- Paperback: 224 pages
- Publisher: Brazos Press (January 15, 2013)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1587433257
- ISBN-13: 978-1587433252
- Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.5 x 8.9 inches
- Shipping Weight: 13.9 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 11 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,106,291 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Of Games and God: A Christian Exploration of Video Games Paperback – January 15, 2013
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From the Back Cover
"A must read for anyone with questions on the compatibility of the Christian faith and interactive entertainment"
"With solid research and intellectual curiosity, Kevin Schut dispels myths, debunks stereotypes, and offers an informed, levelheaded, and accessible analysis of a perplexing and contentious subject. Of Games and God is a valuable resource that invites players and skeptics alike into a critical discussion of the dark spots and bright lights of interactive video games."
--William D. Romanowski, author of Reforming Hollywood: How American Protestants Fought for Freedom at the Movies and Eyes Wide Open: Looking for God in Popular Culture
"Of Games and God provides a balanced, research-driven perspective on the hugely influential video game industry. A must read for anyone with questions on the compatibility of the Christian faith and interactive entertainment."
--Joseph M. Tringali, general manager at 5TH Cell, developer for Scribblenauts and Drawn to Life
"An engaging introduction to the topic of video games written for Christians, particularly those who have never considered the value of video games or those who wish to defend them as a worthy pastime. Balanced in its perspective, broad in its scope, and written for a general audience, Of Games and God fills a niche that has long been waiting to be filled."
--Mark J. P. Wolf, Concordia University Wisconsin; editor of The Medium of the Video Game
"Gaming is a notoriously difficult topic to analyze and the relationship between gamers and churchgoers is typically less than cozy. Nevertheless Kevin Schut explores the problems and promise of today's dominant cultural medium with insight and understanding of both gamer and church cultures. Like it or not, gaming is a powerful vehicle for teaching values and ethics, and churches that ignore how gaming is speaking to their teens and young adults do so at their own peril. But with this great book, every gaming noob can speak l33t and grasp the relevant social trends at the same time."
--Chris Skaggs, Soma Games
"Outstanding read! If you're a gamer, media junkie, teacher, parent, or student, you need to read this book. Christians and non-Christians alike will find gems of truth throughout the book. Reading it is only the beginning of the conversation!"
--Kelly Zmak, Infinite Game Publishing
About the Author
Kevin Schut (PhD, University of Iowa) is associate professor and chair of the department of media and communication at Trinity Western University in Langley, British Columbia. His research uses video games to investigate the intersection of communication, technology, and culture. He has published articles and chapters on video games and history, games and mythology, and evangelical involvement with video games.
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The book is likely best summarized by Schut's: "So, taking all the stuff we've just discussed, here's what I think" (67). "But to my way of thinking. . ." (122). "I get the feeling from some Christian reviews and essays that there can only be one right way for a follower of Christ to think about an issue. I'm not at all convinced this is the case when we talk about something like, say, gender in video games. In any case, even if there is a right and wrong interpretation of a video game, I believe strongly in the notion of grace--if we get something wrong, it is covered" (176).
In other words, Dr. Schut's understanding of theology allows him to play games along these lines: "The chain-mail bikini is very revealing. In Fantasy RPG artwork, a shapely woman warrior stereotypically wears her armor like a beer commercial model. She either leaves her glorious torso exposed to slashing swords of enemies. . .(see the unavoidable image on p. 94)--or wears a skintight, suffocating suit of armor. . . (93)
[Under the image] "The princess Amelie, sporting a variation on the chain-mail bikini. A better title for this game would probably be King's Bounty: Poorly Armored Princess. To be fair, this really is a fun game, even if the skin shown (mostly in this game-opening image) is totally gratuitous" (94)
The book contains some fairly high level philosophical analysis: Video games are media. As a medium video games have attributes similar to other medium--narrative, use of symbols for communication, rules. But video games also allow the possibility of creating an interactive experience that includes immersion in the activity and play. Video games as media are neither good nor evil, but like "all media is broken" (43).The content of the games is also neither good nor evil because "[v]ideo games are a site where we create meaning" (26).
And this leads to statements like "for one person, the knife evokes the fear of an attack, and for the next, the joy of cooking. So does the image of the knife suggest violence or tastiness? Video-game worlds are phenomenally complex, requiring a lot of interpretation" (58-59)
And the conclusion: "What I believe is that for Christians, all things are permissible, but not all things are beneficial. What this means in practice is constant self-monitoring, conversation , and engagement. Do bloodthirsty games encourage me to be bloodthirsty? Am I less sympathetic to the oppressed after playing video games? Am I buying into attitudes and ideologies that I should not, attitudes that glorify destructive acts, inflicting pain, and causing death" (71)?
There are also simply confusing statements: "I can guarantee that humanity became something different after the invention of the chair" (80). And, "I keep waiting for a video game, for instance, that explores the theological concept of grace--a kind of experimental anticompetive game" (48). It's not readily apparent how "humanity became something different" with or without chairs or how the unmerited favor of God (i.e. grace) could be experimental and anticompetive.
Detriments/Benefits: Dr. Schut has given us an academically informed discussion on video games and expressed his opinion from a generally Christian worldview.
His bibliography is helpful and his discussion of education and the dangers of fanboyism are edifying.
The difficulty is that he has not made a serious attempt to think through what God's opinion is of imagined violence, sensuality, erotic images, or even the differences between rest and play or entertainment and thought experiments.
There is overlap between Schut's Christian intuitions and Scripture, but he seems to be more reflexive than biblically grounded. God makes clear statements against imagined violence (Prov. 3:31, 16:27; Ps. 11:5), imagined eroticism (Matt. 5:28), and enjoying wickedness (Ps. 34:6) as sin, but a reader will have to turn elsewhere to attempt to discern if they are pleasing God by playing Red Dead Redemption or Grand Theft Auto for the purpose of entertainment. Schut's only moral concern seems to be that playing with "chainmail bikini" clad babes leads to adultery and not that it leads to lust.
