Worship through gaming?

Yesterday I posted the following questions on both my Facebook wall, and my Twitter feed:

Is it possible that playing/making a video game could be considered an act of worship? and, is it possible for a video game to stir or invoke a feeling of worship in the same way a painting/picture or a song can?

It was a question that had been on my mind for a big part of the day – having come to mind during a discussion of worship (and the variety of things that my church does to create an atmosphere where people can worship God) during the creative ministries team (band, painters, dancers, and other creatives) practice.

My opinion* is that games have the potential to evoke a sense of worship – after all, people have made games designed to evoke a variety of different questions and feelings, with differing levels of success – but I haven’t come across one that does at this point (I’d like to at some point in my life though – get on it Christian Game Developers!). The question of whether playing a game can be an act of worship is much more complicated to answer. On a simple level, worship is the total surrender of every aspect of a Christian’s life to God – everything we think, do, say, etc, etc. So the comment given by my friend Craig – “Considering that ‘true’ worship is how we conduct all of our lives, it then depends whether or not you would consider playing that video game a Godly event or not.” – is something that cuts straight to the heart of the matter. As it is, I’m not sure where I stand on that – many games released probably aren’t the best things to expose to a mind that seeks to put God first, and there’s the whole escapism thing, and the addiction/compulsion issue, both of which complicate the matter further.

I believe that a Christian Developer^ working on a game who dedicates their passion for the project at hand, and the work they put into it, to God’s glory is performing an act of worship – much as in the same way a Christian painter worships God as they paint, or a Christian musician worships through practice and performance – and I believe that a game made with the intention of bringing players to a place of worship can be as effective (if not more) as a painting or a song made with the same intentions.  As for whether a Christian Gamer can worship through playing games, well, I cannot give an answer – there are too many questions to consider at this point. Maybe someone with more experience behind them, and a deeper understanding of the issues at hand, will provide an answer – maybe if no-one does, I’ll come back in a few decades with a true answer to the question.

Until then, feel free to debate it in the comments.

*Which could be taken with a grain of salt, I’m sure that people smarter and better informed than I am will argue these questions in years to come with much more authority.

^Christian denoting the developer’s faith, not the game that they are necessarily working on

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Video Game Ethics Part 2

While writing Part one of this series I realised that I have more to say on this than I thought. Sorry that Part Two has been so long in coming, between wanting to make sure of everything I wanted to say about this, and having other things to write last week, it’s taken a while. In any case, the continued thesis on the way Ethics play out in Video Games

Talking about Ethics in Video Games is always hard, since some games give you an incredible amount of freedom to make your own choices, while others restrict you to pretty much just shooting/stabbing enemies in linear corridors. The things that I said about Fallout: New Vegas (and I’m given to understand, the Fallout Series in general) aren’t true about the Assassins Creed Series – and that has the potential to undermine everything I have to say on this topic. Most of the examples I would prefer to draw upon (being familiar with them from personal experience) when I discuss the way in which games can provide space for a broad range of ethical or moral are from a single genre (RPGs). Many of the other games I’ve played either have events with the potential to be significant moral choices already made as part of the story they are telling (which is worse if the player doesn’t even have control of the character at this point, but non-interactive storytelling in an interactive medium is a topic I don’t want to get into right now), or characters who have interesting moral and ethical perspectives, and some amazing character arcs, while the player character is a cardboard cutout with little to no personality of their own. Not to say that either of those cannot be good games – two examples that come to mind would be the Assassins Creed games for the former, and Starcraft and Warcraft 3* for the latter – but they don’t offer much in the way of player choice concerning the ethical decisions of their character(s).

