tyranny.

iv) The first content revolution in RPG play/design in the past 15 years concerned substantive drama as opposed to faking it; the second concerned sexual and gender content which acknowledged the reality of these issues for people at the table; and the third, already in progress, concerns both politics and religion as genuine human concerns. The third is receiving exactly the same combination of resistance and eager reception as the first two did, although my current thinking is that the barrier is actually higher in this case because the exact same people in the RPG community who want relevant content are the same ones who like to pretend they are above politics and religion. So far, the games in question for politics include carry, Spione, Steal Away Jordan, and Grey Ranks; the ones for religion include Montsegur 1244 and Thou Art But a Warrior, and I'm probably missing a couple. I suggest that Dogs in the Vineyard is a case study with special properties but we can save that for later posts.

What I'm hoping for

Essentially, I want responses straight from the heart. Whether it's your reading of the current write-ups, any attempt at playing them, your thoughts on religion in RPG settings, your personal accounts and admissions regarding religion and role-playing, all I care about is your honesty. As long as that's there, whatever you toss into this thread for those topics will help me a lot, and I hope to be able to provide interesting feedback that shows more about where I'm coming from with these ... well, not games yet, "things."

I really don't want writing advice. These are not game texts yet and if any of them ever becomes one, I'll write it from scratch and will need comments then. For now, these are design drafts, and I hope you can read them in that light.

Best, Ron


Title: Re: Three games about religion
Post by: Abkajud on June 08, 2011, 10:54:42 AM
Hey Ron,
I'm glad you're expanding upon that idea of RPGers having a strong religious background/presence in their background, and I am dying for more religion and politics in games (as you probably know).
One logistical thing, though: the links on the Adept Press site seem to not be working. Help!


Title: Re: Three games about religion
Post by: Ron Edwards on June 08, 2011, 10:59:39 AM
Hi,

Refresh the page and see if that works. When I first posted, I had to test the links and fix them, which is why the page is marked as edited. It's possible you're clicking on the first version.

Best, Ron


Title: Re: Three games about religion
Post by: Lavinia Fantini on June 08, 2011, 11:12:46 AM
The problem is that there's an extra
 at the end of each link (it shows as <br%20> in the address bar when opened) when you try to open it. Delete the extra bit and you have the correct address :-)

Very interesting thoughts Ron, I'm going to watch your talk at INC (for some reason I still haven't!).


Title: Re: Three games about religion
Post by: Lavinia Fantini on June 08, 2011, 11:14:17 AM
*there is an extra < br / > at the end of each link


Title: Re: Three games about religion
Post by: Ron Edwards on June 08, 2011, 11:19:34 AM
Ah-ha - now I see it. I fixed the link; all three documents are now available with a single click.

And more! The internal link to the "provocative thoughts" (which are present in this thread already anyway) is now fixed too.

Best, Ron


Title: Glorantha (Re: Three games about religion)
Post by: Erik Weissengruber on June 08, 2011, 12:24:52 PM
BIOGRAPHICAL PROFILE

Glorantha appealed to me because myth was front and centre.

I knew about the Runequest RPG around '80 and '81 was enthused to play in a world where religion mattered.

This is after readling lots of childrens' books on mythology and reading a bit about Jung and Freud.

Moreover, I liked the opportunity to imagine what it was like to be one of the Homeric or Germanic heroes who got entangled with the gods themselves.*  The chance to be a character in a myth, rather than a worshiper or a mythic pantheon.

My connection with organized Christianity was minimal -- I sang in a Presbyterian church choir because its leader ran the children's theatre program I was in -- but the tropes of Christian eschatology, the imagery of the martyred Christ, the demands of Christian ethics, and the taboos/anxieties/"thou shalt nots" of Christian personal morality ended up in my head without any church attendance being mandated by my parents.

It seems that the games you are proposing have more to do with the legacy of doctrinal Christianity (and the other Abrahamic religions) than it does the kind of pagan/mythopoeic religious experiences pushed to the fore in Runequest.*

In terms of playing or running games, I would vascillate between bloody, nihilistic power fantasies or focusing on characters who had to live out the consequences of chosing to become the incarnations of greater-than human forces.

Janet Morris' treatment of Tempus in the 2nd Thieves World book brought both kinds of story together and I suppose that I got bored of role playing when I couldn't get that kind of drama at the table.

Perhaps dealing with religion in gaming requires thinking about adolescent thoughts about death/mortality/family/sex/power and adult takes on those subjects.

* [Yes there are monotheists and animists in Glorantha.  I am talking about what appealed to me in the flavour text, some of the rules, and illustrations of the 1st and 2nd editions.  And I really can't say what it's like growing up in a society untouched by the big monotheisims so the desire for the "pagan" is projection and wish fullfilment]


WHAT YOUR POSTS GOT ME THINKING ABOUT
- Did we gamers turn to Call of Cthulhu because we wanted the experience of smashing debased, slavish worshipers into nothingness?  A little vicarious atheist/agnostic revenge on those believers who make non-believers feel like outsiders?

- Gnosticism (the flipside of doctrinal Christianity, almost from day one).  What's up with this belief that the official interpretations of the sacred books, or those texts themselves, are just cyphers for the REAL cosmological/theological struggles?  You can see this trope at work in many games that deal with the occult (the hidden), like Mage.  You mentioned both Valis and the Matrix, two imaginary worlds heavy on the gnostic "everything you know is wrong" or "sleeper ... awake from the dream reality that has enslaved the majority and join in with the select few who see things as they are."  Perhaps each kind of religion produces its own kind of dissent and a kind of tightly conceived and rigidly taught scriptural religion produces a counter belief -- a counter scripture that demands a certain kind of reading and the practice of envisioning a total or deep reality that the unenlightened cannot see -- without guidance from the [counter]institution..







Title: Re: Three games about religion
Post by: David Berg on June 08, 2011, 12:50:17 PM
Hi Ron,

Playing D&D as young teens, my groups (of secular atheist players) totally got into the color of being a cleric.  "I wear these colors and perform these little rituals, and speak in such and such a tone when asking my deity for stuff!"  It neatly fleshed out a way to roleplay the character beyond their cool powers.  Usually one player in a given group did this, and everyone else thought it was cool, and looked on it as "that's who that character is".

But there was no faith to be found -- there was only a belief in that which had been proven.  "If I do this stuff, I get healing powers."  Each cleric's deity was verifiably real, and the observance made was verifiably the correct way to relate to them (plus flourishes and embellishment to taste, or course).

Later, doing some world-building with this same group of players, trying to emulate high middle ages Europe, we got hung up on religion.  "I can't roleplay these people, they're fucking psychotic.  This culture supports an entire religious class based on their story that they know the best way to talk to a God who acts quite like us and needs to be bribed, but no one has ever seen?  I am not that good a roleplayer; I cannot possibly immerse myself in that mindset."  So we endeavored to create a fictional society which looked somewhat like medieval Europe, but whose functional logic was based on stuff we understood from our own lives -- economics, mostly, with some geography and physics.  Characters were allowed to sacrifice animals to the Gods for good fortune on a voyage, but no one's getting killed or going broke for something they can't see or touch.

Subsequently, my history-researching friend has found more and more instances where actual economic motives coincided with supposed religious ones.  I don't think it's quite as simple as "the Crusades were 100% about money and land", but he brought up some stuff like that.  So it isn't that medieval Christians were actually psychotic; certain narratives about the time just make them look that way.

Anyway, cultural practices and institutions of all sorts pop up in the fiction of the games I play, and there's no great distinction made about which of those might be defined as religious.  Wedding ring tradition is wedding ring tradition, and we don't need to know or care whether that came from Christianity in order to play it.  If in-game religion is just a subset of in-game culture, I'm already comfortable with it, somewhat familiar with it, and would be happy to play more games focused on it, but it ain't no big thang.

It's only when belief is a factor that I get interested in in-game religion for its own sake.  Who's a true believer, who's self-deluding, and who's a malicious faker?  Who's using belief as positive social pressure (e.g. for charity) versus negative (e.g. fear-mongering)?  Who really, truly acts like they believe what they say they believe?  How hard is it for believers and non-believers to interact and connect?

These are tricky issues for me in the real world.  You seem to dig putting that kind of challenging stuff into your games, Ron, so I'd have to say that vaulting past the belief issue seems like a bad move to me.

In Montsegur 1244, the tension between "if I recant, I won't be burned" and "but what if what I've been told to believe is The Truth?" was probably my favorite part.

Ps,
-Dave


Title: Re: Three games about religion
Post by: Callan S. on June 08, 2011, 06:48:35 PM
It probably sounds glib but, if to game is to question, and religion is about unquestioning faith/belief, it strikes me a game about religion wont be? Or it wont be about questioning religion?


Title: Re: Three games about religion
Post by: JSDiamond on June 08, 2011, 09:12:45 PM
Quote
Essentially, I want responses straight from the heart. Whether it's your reading of the current write-ups, any attempt at playing them, your thoughts on religion in RPG settings, your personal accounts and admissions regarding religion and role-playing, all I care about is your honesty. As long as that's there, whatever you toss into this thread for those topics will help me a lot, and I hope to be able to provide interesting feedback that shows more about where I'm coming from with these ... well, not games yet, "things."
This is a deep well to plumb.

David Berg hit on it, faith vs. knowing; which makes playing a cleric little different than playing a mage. One prays for "spells" and the other memorizes. But both have a list and they both know it. That's why I don't like RPG clerics as typically presented in games. And I won't even get into how the existence of clerics must logically contradict mages or vice-versa. But those are rules/mechanics quibbles.
     
I do like fictional religions presented in games because it provides an extention of faith (or desperate hope) that there's something after.  I think that's one reason why fantasy games account for half (or more) of those enjoying the greatest popularity: There's usually magic and so (IMO) it's also easy to imagine/accept the existence of a pantheon of gods and happy hunting grounds for my immortal spirit. It seems perfectly reasonable. Or at least, it makes me feel like the odds are better.

On the other hand, in a sci-fi settting religion becomes the quaint practice of noble savages on some backwater planet. Which is still preferrable to something hella lame like a sentient head cold (read: the force). In sci-fi (hard sci-fi, space opera, etc.) technology is the religion. But the end result is the same; through it, I don't have to die. So, I don't have o be afraid of dying.



Title: Re: Three games about religion
Post by: Anders Gabrielsson on June 09, 2011, 03:44:40 AM
My personal history with religion, with some historical background first. Those who don't care about religion in Sweden can skip the first three paragraphs.

I'm Swedish. Sweden as a country and society and Swedish people in general have (at least superficially) very different opinions and expectations than the US and Americans when it comes to religion. We're very secular and religious belief has no place in politics - not even the Christian Democrat party uses religious arguments for their positions.

On the other hand we had a state church until about 15-20 years ago, into which you were automatically inducted at birth. The Swedish Church is protestant, but very much "old" protestant; not quite Anglican but still rooted firmly in the 19th century traditional protestantism as opposed to more recent evangelical movements. That said, official church doctrine is very progressive, performing marriages between same-sex couples and such (though not without conflict within the church).

Speaking of the evangelicals, they were one of the three big popular movements at the last turn of the century (with the workers' movement and the sobriety movement being the other two). I think pentecostals and various forms of baptists are the biggest branches, but I'm no expert on that part.

I was raised in a traditional, Swedish Church family. Mom was (and still is) active in the church (singing in the choir, sitting on the council and so on) while my stepfather is from a somewhat puritanical family - of interest here may be that they specifically disliked gambling to the point of disallowing any form of chance-based games, i.e. any involving dice or cards. Chess was fine, and him teaching me that when I was five or so was probably my start in gaming. I went to church regularly as a child, sang in the childrens' choir and went through confirmation, though by then (at age 15) I had come to the conclusion that I didn't believe in God and probably never had. Social pressure will do that to you.

