I see spiritual challenges everywhere. Grimdark is all over TV, and in real life, leaders and celebrities fall like dominoes. When I ask my middle schoolers what they think the world will be like in ten years, they say, “We’ll go to war long before that.”
Where is our hope? How do we deal with the constant negativity? I think we practice. We practice making tough choices; we practice sacrifice; we practice being heroic. This is how I learned to help students practice:
I was serving a small congregation outside Savannah, GA when my Vicar introduced me to a parishioner who bravely expressed his long term devotion to Dungeons & Dragons. Would I be willing to start a game? We chatted, grabbed a couple other geeky guys, one presbyterian geeky gal, a couple of kids, and collectively drank the juice.
I spent a weekend reading rule books, until I felt ready for the big day, nerd flag proudly flying and a bag of dice in hand. We had 6 people come to that first session. We made a grand display of the heathens at church playing Dragons & Dragons with candles, music, and snacks. Within six months, I was running games for 25 kids and adults. Our average Sunday attendance was 75 at the time.
I was creating space for people to work through old hurts safely. I allowed them to practice their responses to real world problems within a game. I set a code for my players to follow, I made them sign a covenant of behavior, and we grew and grew. I realized I was using a game that allows you to be evil to encourage my players to do amazing good. Angry kids learned to express themselves in more healthy ways. Hurt kids found peace. Lonely kids found a community. The adults who played were just as excited about it, especially the ones who came to play with their children!
God will work through anyone. God will work wonders through anything. If I can use a game as loaded & maligned as Dungeons & Dragons to show kids how to live like Jesus, then this truly can be an age of miracles & heroes. One of my current groups, four high school ladies, call our sessions “church” (and not because we meet in my office at church). Another group I run in a local game shop has a dad and son who have healed their broken relationship through supporting each other’s characters in the game.
In the next few posts, I’ll guide you through how to play make believe again. I’ll show you a way to get your kids around the table & build bonds as strong as Adamantium. I’ll help you use your family time, or after school time, or weekend time to train 21st century heroes. Here’s how I started:
- Read the rules to whatever system you are using. Or better yet, get a 12 year old to read the rules. They are amazing at remembering this stuff. Buy only enough accessories to meet the bare minimum needs. I have way too many dice and minis and whatnot.
- Choose wisely. 2-4 students are all you need to get started. But this first group has to be honestly invested in committing to the game and each other. You’ll need a core group to help you set the standards for new players down the road.
- Define some boundaries. Download my Gamer’s Covenant and follow it. This is a modified re-presentation of the Baptismal Covenant, and sets a baseline for our community and behavior.
- Make room. Be prepared for your kids to bring friends. Be prepared for kids to be inconsistent with attendance. Be prepared to make stuff up as you go.
- Live heroically. The heart of Role Playing Games is about storytelling. You work with your students to craft a story that draws you all into the best versions of yourselves. Students begin to understand that defeating the band of Orcs will show them how to stand before a bully. Watch the boys demand that princesses are not objects to be rescued, but role models and fellow servants. Watch the girls play warrior queens whose ferocity is matched only by their honor.
In my next post, I’ll tell you how we used the Gospel to develop a code that my gamers live by, and how to fuse formation with imagination to give kids hope and watch them become disciples with +1 Swords of the Spirit on their hips.
Links for supplies:
Gamer’s Covenant: https://drive.google.com/open?id=1jHtcQHwAPoBLxI-tfla9xXzC1rO3FHZT
Have you ever played D&D in the context of Christian discipleship?