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Author Topic: DiTV with Mormons and religiosity in gaming  (Read 6251 times)
Christopher Weeks
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« on: September 09, 2004, 06:24:29 AM »

I'm looking back over what I've written and I'm not sure if any of this is apropos.  This is one of those notes that I might just back over and never post, but I'm hesitating because I'd like to see it discussed.  I'm hoping that others will address Brand's issues more pointedly than I am able to.

Quote from: Over in this thread, Brand

one problem...my non-Mormon friends all get a little odd about playing a pseudo-Mormon game with the Mormon me...

1. ďI know, but it still feels odd to play with something that looks so much like a real world religion, especially one that Iím (no offence Brand, love you to death,) not always comfortable with.Ē

2. ďYea, I know, Iím just a little odd about it. Donít know why.Ē

3. ďI think Iíd be okay with playing, but I donít want to run for you. How could I ever feel like I have authority over the subject matter when itís real world analog is something youíll always know more about than I do.Ē

So, Iím still dealing with peopleís comfort levels and trying to overcome or find ways around issues that people arenít willing to deal with. Anyone else have similar experiences?


First, it is my impression that non-Mormon Christians are uncomfortable with LDS because they appear to be some nut-jub cult that has through some unexplainable means, grown way out of proportion.  It was easy to get rid of the Branch Davidians, but you guys are way too powerful to take down that way.  What happened?

Now, I want to clearly disclaim that I'm not part of that group.  I've never been a believer of any stripe and your weird little rituals don't seem any weirder to me than the rest of  the Judaic cults.  And I'm personally fascinated by Mormon history.  I've toured Nauvoo, I've stood where Joseph Smith died in Carthage, IL and I've followed their migration across southern Iowa -- stopping and reading historical markers and the like.  

And I would love to play DitV with Mormons just to see if anything interesting would happen.

When I was a teenager, I played with some Christian and Jewish friends.  Mostly, religion didn't come into it -- we were obviously playing pretend and fake-worshipping Zeus and Thor and stuff.  It was really safe.  But then, these guys started coming to the pizza place where we gamed and passing out Dark Dungeons and stuff.  Eventually we got them into a conversation.  We spent too much time messing with them and not enough trying to communicate, but a couple of interesting things developed.  First, we decided to change our game to simulate our vision of very early Christian times and make Christianity vs. Jews and Romans the theme.  Our goal was to entice one of these tract-distributors to play with us based on the logic he'd used to refuse previously.  He did!  And we lost a player.  

One of my friends, who wasn't really a very good person, but believed in his Bible became too uncomfortable wth the Christian focus and left the game.  He couldn't deal with our not particularly sympathetic depiction of his religious roots.  We weren't very delicate and I think that as an adult, I would fear offending a fellow player that much.  I don't know if that's a factor in your friends' discomfort, but it might be.

The born-again pamphleteer played with us twice, pronounced D&D to be satanic, but agreed that role-playing could be a vehicle for properly holy entertainment.  At the end of this second session with us, he suggested a more adversarial setting to show Christians persevering against hardships with the blessing of Providence.  He didn't want an arena combat with Christian and lions -- which was my suggestion, he wanted Christians to "win" situations by surrendering their will to God.  So it was my turn to be uncomfortable.  I was glad he was leaving and wanted to get back to my heathen ways.

Igor and Aaron, Russian and American Jews with whom I played when we were asolescents, stopped coming to our games as we started dealing with issues like realistic religious differences, persecution, and then setting games in WWII Europe.  It was somewhere they just couldn't go.  I'm not sure if it qualifies as a religious gaming issue -- it certainly wasn't parallel to your current situation.

I'm not sure how you're going to convince them all that DitV is only based on Mormonism and that it's OK to play to stereotypes that they might hold -- actually, have you mentioned it in those terms?  They may be afraid of letting you know what they think they know (or don't know) about Mormonism and if you reassure them that they have the power to make their potentially incorrect beliefs the way it really is in the game without any relation to your own religion, it could ease them in.

