Off Topic: Why I’m Still Catholic

This isn’t a post about Dungeons & Dragons Online or anything about gaming in particular. It’s a response to a challenge by Elizabeth Scalia, a Catholic writer and blogger. I’m merely taking a liberty in using my blog to meet her challenge. (There have been far fewer clever internet challenges lately.) If you’re not interested in my personal insights on my faith, do ignore this post.


 

The Anchoress, also known as Elizabeth Scalia, made a public challenge to anyone with a web presence to explain why they remain a Catholic, especially during this time where many people warp their desires into political and social pressure to intimidate those who fully practice their faith, not restraining it behind the church doors.

My blog typically restricts itself to discussions about Dungeons & Dragons Online, a multiplayer online world based on the popular tabletop game. So I’m doing something that blogs shouldn’t do much, if at all: Speak off-topic.

I’m going to do so, just this once. I might even be able to show how my faith even intersects with my gaming.

I’m not known anywhere outside of this blog. I’m just a father and husband. As a kid, my family wasn’t particularly religious, although my grandmother was raised Catholic. I did grow with a respect that God existed, but could never understand that “Jesus” thing.

For some reason, God has surrounded me with German Catholics. My high school best friend, my college best friend, and my wife are German Catholics. That was the catalyst that, in 2005, made me enter into the faith. But that’s a story in itself.

In mid-2004, I divorced from a civil marriage. I felt lost, guilty and broken. Despite not looking for anyone, someone appeared at a science-fiction convention I attended. In these gatherings most people have several things in common, and this young woman and I had an interest in wearing costumes the following evening. Specifically, I was going to make an effort to look like the character of Morpheus from The Matrix films, and she as the character Trinity.

While my costume at the time was nothing to speak of, the young woman’s rendition was breathtakingly accurate, and her facial contours were nearly identical to the actress that played the role.

I was smitten. We spent much of the day looking for someone who we heard had dressed as the central character of the films, Neo, also known as “The One.” We never found that costumed man, but the young woman and I found each other.

Over the weeks, she introduced me to the Church again in a more formal way, and I decided, a few weeks later, to enter RCIA (the teaching and discernment classes available at Catholic churches if you are interested in becoming Catholic or want to learn more). Like radio host Matt Swaim of “The Sonrise Morning Show,” I became part of the Catholic Class of 2005.

Thanks to Catholic radio and TV, especially Catholic Answers, I gained a reliable grounding in my faith. I became Catholic and stay a Catholic because:

  • We are founded on history. We mention Pontius Pilate in the Nicean Creed because Christianity came from a real man, in a real place and in real-time. We have witnesses and documents and thousands of years of history as proof of this.
  • We codified the sacred writings that codified what we call the Bible. Other Christians may declare the Bible as the sole rule of faith, but they neglect the point that Christ didn’t found a book, but a Church, and empowered successors to the Apostles to determine what the “table of contents” of Sacred Scripture would become, in the 4th Century.
  • We believe that science is supportive, not exclusive, in our faith in God. We have many, many scientists who, among other things, founded genetic theory, developed the heliocentric theory of the Solar System, and developed the Big-Bang Theory (the science, not the show).
  • We have survived the march of history, as Christ stated. From horrific falls of empires, many many wars, even bouts of corruption within the Church clergy have not toppled the Church. In fact, it seems to have strengthened its resolve to feed the poor, clothe the naked, bury the dead, and bring the word of Christ to a frightened, confused world. Many other Christian faiths, if they haven’t faded away, are changing so radically from their roots–from the teachings of God Himself–that they are shades of what they once were.
  • The Catholic Church sees the teachings of God as supernatural laws of truth, and defends them just as scientists do the laws of the scientific world. Just as the physical laws of the speed of light, mass, energy, and mathematics do not change based on whims, opinion or consensus, nor do the truths that God has revealed to all. While other faiths bend to the winds of culture (which, often, discovers its idea of “truth” was a bad idea), the Church knows that such truths, such as respect for human life, the purpose of marriage, and our ultimate destiny and reason for being on earth, aren’t subject to change, and are just important now as they were 2,000 years ago, today, and 2,000 years from now.

You can find many sources of my faiths on this document from Catholics Come Home.

