"Playing God" is a very common English phrase, meaning "getting to decide issues of life and death", or getting to decide issues of great import. It is a strange term, and shows the mixed conceptions of divinity that exist in popular religion. In the phrase, (often applied to issues such as the death penalty, abortion, war, distribution of scarce resources, and all the other issues we live with), it is suggested that by deciding other people's fate, people are trying to "play God".
The God here is much the same God of "acts of God", a folk religious idiom having little to do with the revealed and rationalized history of theism we have inherited. Among the many terms for God we have gotten, "Providence" is perhaps the word that would best fit the "God" of "playing God". It is the idea of an impersonal fate that is actively interfering in our destines.
This is quite the opposite of the way "God" is pictured in the mainstream theology of the Jewish, Christian and Islamic traditions. Although all of these religions acknowledge a caring God who does help his creation, including with acts of the supernatural, all of these religions also acknowledge that God does not interfere in his creation. These religions maintain that God gave people free will, and beyond that, the simple fact that God does not appear as a ball of fire to stop every act of evil, is all the proof that anyone needs that God does not, in fact, "play God".
God seems to be rather passive. It is humans who can not stop themselves from judging, meddling, interfering. If a person ever did control themselves enough to pass out tools, uncaring as to what use they would be put, that person would actually be acting the way God does. I can think of few groups of people with this level of self-control: The Debian project is one. The Debian Social Contract states:
No Discrimination Against Fields of Endeavor
The license must not restrict anyone from making use of the program in a specific field of endeavor. For example, it may not restrict the program from being used in a business, or from being used for genetic research.
. In much the same way that God gives us our hands and minds to either make beautiful works of art, or to kill each other, Debian gives us computers that can either produce a cure for cancer, or run a ponzi scheme. The Debian project thus plays God. Another example of a group that plays God is the designers of the Grand Theft Auto
series. The goal of the games is not to kill and maim. There is actually many things to do in the game, and that is just one. The designers of the game truly "played God", giving people a world to live in, and the ability to act as morally, immorally or amorally as they like.