The Rules and The Source

Take a moment and think about Dungeons and Dragons. Did any of you play this game as children? Are you Satanists now? Just curious…

I played D&D (or AD&D, at the time) quite a bit growing up. The guy who was our regular DM (ie. the dude who ran the game) always tried to straddle the line between strict adherance to the rules and fudging them to make it the game funner for those participating. We had two kids who consistently went out of control. One who would go off and play with other gamers and come back with these spectacular magical items which, he would then insist, our DM allow him to use in our game. The DM would agree and then destroy the items at the first convienient opportunity. The other kid would consistently get fed up with the slow pace of the game (at around the hour mark) and then spend the rest of the game trying to get the rest of us killed. He would always start the game with some random new chaotic good character and, by the end of the night, he would be some random dead chaotic evil character. I look at that last paragraph and realize what a geek I was (and probably still am).

So, aside from embarassing myself with my high-school nerditude, I think that AD&D (or games in general) may help explain the difference that Geoff J and I appear to be having regarding the manner in which the atonement is expressed in the repentance process. As you have likely guessed, I will, of course, be comparing God to Gary Gygax.

Gary Gygax wrote the rules of AD&D. He came up with manner in which one generates a character (ie. the role that one plays in the game). He developed the manner in which those characters can change over time. He explained who you could be, what you could be, and why you could be it. He established the rules.

Within the parameters of the rules, you could develop your character. You could go on adventures, chop up orcs, drink potions, find treasure, etc. All of these experiences allowed your character to develop over time, helping you to become better. The changes that your character experienced were of two sorts: first, when you received a certain number of experience points (ie. an arbitrary measure of how much your character had learned/developed over time), you were granted the next level (meaning that you received new powers and abilities); second, your character changed because of the experiences themselves (at least, it would if you were a good role player). You might get 2000 experience points for defeating a dragon or something, but if all of your friends died in the process, you were expected to play the game from then on like someone whose friends had died helping him defeat a dragon. Events were meant to have psychological, as well as physical, effects (which was why the two above geekier-than-I kids were particularly obnoxious).

Why Gary Gygax is like God: Gary established the rules. Without Gary, there are no rules. I do not mean that there are no other games and that there are no rules in those other games. I mean that, without Gary, we would not have had these games to play by these rules. Any character development that you accomplished in that game was accomplished by meeting the requirements that Mr. Gygax set out. Without Gygax’s consideration of the need for development, there is not development. This does not absolve you from personal responsibility in developing your character (it is a time-honored adage that if you let someone else play your character in a role-playing game, your character will get killed). If you want to develop the character, you have to do something. You just have to follow the rules that Gygax established in order to do the something. In this manner, I would say that Gary is like God.

Why Gary Gygax is not like God: well, aside from the obvious, AD&D does involve creation ex nihilo. Your characters do not exist until you sit down, roll dice, and make them. However, I don’t believe that this is a killer to the argument. In role playing, like in any other role, you put yourself into the world. You are introduced into the world of the game from elsewhere and you make a form of yourself for participation within the game. Reality contains no NPC’s (ie. roles filled by the DM, as opposed to players).

So, if God has established the rules for this world, what does “natural” change mean? If it means that these changes occur according to the rules of the world, I am happy to go along with that (for at least as long as we are in an physical, fallen world). God has established the rules and we progress or regress as we follow them. There doesn’t appear to be another set of rules (for this world) and it appears that those who try to overturn the rules (ala my two friends) fail. Geoff might describe this as a passive role for God, but I tend to think that the rules are tailored too closely to the individual for this to be the case. In other words, while both Geoff and I have to be baptized and believe in Christ in general, some of the challenges that we face are individual (Geoff won’t have to learn to love my in-laws; I won’t have to deal with Geoff’s co-workers).

To be frank, I am not too happy with the above model, but I have put all the thought into it that I want for today. What do you all think?

