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What a waste…

August 8, 2010

http://www.poptheology.com/2010/02/halos-and-avatars/

I have no desire whatsoever to read this book.

I find that whenever academics tend to get a hold of video games, they always have to be explained and examined in the most obtuse and obfuscating way possible. I mean, really, Bioshock and utilitarianism? Sure, there’s lots of Ayn Rand in there, but those pieces are simply part of the narrative experience. They are not about the actual idea of video games as a theological device.

In fact, if you want to start talking about theology and video games, you are basically limited to whatever narrative the game presents or the aesthetic appeal. When a person plays a video game, it’s much like watching a movie – we watch, we see the story, we reflect upon the possible meanings of what is being presented before us.

Patrick Gann of RPGfan.com, for example, wrote an excellent article entitled “Dethroning the Almighty: Or, the “Unfinished Battle With God Syndrome.” In this work, he describes the tendency in JRPGs to having the “death of God” as a important plot point. Although he doesn’t take the matter to its fullest logical conclusion, it’s certainly a step in the right direction. The “death of God” has been a popular topic for Nietzcheans and philosophy class, but how many other entertainment sources have sought to express such a taboo idea in a real concrete and discrete way inside a narrative?

What about game mechanics? Why does it seem that the way the game actually works is never a point of discussion? Let’s take Nier, for example (and spoilers for those who haven’t played it yet – I’m warning you): the narrative made me feel as if I was the character in his quest to save his daughter from a mysterious disease. However, there was more to the story than that simple motivation. What one discovers is that you, the main character, are a mass murderer. You have slain hundreds of humans, with souls, whose only chance to regain their bodies was the person whom you were cloned from 1,300 years ago. Yet, you have to continue playing the game with this knowledge. It’s a pretty stirring and emotional experience, to be sure. (End of spoilers). Again, this level of interaction doesn’t exist with film since you are merely an observer rather than a player. As in life, it is your actions that cause things to happen in the game, even if they are not under your total control.

Or, you might say, it always feel like the writers of these articles and/or books are outside observers; they don’t understand video game culture, how it can embody consumerism to its greatest extremes, how single screen shots are used as Pavlovian devices for masses of people, how the quality of “games” has deteriorated into some kind of melting pot of movie, music, and game, and how the whole industry is going to collapse someday just from the sheer dearth of great material. Most games today aren’t “games”.

The only reason anyone wants to touch these things is because now they’re “pop culture”. For a fleeting moment, they will be “theologized” and then they will be gone. For me, however, they will always be an integral part of my life and my growth as a Christian for myriad reasons, that I hope to express in this here blog. Hopefully, I can express why such books and discussions, of avatars and the like, are just retreads of philosophical and theological discussions that have already happened. Explaining stories in-depth, the experience of playing that avatar, is key, not the actual idea of an “avatar”. What is the personal experience of the player? As much as relationships are important in Christianity, such personal experiences are integral to the video game. That’s what I hope to do, anyway. Stick around…

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2 Comments
  1. Whoa, I’ve been cited!

    No, I was not enough a narcissist to google my own name. But my wife on the other hand… I guess she thought I was famous. Hence, the finding of this blog.

    Anyway, sir (or madam), I would encourage you to write in this blog. A lot. More content would be awesome. I would also encourage you to just avoid the voices of most Christianity’s “pop culture critics,” particularly from the Focus On The Family camp (I think PluggedIn is part of that…?). It’s just not worth your time.

    In fact, the only good obviously-Christian coverage of pop culture I’ve found is the Movies section of christianitytoday, and occasionally RelevantMag has some good stuff. Both of these publications, though, have been too shy to really touch gaming.

  2. Zachery Oliver permalink

    Thanks for the comments!

    I got a bit busy after I wrote this blog entry, but I plan on writing something relatively soon.

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