One of the first issues that was ever tackled here in any depth was that of violence in games. This week we have a few new additions to the conversation. Before we begin, let me restate that here at Follow and Engage we are presently less interested in telling you what to think about the intersection of faith and video games, and more interested in bringing attention to the Christians who are using their own voices to engage the issue.
First up we have Richard Clark, writing for Gamechurch, continuing his series on “Disturbing” games (which we recently introduced.) He takes a look at the type of violence that is depicted in Far Cry 2, a game that puts you in the shoes of a violent mercenary working in war-torn Africa. In fact, Richard says, “If you are playing Far Cry 2 with intentions of clear heroism, of saving lives and making the world a better place, you’re playing the wrong game… Throughout the game, there are subtle nods to your inability to accomplish good as well as the dangerous nature of your bloodthirsty tendencies. ” You’ll have to read the article itself to understand his conclusion in it’s entirety, but essentially he argues that the game is masterful in it’s depiction of violence simply for the reason that it successfully communicates the depravity of attempting to use violence to achieve any real good. However, we must keep in mind that this is still both a game and an opinion for “Mature” audiences.
All too often the discussion of video game violence becomes centered around it’s desensitizing effects in children, not on it’s effects in “grown-ups.” Something that I’ve been wanting to share for a while is this article on the merits of violence as a tool to be used by Christian artists (not specific to games). It was written by Alex Wilgus for RelevantMagazine.com.
A highlight of the article is his examination of the way two Christian authors, Flannery O’Conner and Walker Percy used violence to communicate truth. In that section he notes that “Violence acts as a sharpener to help an important message stand out from the common run of things. This sort of extreme content is actually beneficial in preaching the message of the Gospel to those lulled to sleep by the siren song of modernity, which tells us to eat, spend, consume, fornicate and get on with our fellows without offending anybody, and everything will be all right. When asked why she went to such extremes in her stories, O’Connor responded that when an audience does not hold the same beliefs as you do, “then you have to make your vision apparent by shock—to the hard of hearing, you shout and for the almost-blind, you draw large and startling figures.””
Ultimately he concludes that violence may no longer be effective in getting people’s attention. “Whatever should be done, it is clear the Christian artist faces a peculiar enemy today: the expanding boredom of the modern age, which has the power to wash out even the severest expressions, and violence is its latest casualty. It is the constant duty of the Christian artist to outwit this amoebic tendency to consume and excrete, to make retail of riches. She must forge new paths of expression and restore old ones. When the world builds for itself a Tower of Babel, then she must paint a pile of rubble, and then when it is knocked down and the peoples wander in the refuse, she must paint a glittering city with jasper walls and foundations of precious stone.” But the 67 debate-filled comments that ensued show that the issue is far from settled. Many people were quick to point out that even today violence and distasteful content are still being used to grab people’s attention, and what’s needed more now is discernment than a one-size fits all approach. It’s an interesting thought.
What makes the discussion about violence in games so poignant is peculiarly interactive nature of the medium, and the increasingly immersive experiences it creates. In other mediums, violence can be meditated on from a distance, in most games it’s up close and personal. Writing for Popmatters, Jorge Albor wondered if humanity could be capable of returning to the barbarity of the Roman Coliseum games, and if the desensitization caused by violent games might have something to do with it.
“I know this issue of violence in games is an ongoing and controversial subject, so much so that many of us just ignore questions of violence and morality all together. Regardless, when engaging in extreme digital violence, we brush up against our own moral boundaries. I have no qualms about playing The Darkness 2, and I would never suggest that those who love gore are morally bankrupt. However, I know that I have a personal moral line and that this line is not set in stone. My boundaries and opinions shift constantly and subtly. Given the pace of technology and the ongoing role of violent media in our culture, I fear that this line will be pushed ever closer towards Roman-era spectacle without my notice. If any form of violence in media raises moral questions, then we should confront these moral questions now and never let this subject rest easy.”
So could very negative content ever be a positive thing for Christians? It’s easy for us to accept it when it’s found in scripture. In scripture we can see both the depravity of man and the grace and holiness of God fully on display. But it seems to be another thing when that same depravity is depicted in modern content, where the grace of God is something that we are tasked with extending. It will be interesting to keep up with Rich’s series on disturbing content, and it will be interesting to hear what you all think of the subject.