Chris
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #1 on: September 09, 2004, 08:09:23 AM »

Hiya,

I strongly recommend reading through the older threads in this forum, from back when it was the Soopasecret Playtest forum.

Here's one of the sort I mean: Where I can help ..., begun by Jake Norwood. In case you didn't know this, Jake is an LDS member who's devoted a great deal of his life and efforts toward the church.

There are several other threads of this sort as well. I think that pointing them out to folks who are interested or concerned about Dogs' content, in religious or whether-it's-OK terms, will not only reassure them, but likely will make them (justly) feel respected and well-served.

Is the game an open endorsement and straightforward support of the LDS or Mormonism? Nope. But it has a great deal of integrity about these issues, of the sort which I respect (as a non-special-interest party) and which at least one Mormon with great commitment to and proven track record with the LDS respects as well.

Best,
Ron
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Joshua A.C. Newman
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« Reply #2 on: September 09, 2004, 09:54:38 AM »

This is definitely a good forum for this discussion. I've been thinking about this for years, myself. I think the issues you describe stem from either a) treating a player's religion with deliberate disrespect and b) not quite knowing how to treat a subject of religious significance.

Religion's a big deal for us smart monkeys. They're the metaphorical filter through which we view a Universe more complex than we can imagine, and through them, we come to some peace with the Infinite.

How does religion work in your environment? Is there a True religion? Or do religions all grasp at the corners of a hyperdimensional tablecloth, trying to get a view of the meal? Or are they systems of politics, devised to order society the way money and force are?

So if we want to use a religion in our settings, we have to first be sure what we're doing. Ambiguity can really, seriously hurt peoples' feelings, and at the very least, that's not fun. And, of course, no one likes to be insulted. I'd guess that it would be wise to discuss this up front, or at the very least, discuss the players' beliefs and what they consider comfortable, edgy, and sacrosanct.

Here's how I used religion in a recent campaign: we were in 16th century Europe. The characters were secret agents in the service of Queen Elizabeth I and the antagonists were typically Spain and its master (for the purposes of the story), the Vatican. There were also Rationalists (Tycho Brahe and John Dee, for instance, whose mathematics and logic were no less potent) and Jews in the story. All used their understanding of the universe to work wonders with equal facility. The moral dimension of their actions were their own.

In this instance, I'm assuming that religion is an almost mechanical process. The Bad Guys are the Catholic Church (not an unreasonable position to take if you're English at the time), but that offended no one in my group. The Rationalists tended to be, well, rational, and the Jews tended to play defense, sometimes to catastrophic effect for themselves and others. But the truth of the religions were never questioned, just the motives of the practitioners, and they're characters like any other.

Just be clear with your players, and you might find that you have some really interesting and gnarly stories to tell.
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the glyphpress's games are Shock: Social Science Fiction and Under the Bed.

I design books like Dogs in the Vineyard and The Mountain Witch.
lumpley
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« Reply #3 on: September 09, 2004, 12:35:10 PM »

I dig this conversation but I may be its least useful participant. I mean, what am I gonna say that isn't already in the game?

-Vincent
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #4 on: September 09, 2004, 12:52:58 PM »

Hello,

If anyone's interested, I discussed some terms in Is religion that much of a mystery? Check out the second page, where I break'em down into families.

I'm not suggesting that anyone has to use the terms in the way I've described, but in my experience, making sure you're clear about which you're talking about really helps, especially on-line.

Best,
Ron
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Jonathan Walton
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« Reply #5 on: September 09, 2004, 04:42:48 PM »

There's a related issue that comes up for me a lot, which is the cultural issue (which, during playtest, made me focus a lot of Vincent's treatment of Native Americans).  A lot of roleplaying games try to sidestep cultural issues, especially when dealing with Asian cultures, by setting the game in a pseudo-historical land: Rokugan or Cathay or whatever.  I don't think this sleight-of-hand works most of the time, because you're basically reserving your right to be offensive and not approach things in a respectful manner.

