91: Jesus Was Not a Gamer

"Go's creation is also surrounded in myth and bears similarities to a Judeo-Christian story, that of Moses' discovery of the 10 Commandments. The story tells of a special mountain with a maze-like ascent. The first person to make it to a cavern at the summit returned with the first go board, made entirely from magical stone. So two guys climb an ancient mountain and one comes back with a game under his arm that ponders the heavens, and another comes back with the foundation for modern lawmaking. And I still can't quote either one's rules."

Joe Blancato looks at the religious roots of games from around the world.

Jesus Was Not a Gamer

"Really, how much can the King of
Kings really care about the success or
failure of a dozen mongoloids with
chromosomal disorders.."

That's from page one of the article, and dude, the term 'mongoloid' is racist and offensive and an apology should be forthcoming.

I don't know how you guys let something like that through...

Seriously, that's really, REALLY, bad. Unconscionable.

A sad day for the Escapist. Every single person there ought to be hanging their head in shame. Just further evidence that all aspects of the videogame industry under-represents minorities.

I'm really disappointed.

While I agree a better choice of words could have been made, the sentence itself is probably what could have done without the judgment of the players. Mongolism is being used here as a synonym for retardation and I can definitely understand your issue. That said, I don't think that you're taking this in the correct way. Had the author wrote "Retards" we could be equally up in arms on that breach of etiquette. While I love that the quality of the Escapist articles is such that they can rely on better adjectives than those, I don't want them to be politically correct. PC is boring. We don't need more double-speak, the real world doesn't work that way, people don't think that way, and we don't need to pretend that everyone really thinks the best of every other race. While I agree with your sentiments, tone down your anger at this, remember that people make mistakes, and that it probably wasn't intended as a slight towards mongoloids. (Here used to represent the peoples throughout Asia who have been lumped at one time or another into that category.)

Perhaps a better word could have been chosen but the way I read the article it didn't seem like it was being used for its racial connotation, but for its other meaning of retardation which is suggested by the phrase "chromosomal disorders" that follows the word.

I guess it just depends on your background and the way you read the piece.

On another note, when I read the title of this article I thought of a time when I was playing a match of Gears of War.

After losing the first round, one of the people on my team (who had no kills or points) says in frustration "Jesus Christ." I quickly reply by saying "don't bring God into this." Then he says, "God is with me and he is everywhere." I started to laugh and said "from the way you're playing it doesn't look like it," and now we know why.

Even the Wikipedia entry on 'mongoloid' discourages its usage and says its scientifically obsolete. It would not have required too much research to figure out the truth.

The rule has always been 'don't use words you don't know'.

This isn't playful tongue-in-cheek irreverence. This is indefensible.

Well, I guessed that an issue on religion would touch a nerve, but I didn't suspect it'd happen in this way.

Whoa, of all the things I expected to be called for writing this one, racist was toward the bottom of the list.

In regard to the mongoloid term, I definitely didn't mean it in the racial sense, and I wasn't going for a Down syndrome dig, either. To break down that particular sentence, I was using mongoloid as the term it's evolved into - a big, dumb guy - rather than how it was originally used; the "chromosomal disorder" part was referring to specific genetic conditions that allow people to produce excess testosterone, which allows them to pack on muscle like pro athletes do. I would also mention I'm a big fan of sports and play them even now.

Either way, that sentence has been changed, and I'm sorry if it offended anyone else.

Joe:
the "chromosomal disorder" part was referring to specific genetic conditions that allow people to produce excess testosterone, which allows them to pack on muscle like pro athletes do.

Wouldn't that be more of a horomonal disorder?

Yeah I think the general consensus behind the scenes here was the idea of Joe being a) racist and b) insensitive to the needs of athletes (a peer group of which he is a part) was simply so preposterous that none of us were able to take it seriously.

As Joe suggested, as far as things in this issue that could be taken the wrong way, the suggestion that athletes were mongoloids was so far off our radar that it didn't even register.

Still, we bow to the potential for insult in this case. Chalk it up to our insensitivity to ancient stereotypical racial slurs. He's a goombah. They're all like that. And don't even think about making a wager with me - I'll welsh every time.

Joe is a class act. I'm certain he didn't mean any offense, and he did the right thing by apologizing in a timely manner. Kudos.

I was just shocked that no one involved in putting together the article was aware.