Even among the examples of ethical or moral choice that I could give there are differences. Mass Effect had both a ‘good’ and an ‘evil’ slider, both of which increased based on the actions of the player – since both only went up, the results of both sliders showed how you acted (which another blogger so wonderfully explained in this post – it’s closer to the end). The KotOR games both featured an alignment slider (from light-side to dark-side – being a Star Wars game) that went up or down based on the player’s actions, with bonuses given when a character had a high score at either end of the scale – making any real choice other than ‘am I going to use heal or lightning more this play-through’ impossible. Compare both of these to my post about New Vegas, which is a good indicator of both the more recent Fallout games, as well as The Elder Scrolls games (which were made by the same developer). I don’t have a major problem with any of these games as games, all of them offered me good choices which I did sit and think about, but I think that we are still waiting for a game that does this perfectly (or, at least, well enough that it doesn’t feel that I have too much freedom, or that my choices boil down to being either either a complete doormat or a complete jerk – since swapping cripples me from a gameplay perspective)

What I’m saying is that games as a medium could do more to explore the ethics and morality of the player, as well as generally . There are some good examples where players are free to express themselves – I spent a thousand words talking about one of them two weeks ago – but I honestly would like to see more games that allow the player to make these sorts of decisions. I’d like to play more games that offer me a choice which causes me to sit and consider exactly what I really think and believe about a subject, and make a decision based on how I would react to being in that position (on any of the sides involved). I’d like to be so drawn into the world that I can make choices that I already have firm opinions on easily and quickly, without being concerned for how this will affect my ‘morality slider’, and whether it will cripple me in the future.

I’m not sure exactly how to wrap this up, but if you feel the same way, or if you have an opinion on any of this stuff, feel free to jump in and comment, see if we can get a discussion going……

*Which have no player character, since both of which are story driven, character based Strategy Games (The player is simply the giant hand which order the armies around, and nothing more).

Video Game Ethics Part 1

This is a post that I’ve been meaning to write for a while, and it’s been one that has been intermittently on my mind depending on what game I’m currently working my way through. I’m currently playing something that’s brought this topic to mind quite strongly – Fallout: New Vegas – so now is as good a time as any to talk about the way that someone’s sense of ethics applies to games. I’m primarily going to talk about my own experiences with this, but I will go into some of the observations I’ve made watching others play games, and into some of the more cliche aspects of the way that players generally act within the worlds provided to them by games. But first, I want to set the scene for New Vegas, as – since it’s the game that’s re-sparked the desire to talk about this – I’ll be framing a fair bit of the discussion around it.

Fallout: New Vegas takes place in an alternate reality where culturally the world never left the ‘vibe’ of the 1950’s, but advanced scientifically at a rapid rate. Set in the year 2281 – over 200 years after the ‘Great War’, which left America (and by implication the rest of the world) scarred by the aftermath of the nuclear warheads that dominated the final hours of the war, leaving a wasteland in it’s wake – the player character wanders the open world that the game provides, learning to deal with the residual radiation, the scarcity of food, and the brutality of the societies that have sprung up in the aftermath (humans having survived in fallout shelters called ‘vaults’) in the wasteland surrounding Las Vegas (which, through the machinations of one of it’s leaders, survived the bombs). I could speak about the setting and various aspects of the game for the entire blog post, but I’ll just post this link to a wiki page for anyone interested in finding out more.

Since it’s a Role-playing Game (RPG), New Vegas allows you to create a character of your own, and shape them into whatever you want them to be over the course of the game. You start with no affiliations to any of the factions in the world (either major or minor), and very few skills and abilities. Over the course of the game, your decisions shape the world around you for good or ill, and by the end of the game you have brought one of the three main factions into complete control over Vegas and the Mojave – or destroyed them all, leaving total anarchy with you as the most dangerous person of them all. You meet a lot of people, some of whom will try to kill you, some of whom will help you if you stay friendly with them (or do something for them), and some who are happier to leave you be (as long as you give them the same courtesy). You are free to do whatever you wish to – most of the NPCs in this world are killable, anything that can be carried is there to take. There is a justice system (if it can be called that), but it requires someone seeing you commit a crime (theft or murder primarily), and it results in everybody in the area (or in the wider faction, if your relationship with them is poor enough) turning hostile and trying to kill you – which if you’ve spent any time leveling any combat skill isn’t too much of a hassle for the player if they know what they’re doing (as somewhat demonstrated here and here), and especially once they’ve passed the half-way point of the game.