Some of you who’ve never read this blog before (or likely will again) might find the blog’s title familiar. That’s because my central gaming character, Syncletica, is also the name of one of the first Desert Mothers, a Catholic saint and monastic (an early nun). In the game, I play the Monk class, which has a quasi-religious nature in the concentration of their inner self to perform martial arts feats. I try to reflect the reverence found in the Catholic monastic world within the game’s parameters.

That is, I created this blog (and a guide on the Monk class) to pass on what I’ve learned and to aid others in gameplay, just as St. Syncletica had forsaken her wealth in the 3rd Century to serve others and the Lord.

I was able to re-marry (see this link if you’re a Catholic and wonder how that happened, since you normally cannot divorce and re-marry in the Church) and, soon after, bring my mother and son into the faith, too.

catholicpriesthoodGod wanted me to know that I made the right decision in a personal revelation. 

One day, not long after entering the faith, a friend of mine gave me a poster she created to promote more priestly vocations in the Church.  This one, on the left.

This is Father Jonathan Meyer, a priest in the Archdiocese of Indianapolis. He normally wears a cassock, a long black coat that happens to look a lot like the coat that the enlightened Neo wore in the second and third films.

I had found the One after all. (My vocation is to marriage, not to priesthood, however.)

That man is one of many ones who become in persona Christi during the Holy Eucharist, celebrating the holy sacrifice of the One Holy Priest, Savior of Mankind, the Christ.

Yep. The Matrix made me Catholic.

 

The Existential Gamer

I’m away from DDO during the season of Lent. This is a saved post I’ve compiled while I’m away. This post may or may not contain sensitive subject matter unsuitable for some minds (specifically, religion).

