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.)
Yes the rumors are true. I am a Christian (A fairly passionate one at that!) and I played one of the most vilified videogames in the history of videogames.
I played it, and I didn’t hate it. So how did I feel about it then? I recommend that before you go any further you head on over to Gamechurch and read my latest post there: “Understanding The Carjacker: What a Privileged Player Learned From GTA” It’s a piece of writing I’m quite pleased with.
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.
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.
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.
On a cool December morning a few weeks back, I sat down in front of my computer and turned on my webcam, ready for my first Skype interview with Chris Skaggs and John Bergquist of Soma Games. If you’re unfamiliar with the story of how Soma Games came to be, it would be well worth your time to read it at their website. The most recent history is that they’ve now published two well-received mobile games, G: Into The Rain and Wind-Up Robots, the latter of which was just featured as the “Gaming App of the Day” at Kotaku.
As the interview began, we introduced ourselves and made small talk. (Apparently it was a beautiful day in Oregon. Which was surprising; it was raining in San Diego.) Chris asked me what I was hoping to accomplish with Follow and Engage, and I was eager to explain my mission of exploring the ways that Christians are interacting with game culture. I began the interview by turning the question back to him, asking about the current mission of Soma Games.
He replied, “Well we have two words, “invite” and “mystery.” We want the stories that we tell in these games to create a mystery as well as an invitation for people to find out more. It’s remarkable actually the kinds of contacts we’ve made in the secular world with people who are like “This is really interesting, what’s going on here?” And next thing you know, you’re telling them the gospel- but they’re hearing it now in a place that they’ve never expected it.”
Now, something that Chris and his team seem to be very big about is not just making overtly Christian games, but rather making games with universal appeal and filling them up with Christian themes. I asked about that, and John took point.
“Chris’s best talk on this was recently at Serious Play Conference. This whole idea of putting moral compasses or even moral issues in a game, that’s what the whole talk was about.”
Chris chimed in: “That’s right, “Using Games to Recalibrate Your Moral Compass.””
John continued, “And so we were watching the Twitter stream, and eventually a couple people started calling him “the Tolstoy of gaming.” It’s this whole idea of what CS Lewis and Tolkien did in their novels and their stories to bring in concepts and ideas and scriptures from the Bible in ways almost just to surprise people. We’re made in the image of God, so we’re going to have things that spark our curiosity, our interest, or our emotions, and we want put those into the game so that it kind of awakens something in somebody. Something that makes them think, “Wow, I want to know more.” It’s almost like these Easter eggs, you know, where you’re just going about your day and you see a flower, and it just awakens something in your heart and you just go, “Whoa what is that?” and you don’t even have to be a Christian for something like a trigger to go off in your heart and allow God to speak to you. So in putting those things into our stories and into our games, that comes naturally to us because we’re constantly telling stories, and we can’t help it. And it’s almost like we write our stories and then look at them and realize “Wow this game is spiritual, it’s all about spiritual warfare.” Some of it’s intentional, but I would say part of it is just who we are. Tolkien didn’t set out to tell a biblical story, but you can’t deny it has those themes.”
Chris elaborated, “Tolkien didn’t realize that he’d written such a “catholic” story, not in a denominational sense, but in the sense of how he kept using often overtly Christian imagery. Such as when Gandalf is facing down the Balrog and he says “I am a servant of the secret fire.” Tolkien never meant that to refer to the Holy Spirit, but he later realized that it was nevertheless a very Christian image.”
John concluded “You know, one thing is, while we have decided to focus on allegorical tales, I don’t mean for that to sound as though we don’t appreciate or think that there’s a place for overt tales. We’re not prejudicial or anything like that, it’s just not what I feel what we were called to, and you know I think that there’s gotta be room for both.”
Chris had mentioned that he isn’t prejudiced against Christians who just make Bible-adventure games. But at the same time, in the short while that I’ve been doing this, I’ve encountered some Christians who claim that anything beyond such games are unbiblical. Now obviously it would be easy to just get into a never-ending argument, but I wanted to know how- in his own mind and conscience – Chris could say “No this isn’t a waste of time.” I found his answer thought-provoking.
