Sunday, 18 January 2009

Games and Religion

This entry is the result of a recent discussion in the Games Network mailing list on research into the way in which religion is portrayed in games. Most of the games that I play are of a strategy type and if religion is included, it is simply through some of the symbolism (i.e. the cathedral in Carcassonne).In these cases, there is no attempt to communicate a perspective about religion.

In a game like Civilisation IV, seven religions are represented but they are simply represented as opiate to the people. That is it improves their happiness and consequently leads to a more settled civilisation. It isn't what I would call a wonderful portrayal of faith.

However, there is another category of games that claim to foster improved Biblical knowledge. These follow an adventure game style with the player exploring the game environment to collect various objects. Along the way, questions on Biblical topics are asked. Objects in the game represent biblical objects or characters. However, the game play has little to do with faith or the depicted religion. These games are about entertaining the player in a religious context. On one site promoting one of these games, the key promotional phrase is “Conquer the Canaanites, Amorites and Hittites as you collect silver and gold, race through deadly mazes, and defeat the enemies of God!” Sure the main character of the game, Joshua, did destroy other nations but the representation in the game doesn't depict the setting in which Joshua found himself or help the player understand why for Joshua and Israel at that time, this seemed to be the appropriate action.

In my opinion, these games do more harm than good. The authors have a very narrow agenda and they haven't really thought through what it means to have faith and how to communicate the real meaning and principles of faith. When I look at the Joshua game, I don't see it as having changed much since the early versions that I reviewed and played in the late 1908s. I didn't find them explicitly Christian then and I still don't now. They are little more than secular games give a biblical story wrapping. Where do these games provide the challenge to applying the foundational principles of faith to the everyday interactions of life? Maybe the authors of these programs really don;t know their faith or the person whom they claim to follow.

A more interesting project is the "The Night Journey." On their website, they say“The objective here is to explore how to represent the issues of personal enlightenment through a game. On the web page, they say “what is the "game mechanic" of enlightenment? How can we abstract and systemize such an intensely personal, yet archetypal experience?” This should be the same challenge that should face all Christian game authors. How do we represent a growing personal relationship with a living saviour? How can we bring the challenge of that trust and faith relationship that involves recognising his personal guidance in our lives into a game scenario?

It is easy to write a trivia game that encourages people to learn scripture stories. It is a completely different issue to communicate principles and truths that God seeks to get across through his relationship with us.

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