Reader discretion advised.

~~~

One mob? One quarterstaff, then.

This is a spoon.

We all know of many veteran DDO players that have completed mighty deeds. They’ve beaten almost everything in the game, and on the highest difficulties or with some clever tricks.

But once you’ve made yourself the best killing machine you can be in DDO and have conquered all, what else is there?

Maybe a week of being away from DDO is making me stir-crazy, but I don’t think so.

Going Deeper

Games are escapism, yes. But what if it becomes too real to your mind?

We know of the story in The Matrix, a near-perfect virtual reality of the world, built to placate humanity. But, as the story unfolds, we learn that the Matrix works like any advanced operating system. You can’t leave it up forever before errors accrue and the system must be restarted. And the stabilizing element of the Matrix, the ability to choice, ultimately causes the system’s slow degradation. An Anomaly appears, who becomes Choice Incarnate, that destabilizes the system even more. That’s Neo. And he wasn’t the only One, as the story goes.

For those who choose reality, you may wake up and challenge the unreality.

A similar notion is found in the film Inception, where some people go to sleep for hours because they accept the dream as their permanent reality now. In that story, some go to sleep to wake up.)

But the dreamers in Inception can’t take anything back from their experience. And the escapees from The Matrix are fighting a cyclical battle they have been fated to lose, definitively, five times before. And only One man knows the secret and can break the cycle. Else, mankind  is locked in a continuous state of imprisonment. The people of Zion don’t realize that the Machines has always kept them under a form of control and have destroyed them each time the Matrix had to be restarted.

For many that escaped, the real world is so frightening that they regret leaving that virtual cage, that virtual life. They felt they could accomplish or feel more safe — or at least seem to feel more accomplished and safe — in the Matrix than in the real world.

The Search for…Something

I connected this notion to the easily found complaints on the DDO forums about the quality of the game.

  • When is there going to be an “end-game” battle?
  • I should be able to solo any raid.
  • This game is too easy.
  • Why are they nerfing (insert item here)
  • It’s time to (insert appallingly tough suggestion/monster/quest here)

Now, I’m neither the worse nor best player in the game. But I question about the ultimate motivations of some players. I’ve toyed with these motivation before with a player character type test.

If you are trying to attain “ultimate power” in a game, being able to crush any challenge you find (by yourself or with compatriots), then what is left for you to do?

These players are asking for their world to expand with them. But is this a natural way to think about life?

Game worlds aren’t true worlds. Even if you had the combined intellects of Einstein, Leonardo, Hawking, Sun-Tzu, Eisenhower and Alexander the Great in a perfect fighter amalgamation of Hercules, Legolas and Aragorn, Luke Skywalker and Steven Strange, combined with the wealth and equipment of Bruce Wayne, Tony Stark, Bill Gates, Warren Buffet and Reed Richards, you could not possibly find and beat every challenge that the real world can present to you.

The real world is an infinite battle because it continually evolves, whether you want it or not, or whether you’re ready for it to do so.

A game world has a start and an end. There is repetition and respawning and reincarnation to simulate a cycle of life. But life in DDO, WoW and every other MMO can only present a static bubble of a world in need. A game, by definition, is a form of simulation. Ultimately, you can predict its behavior, and anticipate most events. An experienced gamer becomes quasi-omniscient. That’s why many players become bored, especially if they have a one-track mind in terms of playing only one tactical avenue of a MMO.

And even if a game could better simulate reality, there are plenty of new, confused and disoriented players in the game that strongly implies that games should have a limit in size. Else, the game world would be just as terrifying as trying to make your way in the real world, and would discourage you from coming back.

For this and more logical reasons of coding and server size and bandwidth, there are a finite series of challenges to a game. There are difficulties to turn up the challenge level of these quests and raids, but it is quite possible to beat every single one of them. Doing that gains you a +6 tome of your choice. Sir Geoff of Hanna and Gamer Girl pulled this off recently.

But…after you vanquish everything and at the highest level of play, what is there left to do?

Maybe a better question for the Gamer That Beats Everything is “What are you searching for?”

Meditation

I’m not going to be so arrogant as to presume that I know the psychology of these people who ask for more from DDO on the forums. So, I’m not going to try to answer what these players are truly seeking as they play.

But I can ask myself this question.

During this time away from the game during the season of Lent, I’m asking myself why I played DDO in the first place. Is this the only place where I feel like I “accomplish” something, especially if my work or home chores don’t yield a real, genuine accomplishment that I get paid actual money for completing?

Have I become some kind of attention-whore with this blog and compiling the guides?

As I said, it’s important to know the real world from the game world, and not to put too much energy into the unreal if it doesn’t benefit the Real.

I know one reason why I play, and it leaves a little chill in me when I contemplate it.