My sister (one of my half-sisters, but the only one I grew up with - that's another long and even more boring story) joined one of the more fringey evengelical churches in her teens and she's still part of that side of things though far less vocal about it. We had a couple of arguments on faith vs. reason and since then we've avoided the subject. Not that religion was ever up much for discussion at home otherwise - our parents expected us to go to church and that was about it. When I lost interest I was for the most part allowed to do as I wanted, though Mom would still ask me to come every now and then and I didn't really mind before I started to feel truly hypocritical about it.

When I was around 10-12 there were a couple of runs of moral panic regarding violent comic books and movies on video. (During this time Sweden still had a government-owned television monopoly - not state-run, but not far from it - with all of two, count 'em, two channels. Cinemas were private, though. Anyway, the arrival of the privately owned VCR was huge.)

I've always had an interest in Norse mythology, which has been very popular in Sweden since it was revived during the national romanticism of the 19th century. We all study it a bit in school, and I don't think there's a town in Sweden that doesn't have a street named after Thor or Odin. The area I grew up in is called "Vi" (or "Wii" with an older spelling), which I've been told is Norse for "place of sacrifice". (Having another religious system to refer to, one that was actually used by people who lived where you live, probably changes one's perspective in some ways.) As a sidenote on the sidenote, there are some modernized Norse god adherents in Sweden; my impression is that they're fairly similar to other neo-pagans: harmless, with liberal modern values and a varying degree of spirituality.

My religious views haven't changed much over the years, really, but I have become better at putting words on them. In a strict philosophical sense I'm an agnostic, because I believe it's impossible to know for sure if God exists or not, but in a practical sense I'm a "strong" atheist, in that I believe (in the everyday meaning of the word) that God does not exist.

In the gaming groups I've been part of, faith has rarely been presented as something positive. When religion isn't part of the setting players very rarely play religious characters, and when it is part of the setting it's usually present as fact which makes it more like a weird kind of science than anything else. In my experience, this type of religion (as in D&D and many other fantasy games) can't stand up to any serious examination because it makes the world very, very different from the one we have any experience with, personally or from history. There's a massive difference between being convinced of something and having absolute proof that it's true.

For my currently running D&D 4E game I made an attempt at reconciling the gods as presented in the books, how people actually act with regards to religion and the knowledge people would have with regards to the will of the gods, the afterlife and so on, but partly because one of the PCs is a cleric with some backstory I couldn't be too radical. I'll probably revisit the subject for the next game.

I would like to get more religious themes in my gaming to explore that mindset, but I'm not sure I could get a good group together for it.


Title: Re: Three games about religion
Post by: Erik Weissengruber on June 09, 2011, 07:25:22 AM
I've read the three games. 

The red game engages players in the gnostic experience of begnining to know a more powerful truth than the (fictional) people around your character.

The ophite game really brings in the social dynamics of adhering to a doctrine outside of the socially sanctioned one, and which looks on the dominant one not only as incorrect or evil, but the very enemy of all that is true and right and good.

"Belief" or evidence don't seem to be the subject matter.  The human consequences of living out religious docrines do.

Is that what you were aiming for?  Did I grok it?


Related reading:
- The references are good and have grounded the games sufficiently
- (the majority of Biblical studies scholars believe that there was some historical figure whose teachings and actions initiated the Jesus movement but that dispute doesn't really affect the ophite game's fictional cosmology or the validity of your statements about the production of religious texts scattered across the games and associated discussions)

I cam across a discussion of the gnostic trope in popular fictions -- particularly fictions for adolescents -- that might come in handy when discussing/promoting/explaining the game:

http://jseliger.com/2008/06/05/on-science-fiction/

Some of the highlights

Seliger
"I think there is also something in the modern adolescent temperament that science fiction and fantasy appeals to: the idea that you’re being held back and oppressed and that with time you will acquire devices or skills that lend you great power to overcome forces that seem to be evil. Later, unfortunately, you discover that those forces are not so much malicious as incompetent and lazy and that the structure of the world is very hard to change; what those novels often don’t show is how the heroic quest is symbolic in the real world not of battling demons but of study, thought, and work."

Graham:

"But if a kid asks you “Is there a God?” or “What’s a prostitute?” you’ll probably say “Ask your parents.”

Since we all agree [about lies to tell kids and forbidden questions], kids see few cracks in the view of the world presented to them. The biggest disagreements are between parents and schools, but even those are small. Schools are careful what they say about controversial topics, and if they do contradict what parents want their kids to believe, parents either pressure the school into keeping quiet or move their kids to a new school.

The conspiracy is so thorough that most kids who discover it do so only by discovering internal contradictions in what they’re told. It can be traumatic for the ones who wake up during the operation.

I remember that feeling. By 15 I was convinced the world was corrupt from end to end. That’s why movies like The Matrix have such resonance. Every kid grows up in a fake world. In a way it would be easier if the forces behind it were as clearly differentiated as a bunch of evil machines, and one could make a clean break just by taking a pill."

The fun thing about the games is that they allow players to play out undergoing, living out the repercussions of, and engaging in the theological/scholoarly pursuit of breaking the simulacrum [http://tinyurl.com/44ahr9n] (and in the skull game's case, facing up to how the institution betrayed its followers).


Title: Re: Three games about religion
Post by: Ron Edwards on June 09, 2011, 09:10:03 AM
I'll contribute some thoughts, not necessarily formal responses, to what's been posted so far.

Erik
Call of Cthulhu, or the Mythos as presented through the game, presents a fascinating double view of religion. On the one hand, you have the right-thinking, deeply rational, civilized and effectively retro-Victorians opposed to the gibbering, unwashed, non-white cultists. On the other, you have the yawning and uncontrovertibly insane cosmic void confronting those right-thinking and rational types and turning them into mental patients. So there's a tension between (i) promoting an Anglophilic WWI-American worldview and (ii) challenging it. Not exactly the most enlightened tension considering that the "coloreds" get tagged as grunting hordes either way, but a tension nevertheless. How this gets involved in play strikes me as a major creative and aesthetic concern for the game: is or is not Mythos-inspired insanity insight? And if so, about what? The best Lovecraft stories really nail this, like Pickman's Model, regarding art, and The Thing on the Doorstep, regarding love. The dumb ones, sadly including the game's namesake, do not.

I should have specified that I am in fact examining the Abrahamic religious tradition, as such, not the shamanic and ecstatic approaches that are emphasized in most of the Gloranthan material. Although a look at monastic, prophetic, and other "edge" versions of Abrahamic religions certainly shows a lot of correspondence to those approaches, now that I think about it. Baptist snake-handling, whirling dervishes ...

David
I think you are caught in the exact trap that I tried to help you around: that whenever anyone does anything important with a religious sticker stuck on it, it must be about "belief." I suggest instead not to equate committed, relevant action in a religious context with faith, belief, religiosity, or anything like it. I suggest humans are more complex than that, even if the religion is providing the symbols and vocabulary for the action.

One thing I mentioned in the talk is that when it comes to diversity of observance and the discontinuity between belief and observance, people are quite tolerant and all "of course" when it comes to their own religion, but tend to see any observance to another religion as evidence of profound and committed belief. My carefully-chosen example to a European Christian audience was the head-scarf (hijab) issue - that people in the room may well take it as given that both the attendees and lack of attendees at Catholic Mass that particular week varied all over the map in terms of raw faith, but also may react to a person wearing the hijab as if she were expressing nothing but the fullest and most unquestioning faith. The reaction at the table confirmed my suggestion, or rather, people found it close enough to home for the point to be confirmed.

The decision at the end of a Montsegur story is not strictly about belief, as I see it, or more accurately, it is a framework for investigating belief rather than treating belief as a fixed thing. It is about the social expression of allegiance to a sect at the hardest edge of life vs. death. Whether that includes belief in the sense of personal religiosity is a dial for a given character and a given instance of play. In fact, I suggest that the spinning of that dial, and discovering where it lands for your character when the crunch comes, is what play is about. Does the harlot choose to burn because she believes in the Cathar doctrine, or because she wants to be "married at last" to her lover? Can one even tell the difference? The game leaves all of this up to play itself, most especially the back-story and emotional framing of her pregnancy. It does not dictate that she is simply and only a fanatic who either holds to it or abandons it.

You might be interested to know that the people who conducted human bomb operations for Hezbollah (a profoundly committed Shi'a Muslim organization) in the 1980s came from all of the religions and ideologies available in southern Lebanon, including Sunni Muslim, more than one version of Christian, and secular radical communist, and that Shi'a Muslims were not in the majority. This runs counter to the widely-held notions that Muslims are more prone to using such attacks due to some kind of belief in a martyr's paradise, or that Shi'a are more motivated to do so because of their doctrinal emphasis on martyred historical figures. Those widely-held notions are stuck in the trap.

Callan
Defining religion as "unquestioning faith/belief" is simply counter-factual. It's precisely the trap I'm talking about, a refusal to look at the practices, observances, doctrines, and institutions as human phenomena with features of their own. When you take belief, faith, all that stuff, out of the picture, all those other things remain - and remain consequential.

This is precisely why so-called enlightened, secular northern European culture can refuse to face up to its own ethnic and cultural bigotry and still be smug about it. No one is more classically, medievally Christian than my Nordic friends, especially concerning Jews and Muslims, no matter how modern and "we're all atheists now" they congratulate themselves for.

Take a look at the games (or drafts, or "things," whatever they are), and see what you think.

Anders
My wife presents an excellent example of what you're talking about. When we moved to the neighborhood we now live in, as a Swede living in the States, she joined the local Lutheran church, in which we were married and into which our twins are baptized. Given the local demographics, most of the people who attend that church have names like Lindstrom and Lundberg, most of them third- and fourth-generation Americans. But the difference between her expectations of the church and what she encountered there is fascinating. To them and to the ministry there, personal belief matters greatly, it's at the center of all the observance and all the church activities. For instance, the baptism ritual was about nothing else. But to her, personal belief is kind of a minor and not especially interesting part of her desire to have church and observances be part of her routine. The discontinuity was strong enough to reduce her interest in participating in those observances and activities, quite a bit in fact, compared to her initial enthusiasm when we moved to the area. Our kids no longer attend the Sunday school there, for instance. By contrast, our third child was baptized in the thousand-plus-years-old church in Norrkoping, which includes the graves of my wife's grandparents, great-grandparents, great-great ... you get the idea. And that ceremony, steeped in concrete tradition unimaginable to most Americans, did not involve advocations of belief at all.

Erik again
Quote
"Belief" or evidence don't seem to be the subject matter. The human consequences of living out religious docrines do.

Yes, that is it. Or not living them out. Or more precisely, reconciling religious doctrinal exposure with one's maturing personality and choices in life.

My reading of the "red" game doesn't include the notion of truth. I think instead that it throws that concept hard into the blender of beauty and insanity. My seminal inspiration probably lies in one of the sequences in Valis, in which the protagonist has a very colorful and cosmically-flavored vision of his child's hernia, and takes him to the doctor to discover that it's true. Vision? Prophecy? Insight? A rational decision retroactively colored in by a little too much imagination? Stupid luck? The text wisely does not say. The character's vision was quite arguably both beautiful and insane, and the question is raised whether it was insightful ("true"). And I think a darker, more profound question is really underneath that. Because the text does say, and I think elicits profound grief and horror in doing so, that the child had been suffering for years without anyone noticing. Say the vision was prophetic, true, insightful, cosmic, et cetera ... well fuck! How genuinely good is "truth" that let that go on for so long? The book is so good because that underlying howl of rage underlies every single plot point. I hope to have incorporated that into the game most especially regarding the outcome if you were, for instance, to rely on the Living Life to the Full option throughout, and more generally, in the rule that always decreases one or more scores by 1 after every round.