A lot of people I know would criticize a game that gives anyone this kind of freedom – to essentially be a sociopath with little consequences (the lack of places to sell items and buy ammo would be the only…..oh wait, there’s an unkillable merchant who will sell you stuff no matter what….never mind) – and there are certainly people who would play using that mentality. I can’t talk about them, however, since I have never felt comfortable playing that way, and there aren’t many people who actually own up to that sort of play-style anyway. There is one person I know of who played through a previous Fallout game without killing a single creature (with the exception of the one you need to for the combat tutorial), which he documented here – it wasn’t a completely non-violent play-through (which I don’t think it would be possible to do), but his character’s hands ended up being completely unsullied by blood, human or otherwise.

My personal play-style involves putting myself into the characters shoes, and making decisions the way that I would if I was in that situation. I only kill human characters if they attack me first, or if combat is otherwise unavoidable – companion characters are problematic (one of them attacks members of the faction they hate on sight, others run off to attack anything hostile that they detect, even if the hostiles haven’t seen us yet), and it’s always a possibility that I could fail a skill check that avoids fighting. I’ve sided with the main faction that is the least questionable about their methods (when they get around to actually doing things, they’re bureaucratic to a fault). My character does steal occasionally, but only rarely is it truly theft (i.e. the owners are still alive), and there are some fairly decent reasons to do what the game considers theft (i.e. After stumbling upon a base owned by a faction that hated me – the one in direct opposition to the main faction I have joined – they all attacked me, and I felt that taking their equipment – which in all fairness, they weren’t using anymore – was fair in exchange for all the grief they had given me). I help others with their problems rather than just demand that they give me what I want – or take it by force or theft (both of which can be possible solutions to problems). In short, I carry my own ideas and concepts of what is wrong or right – which in themselves are informed by my relationship with Christ – into the game with me – slightly modified to match the setting, but there all the same.

So this post went a little long (over 1000 words), and I’m not quite finished taking about what I wanted to say…..looks like this will be part one of two then. Next week I’ll talk a bit more broadly about this, move away from just the one game….until then, God bless.

Science and Christianity

What’s this?? Another post, my third in as many days???* Amazing, I know. Don’t worry though, this is a short one.

The divide between Science and Christianity is a very wide one – to the point where many whom I have encountered (on both sides of the debate) say it’s really a divide between Intellectualism and Blind Stupidity (at least, that’s my understanding of their implications) – particularly in relation to the origins of the Universe, and the origins of life on this planet. I know many people who say that Science must be right (and thus the Bible must be wrong), and just as many people who has the Bible has to be right (and thus Science has no option to be wrong unless it agrees). This is difficult for me, as I walk in both worlds – I love me some Science, the harder it is to wrap my head around the better in some regards, and I have a personal faith in Jesus Christ, and believe that everything the Bible says it true. Knowing this, it may come as no surprise that I have a different opinion to both parties of the debate.

What I believe, as far as the formation of the Universe and the Origin of Life on Earth goes, is that both Science and the Scriptures are correct – in their own way. The Genesis account of creation is not so concerned with HOW the universe and life came to be, as it is concerned with WHO brought them about, and WHY he did so – there are many different things I can point to as evidence for this reading’s plausibility, but I want to keep this short (ask me again sometime). Science is concerned with the HOW, but not the WHO or WHY – simply because asking about the WHO or WHY means going towards subjective opinions, which Science isn’t meant to do (being meant to take objective information and confirm facts from those). This brings my view on this subject to ‘I believe – without a doubt – the God brought the universe into being by His Word, and that he formed the Earth according to His will. What I do not – and cannot – know is the exact details of how He did so. If the Genesis account is 100% correct, then awesome! If the Big Bang Theory and the Theory of Evolution are plausible ways in which God could have done it, then that’s awesome too! If it’s a completely different method that no-one has proposed or figured out yet, that’s awesome as well!’

Some might say that I am skipping the issue somewhat – sitting on the fence to avoid offending both sides – but this isn’t the case. You would be surprised how many Christians I know that dismiss my views on this outright – because I don’t affirm that every word of Scripture is 100% accurate without metaphor or other literary devices to make a hard topic easier to understand – and how many Non-Christians that I know that wonder how I can affirm that their views are plausible, but still choose to believe in an all-powerful Creator that holds the Universe together. The path I walk is one that has a tendency to alienate me from both sides of the argument….but it’s one that I have spent many years personally wrestling with, and my convictions have come out stronger for it.

