In January, I was playing Guild Wars when something interesting happened. I was in Ascalon, and soft flakes of snow had blanketed the burnt-out, ruined husk of the city, changing the usually scorched and depressing landscape into a sea of calm. I can’t exactly recollect why I was out there, but I distinctly remember a guild recruiter standing in the snow. That alone isn’t out of the ordinary, but something the recruiter said caught my attention. He said he was recruiting for a Christian guild.
Shortly after he said that, a flurry of insults flooded into the local chat as every random, opinionated passerby began to berate the recruiter for both his beliefs and trying to “indoctrinate” other players. The recruiter didn’t stick around long after that, and while those who had decided to be vocal were left with a smug feeling of satisfaction, I was only left with a feeling of curiosity and a handful of unanswered questions.
Allow me to be blunt for a moment: Most games avoid anything having to do with the subject of religion. In most cases it doesn’t get much deeper than the gaming plot staple of “these aliens are religious fanatics and want to kill us all”. You can substitute the word “aliens” for something more appropriate depending on the game, but in essence it still means the same thing. Perhaps that is what piqued my curiosity that night in Guild Wars, the idea of a real world religion being brought into a game not by the developers, but by the players; religion existing in the game not as a plot device or background lore, but rather as a person’s actual beliefs applied to a virtual world. Simply put, I was curious how faith from the real world would carry over into a digital one.
The answers came much as the questions had – a result of a completely random encounter. Just as I was getting ready to leave a small outpost, someone sent a message over the local feed. It was a recruitment message for another Christian guild. The recruiter’s name was Kaddy Lynn. Kaddy is an officer in a guild named Mark Sixteen Fifteen, a small guild that is part of a much larger Christian-centric alliance called the Followers O F Christ. Now, this run-in with Kaddy happened four months after that brief moment in January. But I had been thinking about the encounter since then, and Kaddy’s sudden appearance was nothing if not serendipitous. I asked Kaddy if she would speak to me about her guild and a few days later I was talking to the entire group.
One thing I was hoping to distinguish is how an openly religious group in a game is different from a “normal” group. After a few players offered up some answers that seemed fairly obvious in hindsight, ranging from playing by example to just being around other Christians, Kaddy chimed in and offered her opinion.
“Well, looking at what we do in a religious aspect, Mark 16:15 is the motto of my guild: ‘And Jesus said “Go ye into all the world and preach the Gospel to every living thing.”‘ Some people believe in separation of game and religion as soundly as church and state, but as Christians, we’re called to tell people about Jesus Christ wherever we go.”
It is apparent that Kaddy considers herself something of a missionary. “The Bible says that we are all missionaries.” She goes on to say that “As Christians, we are called to spread the Gospel. It is our reason for being. In Genesis, God told Adam and Eve, ‘be fruitful and multiply’. He wasn’t just talking about making babies… basically, if there is a chance that what we say and do while playing this game can lead someone to Christ, why not?”
The faith of Mark Sixteen Fifteen’s members carries over into the way they act in the game world as well. In the game, guild members set an example for others through their virtuous actions. They also try to keep each other accountable for their actions, both in-game and in real life. In that sense the guild acts as a support group. They even hold prayer services online twice a week. For Kaddy and her guild, being a Christian and supporting one another in their beliefs is something that transcends the boundaries separating virtual worlds from the real one. They take their faith with them wherever they go, even if the world they’re in isn’t tangible. After all, as Kaddy points out, “salvation isn’t exactly what you’d call tangible either.”
Kaddy describes her identity in religious terms, “Misused and blighted as the term is these days, we are Crusaders. Mark 16:15, again. We are ordered to do this. To not do this would be like spitting on Jesus. After what He’s sacrificed for us, and asked this one thing primarily, to tell others about him, how can we not? For someone who isn’t Christian, they probably won’t understand. It’s not zealous fanaticism and it’s not radical fundamentalism or anything like that. It’s simply what we’re called to do.”
Despite how passionately she speaks about the subject, Kaddy is quick to point out that the guild’s members don’t try to actively recruit anyone to their faith. “Respecting that some people do not ‘appreciate’ Christianity, we don’t exactly go spamming Bible verses, but we do let people know what we are about, and allow them to come to us if they feel an interest.” Despite the ambivalence towards outright proselytizing, it’s clear from other guild members’ testimony that conversion is a valued part of their interactions with other people in the game.
One guild member known as Toph recalls a chance occurrence that, as he believes, led to someone being saved. “She was a Wiccan, and I was just advertising for our guild. I happened to be in the International District. I didn’t realize it and I probably would have switched to American if I was recruiting properly, but it was the Lord,” Toph proclaimed, “He brought the two of us together. Long story short, people had told her all her life that she had to read the Bible to understand. She said, very literally, ‘If you would just ask me, I would’. So I did, and about a week later, I was on Skype with her and her husband and she told me she had decided to put her faith in Christ for salvation. A lot of other things went into her decision, but I was used as an instrument for the Lord to just be a testimony.” Toph adds, “His ways are not our ways; His thoughts are not our thoughts. He knows the beginning and the end, so bringing two people together for a ‘coincidental’ chat was never [a matter of] chance.”
I’m not quite sure what I was expecting to find when I began my search for answers. Maybe I was just expecting the word “Christian” to be tacked on to the guild’s name, just as the word “veteran” or “pro” is these days. Instead, what I found was perhaps the exact opposite. I discovered people who are firm believers in Christianity, who carry their beliefs and the lessons they learn with them wherever they go. Even in the game world, an environment that provides both the anonymity and a massive audience that enables some people to act in an amoral and obnoxious way, the members of Mark Sixteen Fifteen stick to their convictions and their beliefs. They avoid temptations, they’re mindful of their actions and they’re always willing to share their beliefs to help others. I found people whose faith was completely without boundaries.
Granted, the odds that the Mark Sixteen Fifteen guild is representative of every faith-based organization in a game are fairly slim, but they’re a great example nevertheless. Their example shows that faith can exist inside of a game in the exact same way it does in the real world. In that respect, I guess you could consider it another instance of the game becoming more “meta”, thanks to its players. Either way, it is nice for a change to see religion existing in a game as more than just an excuse for why an eight-foot tall angry blue alien is trying to shoot you with lasers. The experience has had an effect on me, and while I’m not running off to the next mass at the local church just yet, I am helping the occasional random player a lot more than I used to.
Max Phillips is a freelance photographer and writer along with being a notable member of The Escapist community. He isn’t necessarily religious, but according to his grandfather he’s apparently an Episcopalian, even if he doesn’t know it.