Regarding Relic, nothing in the game dictates that the church ultimately betrays its followers. That's one outcome that might happen, yes. It depends on where your mind goes as you play.

Best, Ron


Title: Re: Three games about religion
Post by: Anders Gabrielsson on June 09, 2011, 10:37:00 AM
I've read the Red game now, and while I find the actual game interesting what struck me most was the appropriation of the character sheet as a physical object. I really like that.

I suspect that the Lutherans of Scandinavian descent in the US, especially in the communities where they dominate, are far more conservative than Swedes in general when it comes to these issues. Religion used to be a very important part of everyone's life, especially their communal life, and if your beliefs were slightly different from those of the people in the next town over that has a conserving effect.

Quote
One thing I mentioned in the talk is that when it comes to diversity of observance and the discontinuity between belief and observance, people are quite tolerant and all "of course" when it comes to their own religion, but tend to see any observance to another religion as evidence of profound and committed belief. My carefully-chosen example to a European Christian audience was the head-scarf (hijab) issue - that people in the room may well take it as given that both the attendees and lack of attendees at Catholic Mass that particular week varied all over the map in terms of raw faith, but also may react to a person wearing the hijab as if she were expressing nothing but the fullest and most unquestioning faith.

This is very true. As I'm sure you know headscarves and similar types of clothing are hotly debated in many European countries currently, but obviously only in relation to Islam. That Christian nuns cover their hair is uncontroversial, and that it would have been scandalous for a grown woman to go with her hair uncovered here a hundred years ago is also ignored.

(As a sidenote, I've been quite amused by a book called "Scandinavian Humor & Other Myths" which is about Scandinavian Americans. It has a full chapter on Lutheranism.)


Title: Re: Three games about religion
Post by: David Berg on June 09, 2011, 12:29:50 PM
Hi Ron,

As long as I get to explore whether my Montsegur character's a fanatic or not, I'm happy.  Maybe I explore that in the choice of whether to burn, or maybe I explore it in the motivation of why to burn -- either way is cool with me.  "No one cares if you're a fanatic or not," would be disappointing, though. 

As for your larger points about real-world behavior and perception, they make total sense to me: hijabs can look deceptively devout to non-Muslims, Hezbollah can appeal to various people for various reasons, etc.  I hear ya.

That said, if I had Game A about secular Hezbollah members, and Game B about exploring what you really believe in and relating it to your choices and actions, I'd be happy to play both, but the latter would be the one that scratches my "RPGs about religion" itch.

Ps,
-David


Title: Re: Three games about religion
Post by: Callan S. on June 13, 2011, 01:05:44 AM
Ron, I don't think I was forcing a definition that doesn't commonly occur. On the other hand I'm looking through Ophite and the more the direct references to the word 'religion' become a peripheral in the text, the more the effect I mentioned becomes peripheral. It seems pretty peripheral so far in the Ophite text, so perhaps me going into the details wont benefit the design process much. So I'll leave it at that.


Title: Re: Three games about religion
Post by: Ron Edwards on June 13, 2011, 05:54:32 AM
Hi Callan,

Yeah. Meaning, yes, I'm with you on that definition or at least that phrasing of religion being commonly, frequently used. And I'll agree further in observing that many overtly-religious people (most observant, most sociologically committed) identify their personal faith with the details of their practice, although whether this is regional or religion-specific I can't say.

The construction I presented in my first post and in the video is definitely not the most common view. I didn't intend to correct you in terms of what's said or how it's said, and I don't think I chose my wording toward you personally quite right. Doing that is tough with this topic. All I ask is that my own phrasing be considered, as a contrast to the way your post put it.

Best, Ron


Title: Re: Three games about religion
Post by: Marshall Burns on June 15, 2011, 09:10:54 AM
This is highly interesting. Like, seriously. Man.

Ok. I was raised in an evangelical Christian household. Primarily Pentecostal (I grew up seeing people dance in the aisles and "speak in tongues" and thought nothing odd about it), but there were times when a Pentecostal church my parents were OK with wasn't available and we went to a different (but still evangelical) church. Just about everyone on my father's side of the family is religious. My grandfather writes gospel songs, and evangelizes at prisons and in foreign countries. My great grandfather has played guitar in the church band at my hometown's First Assembly of God for decades. I attended church every Sunday unless ill until my teens, when I was allowed the choice and gradually stopped going because I didn't find it fulfilling in any sense.

Frankly, I was sheltered to a great degree, particularly from things that smacked of the occult (something which evangelicals hold a great fear of, in my experience). For instance, I wasn't allowed to watch the Smurfs because what's-his-face, the bad guy, had a pentacle (misidentified by my parents and everyone else I know as a pentagram) on his floor. That's probably the most absurd restriction that was placed on me, but there were plenty of others regarding what I was allowed to watch, do, and read.

I remember once playing pretend as a child and drawing material from a fantasy videogame, involving magic and whatnot, and my parents becoming upset. From that point, such videogames (Final Fantasy, etc.) were no longer played in our house. That restriction later vanished without comment or ceremony. When Magic: the Gathering got big when I was 10 or so, I was forbidden from playing it, and my mom treated me to a story of how my dad used to play D&D and found out it was evil, so he burned all his D&D materials and skulls formed in the smoke (I shit you not, she really told me that).

On the other hand, it was my dad who introduced me to RPGs with a game of Boot Hill (which went nowhere because I was 8 years old; it was beyond me at the time).

I can't pretend that being brought up in that environment had no effect on me. It's had plenty of them, both positive (I took to heart notions like mercy and patience that got bandied about), and negative -- coming to terms with my sexuality (heterosexual but decidedly non-vanilla, and that's enough info about that) was something of an adventure, and I distinctly remember being viscerally wracked with guilt and irrational fear after feeling up my girlfriend for the first time at the age of 15 (an incident which pretty much scuttled our relationship as well). I was in and of a particular subculture, and although I'm not part of it anymore, it's still part of me. It's also very much entangled with my (tangly) relationship with my father, and that's a whole 'nother can of worms.

I got into RPGs in my teens, around the same time I was granted freedom to abstain from attending church. It was also around this time that I became literate (I had been a reader since as long as I could remember, but I didn't start being literate until then). It struck me as odd that my dad showed no interest in any of the RPG stuff (I was designing games even then) despite having introduced me to it in the first place, but I didn't call much attention to it either, and pretty much actively hid evidence of other games I was involved in (which involved religion-related content pervasively -- interestingly, these games were designed by friends of mine who didn't grow up in religious households). But my dad's disinterest wasn't entirely unwelcome either; I lived with a pretty much constant anxiety of being judged negatively by my father, a fact exacerbated by the fact that you cannot debate anything with the man due to an infuriating ability on his part to dismiss any dissenting argument from the floor (and it doesn't matter if he does it fallaciously; you're still not going anywhere with it). But that's getting into the relationship-with-my-dad thing, which isn't the same as the religion & RPGs thing.

It's interesting to me to look at the games I've designed and notice that none of them really deal with religion. My teen designs featured the D&D powerz list kind of non-religions, and that was as close as I got. Even the Rustbelt with its Faith rules doesn't really deal with religion; it deals with faith from a pop-psychological standpoint, and remains systematically unconcerned with actual religion in terms of observance, doctrine, and institutions. They can be there, sure, but the game itself doesn't particularly care if they are or not. It's more about belief and how the character feels about that belief.


Title: Re: Three games about religion
Post by: contracycle on June 15, 2011, 09:16:15 AM
Not sure where to start; if you just find bio data valuable, I' guess I'll start there, although it's probably not very useful for your purposes.

My social context as a kid was quite religious, and being religious was generally considered to be coterminus with being a Good Person, but my family was not particularly involved.  I couldn't actually tell you whether my mother takes religion seriously, for example, but for all that I was christened and sent to sunday school etc, that was just the normal stuff that people did.  But when I wanted to stop going, there was no fuss.  I guess I considered myself a believer in a fairly passive and informal way until the age of about 12 or 13, although it was actually after that point that I got involved with an actual religious group, primarily for social reasons.  In some respects I was looking for a convincing argument, but in the end it only confirmed my developing atheism.  I didn't really experience RPG as rebellious, because there was no pre-existing hostility as such, certainly not one I was aware of anyway, and I only encountered it after I'd been gaming for 4 or 5 years.  The result was that I thought the whole saga was absurd and if anything it hardened my stance on what nonsense people were willing to believe simply because a preacher said it.  But for some of the people I played with in those days, I think what you suggest is quite true, that it served as a medium of rebellion, although I associate that more strongly with black/death metal and sundry affectations to being a satanist.

At any rate, what I wanted to mention is that I think a potential 5th aspect to consider is simply data.  That is, the structure of a social religious practice that carries some kind of authority can carry within it data of practical utility, even if it doesn't have sufficient information with which to logically justify the position it takes.  For example, your classic Hollywood natives trying to appease and "angry mountain"; storing the information that the mountain can enter an "angry" state may be factually wrong, but if it carries from generation to generation the information that the mountain can be dangerous then it can gave social utility anyway. I suppose this might be folded into Culture, but it's not culture of the general establishment of right and proper behaviour sort; it is embedding an intuitively understood insight into the practical world without fully understanding it and relying on the continuity of practice to keep that data alive.  Religiously mandated forms of ritual purity can be seen in the same light, in that although many of them are wrong, many of them are not and did probably contribute to hygiene and cleanliness.

I certainly agree that a huge amount of discussion about right and proper social structure, personal behaviour and morality etc, is conducted in a religious context.  On the other hand I'm not really so convinced that the Abrahamic texts are much use in this regard, because they are all infused with a programamatic doctrine to establish monotheism specifically, and thus much of their content is aimed at a quite different purpose.  But that quibble aside, I certainly see the value in exploring nominally religious texts for the information they contain on cosmology as understood by those people, for example.  That element, the cultural one I guess, is that one that draws most of my interest, and where my frustration with RPG's to date arises.  My problem with them is that they basically treat the characters as psychologically modern.  Religion is thus not a perception of cosmology or right living, but specifically magical practices and anachronistic personal belief.  The very distinctions between "magicians" and "clerics" is basically flawed, as is the idea people generally engage with a specific deity rather the pantheon as a whole (note: I know this isn't strictly true.  People did attach themselves to particular cults; but the idea that someone was a worshipper of this god or that god in isolation seems pretty weird to me).

I guess a good example of the kind of things I would like from an greater exploration is exemplified in the scene from the Robin Hood Prince of Thieves movie in which Morgan Freeman's Moorish character has a brief rant about how he can't determine where east is in England so as to pray to Mecca. The sort of thing where religious practice is personally important to characters, where it prompts demonstrative and expressive play, rather than gods as patron or power sources.

As a note, another text you might find useful is the History of the Franks by Gregory of Tours.  Although obviously intended as a work of history, Gregory was himself a bishop who also wrote several tracts on the lives of the saints.  The text is thus full of matters of primarily religious interest, such as the doings of church figures, signs and wonders observed, his doctrinal arguments with Visigothic Arians, etc.  As such, while not a primary source for the matters of human reflection you mention, it is an interesting window on the practical life and views of an active agent of the church in a period significantly different to ours (the 500's). Like the instance he recounts where a particularly pious monk prays for a miracle which is granted by god, and all his fellow monks immediately beat the shit out of him so that he doesn't becomes puffed up with sinful pride at this achievement.

I also wanted to mention something about the Call of Cthulhu things said above.  The trope of "defending civilisation against the barbarians" is a powerful and seductive one, and although often, indeed usually, infused with racist overtones, that doesn't necessarily have to be the case.  The Romans weren't particularly racist, and it would be difficult to see the effort to preserve the empire against hordes of human-sacrificing barbarians as other than heroic.  I know it's dodgy and often exploited territory, but it is so because because it is so evocative.  