 

*For those questioning, my third post across two blogs.

Some unfinished business

Before I move into a new year of blogging, I thought I should finish my wrapping up posts from 2011. Sorry it’s so late everyone…..

So, my regrets from last year, and my hopes for the one ahead……

Looking back on 2011, there are a few things that I regret. Chief amongst these is the loss if contact with a few of the people that I had come to know so well through my online games – most of them moving on after no longer having the time or inclination to play, and a few that just kinda stopped plating without warning. With the games I’m playing, there isn’t a lot of ways to connect outside of the game (a few games use Skype for real time communication, but I don’t play those anymore – see previous post), so when someone leaves for any reason, more than 90% of the time there’s no way to keep in touch with them (not that I’m great at keeping in touch with friends to start with…..). Whenever someone leaves one of the games I play, I can’t help but think of all of the missed opportunities I had to talk about God with them (often ignoring the conversations I did have with them), and feel some guilt and helplessness when I realise that all I can do now is pray that God brings someone else into their life to build on whatever foundation that He laid through what I’ve said.

I also regret not posting here (and at the Digital Missions Blog) more often. I’ve had several different ideas for posts over the past year, and either haven’t been near a computer, or haven’t found enough time at a keyboard to finish the post, and don’t go back to it later (and then the half written post languishes in the drafts folder forever). I’m working through a couple of the more recent of the latter, but the rule with the way I write is generally – unless an idea really sticks in my mind, or is incredibly current in the wider world (or what passes for the various subcultures I consider myself part of), or I have someone pull me up and remind me that I was gonna write something  (Thanks Craig!) – once an idea has passed on from my mind, I’m not going to come back to it, and thus it will never get written. Hopefully I can be a bit more regular in posting on both of my blogs in 2012, but – as always – I make no promises about posting schedules.

So, enough of my regrets (at least, the ones that I can still remember weeks later), on to my hopes for the year…..

First things first, thanks to some mucking around with what my Bible College course needs, I’m finished with college (for now), and will be graduating with an Advanced Diploma of Ministry in early March. This is the end of a three year journey for me, and one that I’ve had a lot of fun with, but I am glad to have this chapter of my life behind me for a lot of reasons (which I won’t go into here, cause this post is getting a little long…….). I’m also hoping to get an Electrical Apprenticeship soon (which again, I won’t talk  much about here, it’s sort of outside the scope of what I see this blog as), it’s something that feels right for me, and I know that it’s where God wants me to be for at least the next 4-5 years of my life.

There are some big things for this year – things that I’ve been thinking about for ages that finally feel right; and things that I’ve never thought about before, but I’m thinking about them now, and I know I’m thinking about them for a reason. Some of them I don’t want to talk about (cause they’re either more personal than I want to talk about, or they’re just unfinished thoughts that would end up with me rambling), and some of them aren’t ready to be talked about (either the wrong time, or more unfinished thought rambling), but I will keep you posted on some of my ideas as they progress……

So that’s my wrapping up on 2011……again, sorry it’s all so late. I look forward to seeing what I’m going to write in 2012 (hopefully finishing up on some of those drafts to start with, but I never know…..), and I hope that you all enjoy reading/commenting.

Wrapping up a year

2011 is coming to a close, and with the end of a new year comes a bit of a retrospective period for me…..I’m looking back and remembering the joys and regrets of the past year, and making plans for the year to come. Time permitting, next week I’ll try and post more about some of the regrets and thoughts about the future, but since it is Christmas (which my personal thoughts on would be another post in itself – next year maybe…)*, which is meant to be the time of the year to consider a variety of joyful occurrences, I’ll post more about the joys of the past year.