The real world is scary. The real world is harder than any adventure any game can dream. The game worlds are safer. Yet I have the power to avoid things I don’t want to encounter while inside that world.

But while the game worlds provide a little adrenaline and satisfaction in puzzle solving or strategy, it’s still ultimately unsatisfying because game worlds cannot come close to reaching the level of complexity and difficulty that the labors of the real world throw at us everyday. I don’t have to worry about mundane things such as eating, or sleeping, or shelter, or taxes.

But then, the game world doesn’t leave you with soul-crushing events that can persist until you die and/or are penniless.

The game world, if used improperly, can be a temptation that makes you try to avoid the “game” of the real world. Temptations rarely lead us to fortunate results.

Nietzsche said “That which does not kill us makes us stronger.”  Is that really true in the game world? Generally, yes. Dying requires you to examine your strategy and gear, and to adjust them to fight and win the next time. But the real world often doesn’t provide a second chance. It’s a true “permadeath” challenge. No wiki. No “developer” or “game master” to call up when you’re stuck.

(Or is there a Game Master? For me, yes, there is. But like Turbine’s GMs, I don’t always get a direct answer with Him, and what answers I might here back may be quite cryptic.)

If you win at objectives in the real world, satisfaction is certainly more fulfilling, I think. It’s the difficulty levels we often can’t handle. There’s some training you might get in the quest “Changing the Diaper of Despair” if you had younger siblings or cousins. And there are guides to buy for many of life’s challenges, and some may get you by.

But who wants to get into an Epic Elite version of “Divorce Dungeon”? How can you train for that? I did that once. I barely came out of it with much of anything. Certainly didn’t feel victorious. French-kissing a kobold would’ve been more pleasurable than that experience.

Gamers place themselves in a strange existence. Game worlds may be ultimately too easy, while the challenges of the real world are ultimately too hard. And game worlds can provide an unhealthy realm of escapism. Human weakness tends to pick the path of least resistance.

Do we choose to live in the Matrix? Do we choose to go deeper in the dream? Do we prefer the worlds of the simulacrum? And at what expense?

While I believe in the Resurrection of the Body and an after-life, as a living person today, this belief sometimes presents only a hollow and terrifying consolation. That’s a natural, human reaction. We are conditioned to seek a foundation, an assurance, a result whereby our reason can feel pleased. I simultaneously reject the reality of the unreal, the simulacra, while trying to enjoy the panacea while inside it.

In the case of the after-life, I think I’m only freaked out because I think I’ve not studied my “class” game manuals sufficiently or listened to enough advice from veteran players in the Game of Life.

The real world does have similar broad objectives that parallel game themes.

  1. Enter the world.
  2. Learn how the world works.
  3. Help others as you would like to be helped.
  4. Don’t let fear stop you from doing what you can.
  5. Die well with a list of things accomplished.

But the real world adds one objective that the game world won’t do.

  • Don’t expect to take any accomplishments or worth with you as you go to the next world, or even think that your efforts gained you “points” in the next life.

I think this Lenten season, of being away from the game worlds and playing the game of Reality alone, is training me more horrifying well than I imagined.

There is a spoon, in reality. We only fake not having a spoon as gamers. You haven’t chosen the red pill, as Neo did. You’re choosing to stay in the virtual world, where all you accomplish disappears when the last servers are powered down, someday.

We’re far from superhuman in the real world. Yet we have to face every encounter with ratty gear (if we’re lucky), limited skill, expensive alternatives, limited praise, staggering odds, and sometimes only one shot at success.

I submit that my Diety gives me power and strength as I level up. But anyone with faith can tell you that you’re often given skills and gifts for which you can’t immediately identify, much less have any idea how to wield.

I choose Lent to force me to take the red pill.

Into Great Silence

Not all Monks know kung-fu. But their robes are spectacular, and, properly aligned, their Deity gives great power. (Thank you and blessings to Mepkin Abbey, S. Carolina)

Not all Monks know kung-fu. But their robes are spectacular, and, properly aligned, their Deity gives great power. (Thank you and blessings to Mepkin Abbey, S. Carolina)

Enlightenment within the confines of DDO for my Monks is a pleasant story. But it’s only a story.

There’s enlightenment that comes only from the truth found in reality. I’m giving up DDO for Lent.

During this Lenten season, from February 18 through April 5, I’ll be taking a break from DDO itself to devote attention to where genuine attentions are due. Lots of things such as time with my family, a boatload of space models eager to come alive, lots of spring cleaning and even work on some meditation and contemplation to honor my inner monk.

This year marks my 10th anniversary on entering the faith, so I feel obligated to mark the occasion with at least one profound gesture, especially for my wife, who, among Others, puts up with my gaming but deserves more time from me.

While I’m away from the game, I won’t be away from the blog. I’ll be posting from a stockpile of saved stories during these 40-ish days for your reading pleasure. I may also jump on the DDO forums to keep track of news and events and report on it as best I can in the few minutes I might take to do so.

