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Gaming and God: An Ongoing Conversation With My Pastor (Part 4)

It has been nearly a year since the last time I've posted to this topic!  Wow, the letters that myself and Matt have exchanged have been queued up.  I wish that I could fast-forward to what we've been talking about now, but alas, it can wait.  The following letters were originally written in Fall of 2011, so a while back!  That's pre-Gangnam Style!  Much has changed since then.  But please enjoy the conversation.

If you're missing out on past letters, you can find part 1 (here), part 2 (here) and part 3 (here).

My response letter to Matt:

Hey Matt,

I have to do a big rewind, I need to get on top of this as I feel it was a meaty discussion!  It’s been many months since our last correspondence on this topic, with different discussions sure to sprawl.

I already addressed your first paragraph in person, but let me rephrase/re-explain.  What I meant was that I wouldn’t want to do anything on my own sort of accord, independently from anything the Bible says, and then after the fact, tack on the Bible as my reason.  The Bible, the Word, God, should be my first reason and not as a supplementary source.

I agree with what you say, good art doesn’t exactly translate to strong sales. The biggest games seem to be first person shooters, which I’m getting sort of bored with.  But there is hope for something different!  I mean, earlier this year, they released LA Noire, with a gameplay that is totally unconventional.  Jon Gunner was telling me last week that he basically watched the whole game via Youtube.  It’s such a cinematic and story-driven experience that he didn’t need to even play it to get into it.  Now, I doubt that many games will head this way, but I still think it’s an intriguing entry and a way of expanding the way that games could be.  By just watching the videos, he got just as much out of it as if he had seen a movie.  And despite the atypical style of gameplay, the game still received strong sales.  So there is hope.  And even more artful, is the upcoming Journey for PS3.  Which isn’t just aesthetically different and pleasing, but mechanically and technically; it strives for something different, deep and enriching (from what I’ve heard and seen). We’ll have to see how well it’s received publicly though!

I think I told you on Sunday that I recently finished Assassin’s Creed 2. Although I enjoyed the gameplay and some of the technical aspects of the game, admittedly, a lot of the time when I was playing it, I felt more like I was just going through the motions versus being captivated by the story.  Part of the problem was that my playtime was so sporadic because game time was so limited.  Often I’d forget why I was doing what I was supposed to do (in game), but instead, I just followed the beacons and markers mindlessly.

Which sort of relates to iPhone gaming as you brought up.  Although I don’t own an iPhone myself, there isn’t a day when I’m on the subway where I don’t see someone gaming on it.  It’s almost the perfect pick-up and play device. Now, I’m not too familiar with its offerings, but it’s my understanding that at least the most popular games on it are the pick-up and play type games (i.e. limited story).  I don’t know if you can get an enriched experience out of it, but it does provide a quick fix right?  Which brings up the next point you raised...

...Perhaps in me there is some mild form of addiction.  Since I returned from my trip to Costa Rica almost exactly 3 weeks ago, I think I’ve had perhaps 3 days maximum, where I was at home for the evening.  That is to say, gaming has been extremely limited!  This past Saturday was the first time I was able to hunker down and game the way I wanted to.  I’m pretty sure I played Hard Corps Uprising for 3.5 hours straight.  For me, that’s a long session.  USUALLY, I don’t play more than in 1.5 hour of chunks.  But you know, it felt great!  It satiated that hunger.  But at the same time, I’m not dying for a fix!!

I was talking to a friend of mine at my old church 2 weeks ago.  He’s happily married and has 2 kids.  He too enjoys gaming, but at his current stage in life, he was saying it was tougher to start new games that demanded so much time and investment.  He said that it was the reason why he enjoyed downloadable titles so much.  They’re pick-up and play, demanding less attention to the story and more towards the gameplay.  And that’s perfectly respectable.

So although you and I demand more out of the experience, we can’t ignore that it’s about what the individual wants out of it.

