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Loading… August 2, 2007

Posted by joshg in General.
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Oh, and by the way there’s a new journal out from the Canadian Game Studies Association.  Loading… is a free-access journal with topics across the full range of game studies.  Just register a user name and log in and you’ll be able to give it a read.

I highly recommend Kevin Schut’s “Continuity and Discontinuity: An Experiment in Comparing Narratives Across Media” which looks at how mythically-styled narrative makes the transition to the medium of digital games.  I’ve spoken with Kevin lately, and his Media Ecology perspective on how mythic and spiritual topics change as they move into games has given me a better perspective on what I’ve sort of kind of been saying before – that getting meaningful faith and spirituality concepts into digital games can be really hard to do well given the nature of games themselves.

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Comments

1. Chris - August 14, 2007

What I wonder, with much of this, is the intent when putting spirituality or faith within a game? Is this to create games that are morally sound with a certain set of player, that might not otherwise have something to play which is non-objectionable in some way? Is it a way to try and make a certain belief or faith “fun” or to de-mystify it to others, sort of a form of evangelism?

While one’s intentions might be upright (at least in the majority’s mind), it never hurts for some cross-examination. Of course, I’m just merely curious. Something is troubling me in the back of my mind about the concept.

2. joshg - August 15, 2007

There are Christian game developers who I would guess are primarily looking to create a “safe” alternative to games which offend them, and there are others who might be treating it as evangelism.

What part of these ideas bother you? Do you see these goals as subverting the process of creating a worthwhile game, or do the goals themselves offend you regardless of the end product?

3. Chris P - August 20, 2007

The only part that particularly (hmm, weird word usage there) wrankles the hairs at the back of my neck is any simulation of a deity, to a degree. I suppose it only wrankles if said deity is partaking in a pseudo-real life setting. As in, it is a simulated God. This wrankles only because it seems rather narrow to insert whatever programming to create how God would behave — it would be way erroneous, on many levels. Mostly because it is biased to whomever is doing the programming, pretty much.

Of course, in a fantasy setting, such a dynamic deity program would be rather interesting. It would behave however the setting’s deities may be set to do. Such as in the Guild Wars settings, perhaps how a Monk (or whomever) behaves will determine their favor with a particular deity over another, changing their skills and abilities. This deity would behave — as in, relate to the character — the deity should, according to the setting’s theology.

I have no problem with anyone inserting religion or God or anything into a game. The only problem I have is not then making sure that it is labelled “Fictional” or “Merely A Simulation.” I know it may sound obvious, but some people might actually be more reactionary than I sound. They may be up in arms about how it will subvert (as you say) people’s own freedoms of how they perceive deity — basically, that it’s a terrible lie, perhaps heresy. That is, of course, only in trying to make a simulated “real world” deity.

I don’t mean to ramble. Please don’t mistake my “wrankledness” with saying that such an idea is wrong. I actually like it. I just can foresee the probable dangers in the market, without proper considerations.

4. AndrewB - August 21, 2007

Chris makes some interesting points. Coming at this from a Christian perspective, depending on one’s theological position, creating a simulated God could be akin to idol creation and a violation of Ex.20:4. Is creating a simulated God necessarily idol creation? I suppose it would depend on whether we interpret the command literally or figuratively. Literally, I would suppose it would violate this command. Creating a simulated God would be creating an idol. But interpreting the command figuratively, one might make the argument that if this simulation simulates the Biblical deity and that this deity acts in accordance with His character as revealed in the Bible in the simulation, then no violation would be occurring.

How much different would this kind of scenario be than an author, whose novel features characters who see the work of God in their lives and explicitly acknowledge His activity and character? In this respect, the portrayal of God in a novel is certainly biased to whoever is doing the writing. Chris would have to be wrankled about this kind of thing as well. I feel the same kind of wrankling that Chris feels, but if I work across other media, they too would seem to be simulating a God biased to whoever might be doing the writing/filming/broadcasting.

On a slighlty different tack, the so-called open school of theology might be more amenable to the simulation of God project as they have tried to bridge postmodern theory and more conventional kinds of theology. In my limited understanding of their position, they argue that God’s character is fluid, dynamic and open to change. However, this position has, as one might expect, come under intense criticism from traditional theologians.

