I was recently asked why I take part in tabletop role-playing games like Dungeons & Dragons. Why do I have to be such an über goober? Isn’t it all just pointless make-believe?
Well, yes and no.
There are deeply theological motivations behind my hobby. By allowing myself to dream, I become more human, and by becoming more human, I draw closer to God. There is nothing more real than this spiritual connection.
I am not alone in placing such a high value on imagination games. James S. Taylor discusses “play-as-spirituality” in his book, Poetic Knowledge: The Recovery of Education. He quotes Saint Thomas Aquinas’ declaration: “The activities of play are not aimed at some extrinsic end, but aim rather at the well-being of the player.”
True play, according to Saint Thomas Aquinas, is not a preparation for some kind of useful task; rather, true play is a participation in the creative life of God made possible by the image of God within us. It is a disinterested pleasure which is its own end, unconnected to any bodily needs or social utilities. True play is the pleasure produced by the apprehension of beauty in objects and stories. In fact, true play is synonymous with the Beatific Vision of Heaven and the very essence of love, God, and goodness, which, unsurprisingly, Saint Thomas Aquinas argues are different words for the same being—Our loving God and Father, the Supreme Creator, Storyteller, and Dreamer.
And that’s why I play RPGs. It’s an act of worshipping God. Dreaming brings me closer to the divine and makes me more Christlike.
My friend and mentor, the Christian apologist and science fiction author John C. Wright, once wrote, “Perhaps dreams glimpse the spirit world, where our favorite science fiction authors, rewarded beyond measure for the simple joy they brought us, are now making worlds in immense collaborations with each other, and with all the streaming galaxies of the golden hosts of heaven.”
There’s no perhaps about it.
Creative play is the only act of true and pure praise that could ever ultimately glorify God. Nothing else touches his very nature. Traditional Christian theology teaches that God created the universe for the simple fact that it was an enjoyable and good thing to do. That’s Christianity’s answer to the great question of the meaning of life.
Does this imply that life is just a game?
Of course it does. If that disturbs you, you may need to take games more seriously. The act of play is the highest truth. We, all of us, are called to live that truth in this life and the next. That’s why God made the Sabbath Day holy—it’s all about being creative, and then finding rest to enjoy our creations.
As Saint Paul writes, “Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we shall be has not yet been revealed. We do know that when it is revealed we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is” (1 Jn 3:2). Think about that—we will be like Christ the first Creator, the very Word through whom God spun the tale of the whole world. Our constant vocation in all walks of life is to create strange and wonderful stories to share with others. Whether you tell stories through volunteer work, sports, writing, or tabletop RPGs, you are called to be a co-creator, a contributing author to God’s grand narrative.
Storytelling in all its forms addresses the core of our being and rebels against the heresy of our modern age that life is all about working hard, climbing the corporate and social ladder, and coming out on top.
Let me ask you: to what end do we work so hard nowadays? Why do you work so hard? When is the last time you have played and utilized your God-given imagination? Do you think it’s childish to play make-believe games? “[Jesus] called a child over, placed it in their midst, and said, ‘Amen, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven” (Mt 18:2-4).
So don’t be ashamed. Dust off your gaming books, buy some video games, take up a sport, or start writing a novel. God wants you to play.