So, look forward in the coming weeks to stories on another insane solo raid idea, Syncletica’s continued vow of poverty trials, Lynncletica’s tanker training, and Misty’s completion of many EDs for Ranger happiness and her first high-level raids.

As my guild’s rules note, “real life comes first.” See you in the Spring.

Tranquility

winter monastery exterior winterI’ve been pretty stressed of late, so this week is quiet in the dojo as I try to emphasize the holy in this Christmas holiday weekend.

Outside the dojo, an elven figure studies the snowy structure, filled with the monastics and their acolytes in prayer and meditation.

More on this new adventurer later.

For now, to all of you real-folk, may the new Light of the World that comes this night shine out to warm you all, to illuminate both mind and soul. May the Light of the Christ Child help you to learn that the world and its ways are not all that there is, that truth is as much a constant as the speed of light and the formula of general relativity, for it is He who is Constant of Constants.

May you and your friends and family find joy and peace this Christmas, throughout the Twelve Days after and into the New Year, all of you on this good, good Earth.

And while you’re in the game, away to tend to the needs of the worlds of Eberron and Faerun and the lands about Xen’drik…

May your characters always have buffs, may your enemies retreat at your greatness, may the giant stumble and the dragon be deprived of snacks, and may your chests be always filled with shards and seals and scrolls and great prizes!

The Dojo Celebrates and Takes a Holiday

I’ve been in Houston, Texas on a business trip from Sunday until Wednesday night.

I won’t have much wisdom to impart as today I celebrate my 50th birthday. No posts this week.

But before you get any ideas about my age:

81225745

The Dojo Seals its Doors…Temporarily

They've come.

They’ve come.

The extraplanar portal’s swirling maw appeared a day ago, near the meditation pond. Shavarath’s legions began pouring out, bearded devils and roaring orthons with tieflings and other foul creatures of that accursed plane.

It was Ryncletica that spotted the invasion first. Applying the Diversion technique to slow the surprise attack by drawing the invaders to a false hate-generator, she was able to alert others to help before she become overwhelmed.

The many students swarmed the glade and were able to push back and stop the initial invasion for most of the day and night.

A second portal arrived early the next morning.

“There are too many, teacher Syncletica!” Quintessica shouted to me, her mystical quarterstaff a blurred spinning shaft of fire and force that slammed into several devils. Lynncletica protected Quin’s back, stunning and Jading enemies, knocking them back with a seemingly endless applications of the Drifting Lotus.

“Who did you piss off?” shouted Kiricletica in Ryncletica’s general direction. Those two always blame the other for fights that go badly as a matter of sport.

Szyncletica, our shuriken master, stood where she could see both portals. Her arm whirled in a continual deadly spiral through the air, spitting shurikens to destroy anything that escaped the portal perimeters. I stood behind Szyn to kill what few enemies could bypass her star attacks.

Kiricletica and Ryncletica teamed up with younger students at the second portal when a third portal appeared.

I halted myself from gasping and kept my focus, assaying the situation as the old master taught me, hoping I would draw the same conclusion I would if he stood here.

I decided. We were a disciplined and skilled monastery. But we could not fight this storm–only weather it.

I dispatched a handful of enemies while working back towards the main doors of our home. “Ninja team: Diversion at each portal on my mark,” I shouted. “All others, prepare to retreat. We are cloistering!”

With little else said, the three ninja instantly separated and sprinted to a portal, cutting down anything in their path as the hordes closed in and the other monks ran to the dojo.

Quintessica knew what I needed. First to enter  the dojo, she dropped her staff, sat in the center of our large shrine room and began her meditation.

I counted to 30, then shouted “Mark!” to the ninja. They applied their Diversion techniques almost simultaneously, drawing all the enemies towards their intimidating dummy duplicates  while cloaking each ninja in shadow to aid their escape. If their timing had been too far off, more than a few demons or devils would have spotted our ploy and teleported at the retreating students or even inside the dojo itself.

“Everybody! In!”

Ryn and Kiri were at the door fastest, running hundreds of meters in a few seconds. Szyn ran backwards, picking up any stragglers not attracted by their false fighters. A few wounded students moved slower to shelter and I and Lynn ran out to pull them in.

More than a few small glowing soulstones littered our glade-turned-battlefield. We couldn’t save them now.

As Szyncletica entered, I shouted, “Now, Quin! Seal the dojo!” Lynncletica and Ryncletica disappeared with a couple of others to close and bolt every door and window.

An ominous hum grew near my hand as I began to close the last door. Several shuriken from Szyncletica and two others flew by my face a hairsbreadth away, killing a devil trying to enter through the waning crack of the door.

As they were trained to do, everyone else sat in concentric circles around the meditating Quintessica and began to meditate as well. Quin groaned a bit as her focus reached its peak and her consciousness moved out.

