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!
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.
If you haven’t seen it yet, here’s an article I wrote for RelevantMagazine.com. It’s about the potential that video games have to be an incredible storytelling medium, one that Christians can use to influence our culture.
“Stories create readiness, they nudge people toward receptive insight. Peter Hitchens once said of his brother, famed atheist Christopher Hitchens, “It is my belief that passions as strong as his are more likely to be countered by the unexpected force of poetry, which can ambush the human heart at any time.” He mentioned poetry, but the same is true of stories.
“The reason stories matter to me is because I see a new medium rising, one with the potential to convey meaning in a more affecting way than ever before: video games. Authors try to describe how characters feel, films show you what they feel—but a good game can actually make you feel what they feel by not only drawing you into a characters perspective but making you personally responsible for their well-being.”
But I also mentioned something very important,
“Currently, in the world of games journalism, the conversation is ongoing over whether or not games should even be used to tell stories. “After all,” some say, “games at their core are nothing more than sets of rules.”
To bring some nuance to the discussion about games and stories, let me link to this week’s “When Games Matter” post from Drew Dixon at Christ and Pop Culture. Obviously I can’t say I agree entirely with his premise that “If you have a story to tell, videogames might not be the best medium for you.” Nevertheless, he has some illuminating things to say about the types of stories that games are capable of creating.
“So if a game is going to attempt to tell a story, it must do so in a way that significantly involves the player in its telling. This is why most game stories are terrible–because the mechanics (namely what you spend most of your time doing in game) do not add anything to the story itself–they are mere tack-ons or fillers to transition us from one piece of expositional narrative to another.
“When Will Wright says that “games are not the right medium to tell stories” and that games are more about “story possibilities,” I think the Sim City creator highlights what makes games special. The best games give us a sense that we are making our own story and our place in that story is absolutely essential. Games engage us most when we assume a key role in that story’s telling.”
For those of you who don’t play games, or for those who do only casually, let me fill you in on something. For the past several years, there have been two debates raging. The first is over whether or not video games can be a form of Art. The second is whether or not games should be used to tell stories. In both topics, the discussion has sort of calmed down into an uneasy tension of “We’ll just have to wait and see what happens.” What Drew highlights though is an important part of the discussion; that if games are going to tell stories well, they’re going to need to incorporate the gameplay itself to make the story truly resonant.
What does this mean for Christians? First and foremost I think it’s imperative for believers to be aware of what’s going on in our culture. (Hence, this site) Knowing that there are games that are exploring new storytelling possibilities (Like the upcoming Dear Esther) will help us make informed purchases. Modern Warfare and Uncharted aren’t the only series trying to tell immersive stories with games. Second, for any Christians interested in making great new games, it’s good to know about the current climate of the gaming industry so you don’t just charge in blindly with your latest, greatest idea.
Stay tuned this week for a couple more posts introducing the subject of game theory. Also, go like F&E on Facebook to stay up-to-date on all the latest Christian gaming insights.
Image above is concept art by Ben Andrews for the game Dear Esther