Joshua Wise, Editor-in-Chief of The Cross and The Controller (You can read out feature on the site here) is passionate about exploring the deeper meaning of video games. He is also a downright genius. Here, in his own words, he shares a few thoughts about himself, video games, and systematic, incarnational theology.
Talk about yourself Josh. Where are you from? What do you do? And how long have you been into gaming?
Well, I’m from South Jersey (the more rural, non-fist pumping half of the state). I’ve lived in the strange world that this is for all of my life, except for college: 15 minutes from a city, 15 minutes from the only forested desert on the planet, and 15 minutes from horse, dairy, and llama farms.
My day job, for the last nine years, and for the next five or six months, is a software developer. I started off writing macros for Excel and have moved on, in the last seven years to being a .net developer. At this point in my career I mostly oversee project development, and the coding that I do is mainly for myself, usually focused on our website or some side project.
At night though I’m a dedicated Seminarian, working on my MA in Systematic Theology, and preparing to (hopefully) start a PhD this fall in the same subject. And all of the time, I’m a husband, married two years now to my beautiful wife Sara.
Being 33, I, like so many gamers of my generation, started in the hobby when I was 4 or 5 when my parents bought us an Atari 2600 for Christmas when it was cheap (“Under 50 bucks!”). I remember very specifically thinking I was extremely stupid that I couldn’t figure out how to beat E.T. on that system, and feeling vindicated years later when I really got involved in the community and learned how bad that game really was.
How long have you been seriously interested in the intersection of faith and gaming?
Only a few years. I would like to say that it was a theological move, but it was mostly from a deep desire to produce something. However, my theology has caught up with my praxis, which is pretty typical for an Episcopalian with our whole “Lex Orandi, Lex Credendi” thing. I see that intersection now as an outworking of incarnation centered theology.
There are two views, I think, of Christ’s work on earth, and both are rooted in Scripture. There is the view that Christ has come to sanctify some things, and to condemn other things. The other is that Christ has come to call all things to Himself, and to sanctify them in Himself. I take the second view, especially as I tend to have a rather medieval (or rather Athanasian) view of evil, in that I don’t think it is a thing that exists. I see it as a lack, and that that lack is what is condemned by Christ. Thus, human beings are called to Christ, and He destroys the lack in their lives, in their beings. In other words, He fills them in. So what we would call evil is “destroyed” but only in the same way that a hole is destroyed when it is filled in.
As well, I think that intersection falls under the command of God to the first human beings to have dominion over the earth. Video games are a creation of humanity, and thus they fall under the rule of God. However, that rule seems to be mitigated through humanity, just as God’s rule of the earth is mitigated in many ways through humanity. That dominion plays itself out, in some ways, in learning to master our creation. Christ shows us a glimpse of what this looks like in its fullness with some of his miracles (water to wine, walking on water, calming the storm), so the idea of manipulating our creation to such a degree as to make whole new (albeit very small) worlds, seems like an area that falls under the theological gaze.
So as to this particular question, these ideas have been forming themselves in my theology in one way or the other over the past decade and a half, ever since I read my first few books by C.S. Lewis. They have really only come to fruition, however, in my recent studies of Orthodox Theology and some of the great teachers of the Orthodox tradition. So you could say that the intersection of gaming and faith started when C.S. Lewis showed me that nothing was outside of the realm of Christ, but didn’t bubble up in my mind until the last few years.
How did TCaTC get started? What was your vision in starting it?
Well, as I said, it was a bit mercenary. I wanted to write, and I wanted to start to contribute to the conversation about theology. I’m a rather conflicted person when it comes to this conversation. I don’t think I’m quite good enough to be doing theology with the “big boys and girls” yet, and I’m rather disgusted with some of the internet discussion of theology as it has existed over the past couple of decades. So I have found myself not feeling ready for the first, and actively avoiding the second.
And then I thought, “hey, I know some stuff about video games” and “I know some stuff about theology” and I thought I could do something there. The site started mainly as a way for me to present what I thought was a unique perspective on gaming. The site has become more than that and less than that in some ways. I am not, at present, quite doing what I set out to do with the site, though I’m hoping to change that very soon. However, there are now, and have been, so many wonderful voices on the site that have been and are doing interesting and new things that I can’t do, that I’m really encouraged.
But my vision really is to bring the kind of incarnational theology to an understanding of gaming. That can be quite difficult on a game by game, day by day basis.
As well, the site was also envisioned as something of a counterpoint to sites that claim that they know what is best for Christians to do or think when it comes to gaming. As American Christians, especially in certain traditions, I think we have a very narrow view of what the word “Christian” means, and very often a wildly uninformed and uneducated one. The moralistic overtones of some other sites, and churches in general with regard gaming, deeply bothers me. I wanted to do something that opposed that perspective, and I think we have succeeded at that.
Do you see any trends developing in the world of video games? Specifically any trends that you think more Christians should be aware of?
Well, any gamer can see what trends are out there, but I think the one that most bothers me is a basic problem when art and capitalism meet. This isn’t specifically a problem in gaming, but in any consumable artistic medium, whether it is writing novels, creating television, or music. The idea of art is that it is something that we interact with, something that elicits a human response from us. It is the expression of one or more people presented to other people in the attempt to communicate some element of the human condition. Video games are just this kind of thing, even if they are often, to compare them to books, of the dimestore novel variety.
However, with the rise of the mega-publishers, we find that the experimentation and expression of some developers is co-opted. What was an end in itself, the communication of human experience, has become a means of bringing in money. Now, and this is my own theological take on this as I’m not an economist, I believe that Capitalism does this to everything. I think it does it, ultimately to people as well, so clearly video games are not the paramount issue here. However, in gaming, we see the repetition of franchises every single year, like the Rockband and Guitar Hero games, as well as things like the Tony Hawk and now Assassin’s Creed series.
There’s a fine balance that needs to exist between creating a product that gives joy to both the creators of the medium, and those who engage it. That joy is worth something to both sides, and so developers will work long hours on something they love, albeit as well for a paycheck. Players will pay money to engage it, and thus provide that paycheck. This is a symbiotic relationship that is glorious for both sides. However, what some (not all) publishers have started to do, is to exploit that relationship so that it is no longer a joy for either side, and thus we see that developers are no longer willing to dedicate themselves to making the same game year after year, and players aren’t willing to buy them.
This is an example of very bad stewardship, and I think it is something that could deeply hurt the gaming community in years to come. It hurt us very badly in the middle 80′s, and I think it could deeply hurt us again.
But as far as story or play trends, I don’t know that there is anything that Christians should be aware of. Christians are given the Christ-Life and the Holy Spirit, the community of believers and the Eucharist to help them discern how they should engage the world that they (along with everyone else) are the lords and ladies of. They don’t need me to tell them what to be on the lookout for in those areas.