All along, even in his descriptions of the Mountain People, I felt like Vincent "got it."  He figured out a way to do the pseudo-historical thing where it didn't become simply an excuse.  How?  I think it's because he made the people so real and 3-dimensional.  They didn't become charactitures or stereotypes (as often happens in pseudo-Asian games), but had a vibrant set of motivations and cultural norms that seem every bit as real as an actual historical culture.
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Brand_Robins
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« Reply #6 on: September 10, 2004, 09:10:36 PM »

Quote from: Jonathan Walton
There's a related issue that comes up for me a lot, which is the cultural issue ... I felt like Vincent "got it."  He figured out a way to do the pseudo-historical thing where it didn't become simply an excuse.


I agree with this. The Faithful are not quite Mormon, but they're close enough that you can see the similarities. But despite that they're not stereotypes, nor callus, nor dishonest in any way. While my perspective on things may be different than Vincentís, I have no problem with Dogs because it has, as Ron says, integrity in the way it approaches things.

On the issue of me and my group, I've got a couple of them who're willing to give the game a try -- though it looks like I'll run the first couple games. Much as I've been trying to break dysfunction habits and introduce new power-dynamics to our games they still auto-default to "GM Authority" in a way that makes it too difficult to break that hurdle and the religion hurdle at the same time. Still, once they get used to the game they may feel comfortable running it.

Iíll note that the cover image of the Dogs has had a big effect for brining people in. Both of the girls Iíll be playing with looked at the woman on the front cover and said, ďSHE KICKS ASS! I want a coat like that! And a gun!Ē Iím hoping that once my physical copy arrives the cover will work itís mojo on those who donít jive with computer screens.

As for the wider issue, Iíve rarely had problems with religion in or around gaming. I grew up gaming with lots of different groups, religiously speaking. My first groups, back in Texas, were mostly Southern Baptists, lapsed Catholics, and the ďMormon and Jew twins.Ē In Cali I started playing with a large Mormon group, and in High-School clubs with whoever was at the table Ė getting a lot of Judeo-Christian denominations and the occasional Hindu at the table. When I hit college and started working on my minor in Religious Studies I suddenly found myself gaming with people of just about every religious leaning you can think of. Because I had a fondness for ďpsudeo-intellectual pretentious naval-gazingĒ games like Mage and Kult, and groups that were open to really trying new things, I got a lot of experience in messing about with religions in games.

The experiences were mixed, with a lot of good efforts, a lot of stupidity, and a growing sense (in my head) that while real religions may not always be the best game fodder, that the issues that matter to players of a game should have bearing on the events of the game if you want real and intense drama. I wouldnít be able to fully verbalize this for years, and part of my eventual focus on it was due to Ronís work and essays about making games about things that your players care about on a gut level, but the idea started back in those days.

Which, to bring it back, is why Iím so hyped about Dogs Ė as it addresses a lot of issues that are personal real life meat for me. However, I can also see (now) that part of the reluctance of my friends to play with me was because of the very intensity the game instilled in me. They didnít have the background of religious exploration/thematic testing in games that I did, and so saw my eagerness as being somehow proselyting or devotional. As I convince them that it isnít about showcasing my religion, but about dealing with a specific set of questions and themes about community, family, and morality they seem to become less hesitant and more willing to give it a chance.
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- Brand Robins
Valamir
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« Reply #7 on: September 10, 2004, 10:33:23 PM »

I suspect that the longer a campaign goes on the less similar to historical Mormans it will look.  

The brilliance of the game design, what makes it truly a great game and not just a cool game, is that the Dogs are establishing doctrine as they go.  There is no list of "right" or "historical" answers provided.  There is no council of high elder poobahs judging the Dogs actions and forcing them to abide by canonical law.  

