Parting the Digital SeaThe Parables of GamingParting the Digital Sea - RSS 2.0
The point of the game is to make people realize why hiding yourself away and not investing into the world isn't profitable. The Bible conveys this idea through stories and parables, while Mac's game encourages students to act out the experiment and come to the same realization firsthand. In order to win, students had to swap candy several times, barter with money, pool resources together - simply put; to win, they had to deal and interact with the other players. Mac notes that the winner, a student suffering from autism, won with twenty dollars and the right candy bar.
Another issue that religious games face involves establishing which morals to develop and how it can be accomplished. One gaming website, Christ Centered Gamer, creates two distinct categories for their reviews. One is the usual rating for graphics, controls, and game design, but the other evaluates 'Appropriateness'. This category grades games on violence, language, use of the occult, sexual content, and the cultural, moral, and ethical values that they encourage. The last category can seem ambiguous: Call of Duty 4 was awarded an 8/10 for morality while Fallout 3 received a 6/10, and Grand Theft Auto IV earned a 5/10. It might be inane to simply stuff Bible quotes into a game, but it's equally a waste to blankly label violence or magic as evil or offensive without any contextual consideration for how the game presents these concepts. Why is shooting Arabs in COD 4 less reprehensible than killing another living being in a nuclear wasteland in Fallout 3? If I shoot someone in GTA IV, I'm sent to jail and given a brief fine. In Fallout 3, depending on the circumstances, I can commit awful acts and get away with no punishment. Which game better communicates a sense of morality?
Mac is adamant about the need for consequences that fit whatever morals the game designers want to instill in the player. He thinks that if videogames are going to be used to teach, the consequences must extend into the real world as well. Xbox Live already threatens the loss of privileges if vulgar, racial, or otherwise inappropriate language is used. Oddly, Xbox Live seems to be one of the few and best examples of how the videogame industry can actually enforce a moral goal by punishing bad behavior in the real world. Otherwise, the player can reload from an earlier save and undo the mistake.
Ultimately Mac's suggestions for games aren't so different from the issues developers are constantly struggling with. "I do not want a video game where you have to pull the trigger to raise Jesus from the dead. Games need to investigate difficult moral situations that have realistic consequences, so a player can begin to engage those questions. We need to be simple. Wouldn't it be more interesting to try and feed a starving family or control how two warring societies come together than to run around a sandbox and quote scripture?"
L.B. Jeffries is a law student from South Carolina who spends too much time playing videogames or screwing around on The Escapist forums instead of studying. He writes reviews, articles and a weekly blog for the videogames section of Popmatters.