I am Zachery Oliver, and welcome to Theology Gaming, a hopefully informative and interesting take on video games, theology, and entertainment! Throughout my life, a variety of media have been essential in shaping my bizarre skill-set. I have a Master’s Degree in Theological Studies from Boston University for example. What would drive me to this? You wouldn’t say “video games” out of hand. Certainly, I was raised as a evangelical Baptist, and went to Christian school, but Jesus and Pikachu were both influences in my childhood (the former, obviously, having infinitely more importance than the latter). At the same time one obsesses over finding 150 Pokemon (and maybe a little cheating with Gamesharks and Mew), I was also learning about the trials and tribulation of Israel and Jesus’ death and resurrection.
Scripture’s primary, but for me, it’s all interlaced, interwoven. When I see video games, I cannot help but think about them from a theological standpoint. So if you see me dropping Bible verses, or some other cultural resource from the depths of my mind and/or the Internet, that’s just how I roll.
I’ve been playing video games since I was 3-4 years old, and can’t remember I time I wasn’t playing them. My formative experience was playing Secret of Mana with my brother and my father over a Christmas break, as the Sprite, without a guide. The game clock on the cartridge (which I still have) is somewhere in the hundreds of hours. From there, my SNES playing days contained many of the greats and that continuous stream of buying video games, even ones that happen to sit on a shelf until decades later (Xenogears) will probably proceed until I run out of disposable income.
Being a Christian and a video gamer at the same time, however, was never an easy thing. Both seemed antithetical given the Christian cultural environment, but not from my parents. There are plenty of times when video games were condemned outright as evil, or a waste of time, or any number of negative comments one could conceive. At any time when friends came over, it was more a process of conversion when the video games came out! Not that I didn’t enjoy seeing people salivating over Star Fox 64, and having my parents arguing with other parents on whether video games were appropriate, but it was always an odd, and seemingly necessary, problem. My parents just let me play them, and they are hardcore Christian themselves; my family’s four World of Warcraft subscriptions attests to that fact. Still, that stuff was for the home, not the school. That trend continues; just check PluggedIn, Focus on the Family’s entertainment review site, to see that entertainment for Christian culture has not moved passed a moral evaluation of its content.
That, I hope, will never happen here! If one is supposed to “ not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.”, it can’t just fall under some rubric of “good things” and “bad things”. Especially when it comes to video games, there is an equal element of the mechanics themselves, and the aesthetics attached to that game. To ignore one in deference of the other, or to simplify, remains insufficient.
However, that is not my only goal. Video games are usually “discussed”, but not well. What makes a game “good”? What makes it “great”? Why do I like The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past more than The Ocarina of Time? Why do gamers pine for “the good old days”? Why does the modern video game culture simply not provide such a compelling experience for those old fogies (like myself)? There is a “retro” subculture, but it merely takes the aesthetic while retaining modern values (like Super Meat-Boy, for example). All games, really, deserved to be examined critically under the exact same rubric, regardless of age, nostalgia, budgets or rose-colored lenses. The new games journalists, such as Tim Rogers, place experience and stream-of-consciousness writing above all else; the icycalm/Alex Kierkegaard set place mechanics and some odd interpretation of Nietzsche to the forefront, which misses the experiential quality. Striving to avoid either extreme appears the best approach.
Judging the good and the bad in a review format, though, a review is going to be some kind of opinion, not a definite statement on the quality of the game itself. By that note, no review ever has been definitive; Final Fantasy VII, for example, has gone from revered masterwork to horrific, outdated game to “well, pretty ok”. Here, I will treat such content as it is: an opinion. An opinion with which you are welcome to disagree, of course, but not as the be-all, end-all. For example, my knowledge of sports games, other than the Mario variety, is absolutely limited. I honestly could not even describe the rules of baseball in any great detail because it just does not interest me in the slightest. Thus, reviews on sports games, from me, are a waste of your time and mine. However, on genres where I am well-versed (or, at least, augmented by last minute Internet research) on the subject at hand, it’ll actually be substantial and well-written! Perhaps you’ll get an inkling of why I am enamored or disgusted through text, and at least see a different perspective.
My background dictates much of my opinion; any discussion, then, has to begin with what I will call The List: a series of 20 games, in no particular order, that represent the pinnacle of video games since whenever they began. It should give you a good indication of my background, tastes, and inclinations going forward.
After that, well…you’ll have to wait and see.