I you are like me you are surprised (frightened) by the recent US presidential results. As it happens, I was asked to write an article on the subject for a blog that my friend manages. So, if you want to have a look at my pre- and post-election musings, you can head over here to do so.
My love for roleplaying fantasy games (RPGs) began in my early childhood with the legendary computer game King's Quest I: Quest For The Crown. At the time, RPGs like King's Quest were incredibly novel and imaginative fare for a generation of kids like myself who were encountering computers and virtual gaming for this first time. It was sort of like my generation's version of Pong or Asteroids, except this version of Pong and Asteroids had actual characters with interesting stories; challenging tasks and puzzles one encountered within the context of mythical universes that led to epic battles between good and evil. To me, it was like Narnia and Lord of The Rings come to life in virtual reality.
I've watched RPGs develop significantly since those days. Now, the characters, stories, worlds, and challenges have become increasingly complex and immersive to the point that we often hear horror stories about how some person spent days on end in their mom's basement playing games like World of Warcraft without forming connections with and participating in the actual world. Of course, my RPG time has dwindled to zero for a number of reasons, some of which include: my wife and I don't have the funds for a new television let alone the latest game system and games, and even if we did, it probably wouldn't be a good thing if I allowed the latest RPG to chew up the time and energy I could otherwise be spending with my wife and forthcoming child, and, of course, the time I could be spending researching and writing.
Regardless, I was thinking today about something in respect to my experiences with and love for RPGs. Namely, how when RPGs became sophisticated enough to allow game players to choose from an array of character types (i.e. classes in gamerspeak) which typically includes the categories of warriors, rangers, wizards, priests, and thieves with some variations and subclasses, almost nobody, including myself, would choose the priest class. Now, before I get to my explanation of why that is so, I have to take a nerdy offramp here for those who aren't familiar with RPGs in order to make what I'm going say here make more sense.
So let's make this as quick as possible. Character class is not to be confused with character race. Classes pertain to certain skill sets and abilities while races pertain to a character's racial makeup which often lends itself to certain classes. For instance, the dwarven race tends to lend itself to being an excellent warrior class that is, though typically crummy at magic, also curiously resistant to magic; the human race tends to lend itself to being all around solid but not particularly incredible at classes like warriors, wizards, priests, rangers and thieves; the elvish race tends be best in the class of ranger; and so on. This isn't to say that these rules are hard and fast. Some elves—usually "high" elves—can make great wizards while some dwarves—usually crafty and dextrous ones—can make great thieves. But you get the basic point here.
"THIS IS BECAUSE I REALIZED THAT THE ANSWER TO THESE TWO EMINENTLY NERDY QUESTIONS PRODUCE AN ILLUMINATING INSIGHT INTO STATUS OF THE CHURCH AND INDIVIDUAL CHRISTIAN WITHIN THE CONTEXT OF WESTERN SOCIETY."
Now, let's get back to the primary point. What I want to focus on is why I never once have chosen the priest character class in my extensive history of RPG-ing and why it is that the priest class is typically unpopular in comparison to a formidable and sagelike human wizard, nimble wood elf ranger, or battle hardened warrior dwarf. This because I realized that the answer to these two eminently nerdy questions produce an illuminating insight into status of the church and individual Christian within the context of Western society. Here's what I mean when I present this lofty sounding thesis.
You would think that I of all people—someone who has worked in church ministry as a pastor in and is currently studying theology in an academic context—would chose the priest class when playing such games, but I never have. When given the option I always choose the woodelf ranger type class because I always have liked to think that this type of character is the most constitutive of my personality and abilities if I ever find myself in these RPG worlds (one can dream, right?). But also, the reason why I, and pretty much nobody else, chooses the priest class is because it is always—at the very least typically—placed in a role of passivity in relationship to the other, more active, classes, to the extent that, we could call what I'm looking at a a form of genre classism.
Which is to say, ask anyone who's been a regular RPG-er. The priest tends to be the last pick of any player because the priest's primary function is to sit back, pray for, bless, and heal all the other classes as they are engaged in all the fun questing. In one sense, the other classes do rely on the priest for support during battle, but even then, a battle or questing party can still function without the priest class because the healing potions, magical weapons and armour, and basic character upgrades which are staples in any RPG actually fulfill the priest's functions. Moreover, in most cases, such items and upgrades are preferable because you get all the benefits of a priest without the obligatory piety and moralism. To my knowledge, the only time a priest really shines is a quest is when you find yourself fighting the undead in some sort of crypt or a catacomb, because apparently holiness means a mummy or a vampire melts like wax in the presence of heavenly piety. But such contexts and quests are only passing moments in the larger narrative and goal of the game.