Title: Re: Three games about religion
Post by: Ron Edwards on June 15, 2011, 11:28:31 AM
I'm liking this thread very much. I had no real idea of where to go with it except to see where it goes, and my current notion is that everyone's various posted details - analytical, scholarly, personal - are accumulating into a mine for each new reader. Who knows which piece will be inspirational in terms of later design and play, and along what vector? It's the richness of the mine itself which seems to be the thread's main asset.

More thoughts on the three texts themselves would be helpful too. I know most of my presentation so far has been a little standoffish about that, because they really aren't in either the textual or design shape which would benefit from ordinary critique. But I am interested in what they make people think about, if anything, as a couple of posts have done. Or who knows, any thoughts on the source material or the combinations I've chosen. It is my first set of RPG work that invokes the Grateful Dead throughout, for instance, and band-specific music of any kind has never been a major inspiration for me before.

Best, Ron


Title: Re: Three games about religion
Post by: Hans Chung-Otterson on June 23, 2011, 09:02:14 PM
Essentially, I want responses straight from the heart. Whether it's your reading of the current write-ups, any attempt at playing them, your thoughts on religion in RPG settings, your personal accounts and admissions regarding religion and role-playing, all I care about is your honesty. As long as that's there, whatever you toss into this thread for those topics will help me a lot, and I hope to be able to provide interesting feedback that shows more about where I'm coming from with these ... well, not games yet, "things."

Hey Ron,

I was raised in the mid-80's and 90's in the Conservative Evangelical Christian traditions of those times. I specifically remember, as a kid, watching a commercial for D&D with my mom in the room, and expressing nothing approaching interest. My mom, however, declared "that's evil" at the TV. Fast-forward to my college days (early to mid 2000s) and I finally feel daring enough to buy 3.5 D&D books.

For my first year or so playing roleplaying games (2007ish), I was plagued by a kind of anxiety that reared its head every so often. For example, when I went to my first convention, by myself, the sense of this being a foreign community was palpable to me, and I did feel a real anxiety that maybe this is actually wrong in some way, or demonic, and my mom was right. My faith had changed a lot by then, and I had rejected the conservatism of my upbringing, but at this point hadn't (yet) come to the conclusion that there were deeply destructive elements to it still clinging to me.

Not sure where I'm going with this. I suppose it's just to say: yes, roleplaying was one of the most (safe) rebellious things I could do as a kid, but I didn't do it until I grew up, for fear that they actually were evil. Sounds ridiculous to me now, and probably to you, but it's the plain truth. It took me a while to shake that feeling, and as I get older, I'm beginning to really resent the faith (people, that is) of my childhood from barring me from something that I enjoy so much, and brings such life to me. In fact, my positive journey with roleplaying has happened (or maybe more than happened?) to coincide with a journey of faith where Doubt has come to be more and more important.


I want to stress that none of them are about religious belief, which as I see it, is a huge non-issue which tends to blot out all the relevant issues about religion through its very non-ness. It's kind of the opposite of the elephant in the room that no one will talk about; instead, it's the elephant which is not in the room but which no one will shut up about.

I think you hit the nail on the head here. When I talk about my doubt I mean not an uncertainty about intellectual assent to a religious dogma, but rather that doubt is a part of the structure of faith. I know I'm going esoteric here, and I'll stop. I've been reading Paul Tillich (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paul_Tillich) lately, and I won't be able to fully articulate his thoughts on Faith & Doubt here, nor is it pertinent to the discussion. I suppose I just want to say: Hear, hear! I am excited to see your games about religion, but not about religious belief.

Just last week I wrote a draft for a game about doubt (http://story-games.com/praxis/comments.php?DiscussionID=497&page=1#Item_0), and the importance of it, which is also not about the importance or non-importance of belief.

Thanks for the venue, Ron, and the thread. Always insightful.


Title: Re: Three games about religion
Post by: Hans Chung-Otterson on June 23, 2011, 11:57:25 PM
I want to add a little bit more of personal history, because when it comes to religious/church stuff, I think I assume a lot that people outside of that culture don't.

Here's this: In college, when I was first exploring RPGs, I was also part of a campus Christian fellowship (Intervarsity, if anyone cares), and spent a great deal of time leading Bible studies and organizing events and meetings and generally being a part of the leadership. All of my close friends still are Christians, and none of them play roleplaying games.

My wife is currently in Seminary, studying for her Masters of Divinity. I still self-identify as a Christian, but I think the whole conversation about the existence of God (or non-existence) is meaningless*. Also, I don't know what to think about the historical Jesus these days, which puts me on shaky ground with pretty much every Christian I know (including my wife, to some extent). If that sounds a little 'religious wacko' or 'don't you know about Science?' to you, I point you to Erik's quote:

kids see few cracks in the view of the world presented to them.

This quote (and the larger part that surrounds it) seems so obvious now that I've read it, but I've never had that thought before. Of course! I had no alternatives growing up! So now I'm 27, and questioning whether Jesus rose from the dead and whatnot (and, more importantly I think: whether it matters to my faith whether Jesus rose from the dead, or was a real person, etc.), and it feels so difficult to get at any sort of historical truth about it: because all sides are throwing polemic, all sides, Christian apologists and New Atheists (Dawkins, Hitchens, Harris, etc.) alike whip me up into a frenzy and make me bewildered but don't help me see anything. Which I think is pretty much why I've discarded them and as well as all my stock in the "belief vs. nonbelief" issue.

Wow, am I going too far afield here? Obviously this topic has cracked something open in me. I think I'll leave my personal story and issues there, unless anyone has questions.

*in that it's literally meaningless babble to discuss the concept of God as a being beholden to the category of existence, one way or the other.


Title: Re: Three games about religion
Post by: MatrixGamer on June 28, 2011, 01:00:44 PM
I'll take a crack at the topic.

I suspect that we don't deal with religion much in RPGs because we don't talk about religion much in the US. We talk past one another about religion but money politics and religion are great ways to start a fight. This is so because we've always been a country of great religious diversity. The only way we get along is if we pretend to all be the same. As Mormon history shows, when we stop pretending people get shot. When you're in the minority you learn how to not bug people with your differences.

When Ron mentioned removing belief from the discussion of religion I saw an evangelical land mine right under foot. Belief in Evangelical Protestantism IS the religion. This is an example of how religious language can lead people to not communicate. The other one I see is the idea of people choosing their religion. That is a very Protestant idea. I love the Anababist idea but these are fighting words with other religions. Promising to raise your children Muslim, Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, various flavors of Jewish, Hindu etc. No choice is involved at all - possibly lots of guilt - but no choice. So using religious language event in an analytical way is bound to be thorny. Exclude something and you step on a land mine, include something and you step on another land mine. Martin Luther found tons of pagan holdovers in the 16th Century after a thousand years of Christianity in that part of the world. So not talking and ignoring differences is maybe the best example of Old Time Religion (Punctuated with periods of extreme violence and forced conformity).

At least in the US religion is still very important. It is serious business. Jefferson championed the free market of religion as a democratic ideal. So here we've never had religious uniformity. One of my ancestors was an early circuit rider (ca 1810). Others were German Catholic who didn't learn English for 70 years after coming to the US. I'm a Muslim convert. My brother's are Taoist and Neo-Pagan. Getting a handle on this in a simulation game is daunting.

I was reading a book about the Ohio frontier a month ago and was especially interested in the chapter on religion. It was a perfect example of the hetrodoxy I described above. Methodist circuit riders, Calvinist Presbyterians and Social Progress Presbyterians right there in the same church, Quakers who got along well with everyone by keeping to themselves, and Shakers who where sometimes attacked because they lured men's wives into communistic celebacy. Throw in Catholic enclaves and the occasional Jewish tinker and it was a mess.

My oldest brother once summed it up nicely when he observed that Neo Pagens tended to recreate their childhood religion in their neo-paganess. I sum it up in a rule "You should never kill anyone over theology." It all comes down to the same - a big no talk rule.

ALL THAT BEING SAID...

I've got no problem with people trying to make sense out of religion in games. I just hope they see that the simulation/rationalization that they come up with is their own understanding of what it means and that generalizing it very far is gong to run them straight back into the mine field.

For instance: Dogs in the Vinyard: I voted for it to be the game of the year when it came up even though I gave the fedback that if the game was about role playing the religious police in Saudi Arabia doing the same thing would raise the hackles of a lot of people. They would get all anti-terroristie. When I project my emotional self into Pre-Statehood Utah I get the idea that the first Dog I saw would shoot me real fast, which kind of kills the empathy needed to get into the character.

I remember Ron telling me about working on a game set in Lebanon last year, a place where the land mines are real! It's a bigger mess than here (religiously I mean). I personally think that Islam is in the middle of a "Protestant Reformation" experience and is still in the late 16th Century in terms of how resolved it is. The European experience was 120 years of really violent war. Then people stopped talking about theology and moved into the Enlightenment (sort of). I can see gaming the initial rush of emotion and rigid belief and evangelistic zeal, The head crashing arguments with other religions that seldom change anyone's beliefs, the bloody massacres, and then the stunned realization that maybe they had better learn tolerance. I can certainly see games of humor looking at the silly inconsistencies of religion (very post modern). I can see games about cynicism, which are not very religious. I can't see a game where people start getting heart felt about their practices, institutions, and customs that doesn't slide into rancor. Simulation religious tension by experiencing religious tension doesn't sound fun but it does sound very American. We've been doing this live action role play game for centuries.

Hummm...

What about a role play game set at a Revival meeting in Kentucy around 1805? They got all the religious groups together then, along with the drunks, hecklers, and criminals. It would be a free for all. God only know what would come of it.

These are the thoughts the topic brought up. I've got no idea if they lead anywhere useful.


Chris Engle

 


Title: Re: Three games about religion
Post by: ejh on July 11, 2011, 09:13:29 AM
In case people find it useful let me contribute a couple terms to the discussion:

ORTHODOXY: correct religious belief (for some definition of "correct")

ORTHOPRAXY: correct religious practice (ditto).

Many religions define themselves much more by orthopraxy than orthodoxy.  Even Catholic Christianity, which came up with the word "Orthdox," defines who is and isn't a member not by what they believe, but by whether they were baptized, period. From the point of view of Catholic (including Eastern Orthodox) theology, you are a member if you were baptized a member, no matter what you currently believe, because of the historical fact of your orthoprax baptism.  (You may be a very *bad* Catholic, but you are still a Catholic, and excommunication does not make you not a Catholic, it makes you a Catholic who was very bad and is being punished.)

Catholic Christianity concerned itself more with Orthodoxy than most previous Western religion, including Judaism, and Protestant Christianity made Orthodoxy absolutely supreme.

In other words, Ron's insistence that we look at religion in terms other than correct belief is absolutely something that any anthropologist of religion would heartily endorse; defining religion by belief is a very provincial affair, at best a facet of a greater whole, even within an Abrahamic context.

Just droppin' a little science here, and completely failing for now to do what Ron actually asked for, which is give a response straight from the heart.


Title: Re: Three games about religion
Post by: ADGBoss on July 11, 2011, 01:49:00 PM
This is an interesting and for me very complex issue. I am going to do my best not to ramble on too much and to make my points as succinctly as I can. No promises though and you have been warned. Oh and you will likely be offended.