Over the course of 2011, I’ve come to know more about me through a variety of different things – some of which I’ve shared with you guys, some of which I haven’t – knowing more about myself (where I’ve come from [and how my past has shaped me to be the person I am now], where I could be going [and hope to be going] in the future, and more about who I am at a more general level), and knowing more about God (through college [as always], but also just through my interactions with Scripture, with others, and with the world around me [a lot of which was shared here]).

Over the course of 2011, I also once again started playing both Tribal Wars (which I’ve talked about here), and The West (a different game by the same company), both with the intention of being a light to the communities that form within those games. I had some ups and downs with this (which I talked about here), eventually stopping playing Tribal Wars because logging on became something I dreaded (along with the realization that it had been a while since I had actually talked to someone in game cause I couldn’t become stable enough [i.e. successful enough or lucky enough to not be taken out immediately] on any of the worlds I was playing). On The West, however, I’ve been thriving as a part of a group of towns, many of which are really great people, whom I enjoy spending time with – and whom I look forward to spending more time talking to over the coming (insert unknown period of time here – unlike Tribal Wars, The West is much slower paced).

I’ve also become more acquainted with the wider online community (which I maintain exists, it’s just outside of social networking), mostly through following blogs (a few of which can be found in the links on the side), and it’s been encouraging to find more Christians out there doing the same sort of stuff that I am, and a few doing different things along the same theme, and some doing things that are completely different that I love to read about. It’s been great to interact and dialogue with a few of them over the year, and I hope to continue to talk to these guys, and discover even more people over the coming year. I suggest you give them a look, and I’ll be sure to add anything else I find to my links box….

There’s not much more that I can really say…..many of the other joys that I’ve experienced over the year have been intensely personal, or are very hard to describe in words, or would be simply repeating my old posts (which, if I may say so myself, are well written and should be read by all of you). If I have time in the busy week between Christmas and New Year (read, can get to and use a computer for any significant length of time), I’ll post more about my sorrows and regrets, before looking at what I could see happening in 2012 in early January….

Merry Christmas to all of you.

Fr33Lanc3r

*If you ever want to know, you may need to hold me to that…….and not let me try and get out of it……

Abolitionist Sunday

Yesterday was Abolitionist Sunday – a day about raising awareness about the continuing problem of slavery in our world today. As this is something very much on the hearts and minds of many people from my church, we set aside both services yesterday so that a group from our church could talk about slavery, and what we can do about it.

This was a bit of a challenge for me. I’ve been aware of the fact that there is an illegal slave trade going on around the world (that’s affected more lives than the English-American slave trade that many people condemn outright) for some time, and I’ve struggled a bit lot with the question of ‘What can I do about it?’ Yesterday the speakers encouraged everyone to think about how they can use whatever gifts they have (whatever is in their hands – which I can’t tell if it’s Christianese or not) to do their part towards the abolition of modern slavery. I spent a lot of time yesterday thinking about this, and (as usual for me) I finally came up with an idea while I was trying to sleep. I’m still considering this, but I thought I’d share it anyway.

I’m currently thinking – somewhat inspired by the ongoing Desert Bus For Hope (A gaming marathon that raises money for Child’s Play) –  that maybe I could set up some form of Gaming Marathon for Children that don’t get a childhood (the situation that most distressed me about slavery being that most of todays slaves are children – who are enslaved to fight in wars, work to produce coffee, tea, and many others, or as prostitutes). I’m still working through details, but the money would go towards one of the many groups working to bring people out of slavery and help them through the trauma their experiences produced. I’m thinking about playing through one of the games of my own early childhood (Word/Math Rescue; Commander Keen; etc) in a sort of ‘revisit my own childhood for those who don’t have one’ theme – and doing something along the lines of the more donations that come in, the longer I (and anyone else who wants to join in – possibly taking shifts for health reasons) play for. I might even (if this idea comes to fruition) set it up so the experience is taped and posted on Youtube or something – although if that happens maybe something else should happen throughout as well……….

As I said, this is a halfbaked idea that came to me in the middle of the night, so I’m completely open to input/suggestions/critisisms/etc. But I do want to encourage all of you to make a stand on the issue of modern slavery, and use whatever gifts you have, whatever positions you hold, and whatever influence you can exert to affect a change in the world – whether large or small.