It’s been awhile since we’ve had any links on here featuring articles by Christians (besides myself) commenting on the ever shifting and changing world of videogames. Today I want to get you all caught up, because there have truly been some GEMS published in the past couple weeks. I don’t expect you to make it through this all in a day, so perhaps you might just keep this page open for a few days, coming back to it at your leisure. Perhaps you might also take a moment to click the Facebook “Like” button on the right of this post. That would be splendid.
Anyways; no time to waste.
First, you may have already seen this article, as it’s been making the rounds on the net, being featured on Critical Distance as well as Rock Paper Shotgun, but Drew Dixon wrote an article for Gamechurch on “The Idealist World of Videogame Pacifists.” In it he looks at a trend that has been getting some attention recently, virtual pacifism. Said Dixon, “Certainly the way in which games tend to portray violence is conveniently consequence free and far too productive in terms of solving problems. In the real world violence lends itself to lasting consequences, it rarely solves problems and more often compounds them. So perhaps the noble course is to traverse the frozen tundra of Skyrim in peace.” But as he goes on he notes:
“I saw the selfishness inherent to Mullin’s pacifism. Playing the game this way would require running from dragons while they ravaged Skyrim’s villages literally killing hundreds of people. It would involve regularly turning a blind eye to injustice and allowing bandits and ruffians to continue to terrorize the innocent when I could do something about it were it not for my “convictions” against violence.”
Rich Clark also just wrote a tremendous article about Journey for Gamechurch. He draws comparisons between the videogame and the spiritual journey that all Christians go through.
“It’s not a story about a man on a Journey. It’s our story. It’s your story.
And so, most of the time we press forward. We walk to the nearest landmark, just to find some purpose. And we think: maybe we’ve found it. A kind of altar exists, and our avatar bows and prays. In return, it provides guidance – but not nearly enough to satisfy our curiosity. We begin to realize that these landmarks provide us with a kind of foreshadowing that prepares us for our part in the story. Through a glass darkly, we see what awaits us, but only barely. It’s not enough to convince us, but it’s enough to keep us going.
It’s my story.”
We’re definitely going to miss The Cross and The Controller, but one of the last articles that Joshua Wise wrote before announcing the site’s close was a piece called “Kara, The Garden, and Gaming“. In it, he talks about a tech demo that was shown off at the recent Game Developers Conference, the parallels which that demo shares with the Garden of Eden story, and the consequences that advanced game technology are going to hold for our playing experiences. This was something that really resonated with me, and definitely provided some great food for thought.
“Gamers have been accused of being desensitized to violence because of video games, but I think the opposite is true. We have not yet, because of the abstraction of game characters from real life people, been faced deeply with these issues on a broad scale. Certainly there are characters who die in games that leave us hurting as much as any character in a novel or movie. But when the people who are manufactured just for our titillation seem like real people, will we be able to maintain the same bravado that we have so far? Can the guy who can’t talk to girls in real life manage to talk to the girl who seems just as real, just as beautiful, and just as unattainable, in a video game? Or will we have to restrain the characters (by way of our writing and acting and coding) to the same two dimensional existence that the product tester does in Kara?”
Also worth noting, by Steven Sukkau, is “Why Side Quests Matter“, written for Gamechurch (Have I mentioned that I’m a fan of Gamechurch?) He points out that even though “side quests” can seem pointless in games, they’re a great illustration of life, especially for believer. “It’s moments like these, not saving humanity as a whole (leave that to Jesus) but loving another human being, that make us heroes. It’s the small self-sacrificial acts like doing the dishes without complaining or sweeping the floor before my wife asks that makes a difference.Though they may seem less potent, actions like Listening to a neighbour in an attempt to understand their heart and speaking a prayer into their life–those are true words of power.”
Finally let me share one little blurb that I really happen to agree with, from Bryan Hall at his blog, in a post about the pitfalls of having influence:
“I do not want to be a stumbling block to anyone. I do not want to destroy the work of God over something as petty as what I consume media-wise. With this in mind, anytime I write about a certain game or a game review on this site, I am writing about it just to share my experience. I am not writing about it to brag or to cause someone to stumble (“Hey look, Bryan is doing it, we can too!”). Just because I can guilt-free, without conviction, play a first person shooter doesn’t mean that you necessarily can. God may convict you over things that I am not convicted over. That is cool.
I now know that being in a leadership position, a position or platform in the open, automatically holds me to a higher standard. As a blogger, that is something that is constantly running through the back of my mind. I have a responsibility for what I write and say. Words can bring either life or death.”
