Friday, June 21, 2013

Gaming and the New Evangelization

I have always said four things drove me in my life:  My faith, my job, baseball, and video games.  On June 1st, I added a wife to that list.  (Moved her to just behind faith of course!)  When you work off-shift jobs like I do (I have worked midnights or afternoons 12 out of the last 13 years), you've got a lot of free time at night, especially when I was a single bachelor.  So in addition to reading, prayer and other activities, gaming was one of my favorite past times.  What follows will be some disjointed thoughts about gaming and my faith.

Some Catholics will see this and inevitably scoff.  I find this disappointing.  Enjoying a game is just like enjoying a good TV show.  There are trash games, just like trash TV.  When I was a columnist at, I actually used my weekly column to question the trend of increasingly "realistic" violence in video games, and how the increased gore more often than not came at the expense of game development.  (Basically the equivalent of Dane Cook an unfunny comic shouting the F bomb from the top of his lungs to try and get people to laugh:  if he were truly funny, he wouldn't need profanity to get their attention.)

This also ignores the fact that the video game medium really is entering into art nowadays.  It goes without saying the graphics are leaps and bounds ahead of previous generations, to where backgrounds are now visually breathtaking.  (Think of Electronic Arts ad campaign of "Is it Real or is it Battlefield")  The Civilization Series has won Grammy Awards for its music, as well as educated now two generations of gamers about famous historical figures and world wonders.  The eruption of controversy surrounding the Mass Effect series ending was hotter than the controversy surrounding any painting or TV show recently.  Why?  Because they created a cast of characters people deeply identified with, and had been developing almost non-stop for the last five years.  Games like the Elder Scrolls series have roughly 2,000 pages of literature in game building a fantasy realm per game. In the Star Wars realm (something people have no problem admitting as art) Knights of the Old Republic II weaved a story that was more Star Wars than any of the prequels.

There are those who operate under the mistaken belief that the only gaming demographic is the teenage male who is socially awkward.  According to the Entertainment Software Association, this is completely false.  The average age of a gamer is 30 years old, and the largest demographic is actually 30+.  Due to the social gaming boom, 47% of today's gamers are also women, something that is dramatically changing the gaming industry in ways nobody can predict.  One could also say these changing demographics are what is behind the PC gaming renaissance, especially by independent developers, who are making games that appeal to a wide scope of audiences using new and inventive ideas.

One of the ideas behind the concept of the New Evangelization was to engage newer forms of communication in either spreading the faith directly or indirectly.  We talk about building a presence in music, television, social media, but talk about gaming and people clam up.  This is exactly what happened when one Colin Gormley attempted to bring up the topic.

If Catholics are ever going to get creative in bringing souls to Christ, we shouldn't be turning this stuff away.  I doubt I'm the only one who instead of watching porn during his late nights awake after work played games instead, and many of those games caused me to dive into subjects such as history and my faith on a deeper level, keeping me even further out of trouble.  I'm also not the only one (or I shouldn't be) who would get home from Mass, fire up Ventrillo and play Pirates of the Burning Sea with other Catholics, and sometimes we would actually discuss the readings of the day in between battles, and every now and then a few Protestants or even better non-believers would actually be incredibly interested in what we had to say.  This is one way Catholics should become involved.  The gaming community is incredibly diverse, and most of them are more than willing to share their opinion on everything.  If you want to evangelize the culture, you need to learn that culture, and that's one way to do it. 

Another is for Catholics themselves to become involved in the production of these games.  One of the debates always percolating in the wider gamer community is what makes a game "mature."  Before, it was violence, and then sadly the inclusion of nudity.  Nowadays gamers are increasingly beginning to question the former, and some are even starting to question the latter.  (And with the growing female demographic, especially in RPG's these questions will only intensify.)  Imagine what informed Catholics could contribute to this discussion.  Some of the greatest games have a story centered around the nature of man, our shortcomings, conflict, and the need for redemption on the communal and invididual level.  If Catholics can't tell this story, we might as well quit evangelizing entirely.

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