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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.



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

Razorclown Roundup: August ’11

I recently beat Portal 2 co-op with my brother-in-law. Great story, great gameplay, great for bonding. I also learned something valuable: it’s easy to get snippy with someone when you’re playing a collaborative puzzle game past midnight, when you’re both mentally dulled. For the sake of your friendship — and science — call it a night and come at it fresh later.

I’m planning on running a couple roleplaying games. I have a couple interested friends I’d like to initiate. I also want to run a Pathfinder game for our usual DMs; it’s rare that they get to be players together. Ideas are beginning to percolate for both games. Now, to get my notes together and schedule some sessions (aka the tricky part).

I’ve been playing Team Fortress 2 and Black Ops. You can find me on Xbox Live or Steam on Thursday evenings and during the weekend.

Speaking of video games, the Extra Life Ministries LAN-tacular is coming soon. More details shortly.

In the meantime, check out my new Tumblr page for occasional randomness. That’s where I’ll post pictures I take with Instagram, cool dystopian stuff from my friend Cody’s feed, and what have you.

My Tumblr page

How (Not) to Roleplay a Christian Character, Part II

Here are a few ideas for bringing Christianity into gaming.

Play a Christian character when the setting allows. If you’re in setting with the spiritual left undefined, especially if it’s Earth, you’re in pretty good shape. Keep my caveats from yesterday in mind, play the character with some faith and conviction, and it could be great. Be sure to decide in advance: how will my character react to the supernatural? And how will they act in a combat-heavy game?

Play a character with Christian character. While He walked on Earth, Jesus showed us what courage, love, humility, wisdom, and grace really look like. Your character can follow His example, no matter the setting. Play someone self-sacrificial, forgiving, and dedicated to truth.

Play a character that reflects truth. Give your character a chronic temptation. Take a moment to consider their moral choices. Or perhaps just play them in a believable, true-to-life way. Let your character illustrate humanity the way you know us to be.

Play to bless your fellow players. Sometimes, the game isn’t even about the characters. I love to get immersed in a game, but it’s often more important for me to care for my fellow players. Maybe that means stepping back and letting them take the spotlight. Maybe it means making in-game choices that are more enjoyable for the party than for you personally. Shoot, maybe you volunteer to get drinks and snacks for everyone when you get a chance. Be a servant. Make it about someone else.

Those are some of my thoughts. What about you? How do your real-life beliefs affect your characters?

How (Not) to Roleplay a Christian Character, Part I

I played my first game of D&D just before I became a Christian. As I explored my new faith and began to grow, the thought crossed my mind: why not play a cleric of Jesus? Yeah! His domains could be Good and… uh, Light, maybe. And I could convert all the trolls and goblins to Christianity!

I never ended up trying it. And I’m glad. Here’s why.

Most roleplaying settings describe their own cosmology. Dungeons & Dragons has a large fictional pantheon. Exalted has a grand mythological setting, along with gods, spirits, and reincarnation. Even the World of Darkness has multiple planes of existence based on science fiction, Native American folklore, etc.

None of these settings lines up with the Bible. Thus, if you want Yahweh in any of them, you have to sort of cram Him in unceremoniously. He’s too big, too world-defining to fit. He’s not really God if He’s only as powerful as Pelor, or if He didn’t happen to create the world.

Similarly, the Gamemaster controls the roleplaying universe. What your GM says goes, from an individual die roll to the layout of the spiritual realms. Who made the game world? Is there an in-game God or gods? It’s all up to the GM.

Between the game setting’s built-in cosmology and the GM’s final say, God may not have room to be God. Prayer, for example, may not work for a Christian character the way it does in real life. Especially if God’s not there.

And even if you try to put God into the game, He may end up as a caricature. It’s difficult to mimic His voice well. He’s constantly good and loving, but He’s also full of surprises. Iguess that’s what happens when can perceive all of time and space at once: you end up making decisions that catch us mortals off guard.

Okay, so there are some difficulties in playing a Christian character, especially in fantasy settings. So what’s a Christian player to do if she wants to get the Holy Spirit in on the action?

I have some thoughts I’ll share tomorrow.

Methods of Delivering Bullets

So, I was playing along in Call of Duty: Black Ops. I’d outfitted my classes that reviewers had recommended: my most-used guns were the AK74U and the Famas. Then, around when I hit level 34, I switched out most of my weapons for fun.

Below are my current loadouts. A few notes: I rarely use my secondary weapon, and I never use it if it’s a pistol. I’ve been working toward all the Pro perks, which is why several of my classes have Ninja. And I like frag grenades because you can cook them.

Any suggestions? What do your loadouts look like?

Primary: PM63 – Rapid Fire
Secondary: RPG
Lethal: Frag
Tactical: Decoy
Equipment: Claymore
Perk 1: Scavenger Pro
Perk 2: Sleight of Hand Pro
Perk 3: Ninja

The PM63 slings lead fast. And it reloads über-quick. I’ve been able to reload mid-firefight and get the kill in a snap. With Scavenger, I can keep bullets in the air at all times. Fun to play.

Primary: AK74U – Extended Mags & Suppressor
Secondary: RPG
Lethal: Frag
Tactical: Flashbang
Equipment: Claymore
Perk 1: Lightweight
Perk 2: Warlord Pro
Perk 3: Ninja

When I need a silenced class, this is my go-to.

