64: Dancing for Jesus

"It was a classic clash of cultures. The gaming establishment and its audience treat Christian game publishers as bizarre outsiders, aliens from another world where people use the word "spirituality" in a serious sense. While the "Are games art?" debate rages endlessly in "our" circles, these same outsiders seek to make games that are spiritually enriching. Disagree with their conviction all you like, but few publishers seek enlightenment in addition to fabulous cash prizes."

Dancing for Jesus

I can track one major reason why religiously-themed games never caught on big. Video games still bear the relics of their history as a programmers' hobby. Programmers are usually very cynical, very scientifically-minded, always wanting to find out how things work, and not trusting anything that they're "not supposed to" understand (which, in all fairness, is a stigma many religions carry). This market, the most influential in video games' history, is hardly the ideal demographic to make or sell products that are even themed after real-world religions, much less outright worshipful or evangelical. Thus, religious games of the day sold poorly. Developers and publishers caught wind, and invested less money in them - which led to more than a few lackluster games. Religious-themed games have, accordingly, acquired a reputation for being poor-quality games.

In addition, that programmer's mindset still is the dominant one throughout the industry. These are the sorts of people who'll look at anything overtly religious and write it off as either an overbearing attempt to "save" them, or merely an exercise in preaching to the choir (in a fairly literal sense). This produces a self-defeating cycle, wherein too often the only people who'd attempt to make an openly religious game are the very sort of people who tend to make the very products that give religious games a bad name, with the overbearing evangelism and whatnot.

I'd probably be annoyed if my rhythm game told me in all candor to praise or worship anything (side effects of the programmer's bias, I suppose, but I am a programmer), but it is refreshing to see more variety entering the industry - especially a vastly different sort of variety, which is what stands the best chance of expanding the medium. I wish them good luck.

Bongo Bill:

I'd probably be annoyed if my rhythm game told me in all candor to praise or worship anything (side effects of the programmer's bias, I suppose, but I am a programmer), but it is refreshing to see more variety entering the industry - especially a vastly different sort of variety, which is what stands the best chance of expanding the medium. I wish them good luck.

I Concur. I am most certainly not the market for religiously themed games that are aimed in any way at converting me. However - I would definitely be in the market for a religiously themed game willing to explore biblical history and allow the player to not do things the "way it happened". Wars of good vs evil a la constantine with a RPG feel. Adventure games feeling similar to Stigmata. In all honesty religion in and of itself isnt a turn off the same way preaching is to me.

- Tom

Bongo Bill:
I can track one major reason why religiously-themed games never caught on big. Video games still bear the relics of their history as a programmers' hobby. Programmers are usually very cynical, very scientifically-minded, always wanting to find out how things work, and not trusting anything that they're "not supposed to" understand (which, in all fairness, is a stigma many religions carry). This market, the most influential in video games' history, is hardly the ideal demographic to make or sell products that are even themed after real-world religions, much less outright worshipful or evangelical. Thus, religious games of the day sold poorly. Developers and publishers caught wind, and invested less money in them - which led to more than a few lackluster games. Religious-themed games have, accordingly, acquired a reputation for being poor-quality games.

In addition, that programmer's mindset still is the dominant one throughout the industry. These are the sorts of people who'll look at anything overtly religious and write it off as either an overbearing attempt to "save" them, or merely an exercise in preaching to the choir (in a fairly literal sense). This produces a self-defeating cycle, wherein too often the only people who'd attempt to make an openly religious game are the very sort of people who tend to make the very products that give religious games a bad name, with the overbearing evangelism and whatnot.

