Christian Criticizing Game Subculture Crossover

19 For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a slave to all, so that I may win more. 20 To the Jews I became as a Jew, so that I might win Jews; to those who are under the Law, as under the Law though not being myself under the Law, so that I might win those who are under the Law; 21 to those who are without law, as without law, though not being without the law of God but under the law of Christ, so that I might win those who are without law. 22 To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak; I have become all things to all men, so that I may by all means save some. 23 I do all things for the sake of the gospel, so that I may become a fellow partaker of it.

1 Corinthians 9

pacman live at GameCity 2010

I enjoy video games. As a hobby, they exist in a strange nether realm between skill/dexterity based movements and critical thinking, whether of the active or turn-based variety. Some games allow you to play with others, and some do not, but all of them fall under a few genre designations. Rarely do we see them move out of the rut, regardless of how badly they want to emerge out of it. As far as we throw it, justifying video games as “art” or as “meaningful” or as anything greater than “entertainment” grasps at straws.

Games, often, do not do this. Most games exist as games, vehicles for fun and entertainment. I like this; as a tool of recreation, they hit the Ecclesiatical spot of fun and relaxation. Certainly, stressing over a video game sounds hilarious and borderline psychotic at times, but we care about pointless issues all the time. The culture, or at least the media culture surrounding it, continues to pump it into public consciousness by attaching itself to one fad or another. At some point, they will succeed, but they will strip a medium of its unique elements in the process.

To trot out my traditional whipping boy David Cage:

We need to forget about video game rules — bosses, missions, game over, etc…are very old words of a very old language..Everything you can do with (old game) words has already been said. We need to create a new language to create new things.

Whatever this means, it means video games exist as selected singular experiences for individuals. Cage wants us to retreat back into the loving womb of the spectatorial model, even as he fails to realize this with his talk of new languages. Sorry, my friend, the Pandora’s Box of muliplayer online games opened long ago, and putting the abstract nature of online interaction with real people back into the box won’t happen anytime soon. Games remain fun, and continue to provide fun. The artistic niche still looks like just that – a niche. And niches don’t often affect popular culture in such a way, especially not when we look at the heart of video games.

Unfortunately, video game companies fail to realize that form must match content. A game, by definition, demands a level of interactivity which other mediums ignore entirely. A person watching a film, listening to music, or reading a book proceeds through a linear spectatorial experience wherein the author guides his/her audience through the complexities and nuances of the work. The auteur tries to communicate as distinctly as possible, if not a message than a way for a person to see what they intend for them to see. If they intend to communicate nothing and facilitate human interaction, competition, or cooperation under the guise of a fantasy world/mechanical experience of the “old language”, then why not?

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The latter ideas fall in line with humanity’s general attitude towards games in general: fun. Games, as I noted previously on a number of occasions, came into being from the earliest times of human civilizations. Often, they passed the time; more likely, they facilitated common activities and communities. People like playing games because, like most other activities, they allow us to do fun things with the people we like. At other times, games provoke conversation topics you may not otherwise present; the leisurely pace of, say, a long board game allows for much conversation time when not mulling over the strategics on how to defeat your friends.

That inner conflict in all games motivates the players. They present a microcosm of human conflict in a way we can express and enjoy without, say, engaging in an actual war, or murdering someone in real life. The aesthetics lay on top of the mechanics like a pillow cover disguises a wonderfully cool pillow: such a device makes the pillow match with the rest of the bed, surely, but it doesn’t make the pillow any more comfy or wonderful to someone in need of a good night’s sleep. But nobody put their pillow into a garbage bin to rest their head on it; that certainly doesn’t say “comfort” to me.

Actually, as per the goal of this website, I spend more time talking about video games than actually playing video games. Strange, no, for a guy who continually talks about them in every different way under the sun? Yet, again, we see video games facilitating conversations and human interaction much like the games of old. Moreso than any other entertainment, sharing truly means sharing our interests with other people, something accessible and interesting. Additional knowledge brings even more crazy stuff to the continuing conversation, from all different fields of study and a diverse knowledge set. That’s why Theology Gaming takes writers from wherever – I don’t like playing BioWare games at all, so why not let someone who likes them play it? It widens my field of experience, and yours as well.

So what do I mean by all this rambling? Quite frankly, I am tired of the idea that Zachery Oliver, as a person, finds residence in what you call a “game culture”. I like games; frankly, so does every other person on earth, from culture to culture. So why should a Christian like me inhabit a subculture, really? As for me? I imagine some prefer to identify with a subculture, but I honestly do not. There are too many wonderful things out there in the world to restrict myself with identification in a single hobby. Personality extends far beyond one’s likes and dislikes. How far do you go before the cultural trappings absorb the Biblical principles underneath?

I like people. I like video games less than people. People can change your life by telling you about Jesus Christ; video games, let it be said, do not do this. Video games may facilitate that conversation, but are not that conversation. I know my own biases, but I rarely see any entertainment medium as truly life-changing for me. The problem comes down to Christianity, and that alone. Where do you find true meaning? What do you see about life in things outside of Christ? Do modern cultural tropes affect your ideology more than you would like to admit? Subcultures mean one thing, and only one thing: division.

Division remains a problem in the history of Christianity.  The interesting part about the fractious Christian situation is that, really, Protestantism pretty much started it. Catholicism had it going in the united front department for at least a millennium before Luther and his cohorts came along. At the very least, different ideas and independent thought seem partially to blame. A unified front gave way to the modern world and the creation of the nation state. Individualism and capitalism soon followed. Man’s sinful impulses worked towards the greater good, but not to the individual heart of man. With the rise of the individual, rather than the Church Catholic, you see the results standing before you. Americans identify primarily with subcultures of various types, all but blind to social issues except those pertinent to their own self-interest.

These subcultures contain an inherent sinful quotient of exclusion. In gamer terms, think of the “hardcore” versus the “casual”. Such a dichotomy doesn’t truly exist – it’s more a continuum of downmarket and upmarket people who take varying degrees of interest in the subject – but the subcultures use this to exclude and include as they see fit. Same goes for denominational allegiances – I hear far too much about how Catholics worship the Pope or some such nonsense. In either sense, it isn’t helpful and certain doesn’t present a unified front to a world in desperate need of Jesus Christ.

Keying off of the discussion surrounding Killer Is Dead, we assume that most games come from a fallen world. We should know this; a Christian’s eyes only see nothing if you wear two eyepatches. The subculture which derives from it, then, contains sin and derives from it. We do not represent the reprobate mind and share in its problems; the difference between a Christian and a non-Christian comes from self-awareness. Pinpricks of light in a sea of darkness do not mean you associate with the darkness, but that you seek to light that darkness without letting it swallow you whole.

To become all things to all men means much more than mere association. You’re in it, while not being in it. You are an individual amid a great Church established by God; you exist in the middle plane between individuality and community, not fully either. We stand on the holy middle ground, with allegiance to none but the King of the Universe. That is our battle cry, our worship song, and our call to arms. We aren’t a subculture, but a holy culture dedicated to God’s ends. Why settle short?

14 I have given them Your word; and the world has hated them, because they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. 15 I do not ask You to take them out of the world, but to keep them from the evil one. 16 They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world.

John 17

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.
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