Is your life reactive or proactive?

When you create a character for your tabletop RPG, what do you think about more?  Do you think about who you want that character to be?  Or do you think about where you want that character to go?  There’s a subtle difference between the two approaches.  Both approaches can make interesting characters–both approaches can result in good, worthwhile stories.  But one approach is reactive, while the other is proactive.  One focuses on the present, while the other looks to the future.

Let me give you examples of both.

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The Reactive Character

Let’s say you take the first approach, “who do you want the character to be?”  Well, you want her to be a dwarven wizard who serves Moradin.  She wields an orb that belonged to her father before her.  And as far as alignment goes, she is Lawful Good.  When this character is presented with a problem to solve, how will she respond?

In an ideal world, wherein players are engrossed in their characters and truly play the role, this character will consider who she is and she will respond to the situation.  “Well,” she thinks, “as a Moradin-follower who seeks to honor her father, how should I respond to this situation?”  By focusing on who the character is, we set up our character to be primarily reactive.

The Proactive Character

But let’s say we take the second approach, “where do you want the character to go?”  Well, regardless of the outer trappings of who our character is, you may want her to go down a path toward redemption or heroism.  Perhaps you want him to develop a sense of self-sacrifice or conversely a sense of complete independence and self-sufficiency.  When this character is presented with a problem to solve, how will he respond?

This character will also consider who he is, but then that thought process will go a step further to where he wants to go.  He has a future that he wants to achieve–something toward which to move, which makes his character primarily proactive.

Which character are you?

I’ve touched on this briefly over on MadAdventurers.com, but where are you headed in your life?  Do you have a vision of where you want to go?  Or are you simply reacting to the situations in which you find yourself?

Last week, I spoke briefly of the lies that people say about gamers.  Many of us have started assuming that those false beliefs are our future.  You’ve allowed those people and their stereotypes to set your expectations.  You are who you are and that’s who you’ll be.  But it doesn’t have to be that way.  All it takes is a change in the way you think about yourself and your future.

Have you ever stopped and asked, “What would make my life worthwhile?  What is the absolute highest thing that I want to accomplish with my life?”  Maybe you’ve asked those questions about RPG characters, whose lifespan is sometimes only a few sessions.  Have you asked that question about your own life?

Most of my life, I’ve had fleeting notions of where I wanted to go.  I had some idea of the sort of job I wanted–of the quality of life I’d like to live.  But I’ve never really set clear goals toward which I wanted to move.  That has changed in the last few years.  Just in the last few months, I stumbled upon a resource called Creating Your Personal Life PlanIf you’d like to start living more proactively, I’d encourage you to take a look at it.  It will be well worth your time.

If you don’t have time to read that resource, let me give you a few questions to ask yourself:

  1. What kind of legacy do I want to leave behind when I’m gone?  How do I want people to think of me?
  2. To whom do I want to leave that legacy?
  3. What is the first step I need to take toward that legacy?

I understand this may be a new way of thinking for you.  I’ve been there too.  But I’m convinced this is your first step into a much larger world.

How have you embraced a more proactive life?  How have you struggled with this way of living?  Email me or sound off in the comments here!

(Photo Credit: Ade M-C)

As We Shape Stories, the Stories Shape Us.

Welcome to Experience Points, my weekly response to one of your questions about anything!  Life, relationships, faith, or gaming…really anything is game!  If you’d like to send in a question, feel free to email me.  Here’s this week’s question:

Why in the world are you, a Pastor, playing tabletop games?

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For the record, I know the person who sent in this question and he/she means it in the absolute nicest way!  It is odd to stumble upon a cleric of any tradition in your FLGS, let alone one born and raised in the Bible belt and now serving in a conservative, Protestant institution.  It raises the question: what’s your angle, preacher-man?

Stating the obvious: tabletop gaming is fun!

I was born in 1983, two years before the US release of the Nintendo Entertainment System.  When my dad brought one home when I was four years old, things changed in our home!  I became a console gamer.  Really, quite frankly I was a Nintendo gamer…and still am.  Except for the Gamecube and the Wii U, all the systems are currently hooked up to my gaming TV.  But early on, I developed a gaming sensibility that continued.

My first brush with tabletop gaming was in junior high with the WEG Star Wars RPG.  A friend lent me the book and after school I and my brothers sat down to try it out.  When one brother’s PC decapitated the other’s with a lightsaber in the first five minutes, my mom made us take the book back.  And then tabletop games disappeared from my life.

…until 2011, that is.  I was actually a month away from moving to Louisiana, when the then-NBC sitcom Community had an episode about Dungeons & Dragons.  I was immediately intrigued.  I actually downloaded the basic 4th Edition rules from the WotC site, but moving soon took precedence and it slipped between the cracks.  But only for a few months.

