Full Circle

Small Note: I’m playing around with the theme of the blog – almost a total overhaul of a lot of the little things – I’m liking the changes so far, but let me know if there’s anything that doesn’t work – if you’re in a different web browser, etc

I’ve had a fairly interesting day – one part of which I found interesting enough that I think it warrants the most blog posts I’ve ever written in a week. I did a variety of different things, some part of commitments I have made to ministries of the Church I attend, some for fun (it is a Saturday after all). One event from the day stands out from the rest, however, in that – thinking about it a few hours later – it seems I have now come full circle in regards to some of my online goings on.

Yesterday I posted about my stance on the interaction between Science and Christianity in regards to the origins of the universe, and the origins of life on Earth. What I didn’t share was that the aformentioned post was directly inspired by a Facebook friend’s status update on the matter. While I respect his views on the subject (which he didn’t really go into), many of his other Facebook friends were affirming his stance, and I felt that I should share my own with them…..when I logged onto Facebook this morning, I found that one of his friends has called me out on my point of view, and engaged me in an argument between his hardline creationist stance, and my ‘Genesis 1-3 isn’t concerned with the HOW’s of creation, so science may be right for all we know’ stance. I honestly can say that I had answered all of his questions as completely as I could (not being an expert on science) with as much tact and sincerity as I could, yet his responses seemed (to me) to become more and more agressive, to the point where he seemed (to me) to stop talking rationally, and instead began an emotionally charged rant on the failings of Science to point towards any conclusive evidence for anything that cannot be observed.

This is the second time this has happened to me during my history of interacting with others online – the first time being the very first time I decided to voice my opinion online, coincidentally about the same subject, while I was meant to be studying for my final exams at school. I was on a unofficial forum set up by students to help other students (with exam tips, copies of past papers, general tips for each subject, etc), when I discovered a very long discussion about religion – particularly the arguments against any form of religion – which I jumped into with a defense of the existence of God (which in hindsight was very close to Pascal’s Wager). The discussion turned to evolution (as they all seem to do), and I stated my thoughts on the matter as succinctly as I could (my thoughts at that point being a less refined rendition of what I posted yesterday, I’ve had over 4 years since then thinking about this sort of stuff). Eventually the discussion turned into an argument where either side wasn’t going to be persuaded either way, and I made the tactful decision to just leave the conversation before either of us got too emotional.

In both these discussions, it quickly became heated, and it became apparent to me that neither side was going to accept the other’s position (to the point where everyone ignored statements they couldn’t refute or didn’t want to talk about), and I simply bowed out rather than continue to waste effort simply making myself (and the other people) more and more frustrated and bitter. The only difference between these two conversations was that one of them was had with a self-professed Atheist, and the other with a Christian with a hardline creationist view of the world. In fact, I think the Atheist may have been more civil than the Christian (but this is going back 4 years, so my memory may be a bit hazy). I’d always thought that Christians would at least be civil when it comes to discussing matters of less importance in the overall scheme of things (as I consider the whole debate to be) – that ripping you hear is the sound of some of my illusions being stripped away….

In any case, it appears that I’ve come full circle arguing about evolution and the origins of the universe. I only wish it had taken longer than 4 years to get there…..

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catching up

Sorry it’s been so long since I last posted, life’s been a bit hectic lately – so once again we have a (possibly long) catch-up post. Here goes…..

