The ever-brilliant Believer Magazine took ‘Games’ as its theme for the September issue. It’s left me with some thoughts I want to share, probably over the course of a few posts.
One of the main articles, by Paul La Farge, was an exploration of Dungeons and Dragons, which, in typical Believer style, meant a gorgeous meditation on the history and culture of the game, building to the author playing an actual game with D&D’s founder (sort of), Gary Gygax.
La Farge writes:
“The appeal of D&D is superficially not very different from the appeal of reading. You start outside something (Middle Earth, Dickens’ London) and you go in, bit by bit. Along the way, you may have occasion to think, to doubt, or even to learn. Then you come back: your work has piled up, it’s past your bedtime; people may wonder what you have been doing. D&D is a game for people who like rules: in order to play the game you had to make sense of roughly twenty pages of instructions.”
However, in the course of the article La Farge explores the extent to which D&D actually is a game. He quotes Lévi-Strauss:
“Games appear to have a disjunctive effect: they end in the establishment of a difference between players or teams where originally there was no indication of inequality. And at the end of the game they are distinguished into winners and losers.”
La Farge notes that there are no real winners or losers in D&D, and there is no real difference established. So, rather than being a game, it is instead, perhaps, closer to ritual. Again quoting Lévi-Strauss:
“Ritual, on the other hand, is the exact inverse: it cojoins, for it brings about a union, or in any case, and organic relation between two initially separate groups.”
Having read the article I began to wonder if the Emerging Church was rather too similar to D&D than we might like to admit. Men spending too much time in dark, dungeon-like rooms exploring deep worlds? I don’t even want to go there!
More seriously, I do wonder if this distinction between game and ritual gives us something to reflect on. It is interesting to note that the clichéd D&D player was ‘nerd’ as opposed to ‘jock’. Jocks were definitely into games, because they knew they could win. Nerds went for something more conjunctive, perhaps because they knew they couldn’t.
One might argue that the Evangelical model of faith, with hell for the losers, is very much like a game, with very high stakes. And the Christian ‘jocks’ love to play. But is that what God wanted? Has the Emerging Church become the ‘nerd’ version, the non-competitve, no losers model? We might want to claim that the expressions of church we are involved in are fully based on ritual… but are we ignoring the sense of competitiveness about our success when we do so?
So, I think it is worth reflecting: is the Church playing at game or ritual?
For now I’ve run out of credit.
for more soon…