A sudden cold warmth spread through us all, amplified by the circle. The energy quickly enveloped the entire building in a what would look like a scintillating and impenetrable green globe of energy to anything outside. Candle flames throughout our home that glowed an encouraging white-orange now turned blue, burning and sparking in fits and starts. The air hung about us, lifeless and stagnant.

Quin sat motionless, her skin stony as a rest shrine. Something about her body shifted to my eyes, as if she became translucent as well as unfocused, phasing between a here and a there.

“Globe of Jade,” Quintessica once called it–an emergency technique she learned in her esoteric Mystic training that pulled our location into two planes of existence simultaneously, making it impossible for anyone standing in any one plane to enter as long as the meditation lasted.

The hellish legions of Shavarath could not enter. But, sealed inside like figures inside an ornamental globe, no one inside our home could leave.

Lynncletica moved to my side. “How long do you think we can last here?” she whispered.

“As long as we must, Lynn,” I said. “As long as we can.”

That dramatic tale of my dojo of Monks trapped by Shavarath armies is my more enjoyable way to tell everyone that my game computer is offline for the moment, felled by the demons of overheating.

I share it as my work computer and am hopeful to have it repaired or replaced soon. I’ve got a few general posts stored up to publish while I cannot play.

 

Mea Culpa, Mea Maxima Culpa

mea-culpaThe Monk guide and this blog have one author. I prefer to call myself the “editor” of the guide because what I write there isn’t really my work.

Both guide and blog contain a lot of my experience, sure, but it’s also experience from other players as discussed in the DDO forums, player videos, observed gameplay, the DDO Wiki, and comments from blog posts.

But none of that assures or guarantees that anything written is completely accurate, although I strive for this.

The need for accuracy is obvious. A game is a simulation. If the variables (say, the length of the Death Ward buff from the Visor of the Flesh Render Guards) are described in error (the buff lasts 10 minutes), then you, the player, honestly reading something as a resource, will be disappointed to find that the buff is only 7 minutes.

The Monk guide has been around for about 2 years now in its present form. I had written a private guide from my guildmates over a year before that. Making the guide public meant that I needed to do one thing: swallow any pride in designing it.

If I were prideful in the guide’s usefulness or success, I would see it as a personal accomplishment. In situations like that, such things are then defended, right or wrong.

That’s not why I wrote the guide, or enter posts here.

The guide is meant to be as accurate and concise as I can make it with the limited time and resources I have at hand. If there’s any credit to be given, I accept it only as the editor of what existed out in the game world years before I showed up in most cases.

Despite my intentions, there has and will be times where I screw up information. A recent example came up through a DDO forums post where someone suggested to the devs to increase the XP bonuses for no-kill questing (Discreet, Devious and Insidious Cunning). Most responses argued against the idea (although I thought that Cunning should go from 10 to 15% but never be higher). The subject train derailed a little to how such bonuses are attained and why. I referred to my post that casually contrasted the Rogue Assassin with the Ninja Spy, where I clearly admitted a lot of bias but wanted to be as fair as I could with any data I could sort from the DDO Wiki.

That post came and went–until I reposted the link on this thread.

And not only did a couple site some glaring errors in my comparison (such as Assassins gaining vorpal with sneak attacks at level 18), one poster chose to insult my credibility and make it personal with a disrespectful response I made to another poster to a question asked in another, unrelated thread.

My “Lawful Good” nature is my actual personality. I’ll slay real trolls as quickly as the game versions. I was this close to reporting the post to the forum administrator before I remembered that this is the Easter season, where forgiveness should be greatly emphasized.

Besides, my reaction to the disrespectful comment was probably borderline as well. I barely kept my pride in check.

So what you can get from all that is this: the guide is a public document to me. It’s strength comes from lots of feedback to keep it as accurate as possible. I’m just one of the players, not a Turbine developer and certainly not a subject matter expert or uber player.

Blog entries are less studious and often discuss my reactions, observations and discoveries in gameplay.

Blog entries may also be less accurate because of the more immediate nature of writing them as I desire, rather than due to a need.

I apologize to anyone if anything written here or in guide has not generated the results expected. However, and this is important, I need your comments, criticisms, even complaints, to fix any errors you find. I primarily play one class, and so discussions about other classes might stretch my limits. Just be civil when you respond back. I write and compile all of this out of joy in the game, and I want the work to reflect back to other players to aid them.

The guide will be a poor reference without your feedback. Take the time to help correct me and you’ll have a better reference to use or even recommend to others.

A little update: I think the poster and I are burying the hatchet in that he asked me my viewpoint in a private message. I know he’s a great player but he’s genuinely amazed at my worldview. So I don’t want to make the issue seem too out of hand.

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