Not sure what Fletcher is trying to suggest though, as if we should all be able to look back it and have a good laugh about the crazy episode when the oversensitive Asian came out of the woodwork to launch a smear attack.

Whatever.

I try to laugh whenever possible, it's true. Especially at myself. It's not for everyone, I know, but I think it's a good way to be.

As for the mongoloid thing, you've proved your point. We were obviously ignorant of that word's potential for irritation. I'm not proud of it, but there it is. Time to move on now.

I had moved on after my second post. Then I saw yours.
But hey, consider your apology accepted.

At ease, gentlemen.

But seriously, where's the flame attack from the religious right? Evangelical gamers? Anyone? I'm going to be sorely disappointed if the hottest heat we get from this issue is from the stalwart defenders of mongoloid rights. Not that you guys are an insignificant group by any means, just saying.

Can't oblige with respect to a religious right attack (perhaps they are allowed to read the Escapist), but I did think that the conclusion of the article was rather weak. You ask "How could Christianity, a religion that now covers the globe, be devoid of early holy games?", but the answers you then provide are sort of contradictory to the rest of the article. Christianity was a monotheistic religion? So is Judaism (and was so from day 1). Christianity was of secret origin and forbidden? But you yourself say that the Jewish dreidel was developed at a time when Judaism was outlawed as a religion. And the argument that any games would not have survived Theodosius anti-pagan purges is also weak: no purge can erase every trace of something that is truly popular and widespread; even the Spanish Inquisition missed things here and there. Moreover, your analysis is inconsistent in the sense that at first you are talking about evidence of religious games by geographic region: Mesoamericas, the Middle-East, the Far East, etc. Then suddenly you switch to examination to a purely religious perspective, where you have only 2 entrants: Judaism and Christianity. That's inconsistent. What happened to the Muslim religion, for example? Moreover, many of the people that eventually became Christians were the same North Africans, Far Easterners, Mesoamericans, etc. that previously partook in the very games you describe. Some game survived the change in religion, some didn't. The Egyptians, for example, have been Christians at a time, and Muslims, and its more than likely that some of the older Egyptian games were adopted to their new beliefs rather than disappearing. Don't get me wrong, I think a lot of the research you did is fascinating, but for me it just doesn't _quite_ come together at the end in terms of supporting your conclusion.

Good points, but I'll do my best to break them down individually.

Christianity was a monotheistic religion? So is Judaism (and was so from day 1). Christianity was of secret origin and forbidden? But you yourself say that the Jewish dreidel was developed at a time when Judaism was outlawed as a religion.

But the fact remains: There still wasn't a Christian game in the same situation. I think this is partly due to the fact Jerusalem was under foreign occupation, and the dreidel game's religious connotation later evolved out of clandestine activities from their cultural resistance. Since the early Christians didn't have any territory to defend and weren't really a nationality, they wouldn't have had a real excuse to congregate together, even to play dice. There's a big difference between telling a group it can't practice a religion but can still function as a group and being deliberately hunted down and fed to lions. Think of the torries after the American Revolution and the Communists during the Red Scare.

And the argument that any games would not have survived Theodosius anti-pagan purges is also weak: no purge can erase every trace of something that is truly popular and widespread; even the Spanish Inquisition missed things here and there.

It only took the Olympics 1,000 years to make a resurgence :p. But if you're right, and something like a game could have survived the weight of the Roman empire, an early Christian game wasn't it.

Moreover, your analysis is inconsistent in the sense that at first you are talking about evidence of religious games by geographic region: Mesoamericas, the Middle-East, the Far East, etc. Then suddenly you switch to examination to a purely religious perspective, where you have only 2 entrants: Judaism and Christianity. That's inconsistent. What happened to the Muslim religion, for example?

I cited Judaism as a Middle-Eastern/North African religion. Early Christianity could fall into that group, too, but given its spread into Roman culture, it seemed like it deserved its own space - that and I was interested in Christianity in particular.

Moreover, many of the people that eventually became Christians were the same North Africans, Far Easterners, Mesoamericans, etc. that previously partook in the very games you describe. Some game survived the change in religion, some didn't. The Egyptians, for example, have been Christians at a time, and Muslims, and its more than likely that some of the older Egyptian games were adopted to their new beliefs rather than disappearing.