Schut carefully and correctly argues that video games cannot be evil in themselves. This is firmly supported by Scripture (Rom. 14:14). And he points out that it is possible to imagine scenarios whereby a Christian can interact with the content of say Grand Theft Auto without necessarily sinning and supports this with 1 Corinthians 6:12. But because Schut makes no distinction between entertainment and thought experiments, there is no defense of pretending to pillage, murder, for the fun of it. The way of the wicked is described as joining those "who rejoice in doing evil and delight in the perverseness of evil" (Prov. 2:14). If we rejoice in imagining sin, we are sinning.
Besides the biblical element, there are two more components. The first is that the meaning of the symbols is decided by the user of the game, instead of an interaction between the game designers and the player. Communication is when one person communicates ideas to another person. The game designers of Wi Fit and King's Bounty are purposely creating different communicative events. For instance Wi Fit purposely limits the eroticism in the avatars. The designers of the King's Bounty expect players to enjoy the eroticism of the symbols, but for a Christian to "look with lustful intent" (Matt. 5:28) is sin. In other words to experience the King's Bounty as intended by the designers is sin.
We find something similar in his argument about a knife above. Everyone readily admits that a knife can be used for good and evil. But how does the "symbol of knife" being used to stab zombies or slash prostitutes communicate "tastiness?" The meaning of a symbol is created by a context; for an event of communication to occur between the designers and the player there must be an agreement as to the meaning of knife within the rules of the video game. A player who attempts to play Red Dead Redemption by a personal symbol code of say Gatling guns functioning as ice-cream scoops and pistols as watermelons is not playing the game and has not communicated with the designers.
Schut has confused the fact that in a communication event within a medium there can be different moral intents and uses with communication itself. Jesus illustrates this for us clearly in (Matt. 22): the intent of Caesar stamping a coin with a blasphemous inscription on both sides and his own image was idolatry. Jesus' permission to use such a coin did not suggest that he was giving a different meaning to the words or symbols that Caesar was using. Idolatry remains a sin, but one can use the coin without participating in the message as long as they don't use it in the way intended by the creator. Schut teaches that using Grand Theft Auto as a sermon illustration and using it to pretend to steal cars and to lust is the same moral action, but this is not the teaching of Jesus.
The second issue is Schut's understanding that media is broken. This functions as an undefended presupposition inside his system and allows if not requires moral compromise by Christians to engage with media. Christians cannot expect wholesome and good things from any medium because the media must carry perversity. But the Bible teaches that the broken thing is not our technology or communication mediums, but the human heart (Mark 7:18-23).
The human heart that rejoices over pretending to rip out a symbolic spinal column of a symbol of a man created in the image of God is sinning. The human heart that enjoys slashing symbols communicating prostitute with a symbol communicating chainsaw is sinning. Lusting after an erotic symbol of a woman who is not your wife according to Jesus is the same as committing adultery with her.
The chapters are nicely delineated into byte-size windows. He begins with a plea for a reasonable discussion, moves to understanding a video game, and tackles the spirituality of the non-material 'verse. From there, he moves to discuss the ethics of violence in games, the perils of addiction, the role of gender and, contrary to Mark Driscoll, makes chapter 7 all about how games can be and are used to further education. Finally, he ends his series with Christian uses and responses to video games, including stories about Christian ministries geared to gamers. There is hardly a subject left untouched -- at least, none that I can think of. His chapters, then, become the talking points of nearly 30 years of anti-gaming critics, serving as an answer to them.
But, that is a drawback -- the lack of direct focus on several of what I would consider major issues. While the author is careful to walk a fine line between online violence and how that mutates into the real world, I would rather have seen several chapters focused on this. The authors knows his Plato and Aristotle (mimesis and ethics, respectively), but he doesn't really allow for the great swell of witnesses against images and their corrupting influence to be heard. Chapter 4 and chapter 5 deal expressly with these two issues. As odd as it sounds, we must have a discussion about the ethics of violence in video games.
Schut writes magnificently about the magic circle, that place that allows us to kill and steal inside the video game world, and how it interferes or mimics our real life attitudes and behaviors. He doesn't really see it as such a significant boundary. He is correct, as well, that taking a digital life is not the same as taking a real life. Further, he is likewise correct that graphics tend to go unnoticed the more a gamer spends inside the game. But, added to this some of the discussion in the following chapter on addiction, and we have cause for concern, I think.
A particular noticeable highlight for me was the inclusion of so many games and terms I have come to love over the years. There are even images included in the book -- images I can point to and say, "I was there!" For the non-gamer, though, Schut does include a helpful glossary of gamer terms.
One of the key aspects of this book is not so much the argument for or against games, but the acceptance that games, gaming, and gamers are here to stay. They are among us. We have them as friends, lovers, pastors, and children. Games are now even incorporating advertising, moving from games to film, and developing communities that transcend the so-called magic circle. He's correct that a fuss over new technology is nothing new. We've even had controversies raised over using choral hymns rather than singing psalms, having pews or chairs, and of course, the blasted devil-in-your-den-box -- the television. So, how does the Church respond? The author is at his best in answer, and perhaps the most Aristotelian. He urges us to play on, but to be mindful of the issues he has presented. This book should be a stable for youth pastors and parents alike who are fearful of what video games may be or may not be doing to or for their children.
There are positive benefits of the gaming world and they should not be overlooked; likewise, there are negative aspects as well. This is Schut's drama, then, to walk the line and to play on.