When I started writing this blog entry, it was only going to be one part. But as I got into it and realized that I was already at over a thousand words before even getting to gamers understanding better the relevance of the Armor of God or the fact that monsters are real, I decided I needed to break it up. So here’s part one. Stay tuned…
There are two types of people who are going to read this series. The first, Christian gamers saying, “Thank you, Captain Obvious.” The second, Christians who either outright disagree, thinking video games are wrong and feel compelled to rebut my every word, OR who are simply doubtful about the whole someone’s faith being served by “things of this world” thing. (And then there’s my friend Terrance. He’ll read it because I told him to. Good chum that Terrance.)
To the first, yeah, you better call me Captain. But while you may agree with my statement that Christians should play video games, I’m going to be giving you material to back up that belief. You know, for that old-school father-in-law concerned you’re dragging his daughter to hell because you spend a couple hours a week killing aliens with your old college roommate / best man who sells insurance in Seattle and you haven’t seen since your bachelor party (your wife still hasn’t forgiven him for missing the wedding).
To the second, let me explain. While some video games are indeed contrary to the Christian life, the same can be said about movies, TV, and even books. Do you condemn an entire medium simply because some choose to exercise that medium in unhealthy ways? Of course not! That would be like condemning all movies simply because some less than creative mind decided to make “American Pie”, or condemning books because of “Fifty Shades of Grey”. If you did that, you would be missing out on amazing works, some decidedly Christian in theme and impact, such as “Lord of the Rings” or “Chronicles of Narnia” or any one of my favorite films. And this is the simple truth:
Video games are a medium to tell stories.
And this is where I’ll start.
There are two types of storytelling in our world today. The first is Passive storytelling and the second is Active storytelling. And these terms are from the perspective of the audience, not the storyteller. In the former, the audience has no say in the story, and in the latter, the story depends heavily on the audience.
In movies, TV, books, etc, the audience is a passive observer of the story being told to them, but in video games, the audience is an active participant in that story.
The Gamer is very aware of the stories that he exists in. If he is playing “Mass Effect”, he is very aware that the story he exists in is a story of galactic significance, in which, if he fails, the galaxy is lost. If she is playing, “Skyrim”, she knows that the story she exists in is, again, one of dire consequence, in which, if she doesn’t uncover the truth of the return of the legendary dragons, the world is lost.
We as HUMANS, not just Christians, EXIST IN A STORY. But how many of us really behave that way in our day to day lives? How many of us go about our daily routine completely ignoring the larger context of the story in which we exist? When we get up in the morning, do we take into consideration that we live in Act Three of a story that began before the beginning of time? That everything that has happened before this morning has an effect on our lives in both the here and now and in the other realm that is more real than ours, and that every action we take today will affect the story as a whole?
Gamers far more easily understand the idea of existing in a story, and the practice of participating in a story, as opposed to simply being told a story, can do a lot for us recognizing the context and relevance of the story of our own lives.
In the same way, as many, many games take place in stories of warfare, gamers have a far easier time understanding the idea of living in a world at war than your average Christian. We live in an age, for the better, in which very few of us ever have to participate in actual physical war. Yes, there are wars and rumors of wars happening all around us, but those of us actually FIGHTING those wars, on the front lines, weapons in hand, are very few. For the rest of us, the average everyday civilian who’s greatest battle seems to be metaphorical (ie, the job you just lost, the divorce you wish wasn’t happening, the teenagers who just won’t listen to you anymore), we do not have a solid, grounded idea of what living in a world at war actual looks and feels like. However, gamers have a much better grasp on that (whether they apply that understanding or not is up to them).
Everyone who has ever played the “Modern Warfare” series, has a very visceral, though artificial, understanding of what it means to be shot at. That idea of having to be constantly mindful of the battle raging around you is not something they have to stretch to understand. We who enjoy war stories like “Band of Brothers” or “Act of Valor” may be able to get a picture of what existing in a battle looks like, from a great distance from it, but a gamer, one who actually participates in that battle, has less ground to travel to understand the consequences of not behaving like you’re being shot at.
We live in a world at war! All that crap happening to you is WARFARE. You ARE being shot at! The enemy, the real, flesh and blood enemy that just happens to exist on a different plane of existence but who is nonetheless very real, IS TRYING TO KILL YOU. Gamers get that easier.
There is so much more to this than I have time for now. How gamers can better understand the Armor of God, the nature of Good vs. Evil, Monsters and Demons, the Strength or Size of those monsters or Demons, the Tactics of our enemy and the tactics we use to fight him, and of course, that imagery in the Bible that can seem outside our realm of modern understanding but was in fact very real. But more on that later.
Now, I understand that some people simply don’t like video games. You don’t LIKE having to participate in the story. You’d rather have a story told to you. Or even you get dizzy playing them. I get that. To each his own. I’m not trying to say that if you don’t play video games, you’re a bad Christian. I’m simply trying to explain why video games should be embraced, not condemned, by the Christian community at large (ie, the Church).
And I’m going to head off any arguments regarding content, discretion, or age appropriateness right now. These things are no brainers. If you need to be told to use discretion, please, I beg of you, don’t reproduce. OF COURSE we are supposed to use discretion. Those that try to use that argument to condemn certain pieces of media are doing themselves no favors. And yes, the majority of the video games I’m talking about here are intended for ADULTS. Just as “Braveheart” or “Saving Private Ryan” is intended for adults. Complaining about certain content in games targeted at adult audiences is like saying you’re offended because you took your six-year-old to see a special screening of “Aliens” and they had nightmares and started using the F-bomb all the time. Your argument is invalid.
What are your favorite video games? Why? If you’re a Christian, how do you think those games help (or hinder) your walk with God? If you disagree with my premise, why? (Don’t worry I don’t bite…often.) Have you had specific experiences with video games that have brought you to this disagreement with yours truly?