In regards to achievements?  I’m starting to care less.  When I look at the list of achievements, I now have to weigh out what’s reasonable to strive for.  For example, in Hard Corps Uprising.  There are a slew of achievements that are ridiculous (e.g. finish the game without losing a life or finish the game without killing more than 50 bad guys).  Like... what the heck!?  On the other hand, although fewer, there are some achievable achievements (e.g. purchase all purchasable items, kill 5 soldiers, etc.).  It used to be my general rule to try to attain 50% of them as much as possible, now I just aim for what’s physically, spatially and timely do-able.  I might be only able to get 100 GP out of 1000 GP, but y’know, it’s all I can afford.  *sigh*

Now, do they matter?  In the grand scheme of things, of course not.  But could it be viewed as similarly to a baseball player’s batting average or a runner’s timing stats?  And then, do they matter?

I’ll end with the God factor.

What does God want from and for me?  Betterness, growth... Love.  How can we use gaming to demonstrate love to each other?  The opportunities seem limited.  The only way that seems practical I think is something we already touched upon, co-operative or Wii gaming.  I think they’re both strong at facilitating the gathering of people (at least at some point the Wii was).  If we look at it as another facet of getting people to be together, I think it can be seen in a positive manner.  But yes, God does want more from us, so we can’t spend all the time glued to the controller.

I think I’m at a happy medium right now.  My game time is still short nowadays, but I’m spending pretty much all that time with others.  But I must admit, there was a time or two this past week when I was with friends and in the back of my head I was saying to myself, “man, I wanna play some Hard Corps Uprising!”.  Har, har, har!

Your turn sir!

Love ya bro,



Matt's response letter:

You should play Limbo.  What an eerie, addictive, fun and mesmerizing experience.  I wish they would make more games like that.  I actually felt like it was an "inspiring" game, it's style, charm and creativity challenged me in some ways to think differently about the world and whatever I set my hands to do within it.  Obviously it wasn't monumentally life-changing ... but what is?  Even a good sermon often only makes a faint impression and leaves us with one or two (often vague) feelings of - hey, I think that will help me.  But Limbo is probably the most recent example of what I'd call "gaming done well".

I totally feel you on the whole Assassin's Creed 2 thing.  A lot of the things you "do" in that game are just so that you can say, "I collected them all or I completed all the quests."  But very few of the things you collect or the quests you take on really "inspired" or satisfying.  They are just barely related to the main storyline if at all and they are often predictable and repetitive.  Yet still kind of fun, no?  Keeps me playing anyway.  But that's where I've been changing a bit in terms of my gaming, I've been quicker to just say "screw that" and not even do them.  If they truly are optional and I don't feel they are worth the time and effort then I have been pretty much just playing games for the main storyline because its the only thing that i feel someone put some time and thought into.

L.A. Noire I think is pretty cool. I played it for a couple hours at Kevin's house while he was working on a sermon.  I was totally captivated and I've been wanting to play through the whole thing, but Kevin did warn me that - even though he loved it - it gets tired and the last few missions are "uninspired" and you feel like you're just slugging through them to end the game.  That's disappointing, but the game certainly is a step forward into some new ideas which is exciting.  Basically, and you might know this already, the coolest thing about it is that you have to watch people talking to you and decide if they are lying or telling the truth.  You do this by watching their body language and facial expressions (eeriely real looking!  new technology or something it says on the box) and you listen to what they are actually saying too.  But most of the time you don't know enough and you just have to go on body language and facial expression and its really fun because the graphics and the tech is so good.  It gives you the impression that more and more games are going to come out that include this new way of playing, it helps immerse you in the game and you are literally on the edge of your seat focusing on every little thing an NPC is doing while talking to you.  It's so cool.

But yeah, the public is another thing but i was pleased to see L.A. Noire's success, but that might be because of good marketing and the fact that its still a GTA feeling game (steal cars, shoot guns) but in the 40's (or 50's?) which is just awesome.