11 Replies to “The Rules and The Source”

  1. What your model does not address is that while playing the game, you don’t actually get to consult Gary Gygax (the maker of the rules.) If, for example, the mechanics say that you can move and then attack in your turn, or attack and then move, is it possible to throw a knife at a creature, then move up to engage it and get hit in the back by your own knife? =) You don’t get to complain to Gary about this, but you can complain to your DM, who can make up interim rules. Maybe the DM, the interpreter of the rules, is like Christ? (This whole topic has a slightly irreverent feel to it, doesn’t it?)

    Also, in real life, you don’t really get to go Out of Character, do you? Oooh, when you think about it, when I go to play D&D, I’m going out-of-character in real-life to become in-character in the game. *** true geek alert – still plays D&D in his 30’s ***

    On the other hand, I guess everyone gets to be a cleric in real-life.

    Regarding your statement about living by other rules, what if someone chooses to worship another god? Say, money. They can go off and get rich in material things, and then try to come back ride a camel through the eye of a needle.

    For your long and thoughtful post, I’ll award you 500 xp and I’ll throw in a +1 ring of wisdom.

  2. Thanks for the post John.

    My main complaint is that I think you are not looking at many of your assumptions closely enough. For instance:

    Why Gary Gygax is like God: Gary established the rules. Without Gary, there are no rules.

    What rules do you mean? Do you mean natural laws like gravity? If not then what? Lest you forget, let me quote Joseph Smith from the King Follet Discourse: “God himself was once as we are now”. So what rules did he create?

    Maybe the question ought to be what or who do you mean when you say God? Do you mean God the Father of Jesus? Then what is your opinion about his history? (keeping in mind the quote from the KFD). Does he have a father? If so, how many generations back does that go? Is it an infinite regress or a finite regress of fathers? And in any case, which of the “rules” are created and which are uncreated and beginningless?

    This gets to the heart of what I was saying to you over at the Thang — you seem to want to use absolutist theological assumptions inherited from Augustine in our conversations and I am not buying many of those assumptions.

  3. Geoff,
    I think that God plays by a different set of rules because I think that God is different than us. This does not mean that we can’t become Gods, nor does it mean that I have no respect for the KFD. The problem, as you have astutely put it, is that we don’t know which rules were created just for our mortal existence and which weren’t (with some, obvious, exceptions). You seem willing to make more rules eternal than I am. The thing is that I am fairly convinced that we know an awful lot less than we think we do regarding the eternities (I would argue that the KFD agrees with this, but I haven’t read through the standard version in a while (maybe I will and then I’ll post on it)). I understand the value of knowing that God was once like us; what to you is the value of knowing that he is different now?

    You KNOW Gary Gygax? Pardon me while my fanboy heart goes all aflutter.

  4. what to you is the value of knowing that he is different now?

    Widstoe seemed to believe that God largely became as powerful as he is today through learning and mastering the beginningless laws of existence. If this is an accurate theological take then God created very few of the “Rules” indeed. That is a very different paradigm than the one you have presented and changes the lens through which we see reality. Among the things it changes for us is our view of our relationship with God. Even though our scriptures say he has always been “more intelligent than they all”, it also means there is no ontological gap between us an him and that the difference between us is a matter of degree only. It might also mean that God creating rules for us is akin to earthly parents creating rules for their little one — there are temporary rules, but they (children and parents) are also bound by much larger and permanent rules.

  5. As an exegete, I’m always mildly wary of these sorts of discussions:

    1) They tend to originate in “one-source wonders,” that is, in texts that are fairly unique. Why in the world is there so much weight attached to a funeral sermon?

    2) From an historical perspective, God always seems to look like something drawn from era in which the work was produced.

    3) This is logical, since comparisons are inevitable, but I really have to wonder why one period’s analysis is to be preferred over another’s.

    Perhaps this is an instance of Equal Opportunity cynicism…?

  6. Whoa!

    I am just another human, albeit an over-active gamer type;)

    As a idol I have feet very much of clay.

    God bless you,

  7. John, you need to print this thing out and frame it or something. It’s the blogging equivalent to meeting your idol and having him sign your baseball, or something.

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