Sunday, 16 September 2012

Video Games: How They Glorify God

By Eric Hanna, S.J.
For those with only a passing familiarity with video games or for those with no familiarity at all, video games played an important role in my development: mine was among the first generations to experience electronic games in this way. It is possible for video games to have an incredibly toxic, pacifying effect on the human person, causing one to withdraw from reality. One the other hand, such games can also have an exceptionally beneficial effect, communicating ideas and promoting interaction between people in remarkably novel and nurturing ways. Video games, when part of a balanced life, are fuel for the imagination.

The Christian response to the phenomena of video games and different kinds of interactive media should be the same as it has been for books, movies and TV. Learn the medium and use it responsibly for the glory of God. But one aspect should never be forgotten: having fun glorifies God! Just look at five-year-olds running around a playground.

When I played video games as a child, I mostly played them with my siblings. Even my parents gave it a try and ended up playing puzzle games together pretty regularly. Games can be played on one's own but a simple way to counter-balance any isolating effects they may have is to get together with people to enjoy them. Single-player games with compelling stories make great spectator activities as the group of watchers come together to see what happens next.

Another form of balance is empty space. As children, my siblings and I had a big yard to run around in and plenty of unstructured time in which to use our imaginations and invent our own activities. Games were a starting point from which our own imaginary adventures took off, as were books and television. All of these media were held in balance with times of quiet. We had many contexts in which to process our experiences and create our own.

As I grew older, I came to be very engaged by how certain games communicated story. As new games came out, player choices began to have real consequences to the way the story turned out. Game designers began to play with the ideas of how selfish or selfless choices have their respective appeals and drawbacks. Selfish players tended to reap quick rewards but sabotaged long-term relationships, while the selfless course was often more difficult to execute but yielded unexpected rewards later on. Game makers attempted to communicate what they thought was a truth about life and its choices.

Many games do not present such a morally complex world, because it is pretty fun just to smash stuff. It depends what you want out of your game. Plenty of people healthily take a break from rational thinking for awhile and see a silly or thrilling movie, to return to real life invigorated. And on the other side of the coin, people also enjoy experiencing a compelling story with an artistic message. If you know what to look for, you can select either of these experiences healthily.

There are many poor games that may or may not be fun to play but convey stories which are subpar excuses to justify violence. Just as there are bad books or movies that do the same. The best defence against these is critical development. My parents always involved me in conversations discussing the relative merit or lack thereof of stories that we saw in media. These discussions helped me understand how my thoughts and emotions were being moved by the media I consumed. This kind of awareness is easy to cultivate and it doesn't take much of a critical eye to distinguish well-written, engaging stories from trite and shallow ones. When the consumers have critical eyes, they will have a much more positive experience of the medium.

A good game combines a well-written story with the elements of fun and puzzle-solving that permit the player to see things from new perspectives. One such game that stands out in my memory is Super Nintendo's Chrono Trigger. It's available on many devices, and you can play it for free using an SNES emulator program on your computer. Chrono Trigger communicates the story of a whole world by having the heroes travel back and forth through time to see that world's history unfold. The causes and effects of historical events, as well as the personal motivations of people, are explored. One of the “evil” villain characters experiences a gradual redemption and joins the side of good, while well-meaning actions have unforeseen consequences that must be faced. All the while, the player is challenged to solve puzzles by thinking about time in a creative, non-linear fashion.

Chrono Trigger

Nowadays, I'm excited to see what video games are up to as the technology of the medium improves. I had a wonderful time playing Portal, which challenged my perception of space in new ways and did so while conveying some extremely well-written macabre humour. The notion of a tragedy was meaningfully explored in Shadow of the Colossus in which the hero fights giant monsters as labours to restore life to his beloved who has passed away; as the story goes on, the monsters seem noble and sympathetic and the labours seem more and more part of a devil's bargain. And I've rarely had as much fun as I had rolling up cars and trees into a giant snowball in Katamari Damacy. The list of imaginative and delightful experiences goes on and on.


Shadow of the Colossus

Katamari Damacy

The point of these examples is to illustrate that video games are a form of storytelling that can enrich people's lives and bring people together. There are pitfalls, as there are in any medium. But these new kinds of interaction represent an excellent opportunity to creatively engage with and explore the human story.

God is at hand when we seek the truth with an open heart. And I think the exploration of the truth is greatly improved if it is also undertaken with a sense of fun.

1 comment:

  1. Ahh just amazing views that how video games glorify god. Shadow of the Colossus
 is an perfect example to clear the vision about this !