To the best of my knowledge, there is exactly one book currently on the Christian market that deals with the intersection of faith and video games. That book is Halos and Avatars, a collection of essays edited by Dr. Craig Detweiler. When I first became seriously interested in the subject, his book became an invaluable resource. I recently contacted Dr. Detweiler and asked him a few questions. His answers include some of the most simple and illuminating statements I’ve yet heard on the intersection of faith and video games.
Through your career you’ve primarily been interested in film. What made
you want to edit a book about video games?
Movies were my first love, going back to Star Wars and Raiders of the Lost Ark. Yet,
I also grew up in the era of Pong and Asteroids and Space Invaders, so video games
have always been around, but they weren’t story driven when I was growing up.
When I wrote my first book with Barry Taylor, A MATRIX OF MEANINGS: Finding
God in Pop Culture, we covered music, movies, TV, sports, advertising, celebrities,
and fashion. The most common question we got from students, “How come you
didn’t write about video games?” So clearly, there was a strong interest and
definite need for a book on theology and video games. After a search on Amazon, I
discovered nobody had put together a book that integrated faith issues and gaming.
Rather than waiting for somebody else to step up, I decided to dive in. Halos and
Avatars: Playing Video Games with God is the result.
What was the process like of creating the book? How did all the different
essays come together?
Video games and virtual worlds are such an immense and diverse field. To play
through a single game may demand a fifty-hour investment, far more than a two
hour movie, so I recognized that I couldn’t possibly cover everything. I needed
younger writers, gamers, and thinkers to chime in. So I started asking friends,
colleagues, and students who were into gaming if they would consider writing
something. I let people choose their own subjects and interests and then I tried to
edit the essays into an overall shape and flow.
Three main themes or styles emerged. Some authors wrote about the process of
gaming itself, how games are structured. Several people wrote about specific
games (like Halo), while others discussed what happens to you while you’re playing
(as avatars). Thus, the end result—“Halos and Avatars”.
What are some things that you think every Christian should be aware of when it
comes to video games?
First and foremost, we must recognize the enormous creativity and passion that
goes into creating a game. These stories occupy a huge canvas and in many ways
are more ambitious than the average movie. So the universe created by the Halos
series or Assassin’s Creed or BioShock is worth studying in great detail. Second,
the cultural and spiritual influence of games is huge. All around the planet, young
people (and many adults) are competing against each other, whether in World of
Warcraft, Starcraft or Call of Duty. It can become an unhealthy obsession, but for the
most part, it is not an isolating activity, but rather a global, communal event. Third,
rather than viewing gaming as time away or apart from the world, it is increasingly
a way of being active in the world. Playing games is often when we feel most alive.
So how do we engage and embrace and think about that creative urge, rather than
denying, suppressing or ignoring it.
How should the church respond to the incredible popularity of a medium like
We need to develop a robust theology of play. We were actually born to play. In
the Bible, work arose as punishment for Adam and Eve. But look at what happens
when kids are left alone? They are constantly creating their own games like kick
the can, cops and robbers, cowboys and Indians or dollhouses or playhouses. Video
games simply offer another way to play—so the old arcades become first person
shooter games or dollhouses become The Sims.
Pastors need to communicate via gaming metaphors. So if we want to teach people
why they should read the Bible, maybe we need to describe it as a walk through or
game guide for life. Instead of talking about “salvation” or being “born again,” the
next generation of ministers may want to talk about hitting the reset button or what
it means to respawn. Or if they want to talk about predestination versus free will,
describe what every gamer already understands—an intelligent designer built the
game and wrote the ending into code, but they offered ample free play within it. So
an ancient theological tension could actually be resolved quite clearly in a gamer’s
Gaming isn’t something to be feared, but rather a medium to be explored and
Do you play many games yourself?
Absolutely. I play with my children, letting them serve as the experts. So as
they’ve grown up, I’ve been introduced to new games or rediscovered old ones.
We thoroughly enjoyed racing each other on Mario Kart, navigating the jungle
with LEGO Indiana Jones, or engaging in a Super Smart Bros. Brawl. We’re just
now starting to get into the more complex stories and games, so I look forward to
exploring gaming together for years to come.