Now, some games compensate for this genre classism by creating priest subclasses like warrior druids, holy paladins, and the ever unimaginative battle priest, but these subclasses are only add-ons to or hybrids of other, more formidable, classes like the warrior or ranger. That is, a warrior druid is just a ranger who has better influence over animals and can make trees and plants attack people; a paladin is just a warrior with a cross on his armour and who can invoke the Lord to kick wholesale ass in the name of God; a battle priest is a priest who doesn't wear armour, hits enemies with his shepherd's staff, and uses a sling. The salient point is that the priest class in and of itself tends to take a back seat to all the other classes. Even the thief class, the scoundrel and outcast of society, tends to be more active and relied upon in that they are relied upon to steal valuable items, gather information, and outwit people in key questing moments!
"Ask anyone who's been a regular RPG-er. The priest tends to be the last pick of any player because the priest's primary function is to sit back, pray for, bless, and heal all the other classes as they are engaged in all the fun questing."
So, what does this say about the status of "the priest class" both in and outside the context of RPG universes? To me, this suggests that, much like the priest class in the RPG world, the priest class along with the church in the real world tends to be viewed as the passive characters within the broader socio-political realm. What one hears today is this constant refrain from the social and political sphere: don't worry little priest, don't fret little church, let us do all questing—the social change and the heavy lifting—and we'll call on you when we need a bit of blessing, healing, conscience, and moral support. And then? The priest class and the church accepts the role it has been given. The most they can do is baptize a political movement with phoney prayer and endorsements (cf. the RNC rally of this year).
This isn't to suggest that there needs to be some drastic paradigm shift in which our society need more games in which priests or biblical figures are the main characters who get all the questing responsibilities—although I do remember one NES game that did make such a valiant and entertaining attempt—but, this is to suggest that even within the realm of imaginative, virtual, gaming, Western society tends to force the priest and the church class into roles of passivity that exist only to enable or legitimize the work of other, more active classes, and that we, the priests and the churches tend to accept that without any question on concern.
This also isn't to suggest that priests and the church ought to fight like everyone else, because I believe that the church, of all social bodies, ought to show the world a way different than violence. But just because the church, its priests, and its members ought not to be violent does not mean that it can't get out of the back seat, use its imagination, and activate proactive change in the world.
According to the date and time stamp on my last post it has been approximately eight months since I’ve shared anything on this platform. The reasons for this are numerous—moving to a new continent, getting set up in a new city, finding out that my wife and I are expecting our first child in October (i.e. ultrasounds, stroller hunting, house “nesting”), etc.— but I suppose one reason for me not having as much time to write many blog pieces stands out among the others. Generally, I have been busy with school. Specifically, I have been busy working on a 20,000-ish word thesis that has consumed the majority of my thought/writing/research energy. And, the remaining portion of that energy has been expelled on other essays I’ve had to complete for seminars and other conference papers I’ve written and presented. So, something had to give in my writing output, and unfortunately, it turned out to be this thought-lab which was the place where it had to give. As it happens, though, I’ve just reached a juncture in which there’s a bit of calm before the next thought/writing/research storm.
Two days ago, I completed and submitted my Master’s Thesis, and as such, I have a bit of time before I begin my Doctorate work in the fall. Numerically speaking, that means: 20,000 words down (my Master’s thesis will eventually become the first chapter for my PhD), and 80,000 words to go (to complete a PhD I’ll be required to write and defend a 100,000 word document). So, to celebrate, I thought I'd provide this little update and say maybe I'll start posting a bit more on here as I find some free time.
Talk soon, friends!
I was afraid of dying when I was younger. In fact, one of my first memories is sitting in the back of my parent’s 90s era Ford Astro Van saying with tears falling from my eyes, down, onto my rosy and fearful little cheeks as I watched the fields of dandelions whizz by outside my window: I wish there was a wizard who could grant me one wish… one wish: so that I would never die. Because at that point in my life the whole world was so amazing me to me; so entrancing; so wonderful; so beautiful and enrapturing that I never wanted to have to leave it or have any of it end. Ever.
If memory serves me correctly my parents didn’t say much to me that day in the van with their what must have been hysterical looking and sounding youngest son having a legitimate existential crisis. In fact, all I remember is my mom saying to me with her turquoise eyes filled with compassionate motherly dew: It’s okay sweetie, because it happens to all of us and there isn’t anything to fear. It will be a long time until it happens. And besides, there’s much more to come.
