Category Archives: Gaming

RPGs, video games, uber-complicated board games, and other goodness.

Life is Co-op

If you haven’t seen The Avengers yet, do. It’s smashing. Joss Whedon has once again done what he does best: thrown a team of weirdos with supernatural powers at a seemingly insurmountable problem so we can watch them tear it up.

Thor and Captain America

Man. That guy with the eyepatch was right about this teamwork thing.

I think stories like that — stories with a team of remarkable, unique people coming together to accomplish something incredible — appeal to us because we’re built for teamwork. God set life up to be co-op. It makes sense when you consider that God is inherently relational. He’s three people at once: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. There is a loving, perfect, cooperative relationship in the very nature of the Creator.

I think that’s one reason we get that certain thrill from getting a good party in WoW or plowing through grunts side by side in Halo. What’s better than having a good healer watching your back in an MMORPG?

By contrast, you ever try to solo as a healer? It’s awful. You can’t get anything done. As in roleplaying games, so in life: we’re made to work together as a party.

Unfortunately, as much as we need each other, we’re still broken people. Because we’re built for co-op, we have a lot of potential to mess each other up. Two illustrations come to mind: Adam and Eve, and The Legend of Zelda: Four Swords.

When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it.
-Genesis 3:6

Adam and Eve failed each other. God told them not to eat from one particular tree. Eve tempted Adam. Adam caved to Eve. If either had done their job — resisted temptation and helped the other do the same — our world would be a different place. Their choice had dramatic consequences for all of us. Because they did what they did, we’re all broken.

Green Link blows up Blue Link.

My bad, Blue. I thought you were a moblin. *snicker*

Perhaps nowhere is this more apparent than in The Legend of Zelda: Four Swords. It’s supposedly a co-op game. You’re supposed to team up with four of your friends to solve puzzles and defeat bad guys. However, Four Swords inevitably devolves into a game of find-a-new-way-to-troll-your-buddy. It turns out there are lots of ways: lob a bomb at him, pick him up and hurl him into the abyss, tug him along with a grappling hook, etc, etc.

The real-life version of that is less funny. People that were supposed to be looking out for us hurt us instead. We let down people that rely on us.

Whether you realize it or not, your choices affect others.

There’s another difficulty with this whole teamwork thing. It can be really hard to ask for help when you need it. It’s hard for some of us who have been burned before, or those of us that are shy or really self-reliant.

Nonetheless, we’re built to rely on one another. We’re made for teamwork. And that simple fact means that it’s okay to ask for help.

That’s a tough one for me. I like to do things myself. I’ve had to learn to accept input and correction gracefully. I’ve had to learn that I really do need help to accomplish what God has called me to do, and that that doesn’t mean I’m defective.

Being on a team means having people around you that know you and know God well — people that can encourage you and hold you accountable. Do you need a team? We’ve got some good people at Crossroads, and in Extra Life Ministries in particular. We’d be glad to party up with you.

I pray God will give you good friends to rally around you. May their gifts and yours work together to accomplish something amazing for Him. I hope you find a team.

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The Best Gear

One of the best parts of roleplaying is when your characters get new gear. After slogging through a baddie-infested dungeon or weathering a big boss fight, you get the payoff: loot. And every so often, your character gets that one weapon they’ve been waiting for, that one magic item they’ve needed — the thing that’s gonna get the job done.

If you’re a rogue, you get the keen-edged, enchanted dagger that makes you stealthier. If you’re the Jedi, you get the modified lightsaber that fits your fighting style. If you’re the mage, you get the scroll containing the spell you’ve been trying to find.

You know that thing that fits just perfect? That thing that solves the problem you didn’t know you had? That’s what Christians are supposed to be for the people around us.

Above: Sharp, double-edged sword

Do not offer any part of yourself to sin as an instrument of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer every part of yourself to him as an instrument of righteousness.

