For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
Our hearts keep us alive by pumping blood into every system in our bodies. The heart reaches every cell, every organ, and every nook and cranny of the parts that form us. If the heart starts to pump out something poisonous, the poison will quickly spread. Soon enough we will be completely drenched in it.
When it comes to having a missional mindset for the video game industry, I believe one of the key elements of video games that we can influence is the thematic content. The thematic content of a medium acts similarly to a heart. It lies at the center of the work to pump out the message, the very voice of the artist, into all the parts that form the work. For an exceptionally well made video game, the theme will dissolve into its music, visuals, dialogue, and even the very mechanics of the game. It pervades everything.
Designers and writers are beginning to incorporate powerful themes into their games as a response to the recent demands for more ‘meaningful games’. It has become somewhat crucial for a game to have a resonating voice to satisfy the hunger for meaning, and also to live up to the expectations of becoming next generation’s form of artistic expression. More and more games will feature profound stories and complex characters, and weaved into these complexities are the innermost ideas, values, and passions of the creator.
Grand Theft Auto IV has been hailed as a revolutionary entry in the genre. With a whopping score of 98 on Metacritic.com and countless awards to attest to the mark it made in gaming history, it undoubtedly impacted the lives of gamers worldwide. But what is it about, anyway? Yes, there are the excitement and freedom of living the risky street life of Liberty City, the satirical commentary on the American Dream and what remains of it, and perhaps a rather sobering view on criminal life and its consequences. Nonetheless, you kill a lot of people. Ultimately, it’s a game about being a very successful criminal, since as far as I know, there isn’t an option of truly accomplishing the game in any other way than going through the various missions of violence and extortion. Depiction of violence in games and how it affects gamers is already a can of worms that’s been open for a very long time, so leaving that aside, let’s take a look at the themes of the game. What is the designer telling us through the game? This is something that every gamer should ponder about before diving into its vast, open-world environment. After all, we are spending many hours of our lives in it, and whether you like it or not, it will influence you in one way or another.
As followers of Christ who are intentional about becoming messengers of God’s truth and love within the industry and the gaming community, I suggest an intentional effort to have a keen eye for the thematic content of games. Many times, it’s not that easy to notice this particular aspect of a game. You will be playing with the mechanics, or even enjoying the narrative without even realizing you are swimming in a sea of messages that the designers purposely crafted for the game. How many games in this era strongly advocate a theme about the saving grace of God? I do not see that many. I’ve seen a lot of games that deal with overcoming godly entities for the peace of mankind and the maintenance of hubris. You actually have to defeat ‘god’ in some games, and I’m not talking about the mythological ‘gods’ in games like God of War, but actual supreme beings that supposedly governs the in-game universe (e.g. Final Fantasy IX, Final Fantasy Legend).
For all the godly video game designers out there, I want to encourage you to think about the thematic potential of video games. Video games are a brilliantly unique medium that incorporates traditional artistic mediums like music, art and narrative, while letting the audience actually participate in the inner workings of the medium. There is the option of choices that can help a gamer experience the many implications of a particular choice in life, or even take the gamer through a finely crafted journey that presents a powerful and enriching parable. Or have the gamer wander in a fascinating world, exploring the many histories and cultures of a place that you crafted with the mindset of the Kingdom of God. Maybe you can build mechanics that encourage edifying choices. Once you have the missional mind, there are endless things to do that you can use your skills, situations and opportunities to share the Good News.