I’ve gotten involved again this year with the online game Tribal Wars – something that forces beyond my control (such as my brother completely using the download limit in a day early in December) caused me to quit at the end of last year. It’s been great getting involved again, and ministry wise I’ve learnt a lot from the mistakes I had made the last time I played. So I’m not involved in running the tribe I am a part of, and I’m once again simply putting out an offer to talk to, and pray for the other people who are in the tribe. The response so far has been interesting – the first time I posted the offer there were over 200 replies to the forum post within a couple of days (an impressive feat – as people who are connected with forums of any sort would know). While most of these replies were people trying to bait me into saying something rash, there were some genuine questions about what I believed, and a few of the other Christians in the tribe joined in, and were encouraged to come to the defense of both me, and the faith that we share – which is encouraging in itself. I’ve also had several people – Christian and Non-Christian, take me up on the offer to just talk (about all sorts of things, from serious things, to a random swapping of jokes), and the offer to pray for specific issues that they are going through. From a gaming perspective, the world that I have joined this time around is a ‘trial’ world that removes one of the major strategies that players use (the ability to loot and take resources from other people’s villages) – which has caused the world to be much slower, and to be more politically focused (since wars are now harder to win). This has been perfect for my playing style, since I was never very good at ‘farming’ (as the looting of other villages is called), and (while I get sick of the sheer under-handedness of the politics sometimes) there is always a lot to catch up on when I log back in of a morning, and there are very few dull moments when the politics does get into full swing.

Another thing that’s happened recently is that I’ve picked up a new series of games – a series of role playing games (i.e. I take control of a character, chose what path they take – what weapons they use, what choices they make, etc) called the ‘Fable’ series. This series is famous (in the circles of those who like games like this) for offering the player a lot of choices – i.e. your character can buy up real estate (pretty much every house, shop, tavern and landmark is for sale), take jobs doing various things (hammering swords, chopping wood, bartending, etc), take on a variety of side quests (in addition to the main storyline), and marry Non-player Characters (starting a family, which offers some small benefits to the player – for example, they will randomly buy you gifts if you keep them happy) – and I have been having a ball playing through the series (so far – I’m partway through the second game cause my brother gets upset if I get further along the story than he is). However, I have noticed something that says quite a few things about myself while I’ve been playing through these games (particularly the second one). I’m starting to feel guilty – personally – when I direct my character to take an ‘evil’ action (not whenever I do something that the game considers evil – i.e. eating food that has had animals harmed during it’s production [still not sure why that’s evil] – but when my character accidently broke down someone’s door [cause I pressed the wrong button trying to knock], I felt bad). It’s even at the point where I’m having issues with the way my brothers play the game (as two of them are currently trying to be the evilest person the game will let them be – to the point where they gun down random NPC’s in the streets), cause they shouldn’t be thinking like that. I’ve got a feeling that this might be some sort of outward sign of the change that God’s working in my life – but I’m not sure. I’ll think about it some more and get back to you – and hopefully have a few more implications of this to share with you.

Finally, I found an interesting article that links back to some of the stuff that I’ve said earlier, and you have no idea how encouraging I found it. There’s not much else to say on the subject that I haven’t already said, or isn’t covered in the article (which I encourage you all to read), other than I hope to one day be able to attend (or help out at) CGDC (Christian Game Developers Conference – the conference in question).

So thanks for reading another long post – there’s been a bit of catching up to do – and hopefully I’ll be able to post more regularly for at least the near future, so this shouldn’t be necessary until at least the next time I have several assignments and exams due in a short period of time.

Cheers,

Fr33

Giving Offence

One of the subjects I’ve been doing for college this semester is an exegesis on the Gospel of John. This weeks passage included John 8:31-58, and I am once again surprised at exactly how offensive Jesus is – particularly in two of the discussions contained in this section. In the first (John 8:31-47), Jesus turns over the religious preconceptions of the time, proclaiming that everyone in his audience is a slave, and in need of being freed. Considering that his audience has just finished celebrating one of the festivals commemorating their freedom from Egyptian slavery and the 40 years in the desert, it doesn’t seem like Jesus is off to a good start with here. His audience replies ‘we are descendants of Abraham’ – something very important for Jews even today – and that, because of this, they ‘have never been slaves to anyone’. After some discussion, Jesus’ audience repeats their statement that ‘Abraham is our father’. Jesus’ response to this is highly offensive, stating that ‘if you were sons of Abraham, you would we doing what Abraham did’, he explains that since they were trying to kill him – someone who was telling them the truth of God – they were not doing what Abraham did, rather they are following in the footsteps of their true father – the one who’s character they emulate – Satan.

