Theology Gaming Manifesto?

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What am I doing here? Let’s write some manifesto stuff!

I think, perhaps, that the intention and direction of the website disappeared in the shuffle of these daily updates. That’s not necessarily a bad thing (but it’s good for the hits and the monies!), but it makes the focus of the content here a bit jarring. We live neither in the “reject all sinful things in video games” paradigm of Focus on the Family, nor in the “everything’s fine, because art shows us stuff about human experience” of everyone else.

Frankly, we reside in some weird middle ground.

I initially started the site with the intention of showing theological themes in video games. As the About Page says:

I’ve been playing video games since I was 3-4 years old, and can’t remember I time I wasn’t playing them. Probably a more formative experience was playing Secret of Mana with my brother and my father over a Christmas break, as the Sprite, without a guide or anything. The game clock on the cartridge (which I still have) is somewhere in the hundreds of hours. There’s just something about video games that works for me, entertains me, and really helped me out in life to sort ideas out (weirdly enough). And there’s so many of them!

But what I really love is that there’s so much theological exploration. I’ve got a wealth of knowledge of Christianity and video games…a weird combo, to say the least. There’s a dearth of substantive content regarding both, and thus we have Theology Gaming. I hope you continue this journey with me (and future contributors) as we look at the intersection of what games can teach us about God and ourselves. Boy, does that sound pretentious, but stick with me and see what comes of it.

While I still retain that objective to some degree, I am no longer finding parallels. Rather, I find everything that I do and say, to some degree, intricately links with every other part of my life. What video games do I play? Why? For what reasons do I believe they are “bad” or “good”? Why is games criticism so messed up right now? At base, I found that everything finds its basis in one’s personal ideology. Will a mainstream video game blog ever, ever cover a game with positive religious themes in any detail? Hardly. Yet you’ll find bountiful coverage of sexism, feminism, racism, and whatever left-leaning topic appears under the sun. My personal belief system, from whatever publication you want to mention, isn’t represented everywhere.

I am, in other words, a guy who has fun (OH THE AMBIGUITY) playing video games under a Christian framework. Inevitably, that will affect the way I write about video games. I care for the purity of video games simply because the way we play them tells us much more about ourselves then we care to admit. I don’t care about the themes or the story in your game, but the game itself. It’s not the images on screen or the aesthetics or the various extraneous elements that define a game – it is how you engage in the game that determines its worth and value.

I play video games primarily for the joy of learning. Having gone to school for, what twenty straight years of my life, I’ve developed a desire to learn new things all the time, every day. My early upbringing consisted of Bible reading; my parents made reading and learning important. They made learning about God, Jesus, and the vast realms of Christianity important. I want to engage in new perspectives while also holding fast to my own. I want to meet new people, learn about them, and continue to learn about them.

But, at the same time, I’m not very good at communicating this well. Unlike God, my language here only gives you a figurative look at the inner workings of my mind. There is, to my dismay, always something more to tell, more details for me to jam into any particular subject; written or verbal communication assumes a common base of experience, which I find isn’t ever possible. When people make statements or write comments or disagree, I find them missing the point entirely of everything I write. That’s probably the problem with every writer.

So, let me try to rectify this in a series of clear steps. Herein lies a manifesto

1. Theology Gaming exists to shows the theological validity of playing video games as an addition to Christian (and by respects, human) life.

2. Because of this, I cover video games from a mechanical perspective in many cases. That’s because, at base, I see video games as an assemblage of formal systems (computer speak), rigorously or loosely applied. What makes this systems interesting? How is the developer manipulating me to perform certain objectives? Again with the constant thinking about such things. The best video games, from my personal taste, aren’t the ones that engage you in a narrative or experience, but in an intense quest for survival using all the skills given (survival could be taken to mean violent, but that isn’t necessarily true). Slow-paced strategy games do the same thing, only one’s failure or success comes in bits and pieces. The reason why this is so is because…

3. Games that don’t reflect the rules of reality in some way never resonate. A game, for all intents and purposes, has clearly defined rules and structure. A game designer knows that their risk/reward structure must fit adequately with the innate kinesthetics of the game itself. I hate to use the word “game feel”, but that ambiguity describes the core mechanics – do they engender a sense of satisfaction, short term or long term? Either works as long as the developer understands their own game. Without tension or strife or struggle, there’s no depth or meaning to the game. Empowerment comes from mastering and avoiding death. A zen-like state is reached when you recognize everything perfectly and win. Empowerment does not come from a game feeding you false confidence, inflating your pride or your ego; it comes from complete and utter mastery of the game’s mechanics, through and through.

4. And, we might say, there’s no depth or meaning to Christianity if there wasn’t a struggle. Christ comes to Earth, tells people that they can’t ever follow the Law, then follows it Himself and dies. The Resurrection proves His conquest over the Law’s consequences, death. God gives grace to all, yet sin and death still permeate this world to the core. Video games become a microcosm of that same struggle to better ourselves, to search for perfection and sanctification. If they’re not doing that, if they’re merely entertaining me without making me work, without thought, with just pure enjoyment, then they’re fake. I do not play fake games. I play experience. This fits in with the modern paradigm of subjectivity…

5. But not into Christianity. It seems a gross simplification of life to assume that my narcissistic perspective someone absolves me from everything else, that my experience somehow trumps eternal truth. I am a person living in a world of people, but people who think that Christianity exists as one belief among others. That cannot be the principle by which I live or write. If I truly believe Jesus was, in fact, God, then I must live and work in every field and every venture as if it were true. That’s the truly scary part, but the one on which we must all work.

The most offensive line of my belief system? Genesis 1:1 – “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” That God created everything and rules everything must remain premier on my thoughts. It will affect what I say, what I do, and how I think. The more I act on it, the more I accept it, the more it will become natural. If I believe in the Resurrection, then these other problems become as nothing. I am already born again, and this rebirth lets me see everything in a new light. A fuller light, one that can see both good and bad in everything, but predominantly sees the good – not the surface level grievances.

6. What I see all around me, then, is the constant acceptance of societal norms without consulting eternal truth. Even entertainment is not safe from the watch of God. Our lives must live consistently with our faith, or else we do not truly believe. But whether it is in opposition or not becomes the difficult question. That is where the world of accusation creeps into the discussion, the Devil’s best weaponry, and I’m not going down that route thank you very much. (I can describe this in more detail, surely).

And hence, the goal of the blog in a way. Think of this more as a manifesto for myself than for the other writers, but that is what I am thinking.

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.