Kevin Schut – Of Games and God [Feature Review]

March 22, 2013 — Leave a comment

 

Page 2: Kevin Schut – Of Games and God

 

Chapter 3 is crucial to Schut’s overall argument, so he enters the fray in earnest with an examination of religion and spirituality in gaming. While directly recognizing the existence of games that are antithetical to religion and spirituality in theme, he questions the validity of a claim that a game can actually be “Christian” or “anti-Christian.” For this rebuttal, he lays out the case for how games are actually played – concepts of morality in the games are typically points-based, the “magic” used is clinical and effects-driven (no one casts a spell in the “bubble, bubble, toil, and trouble” sense; you just cast a cold, heat, or healing spell by pushing a button), and, most importantly, the supposed “spiritual” content of a video game is really a series of very defined, clinical decision s, simply because video games are electronics that operate with no appreciation for the nuance and grey areas. What Schut means be this is that, “because [the video-game medium] is part representation and part machine, however, [religion, morality, and spirituality] will not operate as they do in more established media such as books and movies.” (48)

 

The book begins to move swiftly from here, and the author regularly reflects upon this “mechanical v. spiritual” comparison when moving into other aspects of what he hopes can become a more informed conversation in the Church about video games. In Chapter 4, he broaches the topic of violence in video games by discussing the problems with media-effects research that disdains video games (namely that it can’t sufficiently predict the psychological effects of every game on every player) and then talks through the discussion of the “magic circle” (the belief that what happens in a video game doesn’t count because it’s not the real world). With Chapter 5, he addresses the concerns that video games are wrong because of their supposed penchant for escapism and addiction. He counters this with his belief in the necessity of fantasy and imagination, as well as making the case that video games themselves aren’t inherently addictive. The concern should be directed towards the addictive behaviors the some people have and others don’t, so it’s unfair to blame the medium when the overwhelming majority of gamers have no issues with addiction to their games of choice.

 

Chapter 6 looks into gender concerns, and he admits to problems existing with the style of dress, physical appearance, and comportment of the avatars. This specifically refers to the over-sexualization of female characters and how character traits in men are relatively dumbed down and stereotypically destructive. Schut believes that attitudes are changing, but things can still get better in this realm (whether or not you’re a Christian). In Chapter 7, we’re given a brief, but still well-reasoned discussion of the overall media effects of video games and how they affect education – both positively and negatively. As he states, “If properly deployed, video games can be part of our new culture without destroying what is valuable in existing culture. Video games aren’t stupid: the question is whether or not we’ll be stupid in how we use them.” (125)

 

With chapters 8 and 9, Schut provides the findings of the surveys he conducted amongst Christians employed in the video game industry and active gamers. What he presents is a cogent argument for these people being salt and light in the world, and not heretics or apostates who need to get out of the video game world. These folks talk openly about their problems with the gaming industry and culture from a Christian standpoint, but they’re also upfront with who they are as Christians and how they’re called to be involved where they are – whether making games or playing them. And just as importantly, these survey takers implore other Christians to learn more about gaming, as opposed to ignoring the fact that gaming exists or  criticizing them because of unfortunate stereotypes.

 

With chapter 10 and throughout the book on the whole, the author effectively advocates for the gamer and video games in the context of how the Church has usually regarded the issue. He directly conveys his concerns regarding certain games, and that feeds into his broader appeal – this should be a discussion rooted in context, balance, and honest examination of the facts on the ground. Unfortunately, Christians tend to argue from inside their stylistic/artistic ghetto, and this has hindered any prior conversations about video games in the past.

 

If I could provide a summary of Schut’s basic argument, it would be this: 1) Games are not bad in and of themselves – it’s about the individual player and situation; 2) The Church cannot and should not hate on video games and gamers based upon statistical outliers, wild conjecture, disproven myths, and word-of-mouth urban legends; and 3) The Church would be better served to engage in critical examination of video games and gaming that is rooted in experience and study. I applaud Kevin Schut for effectively crafting a well-reasoned discussion that achieves the necessary balance for what could be a very contentious situation.