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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?


Review of The Shivah November 2, 2006

Posted by joshg in indie games, Judaism, retro games.
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About a month ago, I mentioned The Shivah, an adventure game that deals strongly with issues of Judaism, and faith in general. (“deals strongly with issues”? Gah, I’ve written too many English essays lately!) To my surprise, Dave Gilbert left a comment offering a review copy, and I gladly took him up on it. The long and the short of it is that I got to play through the entirety of what is not only an excellent indie adventure game, but also one of the best examples of portraying faith through a game that I’ve ever seen.

So, a review (after the break)!


The Rabbi, in the Library, with the Menorah September 16, 2006

Posted by joshg in indie games, Judaism.
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Quoting from the Manifesto Games writeup:

Rabbi Stone Has a Crisis of Faith

Before we go any farther, please notice the headline. When was the last time you heard a game described in remotely similar terms?

The Shivah is an old-style graphical adventure game by Davelgil Games. It’s your everyday “Rabbi questions his faith and becomes a murder suspect” sort of adventure game plot (which is to say, unlike pretty much any game plot ever).

If you’re an old-school PC gamer like myself, you’ll quickly be able to look past the dated graphics – in fact, they might even be a nostalgic throwback to the days of Lucasarts and Sierra adventures. And if you’re interested in works that explore the nature of faith, you’ll probably be hooked immediately by the game’s beginning. What other game opens with a film noir intro speech, follows it up with the Problem of Evil and a confession of lost faith, adds a dash of sarcastic dialogue and then throws in a murder investigation that includes a large donation to the Rabbi in the victim’s will (just in case the hero wasn’t conflicted enough for you yet)?