Space-Cast! #10. An Holy Kiss

This is very possibly the first time Wee Aquinas has "fit" here on Space-Biff! Not sure I like that. Frankly, I was tempted to switch his image to Christopher Hitchens just for today.

Smooch! For the Space-Biff! Space-Cast!’s decepisode, today I’m joined by Ben Madison to discuss The Mission: Early Christianity from the Crucifixion to the Crusades. Along the way, we investigate religion as an inspiration in game design, including an examination of what happens when playthings, religious beliefs, history, and personal faith journeys intersect.

Listen over here or download here. Timestamps can be found after the jump.


2:00 — Ben Madison’s background
4:54 — three titles for getting to know Ben
10:38 — The Mission as an artifact of play
29:55 — The Mission as a religious artifact
50:52 — intersections with personal faith
57:55 — Islamoanxiety?
1:06:23 — the game’s thesis
1:09:23 — The Mission as personal belief

Next time, we’ll be discussing technology trees, technology trees, and technology trees.


(If what I’m doing at Space-Biff! is valuable to you in some way, please consider dropping by my Patreon campaign or Ko-fi.)

Posted on February 17, 2021, in Podcast and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 9 Comments.

  1. A very interesting conversation.  I appreciated your point about how Christianity “progresses” in a less “progressive” direction over the centuries and away from the teachings of Jesus and the apostles.  This is insufficiently appreciated both by Christianity’s proponents and detractors.

    At 41:00, Ben is talking about The Rise of Christianity by Rodney Stark.  Great book.

    At 1:06, you discuss “The Mission”, with DeNiro and Irons but also a young Liam Neeson and Aiden Quinn.  Great, great movie.  Here’s a funny story.  In about 2011 I had an idea to start a company, some of whose games would be like what Inspiration games did with reskinning Carc to Ark, etc.  Anyway the best idea I had was to reskin Puerto Rico to “The Mission”.  I pitched this to alea and both Seyfearth and Tummelson said they weren’t interested.  Alas!  So nothing came of it.

    But more recently (a few years back) I decided to contemplate an original game about the idea.  I link to a couple of early brainstorming blog posts below, but I think the most interesting/original aspects of the idea are:
    – the scoring system is centered on the Guarani people; do /they/ think you’ve made their lives better?
    – the political dance between playing Spain, Portugal, and the Vatican against each other to let you continue your work and not have one of the powers take over and enslave the people.

    With the latter, basically, you don’t succeed; the Vatican eventually caves and the game inevitably ends in failure and the collapse of your missions, so all that persists (and what you score for) is how much good you’ve done up to that point. But the balancing act up to that point is that you have to balance between helping the Guarani people in your mission vs. “putting on a good show” so that the Vatican wants to keep the lights on. Of course the real missionaries would have seen both as important and not in tension, and so the gamification is really mostly just a matter of emphasis and risk.

    Anyway hopefully something I’ll return to one day.

    Also, neat that the question about deontology vs consequentialism came up!

    • Thanks for listening, Jeff, and for the question I was able to relay to Ben! I would love to play the game you propose, and hope you get around to designing it. What a fascinating twist on the usual dynamics of colonial power.

      • If only Seyfearth had agreed, we could have scooped Spirit Island by years! Oh well. But I do appreciate knowing that it’s potentially of interest; the existence of a demand signal is certainly motivational.

        You and Ben discussed the question of bad things done in the name of Christianity. A principle that I like is that one does not judge a philosophy by its abuse. I learned this principle from speaker and apologist Ravi Zacharias, who is currently in the midst of a massive posthumous sex and sexual abuse scandal. Ruh roh.

      • Heh!

        Not sure I have much more to say than that.

  2. Fascinating interview all around, but – good lord – his view on Islam is astoundingly cringe. Almost wish you hadn’t asked him the question.

    • Thanks, Joni!