Canonical law is whatever the players say it is.  God's Will is whatever the players say it is.  Faith is whatever the players say it is.  As play progresses I'd expect the answers the players come up with as their Dogs go about making decisions about events on a micro scale will mean the One True Faith will wind up looking a whole lot different than the Latter Day Saints.

In fact, I think the only way it wouldn't look a whole lot different is if a group of players was knowledgeable enough about Mormon doctrine to choose actions consistant with existing teachings.
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MajorKiz
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« Reply #8 on: September 10, 2004, 11:51:19 PM »

Quote from: Valamir

In fact, I think the only way it wouldn't look a whole lot different is if a group of players was knowledgeable enough about Mormon doctrine to choose actions consistant with existing teachings.


That's why I'm not too worried about my group, even though we have a couple of fairly devout Christians. I don't expect that any of us know enough about Mormonism to tell what's fictional and what's not, so I doubt that anyone will be offended by anything.
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Brand_Robins
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« Reply #9 on: September 11, 2004, 10:46:18 AM »

Quote from: Valamir
In fact, I think the only way it wouldn't look a whole lot different is if a group of players was knowledgeable enough about Mormon doctrine to choose actions consistant with existing teachings.


Indeed. And there is a sneaky, subversive part of me that suspects that even then things would only end up fairly close, rather than identical. There are a rather large number of things that most Mormons are moderatly comfortable with on a theoretical level that they don't always hit with perfect orthodoxy on a practical, much less personal, level.

Really, its one thing to be all chastity all the time, but when your beloved younger sister is caught with one of the young boys of the town are you going to be throwing stones or making excuses?
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- Brand Robins
Joshua A.C. Newman
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« Reply #10 on: September 12, 2004, 07:20:22 PM »

Quote from: Brand_Robins
Iíll note that the cover image of the Dogs has had a big effect for brining people in. Both of the girls Iíll be playing with looked at the woman on the front cover and said, ďSHE KICKS ASS! I want a coat like that! And a gun!Ē Iím hoping that once my physical copy arrives the cover will work itís mojo on those who donít jive with computer screens.


Oh, yeah.

Lumpley, good call on the cover specs.
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the glyphpress's games are Shock: Social Science Fiction and Under the Bed.

I design books like Dogs in the Vineyard and The Mountain Witch.
Judd
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« Reply #11 on: September 12, 2004, 07:24:00 PM »

I have encouraged my players to fully make up passages out of the Book of Life rather than attempt to quote from the Bible.

This generally ends up with us mis-quoting from the Bible to suit our own righteous ends.
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Jonathan Walton
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« Reply #12 on: September 12, 2004, 07:48:32 PM »

Definitely, Paka.

"For the prophet Ezradiah did say unto the Yemenites, 'Woe be to you, O My people, that you have fallen in with the heathen things and with the beasts of the earth, that you have lost sight of the My Seed within you.  You have buried it in the sand and rock of the desert instead of the fertile soil of the valley Urizah, which I have given unto you for ever and ever.'  So it is written, the word of the Lord to the Faithful who have gone astray.  Turn back towards Lord and life!  Repent your wicked ways!"
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DannyK
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« Reply #13 on: September 13, 2004, 08:18:57 AM »

Quote from: Paka
I have encouraged my players to fully make up passages out of the Book of Life rather than attempt to quote from the Bible.

This generally ends up with us mis-quoting from the Bible to suit our own righteous ends.


Some of us do that in real life.  :)
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Joshua A.C. Newman
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« Reply #14 on: September 13, 2004, 02:23:31 PM »

Yeah, the Book of Life is interesting, in that people are always making up what it says. Different play groups have different Books. I'm curious about how this turns out over time. As mentioned in another thread, I have a character named Benjamin whose Book is classical literature, a la the Illiad or Aristotle. Other characters quote stuff about Righteousness and demon smiting.

I guess it's a pretty big book.
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the glyphpress's games are Shock: Social Science Fiction and Under the Bed.

I design books like Dogs in the Vineyard and The Mountain Witch.
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