First, my bio with regards to the question: I was raised Catholic, got a good education in a Catholic School for my first six years where I learned that I hated the idea of authority without wisdom or intellect. I am a fan of John Paul II who I think, was a visionary Pope as much as one can be visionary and still hold onto the old timers. I was fortunate enough to be a part open minded groups who favored mixing intellect with their religion and with a health dose of mysticism. I was an Altar Boy and never touched or approached inappropriately nor were any of the kids in my Parish that I know of. However, I do despise how the Church and ALL GROUPS from other religions to schools handle this subject. I was or I suppose am a Knight of Columbus. While I no longer consider myself Catholic or religious, I do not blame religion for all the evils of the world. I do admit I tend to cut the Catholic Church more slack than I do any other member of the J-C-M triumverate.

Anyway after Catholicism I went to a weak form of spiritualism and paganism before I got to my current state of beliefs. I think that religion is a form of science and science can be as dogmatic as any religion. I do not think they are mutually exclusive and I think the current crop of anti-theism is mainly a lot of people who are angry that Churches get tax free status and Santa Claus is not real. That is to say that humans lash out at the things of their childhood that they find may not have been true once they become adults. I think religion and science are both trying to explain the universe but I think that the method of religion tends to be very poor science. Thus its stuck with doctrines that are out of date or simply incomprehensible feel good nonsense. I will say that not once in a dark time have I ever said "Thank physics E-MC(squared)." Science is a cold doctrine that provides wonder and honesty but no comfort. So it is a matter of taste. I will say that science, as stated previously, can be very dogmatic and for something supposedly grounded in reality you can find a great many varying and contradictory theories... just like religion. I am one of the few that I know of who will admit 1) That Intelligent design and Evolution/Big Bang are not mutually exclusive and 2) That the question of whether there is a god-like being out there is still very much in question. We really have no evidence either way.

Growing up, my early role playing was encourage by a quiet intellectual father and not at all discouraged by my school or any priest. Mom disapproved but since I respected dad's intellect more, I was also okay with it. It was in no rebellion against religious beliefs. I formed my own opinion on both and was never bothered by the paganism of fantasy rpgs. I gamed primarily with Christians through HS and College. Since that time it has been a mixed bag. One of my best friends is an Episcopal Priest and yes, we still game. I will admit there was childish joy and something kind of rebellious when we gamed in his rectory.

I think you do see a great many people using RPGs as one of the tools of social rebellion. I also think as a youth and in some peoples minds its still a pure kind of rebellion. All the sex and killing is just talk, regardless of those who try to make a connection between school shootings and RPGs. However, as I got older and became a member of the RPGA and was going to Cons regularly I realized that gamers are a bunch of sexual freaks. I will include myself in this. The perception of the unwashed stinky fat gamer, while true in some cases, went right out the window. In fact, I find gamers to be much less conscious of body issues in their partners. Suffice to say there was a lot of fucking going on. It was almost hedonistic to be honest and I do not have enough data to make any reasonable cause and effect statement.

All the games sound interesting especially the "Red" game and using the idea of beauty.  I also like the idea of madness, as I think that mental illness and mental breakdowns, while being debilitating for living in the "real" world, do offer those afflicted insight beyond what we consider to be concrete and normal. I also think or it has been my recent experience that those who have strong religious belief are often marginalized the way the mentally ill or mentally immature are marginalized. "Ophite" seems more like a thinking exercise, which is not a bad thing and it feels like it would be a great "Convention" game where people, away from their normal groups, might be more willing to open up to strangers. (or maybe not, who knows). "Relic" I have to say interests me the least. It sounds like an interesting historical delve for folks who did not live through it, but I lived through debate over relics and the inclusion of Mary in the Trinity and all sorts of weird Catholic stuff (no regrets) and so I do not need to explore it as such. Of course I may be missing the point of it.

Last point for now, I promise. The problem with religion in fantasy gaming is that The Church either plays the role of hero or villain and sometimes both. It is so locked into our Western idea of fantasy construction that its hard to imagine a world without religion. Who would do the healing if there are no clerics?! lol. In fact in those games religion becomes science, because the physics of the universe are entwined with these super powerful beings. I am not sure what a more humanist or naturalist approach to a fantasy setting might be but I would be fascinated to see it attempted.

Okay I did ramble lol but I hope it was useful.


Title: Re: Three games about religion
Post by: Ron Edwards on July 11, 2011, 02:05:17 PM
Hi everyone,

As before, I appreciate all the comments, and their sort-of-unconstructed nature is serving me well as the designer of these three ... "things," so that's OK even if it is a little atypical of what I try to encourage at the Forge.

I'd like to remind folks that my personal take on belief as a non-issue is merely a designer's point of view and isn't really subject to debate, so it's not like anyone has to make a case for it as central, or refute that case, or anything of the sort. I didn't raise that issue to argue about it but instead to explain or at least acknowledge the fact that that particular issue didn't show up during a very intuitive, very driven creative surge.

Perhaps over the next year or so I might look forward to some new game designs which do bring that particular issue to the table in a new and more effective way.

For the record, nothing stated so far has been offensive to me or within light-years of that ballpark.

Best, Ron


Title: quiet
Post by: graypawn on July 11, 2011, 07:40:35 PM
I've known about the Forge for a few years now, and i've followed a couple of links to this site in the past.  But i registered today so i could reply to this thread.

Because you listed a few things that 'defined' the people you see, the people you're talking about.  That list was pretty quieting for me to read.  (hell, i got here because i followed a link from Vincent Baker's blog...)  I don't think they all describe me for reasons you assume, but…i have to admit, in the end, they are all accurate labels for me.  A Christian Gamer.

So, from the heart:
I read the list and at first i thought i was so completely totally different, because i wanted to (it's unfair when others describe us better than we know ourselves).  What i'm going to respond to is the 'need to say how much i am not of that old religion anymore.' 

At first i said to myself, 'well, there's one thing that's NOT got my number.'  But then i started to think about it.  I realized that, if i went home, to my old church, to my family, to the places i grew up...i would not fit in.  What i say, what i believe...they don't work for those people.  But, more importantly, they never did.

My churchlife as a child is defined the most by not fitting in.  The church i grew up in was amazing.  Wonderful.  The kids there were all attractive.  The parents there were a healthy mix of struggling, honest, laughing, wise and flawed people.  There were the perfect families that stood side-by-side with the broken people that couldn't live a 'church life' more than a weekend.  We were accepting.  We were loving.  We were really big, too.  And i never, ever in my life felt comfortable there.  Accepted?  Hell yes.  Those people went out of their way to invite me to play basketball, or sing fellowship songs with them, or have a night were we watch TV and cook Chilli.  They all enjoyed each others company, they wanted me there, too.  That church and it's youth group was amazingly accepting.  But i never, ever felt like i belonged.  Never judged, never rejected.  Hell, i felt like they were really trying to fit me into the picture.

There was no speaking in tongues, there was no definitive opinion on miracles.  There were a lot of different takes on Jesus.  And more than once i heard 'i just don't know' as the answer to my questions.  *These were good people.*  But they...were not like me.

Then, still trying to get it, still trying to understand, i wandered off, deeper into the south, and went to a religious college.  And there, running under the nose of the old-world religious monarchy that ruled with all the fear and manipulation that i'd heard of in bad fantasy text, i found out what was lacking.

I found a group of guys playing *Stormbringer* in the dorm where i was staying.  I found a group of people willing to play Nerf War after dark on a campus with a strict curfew.  I found people like me.  They believed in God in ways that did not always run smooth between us (more than once i was argued into admitting Homosexuality was a sin, more than once i was temporarily convinces Marriage and Child-rearing to be the path i HAD to take).  And a lot of this worked because we found the stereotypical religion that used fear, behavior modification, and ancient text to lord over us...and we ...rebelled?  Maybe.  Or maybe we just…really liked Role-Playing Games, Anime, Comic Books, and dressing up in suits to see movie premieres.

I don't go to church any more.  I am afraid of Hell, until i really think about it, and remember that i don't believe in it any more.  I don't pray like i used to.  But i believe in God, and i'm willing to put money down on Jesus.  I've got a bible, and i read it when i'm sad or lonely.  I talk to God, if it feels right, or my heart shouts.  I don't have a 'fuzzy-wuzzy' church that i feel better about going to.  And i don't have any real bad stories about the religious regime that i was forced to break away from.

But, yeah…i don't…i don't belong at the church, i guess.

But i know now what the church really is, partially because of all the words on a thread like this.  And i know that i don't belong there.  Overall, no matter how much i want to say that list you used to describe the people you've met, i've go to say...that's me.  You're right.

I don't know what you're going to do with it.  I don't know who you're going to help or hurt by speaking to lots of people on the internet, at conventions, or over dinner somewhere.  But i hope you're as accurate through the whole thing as you were when you described me and so many others that i know.  Because it's a mirror.  And it helps.  I may not like what i see, but it's given me pause.  It's quieting.


Title: Re: Three games about religion
Post by: Alfryd on July 12, 2011, 05:41:45 AM
...To them and to the ministry there, personal belief matters greatly, it's at the center of all the observance and all the church activities. For instance, the baptism ritual was about nothing else. But to her, personal belief is kind of a minor and not especially interesting part of her desire to have church and observances be part of her routine. The discontinuity was strong enough to reduce her interest in participating in those observances and activities, quite a bit in fact, compared to her initial enthusiasm when we moved to the area. Our kids no longer attend the Sunday school there, for instance. By contrast, our third child was baptized in the thousand-plus-years-old church in Norrkoping, which includes the graves of my wife's grandparents, great-grandparents, great-great ... you get the idea. And that ceremony, steeped in concrete tradition unimaginable to most Americans, did not involve advocations of belief at all.

If I might jump in, just on this point- I can certainly agree that certain forms of ritual observance might be historically or culturally associated with particular religious institutions, but I'm not certain how this can be (A) separated from any other form of traditionalised behaviour-pattern, like the order in which one is supposed to place cutlery or dress for an interview, and (B) whether such observances are likely to persist much beyond the disappearance of underlying belief within the population at large (which seems to be borne out statistically, over the past century or so.)  I mean, this all sounds like harmless granfaloonery in the style of a japanese tea ceremony, but I don't see how this kind of repetition for repetition's sake is exclusive to religious circles.

In response to Callan's original point, which might have been kind of deflected here- sure, I guess you could describe an RPG as a 'question', in the sense of an investigation or exploration of particular subject matter.  But I don't feel this is any different from the 'rational' simulationist role-play of an 'irrational' character-  The question is:  How would a person who does not question his/her religious beliefs react in various situations- including situations that should logically cause him/her to question his/her beliefs?  The character might be described as a fully-qualified hardline fanatic (at least initially,) but that doesn't stop the player being party to prodding and poking at the underlying metaphysical assumptions.  I mean, regardless of whether you consider faith/belief/conviction to be integral to religious experience, to me that seems a perfectly valid premise for play.

Just my two cents.


Title: Re: Three games about religion
Post by: ADGBoss on July 12, 2011, 06:14:40 AM
[quote author=Alfryd link=topic=31578.msg286866#msg286866 date=1310478105

If I might jump in, just on this point- I can certainly agree that certain forms of ritual observance might be historically or culturally associated with particular religious institutions, but I'm not certain how this can be (A) separated from any other form of traditionalised behaviour-pattern, like the order in which one is supposed to place cutlery or dress for an interview, and (B) whether such observances are likely to persist much beyond the disappearance of underlying belief within the population at large (which seems to be borne out statistically, over the past century or so.)  I mean, this all sounds like harmless granfaloonery in the style of a japanese tea ceremony, but I don't see how this kind of repetition for repetition's sake is exclusive to religious circles.[/quote]

In my mind this also brings up the idea of cause and effect. Gender roles are important in most religions and with only a surface glance at the phenomena, one might conclude that religion, somewhat dominated by males, created the gender situation we have today around the world. When it could easily be argued that the same gender inequity existed prior to the modern religions (not everywhere but in many places) . So which was the chicken and which the egg?  Will that inequality go away with the continued downplay of the importance of religion, at least in America? Gender roles are just one concept where religion may have been the instrument of a more secular belief.