The second discussion (John 8:48-59) follows on from this one, with the Jews giving the retort ‘are we right in saying you have a demon?’ -a grave insult. Jesus responds to this by saying that he does not, and by all his actions he is giving honour to God. He proclaims that he seeks only God’s glory, and that anyone who keeps his word will never die (a common theme in John). This sparks more controversy, with his audience asking whether Jesus considers himself greater than Abraham or the Prophets, all of whom died. this leads into some discussion about the Abraham and the Prophets, which prompts his audience to ridicule him, saying the Jesus ‘is not yet fifty, how can you have seen Abraham?’ Jesus’ response, which was enough to cause his audience to want to put him to death, was simply ‘very truly, I tell you, before Abraham was, I am.’ The reason that this statement caused Jesus’ audience to want him dead was simple – he used the same words that God had used to describe himself in Exodus 3, and by doing this, he declared himself equal with God.

Both of these things flew in the face of everything that the religious leaders of the day taught, and offended his audience to the core. Imagine you were in Jesus’ audience. Imagine he called you a child of the greatest evil imaginable, when you were sure you were following God – and in fact, everything you’d been taught up till this point told you that you were. And then imagine if he then claimed equality with God – who you were taught was completely sovereign and all powerful – something which is incredibly blasphemous and heretical to your ears. Jesus was incredibly offensive.

I should point out something here: Jesus is not being maliciously offensive. All he is doing is speaking the truth – the truth as God has told him to speak (as Jesus affirmed).

And we turn to today, where we live in a world where many Christians are afraid to talk about their faith, or about what they know to be true, for fear of offending people. I’m not saying that we need to go out and maliciously offend the people around us, and I’m definitely not saying that offending people is the best option for every situation (some of them actually require some tact and kindness), but I am saying that we need to start speaking God’s truth, and realise that, as a great Christian comedian once said, ‘if you’re offended by the truth, good! That means it’s working!’.

On Christian Video Games

It’s no secret that video games are one of my major interests. And if you’ve read my blog for any length of time it should be no secret that I’m a Christian. If you’ve been reading my last few posts, you should also be aware that I’m currently beginning to write a book about the way religion is depicted in games – although the total scope for that isn’t set in stone. These three things come together to form the topic that’s on my mind at the moment – Christian Video games.

I have long held that Christian Video Games would be a great thing for the Video Game industry as a whole. I’m not talking about the kind of educational games where you memorise scriptures and get in game rewards for it, but robust, entertaining games with either Christian values, or with Biblical events, at their core. I am, however, yet to see a wide variety of games that I would like to play coming out of the various Christian developers. As it stands, there have been two games that I have played and enjoyed, both of which were First-Person Shooters. There are a few games that are on my wish-list that also seem interesting, and that have a couple of different genres, but most of the games that are being produced by Christian developers are the disappointing educational games that no-one outside of a Christian environment will ever use.

The problem with the Christian Video industry at the moment, as I see it, is that the focus of the developers is wrong. As it is, they are not targeting people like me – that is, people who pick up a game to delve into a story, or to shoot things for a few hours. That demographic is one of the largest sources of income for the mainstream industry, and I’m almost certain that if a Christian company made an FPS or RPG that was based on Christian values/theology, or on biblical stories, without being in-your-face about it, the game would be supported by one of the big developers, and they would be able to make a world-wide impact. The world is searching for answers to questions of life, and they are searching almost everywhere for it. If the mainstream Games Industry can notice this, and respond by developing games about a biblical apocalypse, or about a variety of new age ideas, why can’t the Christian Developers? They don’t even have to violate their morals in order to make something like this – non-combat games are becoming more popular each day.