“Well for me it’s actually really easy, and it all depends on what you think the nature of art and media is. And so one of the things that I think that we have to understand is: “Is there such a thing as a Christian carpenter? Like was Jesus a Christian carpenter? Did he carve something like a little fish into every stool and bench and table that he made? And I think we can all say pretty likely that that wouldn’t be the case. -I mean, I guess it would be a star- You know, we all live lives that engage the world all over the place, and if we draw this really sharp line between the secular and the sacred, all we’ve really done is cut a lot of the world off from our life. You know, Jesus says that a city on the hill cannot be hidden, and he doesn’t say should not be hidden, he says cannot be hidden, and so if we are living our lives, whether that is as a carpenter, or a gas station attendant, or a video game manufacturer, that aspect of our life has to show through. And the thing is, the world wants to see the light that we have. It doesn’t mean we have to all be preachers. It doesn’t mean that every work of art has to teach a didactic lesson about the Bible. You know, part of it is, you have this conversation: “Is any video game a Christian video game? Is any video game going to heaven?” And the obvious answer is no. There are no Christian anything, there are just Christian people. And so part of the conversation is a little off the real topic, because the goal is to show people the light of Christ wherever they find it. And so if I have to quote something, I have to quote Assisi, who said: “Preach the gospel at all times and use words when necessary.” you know, he’s talking about how your life has to shine through- it’s not just about the scripture verses you’re quoting. He’s talking about the way you love people, and you know that’s how Christ said the world would know us, by the way we love one another.”
I was curious to know how Chris and his team saw their work at Soma Games as well as the work being done by other Christian developers impacting the game industry. I asked how he saw their games making a difference.
“Well because quality is really a core value for us, we need to make sure that the product we’re producing is up to par or better than the rest of the world and I think that’s one of the things the Christian industry has missed often, and not just in gaming, but all over the place. Often they’ll create an inferior product, and often because they just don’t have the money, but they sort of want the weight of their good intentions to carry it forward and so as a statement of principle, we just decided we can’t do that. We have to have games that are competitive at their level. What we want is for the weight of our work and the quality of our work to give us a seat at the table. So that’s why we go to conferences like GDC or Serious Play. These are secular conferences, but we want very much to have a voice in that space to say “The gaming industry doesn’t have to be about beating up hookers and stealing cars. It can be about good things.” That is good for everybody. It’s not only about evangelizing, it’s about making the world a better place, because that is where his kingdom comes, that is where his will gets done- whether you’re a citizen of that kingdom or not. There were people who enjoyed the Pax Romana who were not citizens of Rome, but that peace changed their lives.”
Finally, as I’m still very much an industry outsider, I wanted to get Chris’s insider perspective on how Christian gamers can impact the industry without necessarily becoming developers.
“You know, it’s interesting, when Tommy Tenny made One Night With The King, he was giving this big presentation to this big church, and he was talking about a common thread that I’m sure you’ve heard regarding movies, which is basically “It’s terrible that we don’t have more Christian movies…” And everyone has heard that, yet he made such a good point when he said “Now who of you in this audience has bought One Night With The King?” Of course you have a few hands but really not that many, and he points out “And that’s why.” Hollywood makes movies that will sell, and yet the Christian audience does not vote with their pocketbooks. And so EA and Steam, those people will support Christian games when they see that Christians buy games. So if you want to change that, just demand it, it’s like any other product. That doesn’t mean you need to be belligerent and cranky and rude about it. But again there’s a thing here, because you don’t want to support shlock. Because at the same time, Christians have shown a remarkable willingness to buy mediocre products, just to sort of support them. But you want to support excellence when it’s there. If you want to change the market, that’s how the market’s changed. I don’t want to say that it’s like a moral obligation, but if they do want to make change, it’s real simple.”
I asked Chris if he had any closing thoughts that he would like to share. What he had to say was personal and challenging.
“Yeah, Jordan, and this is just an encouragement to you. One of the things you described when we started this conversation is that you found that there were really very few outlets like what you wanted to do, and that is certainly the truth, but let me encourage you to find the people that are, and make allies with them. Because one of the things that we see happening is that there is a lot of fracturing, and a lot of everyone sort of doing their own thing. Even though there’s only a few of them, the value of collaborating with the folks that are out there is huge. I would encourage you to share thoughts with them, because that creates community and then increasingly, when people go to do a Google search for Christian gaming, they’re actually going to find that there’s a body of work out there.”
If you’ve been to their website, you’ve undoubtedly seen a phrase, just beneath their logo: “Terribiliter Magnificasti Me Mirabilia.” I asked what it meant. Chris replied with a smile on his face: “Well that’s one of the mysteries now isn’t it?”