If you’ve made it this far, congratulations! I still have more links I want to share, so look for another post like this over the weekend!
The idea of prayer fascinates me. I can’t say that I have an endless list of specifically answered ones yet, but the way the Bible talks about this idea of asking God for things that are in line with his will and seeing our faith activate those things… it intrigues me to no end.
For instance when Jesus’ disciples asked him how they should pray, he drops this little nugget on them, telling them to say: “Your kingdom come, your will be done…” This being before the cross, the implication is that anyone who would turn to God and pray has the authority to ask that earth would become like heaven. According to their faith let it be done to them. I heard once that the greatest way God can answer the prayers of his saints is when he makes us all into the answer for each other’s prayers.
God’s plan is to establish the kingdom of heaven through his church. The kingdom, that upside-down paradise where wrongs are made right and self-righteousness is turned on its head. The kingdom where beggars are invited to the table reserved for royalty and where those comfortable insiders start getting uncomfortable. We can play a part in establishing it on the earth.
So I always wondered what my part in it was. Because obviously the values of this current world and that soon and coming kingdom are incompatible.
I felt a growing frustration. Going through a difficult season, I increasingly began to believe that my position as a believer and a dreamer was to stand between the corruption of the old and the ideal of the new, grasping one in each hand, and mustering whatever strength I could to pull the two together. How else is it possible to spend time in troubling and confusing situations without losing your faith? I felt like a tendon, strained to the breaking by the pressure of my responsibility to pull heaven down to earth.
I managed for a season, but I am weak and do not have the strength to pull two kingdoms into alignment with my bare hands.
Out of necessity, I spent more time seeking God. Originally it was out of a desire to refuel, replenish; reload. But in his mercy, I think God helped me see something.
If this kingdom is a body, I’m not a tendon, I’m a vein. Though I’m easily pressured, lifeblood flows through me, and it’s not a matter of my strength, but of my affiliation, my connection, my direction. Recently I’ve been intentional about spending more time in prayer, meditation, reading scriptures, etc. When I spend time opening myself up to the kingdom of heaven, it comes into me. As I go through my days I spend less time worried about pulling it down into the earth and more time free to release the things that are stored up inside of me. I am a vein not a tendon, and love and justice and mercy flow through me.
Some thoughts on “spending time” with God:
Being with God doesn’t take effort, but it can take discipline.
It’s easier to discipline your schedule than it is to discipline your actions.
Rather than trying to change your behavior, simply change your source. (Less entertainment, more meditation, prayer, Bible, etc.) (Your input determines your output.)
Prayer isn’t just about “giving God your time,” it’s about giving him your attention. Considering him as you make decisions, think thoughts, etc.
Let me know how you’re enjoying these “Follow” posts, and share them if they resonate with you. I’m having a blast writing them, and more importantly, living them. (It’s challenging- I have to live it before I can “preach” it.)
Growing up in the culture of the church, I heard quite a bit about how terrible things were in the world. Sometimes it seemed like we didn’t have much else to talk about.
Of course it’s entirely true, there are some really terrible things that happen in the world. Famine, corruption, oppression, apathy, abuse. and on and on. But of course, because of Jesus, the church holds fast to hope. I always heard it expressed in this way, “In the last days, the light will grow brighter and the darkness will grow dimmer.”
That didn’t make any sense to me.
If light is growing brighter, how is it possible for darkness to grow dimmer? It’s a physical impossibility.
The only way the two things can happen simultaneously is if there is some sort of divide in the middle. Like a wall keeping the light out of the darkness.
How unfortunate that the Church has traditionally employed so many wall-building metaphors. How unfortunate that we spend so much energy trying to isolate ourselves from the world instead of reaching out to it. The true Church is always the one tearing down the walls that the world system tries to construct. We should be reaching into every avenue of society. Videogames, for example.
My sister sent out a tweet some time ago that expresses this well: “The Law of Moses said: “If you touch sinners, you’ll be made unclean.” Jesus said: “If you touch sinners, they’ll be made whole and healed.”
What does this look like in practice? Well maybe it looks less like inviting people to a church service, and more like offering, love and grace and wisdom to them where they are.
Please understand, I have nothing against inviting people to church. I think that’s great. But the gospel was never about people coming to God, it was entirely about him coming to them and meeting their needs no matter how they responded. Shouldn’t we, as his hands and feet, act the same way? We shouldn’t wait for a person to become a part of our faith community to let them know that we value them, treasure them, laugh with them, and mourn with them.