I think it has less to do with programmers specifically and more to do with human nature. I don't think it matters if you're a programmer, a physicist, a doctor, a musician, a secertary, or a mini-mart clerk: faith is a deceptively difficult thing to understand. Plus, I think there is a common misconception that science is the enemy of religion, especially with current political climates being what they are. But, that idea is only a throwback to 15th century thinking (Galileo, Copernicus, et al) perpetuated by zealots on both sides of the argument. Reality probably lies somewhere in between. For instance, I was able to find this website (http://www.asa3.org/ASA/) that seems to be only one of many organizations devoted to examining the world with a scientific yet faithful eye. Anyway, my point is that the denial of the existance of God is not so much the property of scientifically-minded folks as it is the property of anyone who might not believe in something that they cannot empirically experience. But, yeah, religious games are usually teh stinky.

DrRosenRosen:
Anyway, my point is that the denial of the existance of God is not so much the property of scientifically-minded folks as it is the property of anyone who might not believe in something that they cannot empirically experience.

I agree with this statement and think it summarizes others' thoughts well. However, I think the notion of scientifically-minded people denying the existence of God more than others carries weight. You descibe those who deny God's existence as though who cannot believe in that which they cannot prove. Those are typically the people who go into science and programming type fields - areas which can have hard answers and defined boundaries. Those fields just mesh a little better with that way of thinking, and therefore those guys excel in those fields.

Of course there are exceptions (most notably, from the years I spent in the medical field, there are many faithful docs and nurses), but there is a pattern. Many of the same things that help these people excel and feel fulfilled in the sciences, a quest for a hard truth and explanations, also inhibit belief in other than demonstrated fact.

You make a good point, but I'm not entirely convinced. Professions are closely tied to socio-economic status, too, which probably complicates the argument past its talking point status. Is there a sociologist in the house? Member of the US census bureau, perhaps? :)

I think it is important to distinguish between a belief in God and dogmatic adherence to a particular religion. The existence of God can be dealt with in a philosophical manner. Thus, it does not lie outside the domain of logic. Nearly all of the major scientists in history beleived in God and their scientific quests often stemmed from this belief. Newton's quest for a universal theory of matter and motion stemmed from a steadfast belief that he was finding proof of the existence of God. He was facinated by the unseen and transformative forces of Nature and truly beleived that he was on a path to discovering the nature of God. Thus, in essence, Newton and others like him were searching for empirical evidence of the divine. Thier failure to do so means that the question of God's existence cannot be investigated in a scientific manner, simply because their is no way to generate and test a falsifiable hypothesis in the absence of empirical data.

The people discussed in this article are a whole different breed. They seek to spread the word of God as they see fit. They beleive in their church and take the Bible literally, despite its many glaring contradictions. They are on a quest to save souls and serve their God and savior, Jesus. They do not question or search for answers. Answers are spoon fed to them by their pastors and cohorts. They are on a mission to glorify their dogmatic beliefs and to sell those beliefs to others at a fair market price. I personally find thier ilk hypocritical, ignorant, and self-righteous. I have no problem with people of faith. Having faith in the existence of God is far from illogical. It is the hubris of religious zealots that leaves a bad taste in my mouth.

I didn't mean to imply that people who aren't religious tend to be programmers; rather, I meant that people who are programmers tend to view the world from a less faith-based (or at least less zealously faith-based) viewpoint.

heavyfeul:
They seek to spread the word of God as they see fit. They beleive in their church and take the Bible literally, despite its many glaring contradictions. They are on a quest to save souls and serve their God and savior, Jesus. They do not question or search for answers. Answers are spoon fed to them by their pastors and cohorts. They are on a mission to glorify their dogmatic beliefs and to sell those beliefs to others at a fair market price. I personally find thier ilk hypocritical, ignorant, and self-righteous. I have no problem with people of faith. Having faith in the existence of God is far from illogical. It is the hubris of religious zealots that leaves a bad taste in my mouth.

Just be careful not to lump all of them into the one big blanket religion, I have met many different people claiming to be Christian, I still associate with several, those I do do not do the things that you mention. I've been pleasantly surprised by the ability of some of my friends to talk about their religion in a personal but not overbearing manner, simply accepting that we have different points of view.

