From the Pulpit

5 08 2011

I never thought I’d read a two-page article on games in the Church Times, so this morning provided something of a surprise when I spotted an enormous picture of two World of Warcraft Night Elves strutting their stuff next to the book reviews. What’s this, thought I? Has some eccentric vicar taking up virtual preaching outside Stormwind Cathedral? Has a scholar uncovered some profound theological parallels between the exiles of the Israelites and the Gnomes? Alas, no, but someone really should try out both of those.

Not the picture you expect to see next to a review of the book 'Historical Jesus'.

Instead, it was a fairly sensible piece featuring some friendly wisdom that has been commonplace in gaming circles for a while. Monitor your children’s game usage; pay attention to age ratings; games aren’t inherently the creations of Satan, that sort of thing. Aside from a few brief paragraphs there wasn’t much of a Christian angle on the whole thing at all, more of a general moral concern for the well-being of those that play too much. All nicely sensible and good to see in a non-gaming publication.

It was always likely that the games mentioned were going to be WoW and Grand Theft Auto IV, two games which, along with the various Call of Dutys, have by far the most exposure in the general media. L.A. Noire got a mention too, but thankfully the author dealt with each in a fairly sensible way rather than seeking to maul each one. Regardless of his views, it got me thinking: what games would I choose to represent the medium? I can certainly see why the usual suspects were chosen for the article, but if given the platform then what others would I choose to promote?

I’d like to see something with more creative potential make it into mainstream consciousness; games like LittleBigPlanet or Minecraft, the players of which have used the tools provided to create some astounding bits of content. Perhaps if people knew that gamers aren’t just kill-streak obsessive out to rack up the headshots, but people capable of amazing feats of imagination and construction, then there would be a little more sympathy.

That’s not to say I wouldn’t want more traditional titles in there as well. The possibilities of sandbox games like Minecraft might be a little confusing to those outside of the hobby, whereas a game that features more familiar stories or narrative features might be more suitable. If I were to take the leap and put forward another FPS, it would be Bioshock, which is not only visually as captivating as anything put forward by other media, but also has the thematic chops to match, with the inspiration and exploration of Objectivist themes laced throughout the tale. Portal would probably be a slightly more safe choice, since it’s a brilliant puzzle game wrapped up in the mechanics of an FPS – now familiar to mainstream audiences – but crucially lacking a gun that can hurt people.

There are a great many other games that could showcase the benefits of gaming at large; the Total War series can teach history and RPGs are beginning to really grasp the nuances of moral choices. It’s just a shame that all many people will be directed to are the guns, the swords and the blood.

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