The more walls we tear down, the brighter the light can shine.
I need to state first and foremost: my playing that game is by no means an endorsement of it. (Take note, 15-year-old currently reading this!) To the responsible parent reading this, don’t buy it for your kids, it’s rated “M” for a reason. I’m sure you already knew that though. I can’t think of any game series that has been more demonized by Christians. Yet as I mentioned in the article, I was driven to play it by a desire to understand what made such a gratuitous game not just a commercial success, but a massive critical success as well.
If you were reading between the lines of my article you may have noticed the strong undercurrent that was the theme of the “slippery slope” of sin. The game is all about the depravity of human nature and how we cannot escape from that nature. In the world of “Liberty City,” just about everyone you encounter in involved in some form of illicit behavior. That being said, none are portrayed as crooked fiends, hell-bent on the destruction of civilization. No, they are presented as human beings. People with hopes and fears. People who used to be little children full of dreams, but got lost along the way.
Maybe that’s just the way I saw them. Because I was lost once too.
This is my point: Compromise is easy, even natural, and when you understand that, it’s easy to be merciful towards the morally compromised. As I was playing the game I was constantly being tempted to entertain certain thoughts that were stimulated by the blunt depictions of sexuality found in the game. As a man who desires to be pure and holy, this is not good for me. Yet even in my temptation and weakness I am reminded that the source of my purity and holiness is found in the grace of God, not my own behavior. I am so grateful for the empathy I gained from this game and for the insight it gave me into the simulated life of even a very violent man. I believe that God wants to bring restoration to all of creation, so when I see a simulation of the brokenness in the world as a result of sin, I must be driven by a desire to extend grace to cover and heal that brokenness.
One last thing. I think mature Christians have more to learn from a game like this than anybody. In our efforts to bring restoration to a broken world, we cannot run away from the brokenness. Light is stronger than darkness.
Look for a “Follow” post tomorrow morning talking about the interplay between light and darkness.
Here at Follow and Engage, I’ve been doing my best to offer insights to anyone interested about the current state of the videogame industry from a Christian point of view. I think I’ve done a great job of living up the “Engage” part of the name, that is: Engaging games and culture. In fact, you’ve probably noticed that most of my updates are titled “Engage: …”
That’s all well and good, but something that’s been perhaps a little under-emphasized here has been the “Follow” prerogative. I’ve only ever wanted to demonstrate that Christians can not only understand videogames, they can in fact embrace them without compromising their identity as individuals who have been crucified with Christ. It occurred to me that perhaps the best way to illuminate that is by example.
I’m creating a new category that I will be posting into, called “Follow”. Here I will be regularly uploading posts that have nothing to do with videogames, and everything to do with following Jesus. These will look a lot more like traditional christian-ish blog posts, and I pray they will be encouraging and honest looks into my own faith journey.
A couple of years ago I used to keep this journal that I would write in every time I noticed something fresh and new in scripture or everytime something happened in my life that gave me a new perspective on things. It was great. But it always seemed a little selfish; taking the time to wait on God, study the Bible, listen for his still, small voice, and then NOT share it with someone. Let’s get this straight right off the bat. While I am going to be sharing my thoughts, I’m not sharing them because I think my ideas are so valuable and everyone needs to be exposed to them. I’m doing this because I’m learning day by day what is encouraging and challenging to me, and I have this idea that others might feel the same way.
This great old preacher I knew used to always say that 90% of preaching is reminding. Don’t be expecting to constantly see fresh insights into a scripture; previously unseen connections, or newly discovered historical details. I don’t receive as many revelations as I do reminders. I’m constantly being reminded of the sufficiency of Jesus and the power of his life and death. It comes alive in different ways, and though I’m no stranger to doubt and uncertainty, I’m generally joyful, because I believe each new day is a chance for me to see Jesus in his word, but also in his world, as he uses me to strengthen and encourage people around me.
Consider this your official invitation. You’re invited to join me in this journey; to come along for the ride, if you’re willing. Not only are we learning how to engage our culture here, we’re learning how to follow Jesus and the paths of his kingdom, praying that he would give us the strength to pull heaven down to earth and be good stewards of this life he’s given us.
For a really long time, I would always talk about “Video Games,” because that’s what spell check told me to say. I sometimes saw other people refer to “Videogames,” and it didn’t make sense to me. Spell check should know what it’s talking about, right? I didn’t fully understand the implications of that one little space. I didn’t really care.
