Do We Really Need Christian Video Games?

I just read a lovely piece that I thought I would share my thoughts on about Christians making video games. Our own Richard Clark and Drew Dixon got interviewed for that article, and I think they made some salient observations. Indeed, I enjoyed the entire thing. I hope you’ll take a moment to read it.

I’m going to start this by being a little bit pedantic. Technically, we cannot have a Christian video game because video games cannot be Christians. It’s kind of a “I’m joking but I’m kind of serious” thing I say when people ask me if I listen to “Christian” music or read “Christian” novels. I say that to encourage a conversation about what we mean when we dub some kind of vehicle for communication such as art, comic books, video games, music, etc as “Christian.”

Up front, I’m going to declare that we do not need something that we cannot have. That is, we cannot have Christian video games. But what we do need are Christians who make video games. These games do not need to preach the gospel. It is no shame for a Christian to make a video game that does not preach the gospel. Not everything has to preach the gospel! Everyone ought to know this, but apparently we don’t.

I’m a Christian. I have a wife and two children. I play the banjo. My kids love it. They love to sing “Go Tell It on the

This Really Happened

Mountain”. They also love to sing “She’ll Be Coming Around the Mountain.” (My kids like songs about mountains, what can I say?) Is it sub-Christian to play and dance and sing to “She’ll Be Coming Around the Mountain”? No, it isn’t. As simple as that song is, it teaches us something about the excitement and even longing for a loved one’s return. It tells us that it is good and proper to party when a loved one visits. (Sorry, old red rooster.) If you think about it, “She’ll Be Coming Around the Mountain” explains why we sing “Go Tell It on the Mountain.” We are excited that Jesus has shown up and visited us. So let’s celebrate!

Now apply that to video games. There are millions and millions of people playing video games all over the world. They play them because they are fun, and they play them because many of them tell an exciting story that sucks you in and makes you feel like one of the characters. Why can’t Christians make games that deal with love, loss, mourning, courage, death, life, money, and such? Why can’t they make video games that ask questions without feeling compelled to instantly provide the answer? Jesus did that. He taught in parables and did not explain them. Often I hear people erroneously say that Jesus taught in parables because they were simple. No, Jesus explicitly said that he taught in parables because they were hard to understand. People followed him around because he was enigmatic. It was the power of Christ’s observations about life, and his questions to the crowd about their lives that drew the people in. Yes, he did provide answers, but he also provided questions, probing questions, about life, and his general observations turned people’s worlds upside down. Why can’t Christian video game makers do the same? I believe that they can, and they should.

Maybe you are reading this and you are thinking that video games are really just games. Like Risk or Monopoly or Uno. They aren’t like that at all. They are mass marketed stories that are engrossing billions of people. We simply cannot be good stewards of the gospel and ignore that. Indeed, we cannot be good followers of Christ and not encourage those of us who love that medium and want to tell stories through it. I hope they do, and I hope the questions they ask and the observations that they make turns the world on its ear. It would also be really awesome if they just made something great like Mario Brothers. Not every video game has to be all that deep.

About Brad Williams

Brad is the pastor of a Baptist church in a small town in Alabama. Brad has a lovely wife, two children, two dogs, a cat, a turtle, and five bee hives. Besides the incredible fact that he managed to persuade his wife to marry him, he is proud that he served six years in the Army National Guard, managed to graduate college with an English Lit. degree, graduate seminary, and finish the original Bard's Tale as a youngster by making maps on graph paper.

  • http://jasonericson.net Jason Ericson

    As a Christian game developer (a “Christian who develops games” I should say), I really appreciate these conversations. Sometimes it’s hard for me to justify my career choice, but it helps to recognize the widespread influence games already have on our culture.

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/christandpopculture Brad Williams

    Jason,

    I hate it that you would feel like you have to ‘justify’ your career choice. Do plumbers face this dilemma? Or guys who program for Microsoft Office? Or novelists? You have an important influence on your co-workers, and if you get high enough up the ‘develop’ chain, you can have major impact on how you show dilemmas to people. Hang in there, man!

  • Joe Garfield

    Games are quite capable of providing commentary on society and contemporary issues and problems. As a professional game dev who has wrestled with the question of a Christian’s impact on/through video games for years I’m seeing a lot of potential in the creative/delicate use of metaphor to resonate with a player. (See the 2012 game “Papa y Yo” as a somewhat heavy-handed example of this point). To apply this to the traditional “Christian game”, a Christ-focused dev team needs to concentrate on building game mechanics AND theme/story around an aspect of Christianity (i.e. pick a single Christian virtue like ‘faith’, ‘hope’ and ‘love’, etc… and think of the mechanics that embody the virtue and then choose a theme, not the other way around). The intent here is to craft an experience that is lauded by the gaming public for its craftsmanship but also serve as a tool to prep the players’ hearts to Hear the gospel from a friend in-person.

