How to Save a Video Game
Andy Robertson is giving two talks at Greenbelt 2012 about video games and their use in church and at home. He writes for Geek Dad, runs Ask About Games and curates the GamePeople video-game community, and here gives an introduction to this new form of storytelling…
To be human is to be a storyteller I said in my TEDx talk and videogames offer a new way to tell those stories, a new way to be human.
That’s a pretty grand claim for Call of Duty, Resident Evil, Grand Theft Auto and a thousand other games we pour millions of pounds into. However, video games are much more diverse than this. As you encounter more of their outer reaches it becomes clear that they are entirely distinct from books, films and theatre. They offer a unique way to present stories and understand the world.
Rather than coming to maturity by achieving film-like visuals or book-like narrative, games are interesting to grownups because they address storytelling uniquely with play and interaction and agency. Without a word, without dialogue, without direction video games engage the emotions and tell stories in new and ground breaking ways.
It’s shocking to claim that that video games offer more than entertainment. Like parables, we unseeingly see them all around us. Similarly they have a kernel very different to first appearances. They offer fresh perspectives on the world, new ideas about meaning, and unimagined possibilities for the future of things.
Sounds nice, but really? Well, firstly there are obscure games that are the green shoots of what this new media can be — Flower, Limbo, Let’s Catch and Journey. Then there are the games obscured by violence that have within them a kernel of meaning, Uncharted, Heavy Rain and Alan Wake. The complication is that sifting the good from the bad like this can only result in a personal list, it’s something you have to do for yourself.
Ironically, the way video games are marketed, reviewed and talked about has left these stories without champions. Gamers too often entrench into defence of their hobby and non-gamers usually look down on such juvenile pursuits. But leaving video games in the hands of publishers and retailers is to risk them becoming as synonymous with violence as comics are with super heroes and to be enjoyed by a similar minority.
Perhaps a Christian response to video games should be fuelled by our history of storytelling rather than our desire to inoculate ourselves and our children from loss, danger and fear. There is an opportunity to champion the best of these emerging stories, not as controllers or owners but as stewards who bring them to a broad audience — a new priesthood of video game players.
When I brought a Playstation 3 game into Exeter Cathedral as part of the Holy Ground worship service, the most common question was who was I trying to attract into church, who was I trying to save?
The truth was that it was video games rather than faith that benefitted from that inclusion. It was a small step towards saving games from exclusion from the lives of that congregation. It was a success not because anyone was converted to Christianity, but because of the individuals who progressed along the video gaming Engels scale. Curiously, the video game we used integrated surprisingly well in amongst the other elements and didn’t dominate as we thought it might. There was an unexpected sense of appropriateness and enrichment of the service.
Beyond any “cute” use of video games in spiritual settings, my exhortation is for you to play more games. Find experiences to share with your friends, adventures to enjoy with your family, challenges to enliven your community. As you do keep an ear to the wise for what these games mean to you. Are they playfully whispering a story, questioning an assumption, sketching a new possibility?
I’ll be expanding on this topic in my Greenbelt talk this year, keen to hear your thoughts on the topic before then. Comment here, catch me on Twitter – GeekDadGamer – or email firstname.lastname@example.org.