Then I had a revelation. So I wrote a little article about why the phrase must be “Videogames” and not “Video Games.” It’s not just a style issue, it’s something that has clear implications for the development of an entire medium.
Alright, part three, here we go. There’s probably more stats that I could share with you, but I think something that’s just as important are the stories of individuals who actually have dealt with compulsive behavior when it comes to playing games.
Bryan Hall, at his blog JohnnyBGamer actually began talking about the idea of game addiction at the same time I did. He dedicated one post to sharing an analysis of the term “addiction” to see if it really applied to videogames. In his second post, however, he shared candidly about a season he now refers to as a “lost summer,” where he did almost nothing but play World of Warcraft for several months straight. So what happened as a result? In his words, “My personal relationships began to suffer during this time. I drove my parents nuts, almost lost my girlfriend, and did nothing to grow myself physically/ spiritually.”
Drew Dixon’s first article for Relevant actually had something to do with the subject too. It’s entitled “Beating The Video Game Fixation.” He candidly shares the way he struggles with maintaining composure while playing competitive video games online. The article is not as much about having a lifestyle built around compulsive playing, but it still illustrates the incredible power that games can have over our behavior, and that you don’t necessarily need to reach the depths of a destructive lifestyle that will be described in the next example for games to negatively influence your life.
This, now is the story that inspired the entire series. James Portnow is the writer of a show called Extra Credits. In addition to being professionally involved in the gaming industry he also writes regularly for numerous online journals. In fact he wrote the script of the video that I shared last week. If you would watch this video you’ll see that he meant to write a script dealing further with the idea of game addiction, but the idea of it just hit too close to home and he was compelled instead to sit down in front of a webcam and share his story of dealing with game compulsion in his own life.
My favorite quote of his has to be “Life always welcome you back.” I was reminded while watching this video of the parable Jesus told about the son who had abandoned his home, lost his inheritance in wild living, and returned home, full of shame, only to be welcome in by his father with open arms. I was reminded of my own story of abandoning God, wasting my life on pointless living, driven on by my own shame. It wasn’t ever that I was afraid to come back to God, it was just that I thought I was too far gone, had made too many mistakes. But God always welcomes you back, and he can redeem even wasted time.
James’ story inspired me to tell my own. It inspired me to put together the talk that I’m going to start presenting at local churches on this very subject. (My first opportunity is coming up soon, on the 28th. Pray that I would have courage and wisdom to say what i need to say!) I’m also going to type up some of that story in the next day or two. Thank you, everyone who has read this, for all your encouraging feedback. We’re definitely on to something here.
Yesterday we introduced the topic of the week, video game addiction. I said that it was not as controversial as the ongoing discussion about video game violence, but the more I think about it, the more it seems that the issue of gaming “Addiction” may actually hit closer to home for many people. While stories of people committing acts of violence because of games are few and far between, it seems almost everyone knows someone who plays an unhealthy amount of video games.
The statistics in yesterdays infographic painted a fairly dark picture of what it must be like to be a gamer. That’s why I wanted to follow it up with this interesting little video, made by the team at Extra Credits, which does a fantastic job of approaching the issue from a gamer’s perspective.
If you don’t have time to sit and watch the 6-ish minute video, here’s the “too long; didn’t watch” version:
FIRST: Most of the hysteria around “game addiction” distracts from real, important issues.
1. There is no epidemic of people dying from game addiction, despite sensationalist stories.
2. Gaming is not “Addictive” in that it doesn’t alter your brain chemistry, but it can be very “Compulsive.”
3. Gaming compulsion does exist, but that doesn’t make games evil.
Games (like everything else) don’t need to be perfect to be good.
On the flipside, we need to be able to recognize the problems in order to solve them.
4. Game compulsion doesn’t exist in isolation. ie: games are never the only problem.
FINALLY: Games can be compulsive, especially among children. Parents can’t just blame games for society’s ills, they need to recognize that games are a part of our society and learn how to raise healthy children within that society. The best tip is not to just “make them go outside,” but to actually play with them and teach them firsthand how to have healthy playing habits.
Tomorrow we’re diving into a firsthand account of just how powerful a gaming habit can be. Feel free to sound off in the comments- Have you ever known anyone who struggled with this? Have you yourself?
