Thursday, April 2, 2009

Religion and Gaming

Over at The Inner Sanctum, Josh recently commented on his religious faith. No gaming content, just a post about his faith.

Now, this may be deemed as gauche, but I thought a brief discussion of the role of religion in gaming might not be out of line. If this sort of talk offends, then by all means scroll down one post and download my jester class and comment thereupon. I left a response over at Josh's blog, but on consideration, it needs a whole lot of embellishment.

I can say, for myself as a committed Norse Pagan of going on two decades, that my own faith has led me in several directions regarding the study of folklore, mythology, and so forth that has most definitely influenced my gaming. To not only learn, but internalize, the depth, beauty, and complexity of the Germanic world-view deeply influences my own game designs in various ways both subtle and gross. I can understand how a polytheistic religion can both exist and thrive beyond the simple choosing of "a patron deity".

In the jargon of the World of Greyhawk, the Suel, Baklunish, Flan, and Oeridian pantheons are not just ethnic collections of individual deities; they are intricately woven families of Gods and Goddesses, each of whom has an integral and significant role to play in that culture, and who is supported by a corpus of mythological tales that support and inform that role. Even though no such corpus exists (although I must admit the creation of such a collection is a project way on one of my many back burners), it is implied and, when necessary in my own campaign, referred to. (Gygax's own reference to a tale of how Olidamarra got his turtle-back shell is an example of this sort of story.)

The "common" deities are those whose nature transcends mere cultural/racial boundaries, and (like the Egyptian Goddess Isis, whose worship was known far beyond the boundaries of Egypt itself, albeit in vastly different form, through Greece, Rome, and beyond) whose forms of worship among one community of believers might be very different from that found in another. Incabulos could very well be verrrrry different in Tenh than he is in Keoland.

My Pagan faith also informs my interpretation of those Gods who are depicted as less than tolerant of other faiths in the Flanaess; Pholtus, St. Cuthbert, Wastri, etc. More often than not, I indulge my sense of humor (which is appreciated by my current playing group, most of whom are pagan themselves, and two of whom are actually playing clerics) in describing those faiths and the actions of their heirarchies and believers as a parody of the worst practices of the Christian church, both in medieval times and today. It should be noted that Gary Gygax himself was a very dedicated Christian for his entire life (which is in and of itself an ironic piece of information), and was the creator of the notion that followers of St. Cuthbert beat nonbelievers over the noggin, and that Pholtus was the embodiment of "the blinding light". I just flesh it out a bit.

I can honestly say that my own religion, which places a premium on scholarship, study, and so forth (necessarily so, as mine is what is referred to as a "reconstructionist religion", thanks to the intervention of Christian missionaries a millenium or so ago), has given me the impetus to treat religion in the game as much more than the caricature or even impediment it is often portrayed as.

I would genuinely like to hear how others' religious beliefs and practices have had an impact on their gaming. How about it?