Primary: RPK
Secondary: Crossbow
Lethal: Frag
Tactical: Concussion
Equipment: Claymore
Perk 1: Lightweight
Perk 2: Steady Aim Pro
Perk 3: Ninja

I recently discovered the joys of light machine guns, and wanted to give the RPK a shot, as it were.

Primary: Stoner63 – Extended Mags
Secondary: RPG
Lethal: Frag
Tactical: Decoy
Equipment: Claymore
Perk 1: Lightweight
Perk 2: Hardened Pro
Perk 3: Hacker Pro

The Stoner63 is a beast, but given how often I miss, I need extended mags to get the job done.

Primary: AUG – Reflex Sight
Secondary: Crossbow
Lethal: Frag
Tactical: Flashbang
Equipment: Claymore
Perk 1: Scavenger Pro
Perk 2: Sleight of Hand Pro
Perk 3: Hacker Pro

I’ve also been impressed with the AUG. I’ve often stayed alive with it long enough to need Scavenger, which is usually a rarity.

Mutants Are People Too: D&D Gamma World

Years ago, my friend Nick came into the room all excited, holding a copy of Polyhedron. He flipped the magazine open and told us about Omega World, a post-apocalyptic roleplaying system where you randomly generated your character, and would probably die really quickly.

We played, and it was hilarious.

Wizards of the Coast did a very smart thing by releasing the D&D Gamma World box set. You get the same wonderful randomness of the original Omega World supplement, only amped up.

The story goes that the Large Hadron Collider finally worked, and when it did, it collapsed the multiverse. Now, facets of a bazillion dimensions are smashed together in our own, resulting in a bizarre, fluctuating reality that your characters call home.

In ends up very much like Max Max plus Ninja Turtles.

You roll dice to determine your powers, stats, and even equipment. You can then pick what size weapon and armor you get, then – the best part – what it is. For example, I took a one-handed light melee weapon, and decided it was half of a pair of pruning shears. I also chose heavy armor, which I determined was made fr0m a melted car hood.

My character – randomly generated – had very similar psychic abilities to my friend Cody’s character, so we decided we were twins. We palled around with a highly radioactive fellow who shot lasers from his eyes, fighting mutant pig-men and monsters from the wasteland.

Just before I had to go, a couple of our other friends showed up, and we made them characters. They ended up with a giant electric bear and a sentient swarm of clams.

Gamma World is delightfully silly sci-fi fun. As Nick observed, it’s made for the kind of roleplaying you started with, if you were anything like my group: goofy, violent slapstick. It’s a great excuse to kick back with some friends and play out some improv comedy.

The rules system is based on D&D 4th Edition, which I’m not as familiar with. Even so, everything from character generation to combat is easy to pick up, once you figure out the math for all your bonuses. Is it just me, or are there more numbers to add together than in 3.5/Pathfinder?

Many thanks to Nick for running the game. Can’t wait until the next one.

On Pretending to be Evil

Distant Silence is a bad, bad man. And so are his friends.

A Deathknight in the service of the First and Forsaken Lion, he was ordered to overthrow and corrupt one of the great cities of the world. He gladly accepted the mission.

He groomed an elderly couple of  miners to lead a revolution against their oppressors. He then quietly assassinated them, blamed their deaths on the local government, and whipped the rest of the miners into a bloodthirsty mob.

He kidnapped people for his co-conspirators to turn into undead monsters. Or just to eat.

He’s a roleplaying character. Played by me.

I debated with myself when my friend offered me a spot in the game. We’d be playing as Abyssal Exalted — arguably the worst kind of people in the Exalted setting. They’re beings with a corrupted essence. Evil by nature, driven to destroy Creation. Not for pastors, right?

I decided to play for a few reasons.

One, I have a clear boundary in my head between fantasy and reality. I can play a character with horrid motivations without living vicariously through him. Side note: if it’s hard for you to separate yourself from your character, it’s probably a bad idea for you to play an evil character.

There’s a certain comedy to fake evil. We can laugh at how awful pretend people are, especially when it’s ridiculously over-the-top (as it was in this game). I can’t laugh like that at the real thing. My conscience was paying attention to this game, but wasn’t offended at the idea.

Snidely Whiplash vs. Stalin and Hitler

Above: Bad guys and their moustaches

Two, I hadn’t spent much time with that group of friends in far too long. Mind you, if it weren’t for reason one, this reason wouldn’t be valid.

Third, I wanted to try something. It’s easy to think of an evil character as a cackling madman, bent on doing every bad thing he can think of doing. Burn down the orphanage. Kick a puppy. Have a light snack, then overthrow the government. Mwahahaha.

I wanted to try a more realistic route. I wanted to demonstrate how evil actually works.

So, I tried to play Distant Silence thus: I had him operate solely on his own agenda. I never let him question the morality of his choices; I didn’t let him care.

If he appeared humble and loyal, it was to avoid punishment. If he appeared self-sacrificing, it was because it suited his desires. And if he told the truth, it was only because lying would be less convenient.

I think it worked.

As I think about it, one of my real struggles slipped into the character. Distant Silence loved proving he was better than someone else. He did it by manipulating them. I often do it with scorn.

The difference between him and me is that I’m fighting that pride. He revels in it. I pray it will always be so.

Gamers, do you ever play evil characters? How do you play them? Do you ever stray across that line between fantasy and reality?

Gamers and non-gamers alike, what do you think of my take on portraying evil?