We’ve already established that the most controversial issue surrounding video games is how violent they can be. But there is another issue that always seems to come up: Game Addiction. This is an especially prevalent discussion in regards to the “Massively Multiplayer Online” genre, which combines the already-compulsive nature of incentivized play with the alluring comfort of community and the ability to build real relationships in cyberspace.
In 1999 the game Everquest was released and set a new standard for just how habit forming games could be. It was fondly referred to as “Never-rest” or ”Evercrack.” Later, World of Warcraft made the wordplay even easier, becoming “World of Warcrack.” The reputations of games and their similarities to drugs was cemented as various clinics began launching rehab programs for “Game Addiction.”
This is an issue that hits close to home for me. I considered myself a gaming addict in high school. A major theme of the book I’m working on will be an exploration of the feelings that accompanied that season.
I’m going to be sharing some really interesting stuff over the next few days, but this is something to get you started, an infographic on the topic. Obviously when getting into an issue like this where there any sort of socio-political ramifications, there is always going to be a bias, so take all the numbers with a grain of salt. However, this is a good starting point.
So yes, quite depressing. But I’m walking proof that there’s a way out. Keep engaged as we dive deeper into this issue through the rest of the week. Share this on Facebook with anyone who may be interested, and re-tweet to let the world know. Also, if you haven’t already, please “Like” the Facebook page. It’s as easy as clicking the button on the right side of the page. Thanks everyone!
For musings on inspiration and creativity, enjoy this post in it’s entirety. To find out what the deal with the book is, skip down past the second photo.
Strike while the iron is hot.
That phrase has been tumbling around in my mind as of late. I’ve been thinking quite a bit about the differences between inspiration and commitment; especially as they relate to creativity.
Because, anyone can create when they’re inspired. But being able to continue after the inspiration has left; that takes a special sort of person. So how then should we respond to inspiration?
The way we respond to bursts of inspiration is crucial. Everyone has experienced those moments in life where we find ourselves atop some scenic vista and we see our way laid out in front of us. In those moments of clarity, we may not see the end, but we see a part of the journey. We see winding roads stretching out below us and it is in these moments, as we choose what path to take, that we make crucial decisions which determine where we go in life, and ultimately, the sort of person we become.
I’ve been having some of those moments lately. And what’s interesting about inspiration is that it’s really easy to enjoy the feeling of “being inspired,” then do absolutely nothing about it. You have to decide if you’re going to wait until it becomes more convenient to act, or if you’re going to strike while the iron is hot.
This past week I was privileged to attend Point Loma Nazarene University’s: “Writer’s Symposium by the Sea.” I heard from writers and publishers including Dave Eggers, Chris Hedges, and Rachel Held Evans. Naturally, now I’m inspired to write a book.
It’s actually an idea I’ve had for quite a while, but I realized that now is the time to strike. (Yes, while the iron is hot).
Here’s the vision for Follow and Engage, The Book: Essentially I’ll be telling a story. It’s the story of a Christian boy who grew up playing video games, became addicted to video games, and quit video games cold-turkey, returning years later with a vision of learning to embrace that controversial medium and reach the people who play it. It won’t be long or complicated, but in it, as I tell my story, I’ll also share some of the things I’ve learned along the way; the sorts of things that I’ve been filling this website with. I aim to show Christians how to appreciate games while still giving Christ primacy in their lives.
I’m not going to try to self-publish this, I want to do it with an agent, and a legitimate publishing house. (I’m looking at you Zondervan!) But to do that, I first need to demonstrate that there will be an audience for this book.
Obviously, I believe there is a huge as-of-yet unreached audience for this book. There is only one other Christian book about video games on the market, and it is a collection of academic essays, not a personal look at what it feels like to be a Christian gamer. This book will appeal to every single Christian who is interested in culture, as well as anyone who want to better understand what video games should mean to Christians.
The way I plan on demonstrating the existence of my audience is by working my butt off on a local level to reach out to Christian students. I’m going to develop simple informational cards to distribute to youth groups, and I’m also creating a presentation that I’ll be able to give wherever I may be invited to speak. I’ll also be pursuing open doors in that regard, contacting local pastors, etc.
(I’ll come speak anywhere, as my schedule allows- all I ask in return is for my transportation costs to be covered! Also, I live in San Diego, if that makes a difference.)
Not only will I be boosting “my numbers,” but I’ll be actively reaching out to the people I have such a heart for; young Christians who are trying to reconcile their passion for games with their desire for God. Naturally, I have no idea where exactly this will all end up, but God has given me big dreams, and no matter where he ends up taking me, I’m so looking forward to the journey.