[quote author=Alfryd link=topic=31578.msg286866#msg286866 date=1310478105
In response to Callan's original point, which might have been kind of deflected here- sure, I guess you could describe an RPG as a 'question', in the sense of an investigation or exploration of particular subject matter.  But I don't feel this is any different from the 'rational' simulationist role-play of an 'irrational' character-  The question is:  How would a person who does not question his/her religious beliefs react in various situations- including situations that should logically cause him/her to question his/her beliefs?  The character might be described as a fully-qualified hardline fanatic (at least initially,) but that doesn't stop the player being party to prodding and poking at the underlying metaphysical assumptions.  I mean, regardless of whether you consider faith/belief/conviction to be integral to religious experience, to me that seems a perfectly valid premise for play.

[/quote]

I hope I am staying relevant and on-topic here, at least I am trying to. The first thing I will point out is the use of "irrational character". I am not saying that I disagree with that description of such a person, but the kind of person who sticks by their beliefs even in the face of some evidence is not always... well irrational. They may be relying on the science of metaphysics and one could argue that religious belief, if not institutions, are scientific in their own way.  Do we call scientists who cling to old theories irrational? Sometimes I guess we do so perhaps the word does fit properly. It concerns me though that I may not and as a whole we may not have the language to properly and objectively look at a subject that everyone likely has an opinion on.

Lastly, and I apologize for what may seem like a side-step here, when I was reading the above the movie Erik The Viking came to mind. A character in the movie is a Christian, where everyone else is a pagan, and when the party getsi to Valhalla, he can't see anything because he is not a believer in their religion. Without spoiling, this situation ultimately has a hand in the resolution of the movie.  I think that rules like that in a game might make for an interesting dynamic in play between competing religions.


Title: Re: Three games about religion
Post by: ADGBoss on July 12, 2011, 06:19:15 AM
My apologies for the very badly formatted response... yinged when I should have yanged


Title: Re: Three games about religion
Post by: contracycle on July 12, 2011, 12:37:11 PM
Alfryd: I don't think the claim was that religion was exclusive in regards its propagation of cultural forms.  But rather that we are all affected by the orthodoxies and conventions that are current in our cultural setting. Obviously we're not pre-programmed robots either, but until not very long ago in historical terms the church was an extremely powerful, nearly all-pervasive force.  So a lot of the repetition for repetition's sake originates in or was encouraged by religion, even if they aren't strictly speaking actually religious.  the general avoidance of religious topics in any depth has resulted in them all being ignored, no matter how strong or weak the case for them being "really" religious might be.

ADGBoss:  As far religions prior current ones are concerned, sure, stuff like Greek and Roman societies were misogynistic in their own right.  In one sense, then, yes you could say it's a "secular belief" carried along by religion, but by the same token that's just a description of the problem, in that the religious patina gives people the sense that they doing the right and proper, indeed moral, thing by maintaining such discrimination.  I used to know someone who claimed he was only a racist in church, citing some biblical story which was being used as justification.  So it might not be a direct relationship but I would think that a decline in religious sentiment probably opens a space for people to engage in the discussion without being branded as heretics and immoral disruptors of the divinely ordained social structure.  In terms of deeper history, the first that look liike religious objects and sites are usually female oriented, things like the Venus of Willendorf or the womb-shaped temples of Malta.  It's probably the case that the earliest "religions" were basically goddess-worship and that women held significant positions in those societies.  The development, later, of specifically male monotheisms therefore suggests that there was a distinct change.  After all a singular, abstract god doesn't need to actually have a gender at all.


Title: Re: Three games about religion
Post by: Alfryd on July 13, 2011, 01:19:22 AM
Quote from: ADGBoss
In my mind this also brings up the idea of cause and effect. Gender roles are important in most religions and with only a surface glance at the phenomena, one might conclude that religion, somewhat dominated by males, created the gender situation we have today around the world. When it could easily be argued that the same gender inequity existed prior to the modern religions (not everywhere but in many places) . So which was the chicken and which the egg?  Will that inequality go away with the continued downplay of the importance of religion, at least in America? Gender roles are just one concept where religion may have been the instrument of a more secular belief.
Well, I think- as Ron has pointed out- the actual causal links between the morals and proscriptions ordained by a given religious institution and (A) those contained within it's holy texts and/or (B) implied by it's core metaphysical concepts can be very tenuous.  I mean, the basic concepts of a benign, incorporeal, interventionist deity, or reincarnation, or the accumulation of mana, etc. don't inherently make any statements about gender relations, so far as I can tell.  To the extent that one identifies religion as 'core metaphysical beliefs' as distinct from dogma, scripture, institutions or observance, it's often hard to assign direct blame to the former for social ills ascribed to the latter.
Quote
I hope I am staying relevant and on-topic here, at least I am trying to. The first thing I will point out is the use of "irrational character".
Apologies- my phrasing here was  misleading.  My point is simply that it's possible for a player to role-play a character with beliefs, goals or personality traits radically different from their own- that, e.g, a stiff/clumsy puppeteer isn't the same thing as a skilled puppeteer depicting a stiff/clumsy person.

I'm not saying that there aren't situations where some degree of faith-in-the-unproven can't be justified- arguably, even in a scientific context, you need this in order to justify the mental effort and physical labour of making hypotheses and then conducting experiments to prove or disprove a new theory.  The concept of trust as a form of experimentation plays a similar role in human relations.  Or, A Canticle For Leibowitz basically makes the point that in an era where the rigorous accumulation of scientific insight is slowed or outright reversed, dogma can be most efficient repository of knowledge.


Title: Re: Three games about religion
Post by: sirogit on July 14, 2011, 01:54:28 PM
Ron: That's a lot of cool stuff. I've also been giving a lot of thoughts about gamifing religion, as in the actual experience that I see every day as opposed to D&D cleric powers.

I think of 'religion' as ambitious attempt at a 'group belief system', with all of the terribleness and possibility that that includes. I've recently read some popular business books, which are full of religion - straightforward dichotomies that try to explain a wide span of human behavior in a few sentences, promises of salvation, welcoming the reader to a 'golden circle' away from the unwashed without twitter accounts, simplistic stories that most people know aren't true but will parrot them anyway because its nice to have common ground.

I liked the bit about people messiniac thoughts within gamers-who-leave-religion - I think this is part of the design of most systems that oppose free thought but nonetheless want to include free thinkers; Let them be Jesus in their own mind. Let them think of themselves as the person who would save all of these lowly sheep.

Of course, a lot of the times those freethinkers decide to strike out on their own - loudly praising their exodus from the sheep in anticipation of their future leadership position, which is either stalled because no one wants to be their sheep, or successful in light of the people who so desperately don't want to be sheep they will attach themselves vigorously to someone who will promise them they won't be.


Title: Re: Three games about religion
Post by: Alfryd on July 17, 2011, 01:44:05 PM
Of course, a lot of the times those freethinkers decide to strike out on their own - loudly praising their exodus from the sheep in anticipation of their future leadership position, which is either stalled because no one wants to be their sheep, or successful in light of the people who so desperately don't want to be sheep they will attach themselves vigorously to someone who will promise them they won't be.
I'd agree with this.  In fact, I'd go on to suggest that the 'behaviour-mod indoctrination' Ron refers to would apply a kind of natural-selection fitness function to the people able to shake it off.  The ability to say, "I am right and everyone else I know is wrong" would be arrogance in the great majority of cases, but occasionally it happens to be true.  For better or worse, anybody lacking a rock-solid conviction they know better than their peers would still be there, chanting hosannas.

That said, this is mostly guesswork on my part- my own religious obligations as a kid were basically nonexistant, aside from formal occasions once or twice a year- weddings, confirmations, funerals, etc.  I do kinda match up with a few of the symptomatic characteristics- strangely enough, I can still recall the Swahili translation of the sign of the cross that was taught to us by a visiting missionary in 3rd or 4th year primary- but my religious warm-fuzzies fizzled out by themselves by the age of 12 or so, and my folks were always agnostic-by-default: not really invested enough in either conviction or atheism to really count as either.

I'd hazard that a possible hiccup here in D&D is that divine intervention is treated as a standard aspect of the fire-and-forget magical arsenal available at will to the characters-  In other words, there's no actual faith or element of uncertainty involved, no blurring of the line between the divine and the mundane.  I could be getting this completely wrong, though- how does the Glorantha setting handle presentation of a divine presence?  I honestly have no idea myself, and I'd be very interested to see it done right.


Title: Re: Three games about religion
Post by: C Luke Mula on July 18, 2011, 04:40:36 AM
Wow, these are great!

I especially like the fact that you're focusing on the disconnects between the various aspects of religion (culture, institution, belief, practice):

The focus on the disconnect between personal belief/practice and the immediate culture in the red game.

The focus on the disconnect between personal practice and cultural practice/institution in the ophite game.

The focus on the disconnect between institution and belief in the relic game.

These disconnect points produce some powerful (even when casual) play. Good stuff.

I have a question, though. You mentioned that these games were borne directly out of theory as opposed to previous techniques. What specific theory led to these games?


Title: Re: Three games about religion
Post by: Ron Edwards on July 18, 2011, 09:08:37 AM
Hi Luke, and welcome to the Forge!

(To see how Luke got here, check out Vincent's companion discussion to this thread at Anyway, Hooray for religion (http://www.lumpley.com/comment.php?entry=603)).

You've nailed it. The disconnects are exactly where I see the most content.

Your theory question is a good one. I'm referring to my ongoing Big Model theory, particularly at the Techniqes level. But to get there, I began with very strong Color-based ideas and images for what the fiction was supposed to look like, not necessarily in terms of plot so much as literal visual imagery. Even "visual" isn't enough - a lot of my take on the red-game material is tactile and olfactory, such as the feel of a concrete sidewalk curb and the smell of the homeless guy's spilled possessions. Or what it's like to move through your own house in the dark, being familiar enough with it and sleepy enough not to want to the light, but encountering a slight strangeness nonetheless. Or more dramatically, once I was hit unbelievably hard with a full-contact jumping spin-heel kick, just below the eye (he was aiming at my temple and I almost evaded it), but was not knocked out, and kept fighting - like that, continuing to function in a completely altered state of mind/consciousness. Regarding the ophite game, I don't know if you've ever dreamed in the following fashion, but I did it a lot when I was a kid and sometimes now too: beginning with reading a book or watching a TV show, and then finding myself in it, being the character in it ... and the dream then proceeds sometimes from the watching/audience perspective and sometimes within the doing-perspective, the latter with out without knowledge of being watched. My Color-take on the ophite material was a lot like that, bordering on my occasional desire, while reading a truly outstanding comic such as Dykes to Watch Out For,* to be in the strip myself, talking and jiving with the characters. For Relic, I kept imagining a stone column which remained standing even as the church around it evolved into new forms, was burned, rebuilt, et cetera, all the while with a skull sitting in its niche, being perceived and treated differently each time. It looked like it was drawn by Mike Mignola.

Oh! One other thing: each was built off a Ronnies list, two of which were used a couple of months later in the 2011 Ronnies. The ophite is "morning" and "wings," and Relic is "old" and "skull." The red-game used two terms from a list I haven't applied to a Ronnies round yet. I can fairly say that each process began strictly off the terms pairs, which makes their thematic unity all the more interesting in retrospect. Clearly I was using the Ronnies technique as a deep-sea net-casting device into stuff I was really chewing over, down below.

