“Conveyance” and Accusation

I noticed something my mind unconsciously does when watching films.

Double Jeopardy Film Poster

Of all things, Netflix popped Double Jeopardy in front of me so I said “Why not? I like Tommy Lee Jones, so it must fulfill some weird expectations of said film.” I guess Ashley Judd disappeared to do social work, but that’s another story for another day. As a film, it’s not particularly brilliant, but I found enjoyment in their simplification of the actual legal workings of “Double Jeopardy” (one cannot be tried for the exact same crime done in the exact same way twice – a guaranteed right in the United States). However, my mind never stands still during these thriller-style movies; I’m always trying to figure out what’s happening, where the plot will go, and how it will end. This particular example had the most obvious ending in the world, but I honestly didn’t care. A film should guide you towards the desired conclusion, but not stick it to you so rigorously that you cannot enjoy it. I do not mean in the sense of an ambiguous message, but in the brain-pleasing way of figuring out the movie before it plays before your eyes.

Now, what occurred to me isn’t that I watch movies and like them – everyone does this – but that the framing, timing, music, lines, etc., were all giving me different information. Whether they’re trying to inculcate a particular feeling, or conveying some essential piece of information, the film drives towards its central line and doesn’t deviate. There’s relatively few exposition scenes (always a good sign in a film like this), and people’s genuine conversations actually turn out to convey useful information. That knowledge, then, gets passed onto the audience watching (whether of one or many), and this assemblage gets piled up until the entire experience gives us all it offers and we see a resolution. Then I can forget all that stuff I learned about things that didn’t happen and people that didn’t exist (theoretically, anyway); even if it’s a true story, the fabrication’s in the telling, with or without your knowledge, to root/revile one party or another. A film that immerses you for a time works effectively, regardless of its perceived “quality” from a critic. I use the “remake” example for this – if you’ve only seen the remake of a popular film and not the original, yet it still resonates with you in the same way, is there really a difference?

However, some films intentionally choose their own status – namely, the so-called “art” film. These fill me with inexplicable dread to watch. Interesting visually, or emotionally, or for any number of other reasons you can name, they fail to connect with my analytic brain in any way. They feel unbearably cynical at points. Heck, I even felt like I watched an indie film when I saw Skyfall, with its bizarre themes (Bond has family issues! Crawling back into the womb, anyone? UGH) that made a frantic and fun romp into a display of “guess the symbolism and/or token Bond reference.” I appreciate the work and complications that went into its production, but the MEANING in my face took away from the experience as a whole (and probably the lack of involvement by women in most of the movie other than M, but that’s a different issue).

I am a simple man at heart, and I understand this well. If you cannot convey your message and/or intention clearly, without condescension, then you’ve lost me entirely.

Good for films that do this, then! But I find that I watch other entertainment media not in the way that I should, but through the video game mold. I don’t forget the machinations of a film, anymore than I forget plot trope Y or framing device X.  That doesn’t mean familiarity breeds contempt; rather, that familiar nature breeds comfort and appreciation of the form and the content equally. Playing a lot of video games does much the same thing. Video games try, in their own way, to convey their central concepts through a bunch of different methods. Some strike us as immediately intuitive and they make sense – that ultimate example of Super Mario Bros. attests to this. Others, with their myriad complications, need written tutorials or actively teach the player through hardships and trials. Both ways, from my view, do eventually teach the player in an equally effective way.

But there’s a problem in the more guided form of conveyance. Simply put, the game does not let us learn the lessons we need to learn. It doesn’t speak to us as a person, but a user of a product. That’s something you can feel and see with most modern games.

Tutorial

I don’t even know what game this is from, but seriously, how many video games DON’T move something with a joystick of some kind (excepting PC games)?

Those games which force a tutorial onto the player betray the player’s trust in a subtle way. They say “you can’t do this” – the first sign that the game simply doesn’t trust its audience and isn’t willing to encourage them. Furthermore, in continually playing games that foster such a lack of encouragement, it’s difficult to actively learn the game’s rules when everything is presented before you in a neat package. Have you ever wondered why game go for the exhaustive tutorial approach in the modern day? This is why – to ensure the player does not stumble or experience failure.