    Lastly, as for you and I, Jason, there is always the goal of being like Christ to our teammates. The hope is to transform games and the gaming culture by affecting the game dev community from within (the same can be said for other professional environments as well). I believe that God desires his people to be influencers in all parts of society and being a “good worker” and skilled at what we do are good ways to be influential with our peers.

  • http://www.thirstytheologian.com David Kjos

    In spite of my utter disdain for video games, I endorse this message.

  • Steve

    Christian games would suffer the same problem that Christian movies often do. They are “Christian” first and “Game” secondarily.

    In a way, we should learn from the tactics of the Enemy. How does evil advance? Slowly and methodically. Gradually introducing you to its priorities and its way of thinking. Before long, the ways of the Enemy is the very air you breath.

    So it strikes me that Christian games and movies should focus on a small, basic message. “Good and evil are real things and evil is worth fighting against” is a good start. Or how about, “Judging people is different from judging the moral character of actions.” Or perhaps, “People are deeply flawed and in need of a redeemer.” Or “God is real and He created the universe.”

    Games should focus first on being games. Then they should introduce the player to a little hint of Christian flavor.

  • rvs

    –Hank Hill on Christian rock music: “You are not making Christianity better; you are just making rock-n-roll worse”–or some such comment. Christians should obviously be playing great video games! The Left Behind nonsense is precisely what Christians should avoid vis-a-vis video games. Legend of Zelda–yes! Unrelated: your pedantic comment is intriguing. Would you say that we cannot have a Christian Bible for the same reason?

  • http://alessandrareflections.wordpress.com/ Alessandra

    I think there’s two different types of popular culture products to be made: explicitly religious and non-religious ones, but based on Christian and notably socially conservative values.

    Making explicitly Christian products will probably lose the majority of the non-Christian audience. An exception might be a huge blockbuster movie, which would be very rare. So, it’s good to have stories based on good, solid principles that can reach a much wider audience without having the product holler These Are Christian Principles. A lot of people that would otherwise be interested in the product will automatically reject it if they think they are being “sold” some kind of religion.

  • http://www.acvgames.com Dr. Bobbie E. Emerald Way

    Inicially, reading you comments one would think that you were not in favor of
    Christian in the video game field. However, the reflection of your thoughts as I continued to read actually revealed that your intention are indeed honorable in reference to
    the specific things that you did address. the fact and truth is simple.. The Lord God gives
    gifts and if we allow him to use our gift to benefit the kingdom it will add souls to the kingdom. I am a Christian developer and write Christian Games based on the truth of scriptures. we cann not seperate the fact that God is Love and also the thuth that he (God) is also a man of War. I am weary of many soft (weak) Christian that wants us to ignor the fact of my previous statement. we are soldier…there is a real battle going on at this time and people are dying…Truth is what God expects us to give not part but all.
    the trus solduer are waging a spiritual war against the devil while other who benefit from out struggle complain about the precess of fighting.

    Respectfully,

    Dr. Bobbie E. Emerald Way

  • Katie

    16 Let the message about Christ, in all its richness, fill your lives. Teach and counsel each other with all the wisdom he gives. Sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs to God with thankful hearts. 17 And whatever you do or say, do it as a representative of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through him to God the Father.

  • Michael

    As one who has studied and used video games, music, and 3d, I believe christian(or positive) video games suffer from misunderstanding, underfunding, ignorance, or an extreme lack of creativity. This is why they havent been so cutting-edge, and I would agree with the above article in it’s assertion that the games can deal with tragedy, loss, love, and other very human conditions. There is plenty of death and violence and sex in worldly video games, so ‘cutting-edge’ really wouldnt define them. Hopeful, well-made, virtuosic, and well-thought-out games would be a welcome thing, as well as a vast improvement over what is available right now in the christian world. Just making a game geared toward a second grader, then intending it to make adults or ‘olders’ happy just does not work, and is very clouded thinking. If bible thumping is one’s thing, then one should avoid games all-together, and perhaps stay in one’s home in a corner, lol. The bible is very serious about our lives reflecting Jesus on this earth, but we all know that Daniel, one of the king’s ‘soothsayers’, also was a godly man, as are many of us who work for ‘worldly’ places.


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