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The Escapist on faith and philosophy in games April 6, 2007

Posted by joshg in Christianity, Judaism, mainstream games.
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The newest issue of online gaming publication The Escapist focuses on religion and philosophy within gaming. The articles vary from thought-provoking to curious to strangely silly. The two articles that I found the most worth reading were “Jesus was not a gamer” by Joe Blancato, and “A Lack of Faith: Why Christian Games are Doomed to Fail” by Lara Crigger.

“Jesus was not a gamer” pokes a bit at the tendency we have to pray to whatever god/God we know of for help in winning games, and then dives into a survey of how religion and games have mixed historically around the world. The article gives some fascinating examples. I finally have some clue as to what a dreidl is, and while I had heard of the ancient Egyptian game of Senet before, I didn’t realize that the rules had actually been reconstructed. (The article links to a Flash version of the game, but at the time of writing this it seems to be down.)

Interestingly, Blancato looks for a gaming connection to Christianity and finds that there seems to be none. He attributes it at least partially to Christianity’s underground beginnings, but isn’t that the exact circumstances in which he says that Judaism invented the dreidl? I don’t know how deeply the two situations are parallel, though, so maybe I’m misunderstanding.

“A Lack of Faith” is, initially, a pretty harsh criticism of the current state of Christian games. But looking past the nasty subtitle and the Left Behind: Eternal Forces abuse, Crigger actually dives into what I believe to be a fundamental challenge for Christian games, or faith-based games in general. Are Christian games willing and able to create a deep and meaningful look at what it means to have a crisis of faith? The article takes a close look at the story of Job as an example of what a truly challenging faith story looks like, and holds that up as a measure. Ultimately, Crigger is advocating what (I think) I’ve been trying to cheer on via this blog all along – for games to create a deeper and more meaningful representation of what faith is, how it turns your life inside out.

One thing I’d mention is that I think the article doesn’t do justice to just how hard that goal might be to achieve, especially in a Christian context. Crigger brings up this core question from the look at Job:

If by being good, you can entirely avoid misfortune, what distinguishes righteousness from commerce, a mere business transaction between you and God?

Certainly struggling with this question is what makes the book of Job so challenging. Unfortunately, in a slightly different light it’s also what makes creating a compelling Christian faith story so challenging as well. Both game rules and computer systems are excellent at creating representations of predictable, mathematical relationships. But if we try to embody a story of faith with a living and incalculable God in the rules of a game, how do we distinguish righteousness from commerce? How do we keep our representation of prayers from being “mere business transaction(s)” in an economy of game mechanics?


Thoughts from the Left Behind: EF demo January 6, 2007

Posted by joshg in Christianity, mainstream games, prayer.
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I’m back from a nice Christmas spent with family, and I finally tried out the Left Behind: Eternal Forces demo. I guess it felt like an obligation at this point to at least try it, but the demo didn’t seem to pull any surprises on my point of view.

The prayer mechanic worked as I’d heard, and I have mixed feelings about it. It’s a simple model of both prayer and the effects of prayer, which manages to convey some interesting messages. Units need to pray regularly to keep from falling away into neutrality, which expresses how a Christian needs to keep in active contact with God to maintain their faith. (I like this.) On the other hand, prayer never actually does anything external to the unit in question – ie. no healing prayer, no asking for divine intervention. Admittedly, this is hard to map into game rules without turning prayer into a magic-like guaranteed divine action.

(A whole lot more below the break.)


Left Behind pegged as **Violence!** December 14, 2006

Posted by joshg in Christianity, mainstream games, morality & ethics, violence.
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An article from USA Today sums up some of the controversy in Christian circles over Left Behind: Eternal Forces.

It’s hard to pick a quote when there’s so much verbal sniping going both ways, but my favorite has to be this one from The Tim LaHaye himself:

“These groups don’t attack other violent video games. Their real attack is on our theology,” says Tim LaHaye, co-author of the novels, who endorsed the game.

I think this is a case of him saying something true that implies something completely untrue. Give me a second and I’ll try to make that statement make sense.

Do these groups attack other violent video games? Well, let’s just assume that they don’t for now, although that’s probably not true of all the groups involved. Is their real attack on the Left Behind theology? Okay, sure. But does that mean that their real objection isn’t to the violence? Nay, says I. The issues of violence and theology aren’t independant here – the way that violence is used as part of gameplay is a theological message.

LeHaye has a good reason to try and deflect the notion that the objection to this game stems from the general issue of “Violent Video Games”. For some, it probably does, but the reason that Christian groups are placing this game higher on their moral agendas than, say, Dawn of War certainly isn’t because Left Behind is more violent. But the fact that this is an attack on theology certainly doesn’t mean that it can be brushed aside, thinking, “Oh, that’s one of those academic theological differences that Christians don’t agree on, anyway.”

The theological topic is incredibly relevant: when does our faith justify violence?

Don’t try and tell me that issue is purely academic in our world today. I’ll laugh.

What Every (Christian?) Parent Needs To Know About Video Games September 8, 2006

Posted by joshg in Christianity, mainstream games.
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Via GameSetWatch comes news of what looks to be a very balanced and informative book about – as the title says – What Every Parent Needs To Know About Video Games.

The book is published by a Christian publisher, and its website includes an except from the book. Judging by the glowing review from GameSetWatch and from the introduction, it looks like exactly the information I’ve wished I could hand to parents who don’t know what to do with these video game things their kids are spending so much time on.

