Becoming a gaming play tester

Being a blogger means that I sometimes get email from the most interesting people, and I must say I really enjoy meeting people that way — it has been part of the joy of blogging, at least for me. But a few weeks ago I received a most unusual request.

Atlas Games is a small game publishing company. They publish a role-playing game called Ars Magica, which is set in Medieval Europe. A few weeks back they encountered a minor controversy: a fan of this particular game complained that one of their game supplements contained anti-Catholic references. To the credit of the company, they wanted to address this problem (if it really existed) immediately…..but whom to contact, to get a balanced and informed opinion on the subject? Their solution: to try and find a Catholic priest who was also a role-playing gamer. A few google searches later, and an email drops into my inbox from them asking me if I’d be willing to look over the controversial text.

As it turns out the whole thing was a tempest in a teapot. While there were some odd turns of phrase in the document, there was nothing there that was anti-Catholic. Oh, sure, it wasn’t always theologically accurate, but it is, after all, a *game*. I was actually impressed by how much they DID get right, and by their ability to strike the right balance between historical accuracy and a “Lord of the Rings” adventure feel.

The company then offered me the opportunity to be a proofreader, to make sure no future problems arise. What a hoot! So I signed the necessary non-disclosure agreement, and while I don’t get paid (these small companies really don’t make a lot of money) I will get a free copy of the eventual product with credit on the inside as a “playtester”. For a role-playing game fan like myself, that is more than enough.

So I took a bit of time to review a new text they are preparing for publication. It was quite interesting….one of the characters in the story is a nun who has visions of Christ, and she is portrayed as a very holy person, not as a nut. I also learned a bit about medieval history and culture, especially surrounding one of the monastic orders. All in all, a fun diversion for the day.

I really believe that games, especially role-playing games, hold a lot of promise as a catechetical tool, especially for the “young boys aged 11-15” category. Catechism classes? Yawn! But give them a chance to use their imaginations, and to slay a dragon or two all the while they “encounter” monks, religion, and the Church? The role-playing game “device” allows all this to be put into a living context, even if only in their imaginations. And the very structure of the game allows for a mentorship role, as the “Game-Master”.

If you are interested in taking a look at the basic Ars Magica rules, they are available as a free download. Happy gaming!