Bear in mind I'm talking about early Christianity. The Mesoamericans didn't get a whiff of Christianity until the 1500s. And while I'm sure certain peoples incorporated previous religiously-themed games into their faith, I was looking for a definitively Christian game, just like the senet was definitively Egyptian and the Olympics were definitively Greek.

Don't get me wrong, I think a lot of the research you did is fascinating, but for me it just doesn't _quite_ come together at the end in terms of supporting your conclusion.

Thanks :). It's good to know the article got you thinking, and I love talking about this stuff. If you've got any links you wanna trade, plop 'em down here. I'm always willing to learn more.

It only took the Olympics 1,000 years to make a resurgence :p. But if you're right, and something like a game could have survived the weight of the Roman empire, an early Christian game wasn't it.

yes, but even during those 1000 years we still knew that Olympics had existed :)

Thanks :). It's good to know the article got you thinking, and I love talking about this stuff. If you've got any links you wanna trade, plop 'em down here. I'm always willing to learn more.

here is one interesting link that suggests that the modern version of the dreidel is actually a Judaicized version of a German game, and that the letters on it actually correspond to the letters that the Germans had used. Which, if true, kind of takes away the whole religious connotation - it becomes more of a symbolic thing associated primarily with the Jewish spirit of resistance to oppression.

http://www.mazornet.com/jewishcl/holidays/Chanukah/dreidel-origin.htm

Anyway, my own version of why Jesus didn't play games (with which I agree) is perhaps a bit controversial... but I'll say it anyway :) I think that Christianity more so than other modern religions, and certainly more so than ancient pagan religions, has a concept of fearing God (hence the frequent use of the term "God-fearing" in Christian vernacular). Which makes the explanation simple: when God is something to be feared, or, lets say, fearfully respected, you don't want to bring him into your games so much, since that might be misconstrued as disrespect on the part of the Almighty - and here is your hall pass to hell. Contrast this especially with relationships that the ancient Greeks, Egyptians and Romans had with their Gods - they (the relationships) were much more easy-going and thus conducive to play. If I was to generalize, I'd say that if you look at the evolution of religious thought in general, it evolves to be more and more serious and somber in the later phases of mankind's development, and so some of the youngest religions such as Christianity are already so serious as to make mixing religion and games simply inappropriate.

I said this elsewhere, but it relevant, so please humor me.

The question at the crux, I believe, is one that has bothered theologians for millennia.

Do you - does the game designer, does the game player - believe that God has knowledge and control of particulars. I think a passage in the Bible goes something like, 'God knows when a single hair on your head moves'.

If someone works with that as part of their core beliefs, then they must surely believe that God plays a role when a Hail Mary pass is thrown. God can surely give an athlete the strength, the clarity of purpose and mental fortitude for a moment, i.e., inspire the athlete.

And let's not forget the name Hail Mary has some religious connotations.

Anyway, my point is this. For Christian game designer designing Christian games, to incorporate doubt and crises of faith, would be seen as yielding to temptation.

In conjunction, let's not forget what Jesus' response was when Satan tried to tempt him a second time by suggesting that Jesus throw himself off the temple so the people milling about below could see a miracle...

One factor that hasn't been mentioned yet in why Christianity has no real connection with games is the divination aspect. Many of the other religious games mentioned were used as divination tools as well as recreation; could that be part of why Christianity avoided games? After all, the early church believed that God guided them directly through the Holy Spirit, speaking through dreams and visions and prophecy. They may have associated contemporary games of that time as being associated with false divination and idolatry.

I don't think it's plausible to say that games were avoided due to an association with divination. According to the Bible, the disciples drew straws to determine God's will in choosing the 12th disciple. That looks like divination to me, though Christians would never call it that. I don't see why someone couldn't have developed a game, claiming it to be a means to finding God's will.

Another point regarding the Dreidel: Joe mentions the lettering:

"The letters on the dreidel top stand for nun, gimmel, hey, pey, which means 'a miracle happened here.'

- point 1: It's more correct to say the letters stand for "a GREAT miracle happened here" (that's what the Gimmel is for)
- point 2: while the traditional top (or dreidel) presents the above four letters, the one in the photo is showing Hey and Shin , which isn't one of those. However, Shin does appear in the short article linked by DaXIthR:

The "Nun" stands for "nisht," none. "Gimmel" stands for "ganz," all. "Hey" stands for "halb," half. "Shin" stands for "shtel - stay put."

thus fitting the german gambling dreidel.