The author brings to light both sides of the current video game law controversies without slighting either side. He describes his own passion for gaming with brief glimpses of the game worlds he visits regularly. In short, it looks like exactly the book I would have felt driven to write, had someone else not finally done a good job of it!

This will end up on my To Buy list; if it ends up in my hands, I’ll give a fuller review then.

Bible Adventure Lives! July 28, 2006

Posted by joshg in Christianity.
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GameSetWatch has an interview with Adventure International’s Scott Adams, who you may (if you’ve been around a while) remember as being the author of the first commercial text adventure, Adventureland.

Scott Adams’ current project is The Inheritance: SAGA Bible Adventure #1, a new title based on the Old Testament.

What can you tell me about your newest project, The Inheritance: SAGA Bible Adventure #1?

I have the prologue done and have not worked much on it in the last few years. Just in the last month have I picked it up again.

Not much more detail is known than that, as far as I know, but count me as intrigued.

Hands-On Info on Left Behind: Eternal Forces July 12, 2006

Posted by joshg in Christianity, morality & ethics.
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Kotaku’s Brian Crecente has taken a brief hands-on look at the gameplay of Left Behind: Eternal Forces.

Stow the pitchforks, turns out all of that talk about Left Behind: Eternal Forces being a disguised hate-game is a bunch of crap. I just spent a few hours meeting with some of the Left Behind Games folks about their religion-themed real-time strategy title, and while it’s chockfull of subtle Christian messaging and even some overt proselytizing, it’s not at all about running around killing heathens and metrosexuals.

It looks like there are some interesting messages in the gameplay itself.  For the good guys, killing anyone (including the ‘enemy’) will actually cause spiritual harm to themselves, whereas converting enemy units will enhance your spirituality.  The spiritual harm done can be managed, so you can still use violence to stop the Antichrist’s minions, but it certainly isn’t the “kill the infidels!” message that some people had assumed.  There are some other interesting details worth checking out in the article.

Now I’m conflicted.  I still don’t like the overall theology of the Left Behind fiction, but the game sounds like it’ll be more interesting than I had expected.  An actual anti-violence message in an RTS?  Who do I have to shmooze to get a review copy so I can make up my mind whether to like this thing or not?

L, R, L, A, A, B, Jump (to conclusions) June 23, 2006

Posted by joshg in Christianity, morality & ethics.
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Kotaku, the game news blog of offensive colors (and often, language; don't say I didn't warn), points out news of what they refer to as "spyware" in Left Behind: Eternal Forces.

More after the break on why I think that's stretching the terminology a bit far. (more…)

Rick Warren’s Left Behind: Kill Everyone June 14, 2006

Posted by joshg in Christianity.
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No, this post's headline doesn't make sense. But neither does this article, and yet for some reason it's migrated from blog to more-notable-blog as though it's actually sane. I had seen the original post come up on GameSetWatch, who realized that perhaps this article is jumping to some wacky conclusions. But that was weeks ago, so I was pretty surprised to see it continue to pop up unexpectedly.

I'm not sure why so many people are jumping on this bandwagon of claiming that LB:EF sets up a "convert or die" scenario. As far as I know, the game does encourage you to convert other citizens, and you also fight back against the Evil One World Order government's army, which is actively hunting you down to kill you. So, okay, you kill "infidels" (a term I'm pretty sure the game itself doesn't use), but basically in self-defense.

And from what I've heard, the game punishes you for killing civilians, which is a far cry from the "you might as well kill 'em, they're going to hell anyway" mentality that Hutson's article describes. And for what it's worth, most RTS games I've played simply ignore civilian casualties, so one could easily argue that they're going against genre conventions and placing a greater value on human life than many other games do.

And honestly, I don't even know what to say about the effort Hutson makes to associate Rick Warren with this game. Frankly, who cares? I'm not a fan of megachurches, I read The Purpose-Driven Life and didn't see why it was worth the hype, but I don't see any reason to demonize Warren to the point that some hazy connection-by-degrees-of-association merits writing about.

Catholic Catechism Educational Game June 6, 2006

Posted by joshg in Christianity.
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Via Serious Games Source:

Catholic publisher Silver Burdett Ginn Religion and Third Day Games announced that the companies will hold national training sessions to introduce Catholic educators to the The Gospel Champions series of educational computer games that use action adventure gameplay to educate children by recreating the Gospel stories they hear in Mass.

Gospel Champions is a series of 3D action / adventure style games that, apparently, recreates popular Bible stories. I'm grabbing the demo as we speak, so maybe I'll give it a mini-review later on. I think it's an excellent concept that has the potential to give kids a deeper awareness of the context and the emotional impact these stories have, which is easily missed when reading a writing style that seems terse and undescriptive to the modern ear. (more…)

Looking back at old news, and a rant about “projects” May 23, 2006

Posted by joshg in Christianity, Islam.
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Since it feels like this site hasn't dealt with a faith other than Christianity yet, I thought I'd link to an old post from Water Cooler Games on a group making Islam-themed games. The Islamgames site seems to have disappeared, and I didn't get to play the games, so I can't offer any new opinion on them other than to refer to Ian Bogost's take on things.

It's interesting that one commenter felt that the Islamic theme was superficially added after the game was made – it had no real relevance to the gameplay itself. It sounds similar to the phenomenon I've seen before in some Christian games.

(Big dump of personal opinion on how this comes about after the break.) (more…)