As for the pick up and play stuff, I totally get that.  Isn't that why we all love Mario?  I mean, how much depth can you squeeze out of a plumber in overalls?  But it's just so fun and satisfying to play - which is partly what games are and need to be ... it's why i love sports ... throwing a frisbee or shooting a basketball ... it never really changes but it's just FUN (and good exercise, suck on that video games!).  But I guess games have an edge because they can include amazing and unforgettable stories, characters, music, etc. Often they don't but they CAN.  Sports on the other hand, I feel, are better for relationship building, the LOVE thing you mentioned.  Last Tuesday we had some street involved folks come out to CHristie PIts from Light Patrol ... i was a bit nervous because i wasnt sure how'd they would connect, they are shy and can be awkward.  But as soon as we broke out the frisbee and soccer ball, it was ON.  We all played together, over a dozen of us, and really bonded and had a great time.  I feel like it was a really meaningful time, people who often feel alienated and left out felt included and genuinely valued.  I know that video games can be relational and can bring people together like you mentioned, but i wonder about their power to do so, it seems very limited. i feel like sports (just as a comparison point) are much more universal and have more power to draw people IN and draw things OUT of people so that people lose inhibitions, drop their guards and really connect and bond.  Video games can be okay for bringing people together but i feel like my actual video game sessions with people are often shallow and i end up feeling like we DIDNT connect and i often feel like we should have chosen something else to do.

so lately i've been finding video games best played solo.  i'd rather use it as a way to spend some of my "alone" time and i think we all need alone time, so i think that can be a legitimate use.  but all the factors are still at play ... how long, what games, why, etc.  in my opinion, trying to make video games about love or about advancing the kingdom is a stretch ... i think that's its weakness.  but i think talking about it in the context of "Sabbath" or the practical need to sometimes just sit down, shut off the noggin and have some fun after a long days work ... that makes more sense to me.  and thats usually when i play.  if i try to make games about something "bigger" i usually find they let me down ... what do you think?

maybe that's the key, just recognizing they have a relatively small and limited space, limited usefulness, but that they can be enjoyed as long as they are kept in their place ... just like anything ... anything can become an evil when it is misappropriated or ascribed value or worth that isn't in keeping with its nature.

I'll end here and let you fire back but let me summarize the two main things i think i've hinted at.

1.  Inspiration.  I think too many games are uninspired but still sell well and suck up a lot of peoples' time.  Same with TV, movies and some books, it's sad but a reality.  But I think as Christians we should push people (and ourselves) toward things that are truly life-giving, inspirational, things the Spirit can use to make us better people.  So, if we like video games I think we should be selective, discerning buyers and wise with our time.  Not that playing some 99 cent apps here and there just for fun is a bad thing, but we should always push ourselves to grow and expand our thinking/experiences.  This is a part of worship I think, recognizing that God has made a fabulous, limitless, endless and mysterious world for us to explore and enjoy and "inspired" stories, movies, games, music, etc., can help us go about doing that.  We should look for true examples of inspiration in the world and appreciate them and feed off of them, and when we see that something has just been "pooped out" to make a dollar ... we should treat it like the poop it is and walk away.  har har.

2.  Perspective.  Basically the last couple things I was blabbing about.  I think games can have a place but it has to be a place proportionate to their (very limited) value; they need to be kept in their place and seen as good, but not Great.  i'm saying that because of things like the Love factor, or their limited ability to actually bring God's kingdom to the earth.  we're both at a loss in trying to explain how video games can do that, save for a few truly rare exceptions.  but, ever since human beings have been around it seems we have been making games, toys, sports and things to have fun with and enjoy ... but these have always needed to be balanced with other things such as work (which back in the day was more like, if you don't work the soil now you're going to starve in the winter!) and then the human pursuit of the Divine ... our need to search for God and find Him and make Him our treasure ... the games, toys, sports and things have never been bad so long as they don't keep us from being active and fruitful in the other major, more important spheres of our existence.  so i think we just need to keep games "games", where they belong, and be happy to play our 1.5 hours a week or whatever it is ;)

but even 1.5 hours can be negative if we choose the wrong 1.5 hours, such as when we should have been doing something else, but that's another discussion ...

your turn


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