It would appear that there are two versions of the dreidel. One originating in the dating back to Helenic times, and one (probably derived from it by the german jewish community in the 19th century) used for a bit of gaming.

Lastly, on another issue, please note that "god-fearing" is a term originating in the old testament, not the new one, although I think Christianity (or at least some parts of it) did (and do) get a lot of extra mileage from inducing fear in their congregations.

vaga_koleso, I have to disagree with your characterization of religion. You said:

Anyway, my own version of why Jesus didn't play games (with which I agree) is perhaps a bit controversial... but I'll say it anyway :) I think that Christianity more so than other modern religions, and certainly more so than ancient pagan religions, has a concept of fearing God

And

Contrast this especially with relationships that the ancient Greeks, Egyptians and Romans had with their Gods - they (the relationships) were much more easy-going and thus conducive to play.

I don't think this is accurate. Leaving aside those three religions for a moment, you're forgetting the ancient pagan religions of the region of Mesopotamia. It's been a while since world history, but I remember the Sumerian gods and goddesses being pretty frightening.

Coming back to those religions, I know in Egyptian religion there was some belief that after death, the heart was weighed against a feather to determine if the person experienced an afterlife of bliss or pain. And as for Greek/Roman, while their gods and goddesses were certainly more *playful* I wouldn't say they were "easy-going" at all. One only has to think of how the Greek gods chained Prometheus to a mountain to have his liver (I think it was) ripped out by a giant bird every day as a punishment for bringing fire to man, or of Sisyphus who was condemned by the gods to roll that rock up a hill for all time. Like I said: playful, but, not easy-going; playful in that cruel kinda way.

If I was to generalize, I'd say that if you look at the evolution of religious thought in general, it evolves to be more and more serious and somber in the later phases of mankind's development, and so some of the youngest religions such as Christianity are already so serious as to make mixing religion and games simply inappropriate.

I think this is a case of us bringing our modern mindsets to the table. A lot of articles on this site are all about how 'serious' games should be taken because our modern mindset is that games are 'just for fun' when to the ancients, that wasn't true. As people have mentioned, the Greek games had religious elements to them, as did Lacrosse for Native Americans in the areas that today are Canada and America, and the ancient Mayans had Pok-a-Tok. And of course Rome was always holding 'games' of some sort to celebrate anything and everything.

I have a feeling that the idea that 'games' are not 'serious' is a product of the Industrial age than of any religion. Why wasn't there more gaming in Christianity? Maybe *because* games were used by pagan religions, and so the games of the ancient became suspect, along the lines of what joshg said about divination.

Also, I think we're forgetting that art and music are hallmarks of Christianity, so, I wouldn't say that religions get *somber* as one goes forward in history. There's no Christian 'dance' either--even though dance is a part of many religions--and that makes sense because of the focus on the body as something flawed and physical pleasure as suspicious.

Then again, instead of celebrating the gods with games like the Romans, Christians celebrated the saints with feasts, and eating is certainly about the pleasures of the body.

So why no gaming? I don't know, but, I think the idea that it's because Christianity is more "serious and somber" is inaccurate because it both mischaracterizes other religions as being more "easy-going" than they really were, and it projects our modern categories like 'games=idle fun distraction' on the ancients for whom games were very serious affairs.

If I had to hazard a guess, I'd just say that art and music and eating and brewing and distilling wound up being big in Christianity the way games and dance are big in other religions. Maybe just The Parable of the Charioteer never got written down by historical accident, and games never wound up in the 'dna' of Christianity.

Then again, the 'games' of bull-fighting and jousting did go over big with Christians, though not the Christian Church. But this reply is long enough as it is... ;)

To add one more thing, just looking back at the first post and the mention of the game 'Go' I realized we're all forgetting to factor in the game of Chess, a game that actually has *bishops* as a playing piece. A game that in some ways physically represents the theology of medieval Christian Europe, with the monarch and his consort in the center, flanked by the clergy and the martial nobility. With all the little peasants in front.

Cheeze_Pavilion:
To add one more thing, just looking back at the first post and the mention of the game 'Go' I realized we're all forgetting to factor in the game of Chess, a game that actually has *bishops* as a playing piece. A game that in some ways physically represents the theology of medieval Christian Europe, with the monarch and his consort in the center, flanked by the clergy and the martial nobility. With all the little peasants in front.

