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15 Minutes of Fame: When WoW meets real-world religion, part 2



Do you find any of the themes in WoW morally or spiritually disturbing?

Sure. Life is spiritually and morally disturbing. I can't tell you how bummed I was that there was no redemption for Arthas, or even Illidan, for that matter. I know a lot of people love to hate those guys, but I saw humanity in them: our weaknesses, our vulnerabilities and the way little evils lead to greater ones, until we're trapped and hardened, with no answer, escape or hope. So I desperately wanted a way for their stories to be redemption stories. Humans need redemption.

But this really isn't any different than real life. Nothing I see in WoW is nearly so disturbing as what happens in real life: hatred, irreconciliation, abuse, injustice, real deceptions and false religion. Compared to those things, Professor Putricide is pretty silly, really.

Let's back out of the game a bit into the real world for a bit. What specific position do you serve in your church?

I'm the sole pastor of a small congregation. But I also work with a local mission society. Through them, I lead outreach and discipleship to college aged and young adults, as well as help to raise funds for the calling of full-time missionaries to the Philadelphia, my city. I guess the best description of the whole job is "preacher." "Preaching" gets a bad wrap, again, usually because of legalism. But preaching is awesome.

In your experience, do you think WoW is appropriate for teenagers? Younger children?

I have three kids. My 5-year-old has a level 3 druid. Hunting the mountain cougars in Thunder Bluff wigs her out so much she can only hunt about one every three months. LOL. We don't let the kids really watch TV, since the AAP has pretty much proven it sets back brain development before age 5. As a result, things you or I would think are pretty tame are incredibly real to them. But that's not an issue with WoW, really. That's an issue with media literacy and how you teach it to children.

The only real danger that WoW or any MMORPG poses to kids is the exposure to the online community, which can be very dangerous. Kids are notoriously bad with discernment because they are trusting. And with the internet, you have the entire world out there, a world full of lots of selfish and untrustworthy people. So I would caution parents about any kind of unregulated internet usage for their kids. It's just not responsible to set them in front of a CPU and say, "Have a good time." Safer to give them a book of matches. But with WoW, you really don't have an excuse. The reason I wanted my daughter to start playing was so I could play with her. It's fun and it's about team. WoW is conceivably a very family-friendly thing. I hope some day Friday nights in my home consist of my wife and kids and I all on our CPUs doing team, level-appropriate dungeons together. That would be sweet.

But really, the answer is the same with anything. Nothing in this life is safe for children. That's why God created parents. And the parent's job is not first to say, "Do this, don't do that." The job is, "Let's do this together."

Do you play with anyone from your congregation?

Nah. There are a couple of gamers but no MMORPGers. But if there were, I'm sure we would.

Do you use WoW references and stories or situations pulled from the game in your work as a pastor?

Not really. It would just confuse people. It would take more time explaining the context of the game and the story than it takes to simply explain what I'm trying to say in the first place. But I can say I have learned a great deal about community and leadership from WoW. Being in a raiding guild is no joke. It requires commitment, sacrifice, accountability, listening skills, communication skills and the like. These are good people skills for any vocation that involves management and service. Contrary to the '90s myth, online community can reinforce and strengthen a person's ability to engage in real-life community. It all depends on how you use it.

Have you ever evangelized in game?

In Vent, yes. In chat, no. It really wouldn't work very well. Chat is a very limited medium, like email. And that kind of "evangelism" isn't really Biblical evangelism, anyway. So much of what passes for Christianity in America today treats Jesus like a toaster oven and Christians like door-to-door salesmen. It's pretty messed up. I really don't see how going whisper to whisper near the north bank in Dalaran is really going to give people who are playing a fantasy game about looting digitized stuff faith in Christianity's real-life cosmology. It betrays the premise of the game and would do far more harm than good. The "evangel" -- that's the "good news" in Greek -- it doesn't work by shoving it down peoples' throats. It works by speaking it, plainly and clearly, to those who are interested in listening.

So, just like I will tell my next door neighbor about who Jesus is and what he has done, if and when the conversation is ready, so also I'll tell my guildies, or whoever. But the moment we make the Gospel into a law -- the moment we start running around to every door and saying, "Believe Jesus or go to hell" -- not only do we betray the Bible's actual teachings and rob the good news of its power, but we also don't make any sense and look like a bunch of nuts.

Have other players turned to you for advice or counseling in game, after learning that you are a pastor?

Yes, but not a lot. With three pastors in the raid team, and the other two more senior than myself, my guess is they hear more about peoples' private needs than I do. Thing is, in our age, people tend to keep their spirituality very private. This is both good and bad. The bad is that people are afraid to look for help, especially with Christians, because Christians are seen as being about legalism and judgment, rather than about mercy. Patience is the only avenue for changing that image.

What do members of your congregation think about your gaming? Your fellow pastors? Is WoW a hobby you generally talk about at the church?

The gamers in my congregation get it. The rest just kind of shrug. I think they chalk it up to my being young. A lot of my fellow pastors who are my age get it. I've tried to recruit, but they're into other types of gaming. There is a generation gap at work too. But no, I don't talk about WoW in church contexts unless I'm talking to someone who likes WoW. It's a lot like being a sports fan. I'm the same way with the Portland Trailblazers. I was raised in Portland and love the team. I follow them avidly. But that's my hobby. My task as a pastor isn't to be about me. It's to be the guy who is honest about what the Bible says, and who with that word shepherds the community of believers through the trials and temptations of living and dying in a dying world by pointing them back to the answer: a crucified and risen Messiah. There's not a lot of overlap. :)

And finally, the question you knew we simply had to ask: If Jesus GMed a guild, what classes would he and his disciples play?

This is fun -- but it's also serious, so I have two answers. (I hope you print both!)

To be silly, I'd say Jesus would be a tank, always taking the damage on behalf of his raid. Because of that, he'd probably have to be a pally, since he's OP and has the power of healing and raising others from the dead, Hand of Freedom and Redemption, yadda yadda, not to mention he is basically the incarnation of the Light. His disciples would be whatever they were created to be -- except maybe warlocks ... you know, demons and all. But to have a great 25-man team, you'd need all the members of the body to be their own parts. And, of course, they'd mainly raid for BoEs, which they would give away to non-guilded players, and he'd spend his free time hanging out in the Cleft of Shadow to run noobs through Ragefire.

But seriously, Jesus is a GM. He runs the greatest guild in the history of the world. He calls it <The Church>. He's the high priest, and all his disciples play the class of "sinners redeemed" by his blood. As cool as his fantasy version would be, I'll take his RL guild any day of the week.

Find more from Fisk and his "theological entertainment of the most useful/useless kind" on his YouTube channel and St. John Evangelical Lutheran Church.

"I never thought of playing WoW like that!" -- and neither did we, until we talked with these players, from Star Trek: Deep Space Nine's Aron "Nog" Eisenberg to an Olympic medalist and a quadriplegic raider. Know someone else we should feature? Email lisa@wow.com.

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