I read an interesting article today on Computer Gaming World’s www.1UP.com about the topic of religion in online games. The article portrays Christian game clans such as Christian Gamers Online and Men of God as forward-thinking groups with an advanced and revolutionary means of communicating – by professing and discussing matters of Christian faith with anyone who will play games with them. Unfortunately, the comments and organizations of the various interviewees professed some conflicting and confusing views that, in my opinion, don’t do any favours for North America’s most populous religion.
First, the good.
When it comes to Christian values vs. video games, many people are quick to think of such organizations as the Justice and Witness Ministries of the United Church of Christ; one of the 5 contributing groups to the annual “10 Worst Violent Video Games” list released before every Christmas. Considering this precedent, it was refreshing and encouraging to read Christian Gamers Online founder Kedrick Kenerly’s opinions on the topic:
“[Video games] boil down to a few things: They have a goal, they have a reward for the goal, and they have a set of rules that need to be followed to reach the goal. The violence in most games isn’t something we get worked up about. It’s merely ‘presentation,’ simply a way to convey an experience to players so they can follow the rules to reach the goal.”
I couldn’t have said it better myself. He goes on to clarify his organization’s place in games:
“If you look at Christian gaming as using the online medium, I see it as just another way to go out there and share the truth of God with everybody else.”
I wholeheartedly agree that this is a fantastic medium for any social or special-interest group to meet, talk, and reach out to others. With the proliferation of the Internet, video games are growing ever more sociable, featuring co-operative and\or competitive gameplay with the option to sit on the sidelines and yak it up. Online virtual communities such as There and Second Life are not games at all, but exist solely as online forums for interpersonal interaction and discussion. These virtual playgrounds give us the ability to learn about our peers in new ways and subsequently work together to capitalize on each other’s strengths and minimize the group’s weaknesses, all the while discovering and respecting others’ individuality and worth and, simultaneously, the culmination of the group’s effort. The corporate world has adopted this ideology to an extent, as companies sometimes organize retreats to play minigolf or laser tag in an effort to strengthen employees’ collective cohesiveness and teamwork. Online games knock this concept up a notch by decentralizing the forum.
With the stage set I present the comments and policies stated by the following Christian online game organizers and designers, and my rebuttal.
The biggest argument against the claim that violent video games are harmful is that they are purely fantasy. Opponents of video games attest that not only the subject matter and the context are at issue, but also the interactivity – the action doesn’t happen until the player presses a button. This claim has been contested by many who cite a Department of Justice study proving that American violent crime rates are the lowest they’ve been in decades, and that, for an unexplained reason, they began declining almost immediately after the release of Doom – a violent video game in which the player must combat the forces of hell.
The justification behind the comments of Troy Linden of Left Behind Games are, therefore, confusing to me:
“Many people seem to have this misconception that somehow Christian means nonviolent. Look at the stories in the Bible; they’re some of the most violent and exciting epics ever written. Look at The Passion of the Christ, the most violent and most successful Christian movie of all time.”
Linden’s comments are not only incongruous with the claims of Christian morality groups who decry video games for their violence, but also ignore the proof that violence by all American citizens, presumably including the Christian ones, has decreased exponentially. Linden contradicts even himself by failing to distinguish the line in the sand between reality and fantasy. Sure, violent media has been in vogue since biblical times, but statistics seem to prove that fictional and actual violence are exclusive and have their separate ups and downs. There’s certainly been no decline in violent media since 1993. Perhaps Linden might argue that life itself is an “epic”.
Though there is little or no tie between Left Behind Games and the CGO clan, I believe I am justified in assuming that these two organizations have similar ideals (since I learned about their existance via the same news article). I therefore find it upsetting that any organization would call upon Christians’ aforementinoed lust for murder as a means to spread its message to “share the love of God and His FREE gift of salvation”. This proposed sharing is questionable, however.
Though they are indeed exclusive in ownership and governance, Left Behind Games and CGO both profess common ground in their attempt to segregate Christianity. In their Statement of Faith, CGO requires their members subscribe to the following Christian belief:
“that those persons who die in their sins without Christ spend eternity in Hell, and those persons who die with their sins forgiven through Jesus Christ spend eternity in Heaven.”
Furthermore, the group demands absolute exclusive loyalty of its members as per its What is CGO page:
“5. No dual team membership… If you are a CGO then you are only a CGO. Membership in ANY other team is grounds for dishonorable discharge. “
And further still, according to its How to Become a Member of +CGO+ page:
“Christian Gamers Online accepts applicants by invite only.”
Speaking of his company’s realtime strategy game, Left Behind: Eternal Forces, Linden states:
“The world is set in the End Times, and in the single-player game you’re fighting the forces of the Antichrist. But in multiplayer mode, you can play the other side; thus, we really have something for everyone.”
So it seems that it is the goal of these organizations to pit “us” vs “them”. You’re either for Christ or you’re the Antichrist, which, according to dogma, means you are doomed to destruction (by no less than Jesus himself, according to answers.com) and eternal damnation.
Also quoted in the article is Owen Parker, founder of the online Christian gaming community Men of God. Despite its apparently misleading name, their homepage’s Who are we? What we are all about page states:
“Men of God International is an online community of men, women and children with one purpose and that is to win souls for Jesus through a unique and growing population of online gaming.”
The gender-asserting Parker states his opinions clearly:
“A man desires to be the king of his house, the warrior, the protector, and the lover of his family. The warrior side of man, we see, abused in this world, but innately, man desires to be that warrior. I’ve talked to a lot of guys that play on MOG, and they say stuff like, ‘I should have been the one born to fight at such-and-such time.’ Others answer the call today. We have members who are serving in Iraq right now. If every man has that sense of being a warrior, it’s a common ground…”
So, if I’m understanding Mr. Parker, he’s saying that mankind – sorry, “man” – has been abused to the point where he desires to kill those outside his “family” (again, contrary to recorded facts), and is so traumatized that he wishes he could have given his life for his god sooner. Not only this, but MOG provides a forum for Christians — excuse me, “men” — with similar aspirations of grandeur to congregate so that they can discuss their manly desires to be a revered conquerer and a king. What was that first commandment again?
My purpose for bringing these quotes and my opinions to light is not to decry those with religious beliefs of any kind. I respect free speech above all and I believe it is of paramount importance that people are free to believe what they wish and to say what they please. The Internet is perhaps the one medium where individuals have the opportunity to broadcast their messages just as loudly as any established media corporation. It is with this same respect that I assert my own freedom of speech to demodulate the analog feed, as it were.
I don’t think the individuals quoted in this article speak for the majority of Christians, nor are they particularly helpful in improving the religion’s face to the world (not that it needs improving) . I’m sure their intentions are good, and that they believe they are doing the work of God as he would do it himself if he played Counter-Strike: Source.
That being said, these individuals do nothing but build brick walls between gamers. Where else but the internet do we appear physically as we (intelligently?) design our avatars? Where else are we stripped of everything but our words and actions, making us truly equals? I understand it is the way of humanity to understand the world by categorizing things into meta-data, but let’s keep that data meta by playing games WITH eachother, not AGAINST eachother.
I deplore the assertions of barbarians like Mr. Parker that we are “born to fight”. For those who subscribe to such idiocy, there are quite enough theological spats on Earth through which you can satisfy your masturbatory self-righteous inner critic. Besides, if you believe god has given you any gift, that gift must be life. Why are you so eager to give it back?
Cyberspace is so popular because it is a second chance – a second Earth with fewer restrictions. Carpe diem and allow yourself to be “born again” in this new universe.