The bishop was added for primarily political reasons; earlier in the history of Chess, their role was filled by a "ship," which fits much more strongly with the martial theme of the rest.

Bongo Bill:
The bishop was added for primarily political reasons; earlier in the history of Chess, their role was filled by a "ship," which fits much more strongly with the martial theme of the rest.

Can you provide more information? I'm not sure I'd draw such a sharp distinction between 'political' and 'religious' reasons when talking about Europe in the middle ages. Or between a 'martial' theme and a 'religious' theme, at least during the period of the Crusades.

Cheeze_Pavilion:

Bongo Bill:
The bishop was added for primarily political reasons; earlier in the history of Chess, their role was filled by a "ship," which fits much more strongly with the martial theme of the rest.

Can you provide more information? I'm not sure I'd draw such a sharp distinction between 'political' and 'religious' reasons when talking about Europe in the middle ages. Or between a 'martial' theme and a 'religious' theme, at least during the period of the Crusades.

What I mean was: in early chess, the "ship" or "elephant" piece filled a role similar to the Bishop's, but when it came to Europe, due to the church's (direct or unintentional) influence, it was replaced with a "bishop." This is likely because a boat is a metaphor much more associated with warfare than a clergyman, and war themes are the unifying metaphor of chess.

My source is Wikipedia, so take it with an appropriately large grain of salt.

Ahh, okay--I think we're saying the same thing then. That as Chess became part of European culture, it became intertwined with Christianity to some extent.

Actually, in thinking about this and looking on Wikipedia myself, it occurred to me that it's a bit of a stretch to compare Judaism of the period to which the dreidel is attributed with the Christianity of the early church. By the time of the events that the dreidel is meant to commemorate, Judaism was maybe as much as a thousand years old. If we're counting that as 'early' Judaism, maybe we should also be counting medieval Christianity--and with it, Chess--as 'early'. I think we're conflating the concept 'ancient' with that of 'early'.

I blame it on CivIV, where it seems like Hinduism/Buddhism/Judaism get founded super quick, even though Buddha was born only, what, five hundred and sixty years before Jesus? That's it: I blame it on Sid!

And on sources: as far as religions go, the beginnings of Christianity are relatively well-documented. Which maybe leads us to another explanation as to why Christianity--especially early Christianity--didn't spawn any games: it was too busy spawning books. The elites of the religion were busy having intellectual debates about the exact nature of the substance of the soul and topics like that; games really aren't a good medium for that kind of thing. Rather than develop games to teach the basics of the religion, they were busy looking for the exact word to use as part of a creed to teach abstract points of doctrine: creeds filled the role of games in other religions. While Christianity didn't incorporate many Greek and Roman games, it certainly drew on lots of neo-Platonist pagan philosophy--the answer might have something to do with the fact that the people with political and cultural power preferred books as a pastime to games.

Some things never change, I guess...

It also raises the question of when, exactly, games become a part of a religion.

Really interesting thread here...

I think that Jesus would have been a gamer if games weren't so closely tied to organized [Roman] religion. Certainly He knew how to have fun (turning water into wine isn't exactly a joyless sort of thing to do).

More importantly, if you look at "Homo Ludens", some interesting insights present themselves. Huizinga notes that organized religion tends to become a kind of game, a "magic circle" unto itself. You enter the game world, and you have awesome or not-so-awesome experiences, and then you leave, and your "real" world doesn't really change at all. Doesn't that sound suspiciously like the kind of experience a lot of people have at church?

So I think Jesus came partly to abolish one kind of magic circle, the kind which divides organized religion from everyday life. He came to tell people "hey, if you act like a saint in the temple and an asshole the rest of the week, you're still an asshole".

At the same time, He seemed to embrace other kinds of magic circles, while scratching little holes in the edges. I'm talking about parables, of course: a parable or story told "live", where you get to interact with the storyteller, is really another kind of magic circle, like a game.

In the end, I think Jesus was not a gamer in the sense that He was pretty much against the "gaming" of everyday life, the compartmentalization of work and family and religion into their own little boxes. On the other hand, He wasn't averse to the use of fiction and fantasy, of putting his listeners in the shoes of someone else. In other words... Jesus may or may not have been a gamer, but he was almost certainly a DM.

I haven't seen a decent argument for saying that there is a causal connection between religion and gaming. I think the two are incidental to each other. People tend towards religion. People like to play games. Sometimes the two activities overlap. Sometimes they don't.

 

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