I guess the worst part about this is that Christians are the best friends, and worst enemies of this kind of advance in the industry. On one hand, we have groups like the Association of Christian Entertainment, who encourage their members to make games that don’t belong in the ‘educational genre’, and sponsor a yearly conference for Christians in the Games industry. I think that something like this – a group that supports both Christian development studios and Christians working for mainstream studios – will help the Christian sector produce the kinds of games that I (and hopefully many other people) would like to play, and distribute these games in such a way that anyone can get their hands on them. On the other hand, you have Christian gaming Magazines that promote the kind of senseless writing off of much of the medium that has the potential to cripple the industry irreversibly. I know there isn’t a middle ground between these two points, but it would be more helpful if Christians weren’t so two-minded on this sort of thing.

I believe that the Christian Games Industry has the potential to make a game that is more fun, and more engaging than many of the games that I have played so far in my life, and I believe that they can do that while exploring and wrestling with the diversity that I also desire in a game. I believe that this can be done with a range of different genres, styles and settings, and that the results will be awe-inspiring and thought-provoking. One of my dreams is to see this become a reality in my lifetime, and I sincerely hope that this will happen.

Video Games – not just children’s playthings

Over the past year or so (and particularly over the past few months), I’ve been becoming a lot more involved in various issues and schools of thought, many of which I’ve shared about here. One that I haven’t shared as yet has to do with video games.

Video games have long been an interest of mine, from the early 2D sidescrollers of the early 90’s to the epic RPG’s and frantic shooters of today, games have been a part of my life. Yet it’s only more recently that I’ve become more involved in the wider community surrounding games. This has accompanied a change within myself concerning the way in which I view  games – and a rather interesting one at that. I moved from using games as a method of escape from my life – particularly during my teenage years where I felt I had a lot to escape from – to seeing them as something which I can learn from. This view was further bolstered when I discovered that I was not alone in how I view games. Within the video game community – those who either develop and play games (or both) – there has long been a school of thought that believes that video games are a burgeoning artistic medium that can be every bit as valid as the movies, music, or traditional visual arts. This school of thought holds that, as an artist medium, games have the potential to enrich lives, and cause people to think (and learn) about themselves and the world around them (one example of this, which I really appreciate and identify with can be found here: http://www.escapistmagazine.com/videos/view/extra-credits/1974-Enriching-Lives ).

This has particularly hit home for me as I was playing the game ‘Dragon Age: Origins’, and several things that the game brought up caused me to think. The first one was concerning free will and the suppression of the mind. Essentially, Mages in the fantasy world Dragon Age is set in are conduits to a dangerous world, and the inhabitants of this world seek to invade the real world through them, and those who are deemed too weak to defend themselves against these dangerous creatures are forcibly ‘made tranquil’ – the things that make them special are stripped away (their personality, emotions, ability to cast magic, etc). Discovering this in the game caused me to consider the value that I place upon my free will, and the importance of my emotions and personality. I realised that if faced with the definite possibility of losing everything that made me human, I would take a similar action to one of the minor characters within the game – I would fight back in any way possible – something that took him to forbidden practices and eventually a life of being hunted.

The second was something that a major character said when she joined your party of adventurers. She claimed that she had received a vision from ‘the maker’ (the chief religious figure of Dragon Age’s world – based closely on the Christian understanding of God), which led her to find and join you in your quest. This, and several other conversations with this character, have resonated with my understanding of God, and the way in which He communicates with people – from the generalities of the beauty of the natural world, to the often cryptic personal answers. (On a side note, this in particular has led me to start writing a book – of sorts – about what we can learn from the depiction of God (and religion) in games).

So I guess my point is that Video Games aren’t just children’s playthings (which an unfortunate amount of people – especially those with power – around the world believe and act upon), they have so much more potential. Potential to cause people to reconsider their views on things, to cause them to learn something about themselves. Potential to cause people to cry and laugh. Potential to do what every other form of artistic expression has ever caused people to do.

As always – feel free to disagree with me, comment on something I’ve said, ask for clarification, anything!