Forgive these ramblings. This is a fascinating discussion.

5. joshg - August 21, 2007

I have no problem with anyone inserting religion or God or anything into a game. The only problem I have is not then making sure that it is labelled “Fictional” or “Merely A Simulation.” …. They may be up in arms about how it will subvert (as you say) people’s own freedoms of how they perceive deity

If I’m reading this correctly, I don’t buy it at all. How does creating (or playing) a game with an interactive God-character subvert someone’s freedom to think what they want? I don’t think expressions of religious belief need disclaimers for those who may not agree with them, no matter what medium is used.

Coming at this from a Christian perspective, depending on one’s theological position, creating a simulated God could be akin to idol creation and a violation of Ex.20:4. Is creating a simulated God necessarily idol creation?

That seems like a weird way to define “idol”, even if you take a pretty hardline approach. It’s not a graven image; it’s not created with the intent to worship it. I suppose you’re creating something for a fictional avatar/character to worship under the control of a user, but that seems pretty distinct from creating something for the user themselves to worship.

I think the only way to get to idolatry from there is to have a very different understanding of the player / game relationship than I would agree with. Some kind of ultra-immersiveness approach that completely disbelieves in the game’s “magic circle” such that when you choose to do an action in the game’s story world, it’s morally indistinguishable from doing the same thing in the real world. But that seems even more extreme than anything I’ve ever heard argued – not even the harshest anti-game-violence advocate accuses those who kill fictional characters in a game of being guilty of murder.

6. joshg - August 21, 2007

I should add, my first thought is to draw the connection to authors who make God an active agent in their plot. Authors have it much easier in the sense that they don’t need to systematize God’s actions, but they do have to choose when and how God would choose to act miraculously within their story. I’m not really bothered by this in principle, other than potentially disliking how specific authors (or game designers) choose to portray God. But the fact that I think some people may get it wrong doesn’t seem like a reason to think it’s a bad idea to even try.

Although, the more I think about it, the more I think that I’d probably err deliberately on the side of using a highly random model, maybe mixed with scripted events if the game’s relation to plot required it. Honestly, most of Christianity’s attempts to try to figure out what God is going to choose to do at any given moment are so filled with exceptions, flaws, or heresies that maybe the best thing to do is get back to basics and just “draw lots”.

7. Chris P - August 22, 2007

Wrong? I suppose the author(s) of the Koran or Mormon Bible felt the plain ol’ Bible wasn’t portraying their God character in the right manner. However, where’s the notice where it is a work of fiction? I guess we can assume. It doesn’t subvert our freedom, no. We can read it and still choose not to believe it. I know this, you know this. Do kids always know this? Usually not until later in life. Easy for them to believe what they see, or what they grow up with, at first.

As I have tried to say: my stance here, really, isn’t to moralize such work. I think as much as we have freedom to read and believe, or not, there is freedom to create and express. If there’s at least one thing God has never forced or undermined, it is our free will.

What I am concerned over, very specifically, is a real-world type game that supposes to simulate real-world deity. I just don’t see that causing anything more than lost time and revenue, perhaps other collateral damage unforeseen. Purely marketing-vision, really.

8. Chris P - August 22, 2007

Hmm, I feel I need to further disclaimer my commentary. I want to be clear that the statements I’m making aren’t necessarily my own viewpoint. I’m trying to see it as a consumer. There are those consumers out there, perhaps a little far on the right-side, that might really take offense to aspects of this. Of course, I’m taking an extreme view and I’m playing devil’s advocate with it.

I’m not *really* wrankled in the sense that I’m offended in any personal way. I find it hard to be offended by video games, or really…anything. I’m most offended by the types of people which might get offended by this type of project/game: narrow-minded and ignorant activist types.

But this isn’t a discussion about them, per se. More about how they may view a game with these elements, specifically in the ways I was mentioning above.

Anyway, I just wanted to make that for the record. 🙂 I don’t want to turn this into a debate (polite word for argument) over beliefs and morality. There’s no point to that, to me. Though the discussion revolves around how others may view this very topic within the context of a video game which simulates a deity, particularly God Himself. Yeah…

9. Chris P - August 22, 2007

P.S. It’s 5:10 am where I am, so please forgive me if I seem less than coherent at times.


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