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!
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.
You can see Josh’s ongoing work at The Cross and The Controller. To see the first part of our feature on the site, click here. Check back soon for a first look at a brand new venture they’re launching soon.
Follow and Engage is relatively new to the conversation over the intersection of faith and games, and when we started, our original purpose was to bring more attention to the ways that other Christians were already engaging the world of video games. One website that has been bringing it’s own unique point of view to the conversation is The Cross and The Controller, run by Editor-in-Chief, Joshua Wise. TCaTC is a “video game review site where professional theologians and seminarians dissect games both on theological and gameplay grounds.” What makes TCaTC really stand out among other Christian-ish gaming sites is the way Josh and his team are able to look at AAA gaming titles and analyze the heavy philosophical and theological themes that are lurking just below the surface. In this first part of the feature, I asked Josh to recommend a few of his favorite articles from the site so that you can see for yourself the type of thinking that marks their work.
First, one of my favorite articles ever was written by Joshua Wise himself on the subject of “The Dark Knight and the Cloud of Unknowing.” I really don’t want to ruin this for you, so let me just tease you with a quote: “The Darkness that shrouds God is a deeper and mightier darkness than that of Sin and Death, for its true form is light. It is to us darkness because we are too weak to see it. It goes into the lesser darkness of Sin and Death, and destroys them.” Seriously, go read it.
Next, editor Ben Wallis takes a look at the psychology of play as expounded by D.W. Winnicott in his research on “transitionary phenomenon.” If that sounds interesting to you, you won’t want to miss “Team Fortress 2 and Reality,” particularly his conclusion where he postulates “Transitionary phenomenon is all about exploring the universe and building meaning out of what we find in our exploration. That search for meaning inevitably involves the biggest questions of why the universe exists and what life is all about. It is no wonder that some of humanity’s most spectacular works of art are religious.”
The site has an interesting dichotomy, in that regular contributor Michael Elliot is an athiest. However, his contribution are always thoughtful and respectful looks at religion in games. I was particularly intrigued by one such entry, “Dragon Age Origins: Fantasy and Atheism,” where he mused about encountering an athiestic character, “Now, being an atheist one would assume that I would be completely receptive of this stance. But while this kind of tired and ancient complaint was certainly familiar, I found it completely baffling. How could anyone doubt the existence of the Maker? What sense can this world make without God? Wait… what the hell am I saying?”
Also, Michael Elliot briefly explored the history of depictions of “Islam in Western Games.”He chronicles the several instances where “parts of Islam have been included in video games, only to be edited out at the eleventh hour, or sometimes even after the game was released,” in order to appease certain adherents who were offended by the fact that their sacred religion was being used in a medium that many see as both flippant and secular.
Joshua Wise also reviewed Bastion, one of last year’s indie darlings. He pointed out some interesting things about it’s depiction of deities. “Of the two cultures portrayed in the game, one has turned the gods into decoration, while the other continues to worship. This dichotomy of two cultures is fascinating, and not one we see often in gaming.”
(Editorial Aside: I also just wrote an article entitled “Redemption and Restoration in Bastion” for Gamechurch. Read it here if you missed it. -Jordan)
Finally, Drew Walden wrote a very personal and challenging reflection on whether or not he was completely wasting his time by using it to play games. “My next 100 Xbox achievements are not going to help the homeless on the street get their next meal. The engrossing story of Jade Empire is not going to sooth the sorrow of little girls sold into slavery in Mumbai’s red light district. My meandering pontifications on free will and video games seem trivial compared to the harsh realities plaguing our modern world.” The thought really hit home with me, as I wrote recently on the same subject.
If you enjoyed these articles, check back soon for an interview with the man behind the site, Joshua Wise, as well as for an exciting announcement about something new they plan on starting soon.