This is a natural human impulse – I understand it fully. We all do this as we see a friend in need or a person in an bad situation, yet they do not take good advice or help. They’ve been spurned and downtrodden so long that they see the walls closing in on them. They choose the wrong route, and end up in a worse position than that which they left. Sometimes, the best policy seems to become intervention, but frequently it isn’t – they may come to an immediate offense if you so choose to confront them with the facts of the case. This applies to non-Christian issues, but especially to issues of the Spirit. Contesting over theology in a Church setting feels like walking across a sea of eggshells, with nary a place to set one’s foot. Step on one, and you may as well step on them all.

Yet, we Christians supposedly live under grace. Why, then, all the rigorous accusations against each other? Isn’t that the worst possible solution to a spiritual problem? You might say it’s especially egregious when we air our dirty laundry in public – which happens frequently enough in our society to make people take a second look. 1 Corinthians 6 makes it clear that this isn’t the right way to go:

Does any one of you, when he has a case against his neighbor, dare to go to law before the unrighteous and not before the saints? Or do you not know that the saints will judge the world? If the world is judged by you, are you not competent to constitute the smallest law courts? Do you not know that we will judge angels? How much more matters of this life? So if you have law courts dealing with matters of this life, do you appoint them as judges who are of no account in the church? I say this to your shame. Is it so, that there is not among you one wise man who will be able to decide between his brethren, but brother goes to law with brother, and that before unbelievers?

Actually, then, it is already a defeat for you, that you have lawsuits with one another. Why not rather be wronged? Why not rather be defrauded? On the contrary, you yourselves wrong and defraud. You do this even to your brethren.

Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, 10 nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God. 11 Such were some of you; but you were washed, but you weresanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God.

We frequently do not heed this advice. Like the new radicals, we say “this is what Christianity REALLY is”, without realizing how ignorant and condenscending this sounds (in this case, a lack of historical context, but I digress). I contend that we cannot begin to criticize anything without a spirit of encouragement alongside it – after all, isn’t actual, tangible change the whole point of criticism? Our critique of each other, like that of the incessant tutorial, shows that we simply do not trust people that don’t agree with us. We assume they’re dumb, and that’s the long and short of it. Why so judgemental? There’s a reason Christians call him Satan: the accuser wants us all alike to do what he does – patronize and separate.

We’re better than that, though. We have the capacity to not be the accuser and just to really understand and love one another. Accusation breeds contempt. Understanding, interaction, and communcation does not. Not the kind of information gathering that seeks it only for the purpose of accusation, or does it simply to win a rhetorical jousting match, but the kind that has two human beings just sitting and having a real conversation. And when I ask for dialogue, I ask for real discussions premised on the basis of grace and truth without compromise, not silly Church politics. Or just take Mr. Rogers’ word for it:

In seminary Mister Rogers studied systematic theology with Dr. William S. Orr. “From then on I took everything he offered; it could have been underwater basket weaving.

“He was a great influence on many of our lives. Not just because he was brilliant,” he says. “He was the kind of person who would go out on a winter’s day for lunch and come back without his overcoat.

“I studied Greek with him and then I studied New Testament with him. Every Sunday, my wife and I used to go to the nursing home to visit him. One Sunday we had just sung ‘A Mighty Fortress Is Our God’ and I was full of this one verse. I said, ‘Dr. Orr, we just sang this hymn and I’ve got to ask you about part of it.

“‘You know where it says—The prince of darkness grim, we tremble not for him. For, lo, his doom is sure. … one little word will fell him? Dr. Orr, what is that one thing that would wipe out evil?’

“He said, ‘Evil simply disintegrates in the presence of forgiveness. When you look with accusing eyes at your neighbor, that is what evil would want, because the more the accuser’—which, of course, is the word Satan in Hebrew—’can spread the accusing spirit, the greater evil spreads.’ Dr. Orr said, ‘On the other hand, if you can look with the eyes of the Advocate on your neighbor, those are the eyes of Jesus.’

So it is in video games, so it is in life.

About Zachery Oliver

Zachery Oliver, MTS, is the lead writer for Theology Gaming, a blog focused on the integration of games and theological issues. He can be reached at viewtifulzfo at gmail dot com or on Theology Gaming’s Facebook Page.