-Romans 6:13

The best gear is the kind that fits your character concept. Instruments of righteousness fit the concept God built into us.

Our redemption is not a technicality. We are not delivered into neutrality, nor impotent frustration. We are brought into life and power. We’re not dead weight for God to carry; we’re instruments of righteousness. We live to propagate life.

Our words are to cut through untruth like scalpels. Our wills are to break through temptation like sledgehammers. Our prayers are to wither the ranks of demons like machine guns.

If you want that kind of faith but don’t have it, pray for it. Seek it out. God will honor your efforts and change you from within. He’ll empower you to serve the purpose you’re meant for.

Because our lives are meant to spread life. That’s what it means to be an instrument of righteousness.

It Takes Imagination

Lego figures stand in for roleplaying characters; tangerines stand in for clouds of bats.

Sure, you may see some Lego guys standing next to some Lego bats sitting on top of two mandarin oranges.

But I see the heroes of Sovereign’s Folly facing down two giant swarms of screeching bats as they explore an ancient tomb.

Side note: Turns out Cuties take up four squares — just perfect for representing a large-sized creature in Pathfinder.

Ancient Rules Lawyers

You know, they had real life rules lawyers in the first century.

There were these guys in ancient Israel that knew the Law of Moses inside and out. They knew all the errata, too. Scholars and clerics had added interpretations and clarifications of the rules over hundreds of years, and these experts in the law would debate them constantly.

They also made it a habit of enforcing every rule they knew. It got pretty burdensome for the average Jew, even those who earnestly wanted to follow God.

But that was the problem: the rules lawyers made it harder to follow God. Just like rules lawyers in RPGs make it harder to just enjoy the game. They both focus on the nitty-gritty details so much that they lose the heart of the matter. The RPG rules lawyers suck the fun out of a game; the ancient Jewish rules lawyers stole the focus of following God away from love.

As the church got started, Paul had to make this point in a big way:

If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.

-1 Corinthians 13:1-3

This is one of the main reasons Jesus came to earth.

He had already made the universe in a big game of Dawn of Worlds with Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. He had already picked the Israelites to be His example for the world of how to follow Him. He had already given them the Law. Then, as He knew would happen, He watched them turn the Law into a burden it was never meant to be. He watched them add more and more commands until the weight of it was unbearable.

Then, He came to Earth to show us what following God really looks like.

Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together. One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”

Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

-Matthew 22:34-40

God commands us to do — and not do — a lot of things. We can easily get hung up on the particulars. But never forget: at the root of it all is love.

One way God expresses His love is grace. We don’t have to follow His rules perfectly in order to have a relationship with Him. He loves and welcomes us as we are, then helps us to devote ourselves to Him and work toward perfection.

Don’t wait to come to God because you’re not perfect. And don’t let your imperfection steal the joy of your faith as you strive forward. God knows you’re not perfect yet. And He’s okay with it.

Jesus’ Character Sheet

I love my RPGs, my video games, my novels, my movies. I love a good adventure. And apparently, so does God.

Jesus was born into a poor family, in an unstable country with a burdensome, restrictive religion. He lived a life that made Him a household name 2,000 years later. That’s incredible. But the most incredible part is that Jesus was born at all.

God allowed Himself to be born as a child. Fully God, fully human. A level 0 character. That is absolutely insane. The burdensome religion He was born into was a caricature of what He had handed down from Heaven. The broken world He was born into was a fractured version of what He had created.

There is no indication in the Bible that Jesus was some sort of superbaby. There is no mention of Him feeding or changing Himself, or speaking early, or even being particularly quiet, as in “Away in a Manger.” It says He was a baby. And it says that as He grew up, “He was filled with wisdom and the grace of God was on Him.” (Luke 2:40)

Jesus rolled a starting character and leveled up like anyone else. He played through the whole adventure.

He robbed us of the illusion that God is far off, and doesn’t understand what life on Earth is really like. Know what’s extra crazy? He knew before coming to Earth. But by coming in person, He made sure we knew.