So with all that as the starting point, or points because these games were definitely written (in the current not-a-game-text form) in sequence, here's where the Theory part starts: I basically threw out every imaginable thing I assumed about role-playing techniques into a bigger span of everything I could possibly imagine, and then rooted around in that huge box. So some of the things I chose came up familiar, and some came up weird, like the Universalis-like "round" structure of the red game and its collage technique, respectively. I actually think the weirdest thing I did among all three was the totally unconstructed speaking and card use in the ophite game, the precise opposite of most of the design trajectory at the Forge and Story Games for the past eight years or so.

I think, in retrospect, that "theory" is too vague a term. I was not merely working from theory (the Big Model itself, which implies any technique will do, as long as it's well-chosen for the larger scheme of Color and Reward), but from engineering-level hypothesis - "Hey, this looks like it might work and be lots of fun, so what if it's never been done." As for why I came up with the particular combinations for each game, all I can say is that for all three of these things, I found it to be a visceral and indeed involuntary creative experience.

THE WORD "BELIEF" MAY BE AN MMM-MMM SOUND INSERTED INTO A SENTENCE TO FULFILL AN IMMEDIATE NEED
The Anyway discussion has exposed to my eyes many problems with the term "belief" - it seems to stand in for just about anything. Apparently it's possible to refer to the doctrines of one's particular religion as one's beliefs even without practicing them, or to one's daily practices as beliefs even though they are actions and not ideas, so I'm tossing in this point for clarification. Here, I am not talking about how anyone else should use the term, but how I am using it. I am referring to personal certainty that particular claims (historical, spiritual, societal, anything) are true. Absolutely nothing else. (And by "certainty," I mean it fully literally, not merely "I'll go with that because it looks rational or supported by evidence," or, "I'll go with that because I like it.")

A possible response: but that could be about anything, not just religion. That would be correct, and it supports my point. Same goes for the observation that advanced study in many religions incorporates doubt as a feature of understanding.

That discussion has also exposed a perception, perhaps born in the Telephone game, that I am "rejecting" belief as a feature of religion, in the sense that it never happens or never matters. Granted, my phrasing was strong, and I do think the issue is so radically overblown that it obscures the most important features of religion as a human phenomenon. But my first post is written to alert the reader that my own personal interests in religion - as undeniably exposed by these three game-things - focuses on other stuff. That's not same as rejecting, in the sense of claiming that belief is not part of religion or not part of the religious experience or not ever relevant.

PERHAPS SOME MORE DEPTH, OR AT LEAST I THINK IT IS, FROM MY DINGHY IN THE SHALLOWS
If I had to come up with a single bumper sticker for dealing with all three of the more interesting topics of my current intellectual life, Creative Agenda in role-playing, an evolutionary perspective on human behavior, and the role of belief in religion, it would say, What it feels like is not why we do it.

The best explanation I've ever read for why someone "is" in or of a particular religion (as we say, "is" Catholic, "is" whatever) can be found here: War Nerd 29: West African ethnic geology (http://exiledonline.com/wn-29-west-african-ethnic-geology/) at Exiled Online, especially this paragraph:

Quote
We like to think a person changes religion when they see the light, one person getting the beam of light straight from God like Saul before he changed his name and franchised the operation.
It’s not like that, never has been. If your ancestors came from Germany and your family’s Lutheran, it means most likely the Protestants were winning the Thirty Years War when they marched into your ancestors’ valley. If your family’s Catholic, Wallenstein was having one of his better days, before the loopy astrologers got to him. If your folks came from England, you know why you went Protestant: Henry needed sons and that Catholic girl he married wasn’t up to it. Your great-great grandpa didn’t see the light of true religion, he got the word at the end of a pike: “New church in town, any objection?” Not a lot of objections when a feral drunk in the King’s uniform is holding a dagger to your son’s ear.
Perhaps the associated point is too brutal for the internet, but this is the Forge and not fuzzy-sunbeam Anyway,** so I'll go ahead: when someone diverges or converts or divests from the religion of origin, not much changes for that person, in terms of their standards and values for what they want religion to be in their life. What does change if they are very fortunate is the people they associate with, if those people don't perpetuate the same shit that they were trying to escape from. But a lot of the time even that doesn't happen. The hunt for a new religion, or for some intellectual construction which rejects it, seems to me to be all about finding the exact same one which happens not to include whatever emotional rejection or stress was involved in the original circumstances.

So with those starting points in mind, what I'm saying here is that one can get all manner of personal feelings and results from participating in a given religion (which to my mind includes frantically haranguing people about why one is not or no longer in it), and it may seem very much, to oneself, as if that is why one is doing that. Whereas my view from the outside is that we, people, seem to have social and ritualistic needs which are met for the most part, world-wide, by religion (in tandem with its intricate political, educational, and family-clan features), and most religions get that far for a lot of people, for better or worse being a matter for further discussion. So it really doesn't matter much which one is involved, or if it does matter, the parameters for differences are not the same as the identity-politics labels we call each religion, i.e., its name as distinct from the other named groups.

But what the useful parameters for actual differences among religions is another discussion too, I think.

Best, Ron

* Irresistible time-sink archive here (http://dykestowatchoutfor.com/strip-archive-by-number). To get an idea of the range of content I'd like to see in ophite-game play, see "Proxy War" and "Sleep's Sister," although these strips show the characters twenty years older than the strips that inspire the game.

** This is a long-running joke between Vincent and me, not an internet-style sideways slam. Laugh and move on.


Title: Re: Three games about religion
Post by: Ron Edwards on July 18, 2011, 11:45:54 AM
Oh yeah ...

Alfryd (Morgan, right? Morgue for short? Correct me if I've mixed you up with someone else.), you wrote,

Quote
my own religious obligations as a kid were basically nonexistant, aside from formal occasions once or twice a year- weddings, confirmations, funerals, etc.

I'm going to single this out for some possibly-unpleasant dissection. What you describe is as far from "basically nonexistant" as one can get. What you did was real. It's part of your history as a person and part of your social identity as conceived by your family at that time. And sure enough, you went on to deflect into the irrelevant issue of the intensity of belief, as if the observance were canceled or made into a quaint detail due to the strength of that entirely different variable.

It floors me how often, among gamers, when I ask about initial religious upbringing, they say "Oh, none really," and then go on, sometimes requiring prompting, to describe actual and concrete observance just as you did. Fairly or unfairly, I'm pointing at your post and saying, "There. Right there. That's what I'm talking about," every time I refer to the slippery, evasive way that gamers seem to respond to this issue.

It may or may not matter that you happened not to mention which religion was involved. That's up to you to reflect on. But I am interested, in terms of our discussion here, to know what it was, so tell me if that's OK with you.

Best, Ron


Title: Re: Three games about religion
Post by: C Luke Mula on July 18, 2011, 06:17:30 PM
Real quick correction before I get into my response: I actually came here before I went to "anyway." I've been lurking at the Forge and reading through all of the (theory-related) Archives for almost a year now, and discovered Vincent and his site through this one. Not that anyone but me is interested to hear that, but there it is.

Quote
THE WORD "BELIEF" MAY BE AN MMM-MMM SOUND INSERTED INTO A SENTENCE TO FULFILL AN IMMEDIATE NEED

I am referring to personal certainty that particular claims (historical, spiritual, societal, anything) are true. Absolutely nothing else. (And by "certainty," I mean it fully literally, not merely "I'll go with that because it looks rational or supported by evidence," or, "I'll go with that because I like it.")

Yes, I'm definitely seeing the "mmm-mmm" problem of "belief" as well, which is why I'm also having to learn to define my particular usage (even when no one else is using it like that).

Thanks for the clarification on what you mean by it in this instance; it clears up a lot of confusion I had about your design priorities and interests.

Quote
We like to think a person changes religion when they see the light, one person getting the beam of light straight from God like Saul before he changed his name and franchised the operation.
It’s not like that, never has been. If your ancestors came from Germany and your family’s Lutheran, it means most likely the Protestants were winning the Thirty Years War when they marched into your ancestors’ valley. If your family’s Catholic, Wallenstein was having one of his better days, before the loopy astrologers got to him. If your folks came from England, you know why you went Protestant: Henry needed sons and that Catholic girl he married wasn’t up to it. Your great-great grandpa didn’t see the light of true religion, he got the word at the end of a pike: “New church in town, any objection?” Not a lot of objections when a feral drunk in the King’s uniform is holding a dagger to your son’s ear.

I can't remember who exactly was the speaker (I'm thinking it was Sam Harris), but in a talk I've seen recently the speaker displayed a map of the world with dominant religions covering various regions. It was very much bound by geography and was obviously a matter of other historical events perpetrating or destroying religion.

Then he put up the same map of the world, but instead of religions labeling the colored regions, it was scientific Theories (Quantum, Relativity, Evolution, Electromagnetism, etc). Everyone laughed, and he said, "Truth does not spread like religion does."

I would add to his point, though, that art does spread the way religion does. Even through generations.

Quote
Perhaps the associated point is too brutal for the internet, but this is the Forge and not fuzzy-sunbeam Anyway,** so I'll go ahead: when someone diverges or converts or divests from the religion of origin, not much changes for that person, in terms of their standards and values for what they want religion to be in their life. What does change if they are very fortunate is the people they associate with, if those people don't perpetuate the same shit that they were trying to escape from. But a lot of the time even that doesn't happen. The hunt for a new religion, or for some intellectual construction which rejects it, seems to me to be all about finding the exact same one which happens not to include whatever emotional rejection or stress was involved in the original circumstances.

THANK YOU FOR SAYING THIS. I am absolutely, 100% in agreement with you on this, and it seems weird to me that people aren't as aware of the fact that they're doing this as they should be. The Creative Agendas apply almost exactly to religious practice as they do to RPG play, and I definitely see that people who grow up in one agenda tend to practice with that agenda throughout their lives. Just look at the New Atheist movement (which has all the trappings and components of a religious movement): it is often practiced with the religious-equivalent of Story Now, and a lot of the movement's members come from Christian Evangelicalism, which is almost exclusively Story Now.

It seems that, because people assume that religion is one or two of the four things (culture, institution, beliefs, practices), when people drop those one or two things, they assume that they're not religious any more. But like you said, people only tend to move from one version of their religion to another. That's much easier to see when you have a healthy idea of how religion is actually influencing you, though (like the fact that you use a ring to symbolize your marriage even though you're "not a Christian").

By the way, great analysis of the four things that people are talking about when referring to "religion." You definitely nailed it.


Title: Re: Three games about religion
Post by: C Luke Mula on July 18, 2011, 06:30:09 PM
Sorry for the double-posting, but I need to amend my equivalence of Creative Agenda in rpg and religion:

The agendas don't necessarily have counterparts in all of religion, but they do in all instances of "faith."

"faith" - actually engaging in religious beliefs and putting them into practice
"engaging" - at least temporarily (though often permanently) suspending disbelief
"beliefs" - anything emotionally committed to that is not scientifically, objectively verifiable (as in, not a "fact;" includes opinions and convictions and lots of other things that don't necessarily relate to what we think of as "religion")

Okay, I think that about does it.


Title: Re: Three games about religion
Post by: Callan S. on July 18, 2011, 09:18:45 PM
Ron,

Quote
as if the observance were canceled or made into a quaint detail

Well, when is something just a quaint detail, then? Never? Is there a grand halo of significant light on these things, or do you happen to have a halogen torch in your hand as you walk up to them?

My observance is that the less practical an activity becomes, the more obsessive it's pursuit (if any). Simply because once it leaves the practical realm, it slips the leash of any self corrective pattern - ie, it can never be wrong, because there is no practical metric left to judge it by.

What is the practical issues involved with such a contact? Is it different somehow from being exposed to Mc Donalds adverts on TV? I've heard theories that everyones in a cult. Whether it's a cult of keeping up wih the jone's, or a cult of coffee drinkers, or a cult of Nike wearers (ah, the hoodies...). I'd get that interest, but to just focus on being bored at a wedding during childhood seems to ignore the massive influx of other cults around, before and after it?


