God In Games? Why, Of Course!

So video games. If you are viewing this blog, you might have expected this. But a concern of mine right now is a genre called “Christian Games”. Wait, there’s a single genre for it? What makes a Christian well… anything in entertainment? Is it the buttons you press, the colors used in the graphics, the physics engine. Or does it have to do with the beliefs or faith of the author? It seems to be based on the message, dialogue, expressions or similar things that define it, which could be lead from the author and development team. But then again genre mixing has become so confusing that naming genres no longer give a good idea of how a game would play. As you would expect large explosions with an action movie, everyone in the room would shrug at the thought of an action game expectation. What do you expect from a “Christian Game?”

When peering around at my friends’ game collection, I see games like Ninja Gaiden II, Halo 3, Killzone 2, Grand Theft Auto  IV,  Assassin’s Creed and Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare. Why these games? Why not something that is a bit more wholesome… Is it because the other games may be bad? This begs the question of what makes a good game… is it violence? I’d like to say no with support of the statistics of top –selling party games like Guitar Hero, Rock Band, Dance Dance Revolution and Singstar. Digital Praise, a California based game developer, understood the structure and design put in such types of games and set out to make Christian alternative versions of such games with Guitar Praise and Dance Praise. Through decisions made throughout the development process, the genre ended up being summarized more as music games with Christian music, which is a better view of the “Christian” game genre in my opinion. The game should be defined as Christian despite its type or genre due to its nature. I believe it’s merely peering out and seeing what you want to achieve and working towards that. As well a conscious effort making a cohesive and well put together game design.

Another issue with violence is the person on the other side of the reticule. Does it make a difference if it’s a robot, police office, demon, or terrorist? Simply, no. But the complex answer is yes. Wait, how? Violence is violence, but the fact of who is targeted does changes things a bit if you’re attacking something that is obviously “evil” as opposed to something that is just an opponent of your controlled protagonist. A very big problem with violence showed up with the game of Left Behind: Eternal Forces. In this title, the player was pitted against other human characters. The storyline also is very important here as it sets a frame of reference for those playing the game as well as slight cultural conditioning that makes players “dislike” the bad guy as portrayed in the work. It’s confusing as to the label of “Christian” game at times with games like Castlevania which definitely have some inspiration and pits you against fighting monsters and demons, some of which are from a Christian origin. A good thing to note here though is that Castlevania only takes from the rituals and myths of religion not of beliefs or what the Bible speaks of. But it makes things very confusing when you arbitrarily replace violence with other objects like in NES games like Spiritual Warfare and Bible Adventures from Wisdom Tree. In these games you seem to shoot out “W” icons which are supposed to the word of God. But this does not represent what the word of God really is and it would confuse anyone playing without a manual telling them what those W’s are. But with Wisdom Tree’s offerings, they are generally used in game design discussions of what not to do or generally ridiculed on both sides of the faith. It seems a lot of  “Christian” games also take the messages and such as is. Normally that issue doesn’t seem like an issue but shouldn’t we be applying it to our lives? It’s harder to learn from something retranslated than learning from the original source or applying it.

Okay, so let’s see what is possible through a video game. Video games are a lot like other medias of visual and auditory expression. But unlike a movie, they are interactive, which means the lessons and messages must be applied differently. How is this to be done? This could be seen in the difference of similar works such as a book to a comic. Between these two mediums, one has you telling or describing to the reader what is going on with the world, the other should show the reader rather than telling them. This comes as a flaw to many storytelling methods found in games commonly today, where the story is shown rather than allowing the player experiencing it.

This is very relevant to Christian games because of various methods of storytelling and opens more potential for sharing stories. A common way to share a story of God with others is testimony. But what if someone could go through the experience of a testimony instead of just hearing about it? This is the potential power behind the interactivity of video games. This leads to the idea of “Evangelistic Games”. Why not use a game to share what God has done? It is hard work but it’s worth exploring. As I have mentioned before, there was a game derived from the book series Left Behind. The issue with this game was that the player was pitted against human characters of other faiths. It was also said in interviews and such that the game was meant to evangelize. This seems a bit like the efforts of the street preachers that chop the message of the gospel in half and in effect, throw the seeds halfway as well as scare away those that could’ve known God on a more personal level. This could be argued but why not have a wide range of different efforts? Just like how there are many types of outreach, tracts, and such.

So what is a Christian game? It’s not its own genre. It could be any genre as long as it glorifies God. How do you glorify God with your actions? Read the book he wrote for us or ask him.  It’s a game that has a goal and sets to achieve the goal. But what is a good Christian game? It’s a game that achieves its goal, knows what it is supposed to be and holds itself in cohesiveness. Also it’s important to know who you’re reaching as outreach games would definitely be different than a game for Christians. In the end, you just need to have fun.

refer to: [Gamasutra, BBC News, Cracked, The Review]

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