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The Re-Org October 8, 2007

Posted by joshg in General.
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So I’ve been incredibly sporadic in blogging here and at my other blog. It’s time for a change.

I originally envisioned “faithgames” as a specific, topical blog that people could subscribe to or visit who were interested in just this one crossing of topics, and who would rather not read about other stuff I happen to be thinking about or working on. I thought, you know, maybe that would actually make for a wider audience or something.

This could’ve made sense if there were a group of people who wanted to contribute on this topic, but instead it’s been this fragment of what I’m thinking about and working on. Since I’m the only one blogging, it seems kind of counter productive to split up my thoughts into “this category that I can blog here about” and “this other category that I can blog somewhere else about”. And I don’t think the specialized-audience thing has really taken off anyway, judging by the blog’s stats.

So! For the time being, I’m putting this blog in stasis. Stuff I feel like writing will end up at http://joshg.wordpress.com, and I’ll possibly wrap in my scattered homepage contents at http://thoughtlost.org into that as well eventually. Or I’ll just make the thoughtlost.org domain an alias for my other wordpress site. Or something.

Anyway, if you’re an RSS type like myself, I encourage you to subscribe to the feed at joshg.wordpress.com in lieu of this one. It’ll continue to discuss games, game design, faith issues, as well as new media, art, poetry, programming, and whatever the heck else I end up wrapping into what I currently call my “profession”.

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NYT on Halo 3 used in evangelical youth programs October 8, 2007

Posted by joshg in General.
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What a weird article.

Not once does anyone in the article ask the obvious question – “Why Halo?” If the violence of the game is a concern, why don’t they simply play something else? A church I used to attend had video games in their youth drop-in area, but they deliberately avoided M-rated titles. People still had lots of fun. This was in Canada, so the usual choice was a hockey game, but surely a football game would have the same effect south of the border. But I guess too many of us evangelicals have bought into the idea that we need to ride the hype bandwagons to be “relevant” to kids, instead of teaching them to step back and think critically. Bleah.

The repeated use of “Thou shalt not kill” was also just weird. Talk about what morals the game is passing on, or whether we should be exposing kids to more media violence. Don’t try to clumsily equate killing sci-fi aliens in a game with a literal act of murder. I guess it’s true that the game may be passing on morals and values which encourage violent response, but I don’t see that as a given. Are you even killing humans in Halo 3? I guess in deathmatch mode probably; I haven’t played a Halo game yet, I’ve been too distracted defending the intelligence. (No, TF2 probably shouldn’t be used in youth outreach programs either.)

I’m still a little muddled when it comes to how I want to respond to an article like this. Part of me wants to ask if this would be just as controversial if the youth group was being taken out for a game of laser tag* or paintball**, which are arguably more realistic experiences of gunfighting (especially paintball). I’ve taken in enough gamer culture over the years that it’s hard for me to drop the defensiveness that rises up when it feels like video games are being scapegoated.

But I do believe there are reasons why we should be concerned by what messages and values violent games are bringing to kids. I just don’t think that the outside-perspective analysis given by sources like this NYT article capture the depth of the issues.

For a better example of what I’d like to see more of, in Hartmut Gieselmann’s recent paper, “Ordinary Gamers – The Vanishing Violence in War Games and Its Influence on Male Gamers”:

But when you take a closer look at war games, you will realize that the violent scenes that are shown there are not nearly as gruesome as in fictional games featuring monsters and vampires.

…violence will only be recognized as entertaining for the gamer… when he (much more than 90 Percent of war gamers are male) can draw a strict line between the real world and the non real gaming world – otherwise he would be scared by what he sees and stop feeling comfortable.

…By just pointing at the most violent games, critics overlook that war games have a much greater impact on gamers’ opinions and their world views because they do not show the actual violence.

Which is more dangerous in the hands of our children – fantasy-setting violence which jars the senses, or toned down violence depicted in real-world settings which numbs us to the ugly reality of real warfare? (Answering “both” is fine; it’d be an improvement over most critics and watchdog groups who fixate only on the most bloody games.)

I clearly can’t end this in a way which wraps up my thoughts into a coherent conclusion, because I don’t yet have one. How about I just end off by saying, anyone who buys Halo 3 for a youth group and hands it uncritically to 12-year-olds that I know and care about will probably get a scowl and a talking-to from me. Grrr!
*which is awesome, by the way.

**which, when I played for the first time about four months ago, hurt like heck and left a still-visible mark on my body. Also the masks fog up in the first 30 seconds which is lame. My ideal solution: outdoor laser tag.

Left Behind Games threatening defamation lawsuits against critical web sites October 5, 2007

Posted by joshg in evil, Left Behind.
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This is really, really disappointing.

I haven’t been a fan of Left Behind Games, primarily since I wasn’t a fan of the Left Behind series to begin with. However, I’ve made a very deliberate point of trying to give them the benefit of the doubt, see beyond my usual theological and cultural pet peeves and find out what their game has to contribute.

Their PR comment spam campaign bothered me and insulted me. They mass-posted comments on blogs found through Google searching for anyone writing about Left Behind Games which insinuated that the writers of said blogs were writing about something they hadn’t tried for themselves, and which ended up being posted on this very blog attached to a response I wrote to playing the demo.

And now this. Thankfully I haven’t received one of these letters; I guess their lawyer decided not to use as liberal a Google search to find targets. (Insert “liberal” joke here.) But a tactic like this made by a game company that’s trying to represent Christianity and evangelize to the game-playing community is just outrageous.

I can’t find words which do justice to how much this completely misses the point.