It’s really important to recognize that Jesus was fully God and fully human. There are so many implications that I could hardly list them here if I tried. But here’s one of the most important:

Temptation of Christ by Ari Scheffer

Do I even have to roll a Sense Motive?

For this reason he had to be made like them, fully human in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people. Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.

-Hebrews 2:17-18

He lived a life like any of ours, with an important exception: He never sinned. He was tempted, just like we are, but He never gave in. Never failed a Will save.

Turns out that makes quite a difference, especially as we approach Easter. As the passage above says, Jesus lived a perfect life in order to cover over our brokenness.

At Christmas, we celebrated that God came to Earth for us. On Easter, we’ll celebrate what He did for us.

Holiness is a Superpower

The second XLM Bible Study was a lot of fun. Thank you so much to Avrom at Adventures in Comics and Games for welcoming us!

Our next event will be in early December. Details soon. For now, here are my notes from the lesson.

~

Last time, we talked about the power of the cross. Some people stop there when they talk about Christianity. Thing is, that’s just the beginning. Jesus was clear about that.

If you love me, keep my commands. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever— the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you.
-John 14:15-17

Jesus promised us the Holy Spirit, and not just that we could pray to Him or know about Him, but that He would live in each of us. Now, make no mistake: the Holy Spirit is God, just as Jesus and the Father are. So what we’re saying is, God Himself lives in us as Christians.

That’s what we’re talking about today. Christianity doesn’t end at the cross. The Holy Spirit lives in us and helps us accomplish what we could never do otherwise. Read the rest of this entry

Push the Button

I had an unexpected moment in a police station that got me thinking about my life. Or rather, my character did.

A little while ago, Emily Reese of Top Score interviewed Normand Corbeil, the guy who composed the soundtrack to Heavy Rain. I was terribly intrigued about the music and the game. So, when Pastor Shep — our most experienced pastor and resident unexpected gamer — let me borrow his old, busted PlayStation 3 in a bid to convince me to join him in White Knight Chronicles, I also borrowed his copy of Heavy Rain to try it out.

Heavy Rain European cover art

Now, I dislike quick time events as much as the next guy. I found myself shaking the controller up and down, watching Ethan shake a carton of orange juice, thinking to myself, really? Our hero proceeded to help set the table and play with his kids. Hardly a fast-paced intro.

But it definitely picked up, and I got engrossed. Then came that unexpected moment.

My character was in a police station, being questioned, and his possible responses were floating around his head, each assigned to a button. I took a moment to pick a response; a moment too long, apparently, because my character gave a response without me pressing a button.

Dialogue options in Heavy Rain

Given the unusual game design of Heavy Rain, I was only a little surprised. Then, I found myself wondering how much the game would do by itself if I just set down the controller. Maybe I could get through large sections of the game without doing anything.

I remember living like that.

There was a period of my life where I just coasted. My basic physical needs were taken care of: I was living with one of my parents. Life was comfortable enough: I had my Game Boy and my laptop, and a few hours of work to do each week for spending money. Frankly, I didn’t do much.

Opportunities came and went. I wasn’t ready for them. I wasn’t in the right place to act on them.

Life is like some of those scenes in Heavy Rain. If you just sit there, life will move around you. Someone else will make decisions for you. Your circumstances will slide out of control.

The problem is, that’s seldom how we see it. When we sit still, we imagine our lives in stasis. We get comfortable, and ride it out as long as we can. But we always think we have longer than we actually do.

Then comes the day when we run out of money, or a relationship crumbles, or we get kicked out of the house. When we realize we have no goals and no forward momentum. When we realize we’ve been drifting more than living.

It took me a while to realize that I needed to change. My comfortable little world started to seem awfully small compared to what God was offering me. So, I found a regular, decent-paying job, saved up, and found my own place for the first time. I had to stop sleeping in until ten. I had to keep a tight budget. I had to be a little more conservative with my money and a lot more adventurous with my life.