After moving to Louisiana and taking a new position at a small suburban church, I became acquainted with a college student who was doing some volunteering for us.  As we got to know each other, we learned that we had a shared love of many things: the Beatles, comic books, and video games.  But then he mentioned Dungeons & Dragons

I knew all the horror stories from the eighties.  I knew the sermon illustrations.  I knew the Scriptures against witchcraft and the like.  But when he invited me to join his gaming group, I took the Players Handbook home, read it in a week, and joined up.  And guess what?  It was fun.  It was a heckuva lot of fun.  As an extrovert who loves games and epic stories, I realized this could become a really great outlet for creativity, relaxation, and good old-fashioned fun.

The less-than obvious: tabletop gaming is good.

You don’t hear too many people talking about things being objectively “good” these days.  But here’s what I found to be good about tabletop gaming.

First (which I’ve talked about at length elsewhere), there’s something sacred about tabletops.  How many life-changing moments happen at tables?  How many important conversations happen there?  How many relationships are strengthened or challenged there?  How many children are shaped slowly and daily by what happens there?  In the Christian faith, one of our most important practices happens on a tabletop!  Any time I find myself at a table with other people, I know that there is great potential for good.  There is opportunity for relationships—for encouragement—for mutual care—for self-expression—for community.  And these things are all objectively good.

Communities have much more potential for good than the individual does.  That’s not to say individuals can’t accomplish good things.  But unified communities bring about exponential change.  Unified homes, seeking good things, are objectively good.  Unified workplaces, seeking good things, are objectively good.  Unified friends, seeking good things, are objectively good.  And unified gaming groups, seeking good things, are objectively good.

Even if that means something seemingly trivial like “telling good stories.”  Telling good stories enriches lives and homes.  Humanity itself came of age while telling stories around meals.  Before we ever wrote them down, we recited them and participated in them.  As communities shaped the stories, the stories shaped us.  It’s a sacred practice, happening at a sacred place.  And I believe this to be good.

The draw for a Pastor

As a Pastor, I am a storyteller and a story-shaper.  I tell stories that I believe will shape and transform the lives of the hearers.  The stories that I tell occupationally are stories of faith, rooted in the Judeo-Christian tradition.  I believe them to be true.  But that does not mean that other stories cannot also be life-changing and redemptive.

As such, tabletop gaming (more specifically tabletop RPGs) is more than a simple interest to me.  I believe it to be a means of transformation.  Friendships happen there.  Ideas are challenged and shaped in the process.  People are transformed through these stories.  As we shape them, they shape us.  And I believe that to be good.

How have the stories at your tabletop shaped you?  How has it strengthened and catalyzed your friendships and your worldview?  Sound off in the comments!

(Photo credit: Mary)

Life is a game you can win or lose.

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Cultural visionary, Seth Godin, recently said this:

Most games…are finite games.  The game of soccer is finite—it lasts a certain amount of time and someone wins and someone loses. … We are really familiar with finite games.  An infinite game is a game we don’t play to end—it’s not a game you play to win.  It’s a game you play to play!  So if you’re playing catch with your four-year-old, I hope it’s an infinite game—not a game you play to win by throwing the ball hard enough to make the other person quit!

As gamers, we understand the difference between finite and infinite games.  We experience it all the time.  But as I thought more about Seth’s comments, I realized something rather astonishing.

Life is not an infinite game.  In fact, it is very much a finite game.

And I’m not even talking in purely temporal terms here.  I mean this: you can win at life and you can lose at life.  It’s a finite game.  It ends.  And at the end, we have to be comfortable with what we’ve accomplished.  We need a sense that we have won.

Anyone who knows me from the Mad Adventurers Society knows that I am a pastor.  That said, I don’t think the internet needs another Gamer Pastor.  For that matter, the internet doesn’t need another Pastor for Gamers.  Plenty of other folks are doing that quite well.  So what am I hoping to accomplish with this new site, MadCleric.com?

On the Mad Adventurers Society, I’m a pastor who helps improve people’s games.  Here on MadCleric.com, I want to be a gamer who helps improve people’s lives.  I will certainly be open to talking about matters of faith, but that is not the only focus of the site.  Here’s how I intend this to work:

Every Monday, I’ll invite you to join me here in The Cloister.  Here I’ll be writing about non-gaming life issues from the perspective of a gamer.

Every Wednesday, I’ll be posting Experience Points, which will be a column wherein I respond to your questions about anything!  Life, faith, politics, gaming…doesn’t matter!  Though I do reserve the right to take the best gaming questions and use those to inspire my articles for…

Tuesdays on the Mad Adventurers Society!  I will certainly continue posting gaming articles over on MadAdventurers.com every Tuesday.  In addition, I will continue as a moderator and frequent interlocutor over there.  So don’t think I’m going to be disappearing from that place.  Unless Brian wizens up and throws me out!

Well, we still have a ton to talk about, but then that’s what this site is for.  But before I go, what do you think?

Is life a finite game?   Can you win or lose?  If so, in your opinion what are the elements of life that can make us win or lose in the process?  Sound off in the comments by clicking here!

(Photo credit: Renske Herder)