      As for *that* question, apologies for any discomfort it caused. It seemed to me (and still seems) like a pertinent avenue of inquiry considering the games Ben designs and the points-of-view he employs as framing devices. And I appreciate his willingness to speak so openly about his feelings, views, and examinations, not only about Islam, but also about Christianity and his own faith. Even though we surely disagree on many topics, I wish more of us had his ability to interrogate something as deeply held as our religious traditions.

      • Gotta agree with Joni, though I certainly appreciate you asking the questions! After listening I actually felt less-inclined to check out his designs because I feel like they might come from a place of bad faith (from my perspective, pun intended).

        The islamophobia stuff was pretty uncomfortable, but I also found the discussion on anti-Semitism in his game equally awkward. He didn’t seem that interested in refuting or explaining why he thought it was OK to use a well-known anti-Semitic figure in his game without acknowledging that at all in the notes. Felt hand-waved away by saying it was for geographic purposes. (This also made me appreciate the difficultly of being a good interviewer; how much do you push back on claims you find unfair or untrue, versus just letting the guest state what he or she thinks.)

        Separating art from the artist (or not) is of course an age-old conundrum, but as your are a critic I am curious how you grapple with this sort of thing. Do you have any desire to change any of your writing about his previous games, given how the conversation went, or will it color any potential future reviews? Or will you try to judge it on it’s own merits, without inserting your understanding of the designer?

        From my vantage point you seem solely interested as a critic in reviewing the game itself outside of the creator, and I don’t think there’s anything inherently wrong with that. However, lately there seems to be more and more coming out about the problematic behavior and beliefs of designers, and as the premier written board-game critic and essayist your thoughts probably have more weight than most in the industry.

        All that said… nice work as usual, Dan!

      • Those are very relevant questions, Zac, and I appreciate you asking them.

        The easy response is that I’m not a strong intentionalist. In plain English, while I value and seek to understand a designer’s intentions, the impact of a game strikes me as the more important measure of its success. The Mission, for example, presents a concise summary of early Christian history, albeit one loaded with interesting tensions — for example, between Madison’s personal beliefs and his desire to portray history rather than hagiography. How well he succeeded at any given element is, of course, a matter of debate. To make it even more complicated, it’s hard to attribute any given decision to a single author when the game has been designed via multiple collaborators, as was the case here.

        This isn’t to say that intent doesn’t matter. Intent was on my mind when I raised the question of Islamoanxiety in the first place, both in the interview and in the text of my reviews. That possibility is a stark contrast with The First Jihad and The Mission’s non-Western focus, which embraces wider traditions than most mainstream American Christians are even aware exist. Hence why I wanted to ask Madison directly about his feelings on the matter, as well as to talk about The Mission being multiple artifacts. As someone who spends a lot of time studying the history of Christianity, I bring my own ideas to this thing, effectively transforming it into a different artifact than the one Madison intended. Even Madison, who as a game designer, as a Christian, and as someone who’s made significant paradigm adjustments, has created something that exists across multiple intention-spaces. Picking that apart is never simple, but I hope we made some headway.

        The trickier question for me personally is where to go from here. I won’t be changing my previous writing; to me, a critique functions best when it acts a crystallized expression of the critic’s experiences with the artifact being discussed. However, Madison’s responses will absolutely inform my writing going forward. It would be impossible for them not to! There’s also a good chance that we’ll be discussing some of the difficulties of portraying history sometime soon, possibly using Madison’s games as illustrations.

  3. Christian van Someren

    An excellent, thoughtful interview. Too much game analysis focuses on the superficial, it’s nice to see a real deep dive. Like others above, I found some of the viewpoints questionable, but I am glad that you were able to discuss them so openly and in depth. I find Ben’s designs to always be interesting and thought-provoking, while remaining relatively simple and elegant. I guess there will always be a trade-off between nuance and simplicity, so it is nice to get some insight into what a designer’s motivations were, and how they choose what to include and what to drop.

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