God was calling me to push the button, and I’m glad I did.

Are you stuck? I’d be glad to pray for you. Have you followed God’s call out of complacency? I wanna celebrate with you. Let me know in the comments, or via the contact page.

Heroism

I’m very pleased. City of Heroes is now free-to-play, and it runs on my wife’s computer. This is good news because it runs very poorly on my aging laptop. Looks like I’ll be making my way back to Paragon City and the Rogue Isles once again. Woot! I’ve updated the “Game With Me!” page with the servers I play on.

My main character is a fire blaster called Godslave. I don’t roleplay on CoH, but I do like to write backstories for my characters. Here’s his:

You can't see the Hellion tattoos when I wear the armor. One day, we hit a store in Atlas. It was five of us against one old guy. We were't worried. So we rush in, and the guy pulls a shotgun. Next thing I know, the shotgun's sliding across the floor, and he's on the floor, bleeding from the mouth. I didn't know I'd jumped the counter and kicked him until I saw the security footage later. So I'm standing over the old guy with my hand pointed at his face, and my friend Malcom's screaming at me to blast him. And I was about to do it. I was gonna kill him. But out of nowhere, this Scripture hit me. Like a voice, but... I can't even describe it. "Your brother's blood cries out to me from the ground." From the Book of Genesis. God talking to Cain after he'd killed Abel. It stopped me in my tracks. And it got me thinking. I've been bought at a price, twice now. Once when Jesus took my sin on His shoulders, and again on that day in Atlas. I owe God everything. It's time I acted like it.

Appropriately, the next XLM Bible Study will be entitled Holiness is a Superpower. We talked about the power of the cross this month; next month, we’ll talk about the power of the Holy Spirit to make us new. Access to divine wisdom. Superhuman endurance. Hellfire immunity.

We’ll also talk about what steals our power.  Superheroes have weaknesses, and we’re no different.

If you’re on City of Heroes, feel free to chat! And if you’d like to attend the Bible Study, keep an eye on the Facebook page. We’d be glad to have you.

Blasting Bad Guys

I’m just now playing through Fallout 3, and I’m enjoying it a lot. I love post-apocalyptic fiction. It’s also been a while since I played through an RPG, so it’s a nice change of pace from my usual shooters.

When I play video games, I get pretty immersed; that’s doubly true with roleplaying games. I try to keep a healthy distance from my characters, but I find myself getting into them all the same. Most often, I play characters somewhat similarly to the way I think I would act in their situation.

For example, when I found myself in the first subway area in Fallout, I was reluctant to open fire on the first raider I saw. I had put a lot of points into the Speech skill so I could talk my way out of problems, and I hoped I could do so with the leather-clad gentlemen with the handgun. Yeah. Not so much.

In RPGs like this one, you gotta have stuff to kill for experience. Enemies. And you can often tell they’re enemies because they’re marked as such: in Fallout 3, their names appear in red. It makes things simple. If someone has an actual name and it appears in green, chat ’em up. If they have a generic title that appears in red? Apply shotgun. Reload. Repeat until dead.

Neatly-labeled enemies are great for video games.

If we treat real people like that, we have a problem. Read the rest of this entry

The XLM LAN-tacular!

The Extra Life Ministries LAN-tacular will be at my place on September 17, starting at 2 pm.

First, we’ll have a massive game of Call of Duty: Black Ops! There’s nothing quite like being in the same room with a bunch of other people you’re playing Nuketown with.

Then, throughout the afternoon, will be the first ever Extra Life Ministries Worms 2: Armageddon Tournament! Show off your ninja rope skills and compete for the awesome, spectacular (to be determined) prize!

RSVP on the Facebook event! And if you wanna compete in the Worms 2 tournament, leave a comment on the event with the name of your team and the names of your 4 worms.

So, come hang out with cool people. Then blow them up.