Title: Re: Three games about religion
Post by: Alfryd on July 19, 2011, 05:17:27 AM
'm going to single this out for some possibly-unpleasant dissection. What you describe is as far from "basically nonexistant" as one can get. What you did was real. It's part of your history as a person and part of your social identity as conceived by your family at that time. And sure enough, you went on to deflect into the irrelevant issue of the intensity of belief, as if the observance were canceled or made into a quaint detail due to the strength of that entirely different variable.
I dunno, Ron.  On the sliding scale of observance, I would have considered 'only for special occasions' to be a pretty tepid degree of involvement, as opposed to, say, weekly attendance for services, an insistence on daily prayer, owning rosary beads, and so on and so forth.  I reckon it's possible to get a lot farther from 'basically nonexistent', when it comes to intensity of observance.  (In any case, yeah, it's Morgan.)  FWIW, the local church was basically bog-standard Irish Catholicism.

I wouldn't worry about whether the discussion is unpleasant- in my experience, any genuinely interesting discussion is at least mildly uncomfortable for one or both parties.  As Graham puts it, there's no point in telling people things they already believe, and they're often upset to be told things they don't.

I'm just still a little skeptical of the idea that religious belief, observance, and institutions can be considered entirely separate variables.  I agree they're not synonymous, certainly, but aside from parody religions like the pastafarians or discordianism, why observe when neither you or the folks you know actually believe or make any pretence to that effect?  And if there isn't a sufficient critical mass of observers, how does an institution for organising such activities justify it's existence?  Even in Sweden, church attendance has been dropping like a rock since the state church ceased to the state church in 2000, and there have been similar trends throughout most of Europe.  I don't think there's no causal correlation there.


Title: Re: Three games about religion
Post by: Alfryd on July 19, 2011, 06:03:53 AM
Well, when is something just a quaint detail, then? Never? Is there a grand halo of significant light on these things, or do you happen to have a halogen torch in your hand as you walk up to them?
I'd have to agree with this.  Getting dragged along to church ceremonies 1 day out of 365 was a pretty minor facet of the larger pressures to partake in social rituals and activities for which I had no particular interest or aptitude.  Is it probable that had an impact on my development?  Sure.  But religion wasn't a big culprit there.
Granted, my phrasing was strong, and I do think the issue is so radically overblown that it obscures the most important features of religion as a human phenomenon.
It obscures the most directly active features, but that's a little like saying a focus on the concept of government obscures the study of nations.  It's true, in a sense, in that the government only represents a small fraction of the physical and intellectual activity and history of the nation, and that many aspects of nations- such as language, culture, literature, ethnicity, etc. can persist or extend well beyond it's boundaries- but when you strip away government entirely from a nation, it either dissolves pretty quickly, or erects a new government to replace the old one.  It's part of the definition- and not just in a purely arbitrary way, but because there are causal factors at work there.


Title: Re: Three games about religion
Post by: contracycle on July 19, 2011, 06:00:30 PM
Well, yes, but...  I mostly agree with you, as someone who was not brought up "in the church" as such and recognises (and is grateful for) the significant difference.  But I'm still a child of christendom, as it were.  Even if I didnt go to church a whole lot, all the stuff I've ever been taught about charity or mercy or pity was taught in the framework of jesus-said-this-or-that, of the lessons delivered in the bible.  There was no other source of moral authority or tuition.  And therefore, I do not deny that it is "part of my history as a person" and it's definitely "a part of my social identity".  Now I would say - would perhaps like to say - that I've gone a lot further than merely the doctrine-of-habit that was imposed upon me as a child, but even if I have, that means I've had to think may way out of the implicit moral maze that was created for me.  What I'm definitely NOT is someone brought up in, say, Confucian ideals of morality and right behaviour.

It doesn't necessarily matter if you went to church if Big Bird is disseminating much the same ideas that the church propagates.  And maybe thats not totally unreasonable either; maybe the the church, as the locus in which discussion and analysis of right thought and behaviour was conducted did indeed hit upon some valid insight, regardless of whether they are justified by appeals to the supernatural.  But the very fact that you were exposed to the Western Big Bird as opposed to its Chinese equivalent is significant in itself.


Title: Re: Three games about religion
Post by: Callan S. on July 19, 2011, 07:02:15 PM
Quote
There was no other source of moral authority or tuition.

I dunno, this seems the same denial of history charged, but going the other way - ie, that any other source of moral suggestion is cancelled or made into quaint detail.

Quote
maybe the the church, as the locus in which discussion and analysis of right thought and behaviour was conducted

Or maybe it's an effect of a supposed monopoly being hammered in? The locus? 'Right' thought?

Granted, a world full of moral confusion and a roiling, boiling sea of moral suggestion is a fairly unpleasant alternative.


Title: Re: Three games about religion
Post by: contracycle on July 19, 2011, 07:44:32 PM
I dunno, this seems the same denial of history charged, but going the other way - ie, that any other source of moral suggestion is cancelled or made into quaint detail.

I'm telling you what it was, not what I would wish it to be.  And certainly, when I became critical, I looked beyond what was offered.  But realistically, there are no European states or colonies which are not thoroughly infused with christian doctrine.

Quote
Or maybe it's an effect of a supposed monopoly being hammered in? The locus? 'Right' thought?

The point being here that I agree that what discussion there was on what right thought and right behavior should be was, or happened, to be conducted in a local christian framework.  I would certainly agree there is no reason to privilige that framework, but just because I don't priviliege it doesn't mean I automatically reject everything anyone who happens to be a christian has to say either.

Quote
Granted, a world full of moral confusion and a roiling, boiling sea of moral suggestion is a fairly unpleasant alternative.

Not so sure about that, myself.


Title: Re: Three games about religion
Post by: Ron Edwards on July 20, 2011, 06:18:36 AM
Now I want to playtest Ophite with Callan, Gareth, and Morgan.

Maybe all the intense religion talk is obscuring what I mean by that, but part of the point of that game is simply to relax, and let goofy or satiric or personal material ebb and flow, made even stronger and more entertaining by the fact that it's all grounded in something both nebulous and strongly-placed in individual identity.

You know, without having to designate "this upcoming scene will have a conflict in it," or "when your character's primary trait is invoked, take a black token," or anything liket that.

Best, Ron


Title: Re: Three games about religion
Post by: ADGBoss on July 20, 2011, 06:52:39 AM
Ron wrote:

Quote
It floors me how often, among gamers, when I ask about initial religious upbringing, they say "Oh, none really," and then go on, sometimes requiring prompting, to describe actual and concrete observance just as you did. Fairly or unfairly, I'm pointing at your post and saying, "There. Right there. That's what I'm talking about," every time I refer to the slippery, evasive way that gamers seem to respond to this issue.

I have a few comments on this because it seems to be an important part of the discussion. If I am derailing feel free to throw it on another track.

Let me go ahead and take religion out of it for a second. What I am about to describe is a common conversation among Indie and Non-Mainstream (which is not always Indie) gamers that I have had over the years.

Me: "So did you ever play D&D?"
IG/NMG: "No... I mean not much.... some.... with my brothers.... and my high school friends.... and there was one campaign in college."
Me: "One you played in?"
IG/NMG: "Uh no one that I ran..."

obviously paraphrasing here but do you see the similarity?  I have had similar chats with people who were MAC users back in the day when MAC ws for rich nerds and if you had an Apple or MAC you were looked at like you had two heads. Heck now its almost the opposite. "You don't have an iPhone? tsk tsk."*

There is a shame factor, an almost pathological need to prove to your new peers that you are no longer "one of them". We are looking at it as a religious (or anit-religious) phenomena when in fact its a phenomena on a larger scale.  We generally have a go at religion and Christianity here in the west because it is the paradigm in which we have been raised. Does not matter whether the founding fathers intended it (some suggest they did not) but we do in fact live in a nation that preaches, but clearly rarely follows, some form of Christian beliefs.  

So in my mind it is a shame factor. We look upon the things we grew up with and often rebelled against, with a childish view. For me personally I do not hate The Church or any religion. I may think some have dubious origins but honestly, I could care less. It isn't my business. I proudly played every version (except the early early) version of D&D.  I even (god or gods or Einstein save me) played Torg once. And I would do so again.... (okay maybe not Torg but). Yet I know I too have fallen into the same shame-trap when it comes to religion and other things from time to time. Trying to prove to my peers that its in the past and they can accept me into their new group with open arms.

So I guess after all this blah blah blah I am saying that while I think the phenomena is a real one, I don't think it is specific to religion and in fact believe it to be more of the cycle of love/rejection we humans have with many cultural icons.



*There have been studies that suggest the behavior of those who are Mac fans is cult like and they get the same emotional impact as those who attend church.


Title: Re: Three games about religion
Post by: Callan S. on July 20, 2011, 03:57:39 PM
Quote
it's all grounded in something both nebulous and strongly-placed in individual identity.

In terms of religion and gameplay, I think a rewarding approach would be: whether the religion is strongly placed in individual identity is instead a question play hinges around, rather than being predetermined as being the case.


Title: Re: Three games about religion
Post by: C Luke Mula on July 20, 2011, 04:59:53 PM
In terms of religion and gameplay, I think a rewarding approach would be: whether the religion is strongly placed in individual identity is instead a question play hinges around, rather than being predetermined as being the case.

I was under the impression that the ophite game is about this kind of question, or it is at least designed to make those questions a possible focus of play if the players want it to be. The only exception is probably the Ophian, whose identification with his religion seems to be pretty strong from the start.


Title: Re: Three games about religion
Post by: LandonSuffered on August 07, 2011, 06:49:29 PM

Ha! I was having some similar thoughts back in January and posted 'em to my blog, though mainly my gist was "why isn't religion (and its impact on human cultures) more evident in existing RPGs?"

http://bxblackrazor.blogspot.com/2011/01/wherefore-art-thou-religion.html (http://bxblackrazor.blogspot.com/2011/01/wherefore-art-thou-religion.html)

For the record, I am a lifelong Roman Catholic, and while I've certainly supplemented my personal doctrine with much New Agey philosophy, and a rather open (or heretical) mind, I still consider myself a member of that religion.

Interestingly, most of the kids I grew up gaming with were Roman Catholic (kids from my Catholic elementary school) and none of our parents had any problems allowing us to indulge ourselves in fantasy role-playing games. My mother purchased me my first RPG (the Tom Moldvay Basic D&D set circa 1981) at my request for my 8th or 9th birthday. Even when there was a bunch of anti-D&D propaganda, our parents never considered that noise anything more than nonsense...they'd looked at our books, and didn't seem to have any problem with the presence of demons and devils and such in our books. It was, after all, only a game.

As such, I never grew up with any shame or stigma attached to role-playing from my religious perspective. All the shame and self-loathing came from other sources.
; )

When I later met kids from non-Catholic, Christian backgrounds, they sometimes tried to tell me things like how D&D was a tool of the devil, etc. and this never did endear me much to their denominations. I even had one non-Catholic friend whose mother stopped allowing him to play RPGs entirely after their family became Born Again Christians, which really left a bad taste in my mouth (it was like they suddenly went crazy!).  As an adult, I have studied and understand much more about the differences in individual religions and feel that I am much more accepting of individual...um..."foibles" in all belief systems. So long as they're helping folks to be better human beings, that's cool with me.

Right now, part of my interest in RPGs in what they can do (as games) to be more than simple entertainment (in terms of building community, connecting with others, and teaching "good" things).

Oh, one more thing...my old D&D games as a kid with my Catholic friends (male and female)? They were some of the raunchiest, despicable, and evil games I've ever played...as well as being some of the most intimate and story-drifted RPGs I've ever experienced. All in good fun.
: )