I wish someone would’ve just told me right then and there that the wizard I was searching for was Jesus and that the something more to come was heaven, but I think that my whole inquiry into the reality of death spooked my parents a little, to be honest — to the extent that they might’ve not known how to respond to their introspective, macabre, Kierkegaardian-esque little son asking such massive existential questions at such a young age.
Anyhow. I would later grow up and learn that the more to come is the heaven that awaits all of us who believe in and follow Jesus — a place I refer to as “The Cosmic Juke” in the rambling, lucid, poetry that I write in my journals and nobody reads — but at that time in my life I didn’t really grasp or fully know about what the more to come meant and didn’t know that there was someone better out there than a wizard who had everything I was looking for plus more: Jesus.
So looking back I guess I ended up being this weird sort of little child with a looming fear of death that would throw me from time to time into the abyss of despair and hopelessness found only in the writings Camus, Sartre, or Jack Kerouac in his last great book Big Sur.
When I think about that fear today, that bubbling, babbling, oozing, trembling, fear of death that used to rise up in my little heart and soul and start spewing forth the existential crises muck of anxiety and woe (as I would cry in my basketball themed PJs in the middle of the night in my single bed with baseball themed sheets), I start thinking about all the people who don’t believe in Jesus and how they must still have that fear inside of them like I did as a little boy: that looming fear of death haunting them, tormenting them, throwing them into existential crises like the ones I used to have as a little child and still sometimes have as a grown man; that nagging, crazy making, fear of being mortal, definitively and unavoidably finite, and therefore, subject to an absolute death and decay that takes you and all of us to a certain point in time and space where a person ends, ends, ends. Collapses. Falls apart. Ceases to exist. And then end up in a place of either eternally amazing bliss or eternally inexpressible horror and pain: the pain and torture of aloneness, which is the greatest kind of pain and torture known to the souls of men.
I guess what I’m getting at with all of this existentially focused dreary death stuff is that I think people invent and use media in the ways they do these days because of these kinds of fear of death; these fears of being absolute, of being subject to decay, of being definitively finite, and ultimately, of being forgotten after their life ends and the world just moves on.
Sometimes and often it just seems to me as if all the media stuff we use is really just an attempt to harness the infinite and the immortal and the eternal that we want for ourselves and put it all online so that our bodies, our minds, and or souls can somehow just carry on and on and on into a permanent digital existence, so that even if we might be forgotten in the real world, we’ll never be forgotten in the digital one, and therefore, always recognized to whatever degree for who we are, what we love, what we hate, and what we have done.
Scary to think about, but possibly true: is our exploration of and voyaging into the digital world simply an attempt to extend our lives so that a part of us, at least, will never have to die?
We are in interesting times, interesting times indeed; a time and location in human history when and where many of us have travelled so far into the arid deserts and dense jungles of the digital landscape that it now appears as if we will never truly return — no matter how hard we try, and no matter how much we long to; that even when we do choose to log off or sign out or leave the conversation, a portion of ourselves will always remain wandering aimlessly without a map in that digital landscape, consciously and subconsciously sucked up and into its gripping and sucking gargantuan audio/visual tendrils; with us always thinking, moving, being, and buzzing with anticipation for the next thing to be engaged with or shared or loved or coveted, because sooner than later — but usually sooner — we feel a persistent rumble in our pocket and/or feel compelled to represent and/or find our life online:
C U LATER.
Does this mean that our digital world is something to be feared or celebrated; rejected or embraced; hated or loved? It is too early to say with certainty, although many individuals are saying with certainty as they think sprawling nonsense on the page and speak aloud with conviction about all of this digital stuff, as this world and this culture is about 95% on our way to knowing; knowing as we drive down those crack ridden tar snake coiled digital interstates like a bunch like of wild and free life and love seeking maniacs with souped up machines that shine and glow in the dark and light alike, that we are almost there — and indeed we are almost there: that place, that mysterious, northern star-esque, place, where we will finally know for sure whether or not our digitally navigated world has either a) taken us straight to hell in a interactive media hand basket or b) allowed us to rise, up, up, up, towards the heavens in an interactive media balloon filled full with hot air and searching for hope.
And yet, even if it is the latter rather than the former, I am growing increasingly afraid that it will all end up as the digital articulation of the old Babel story, whereby humanity has built this large and digital structure for the purposes of attracting God and the world’s attention, saying all the while: look at me! notice me! I am important! look at me! but still only getting the last thing they ever wanted and hoped for: confusion, miscommunication, fragmentation, and the worst of all things, aloneness.
Yes, many of us are treating these souped up shiny machines and the digital landscapes they take us to as if they’re portals or staircases or ladders to heaven, to God, even:
WHERE R U?
But are we finding what we’re looking for?