I realize that not all religious people are certifiable. However, I have a major problem with people who claim to be good faithful Christians, but yet do not dedicate their lives to the ideals set forth in the gospel. Ever see a Mercedes with a Jesus fish on it? Or how about a Church with an ATM?

http://www.chicagotribune.com/business/la-na-holyatm28sep28,1,3748276.story?coll=chi-business-hed

It is sickening how people pick and choose what is acceptable behavior when they all know in their hearts that they will never be good Christians unless they live a life of poverty and service and espouse a doctrine of acceptance, forgiveness, non-violence, and salvation. Instead it has become a business and a political means to an end. All religions are corrupt and suspect in some way and they have abosolutely nothing to do with God. They are based on books and institutions created by men and are definitely not the path to the divine.

heavyfeul:

It is sickening how people pick and choose what is acceptable behavior when they all know in their hearts that they will never be good Christians unless they live a life of poverty and service and espouse a doctrine of acceptance, forgiveness, non-violence, and salvation. Instead it has become a business and a political means to an end. All religions are corrupt and suspect in some way and they have abosolutely nothing to do with God. They are based on books and institutions created by men and are definitely not the path to the divine.

I think that kind of bigoty is some of the worst that religion creates, but it's certainly not descriptive of all religion or all religious peoples. The ones who are out and in your face proving their unworthiness as you so described are the only ones that outsiders will ever see. The path to the divine, buddha, valhalla, transcendence, being closer to god, or anything else of that nature, can be walked with missteps I would argue.

If god exists, does he/she care more about results than intentions? I don't think so, however egotistical it might be for me to suggest I could have the slightest idea what god would care about. When I see someone telling me that they have a personal relationship with jesus, and they very obviously feel smug and proud for it, I see someone I'd call misguided, or a sheep. If someone tells me that they're time in church and reading over the bible makes them feel more personally connected to their god, and that it brings them a freedom, and takes weight off their heart. I understand the appeal, and in a way I'm jealous, because I'm far too logical to believe in the bible. But that second class of religious person is not a zealot, and isn't doing it to put me down, and I have no issue with them. And in all honesty, they may be on the path to the divine.

This is not an admonishment.

I think that so far you guys have done a really good job of keeping this conversation civil and intelligent. Religion is a touchy subject, so I know how hard you must be trying and I appreciate it immensely.

It would be lovely if someone who happened to be both a gamer AND a practicing Christian felt comfortable enough to enter into this conversation. So let's make it our goal to leave that door open.

Thanks.

image

/mod

Fletcher:
This is not an admonishment.

I think that so far you guys have done a really good job of keeping this conversation civil and intelligent. Religion is a touchy subject, so I know how hard you must be trying and I appreciate it immensely.

It would be lovely if someone who happened to be both a gamer AND a practicing Christian felt comfortable enough to enter into this conversation. So let's make it our goal to leave that door open.

Thanks.

/mod

Thanks for keeping the forums clean fletch, I for one really appreciate it, It makes the Escapist a wonderful place for all of us to talk about issues and ideas without going as far as the flame wars which accompany many internet forums. Good moderation like this is precisely how it can stay this way. Kudos to you!

And to the christian gamer you described, If you are reading the thread please do jump in. I welcome your point of view and feel the only way to reach the correct conclusion in any situation is to have open analysis of the different viewpoints. So long as that has happened, the choices you made were the best you could have.

- Tom

It would be lovely if someone who happened to be both a gamer AND a practicing Christian felt comfortable enough to enter into this conversation.

Heh. That would be me, I guess, since I already posted! Honestly, there's so many points that have been touched upon both in and out of the article that it would take me way too long to offer a comment on all of them. So, I'll do my best to be concise.

First, the article references Christians as outsiders in the view of the majority in the game industry, when in fact as the article goes on to state, Christians see themselves as being just another person like anyone else who happens to believe in God:

They don't even consider themselves outsiders, he continues...

I live in the same world as everyone else and I have the same problems and struggles, but I also believe. I don't see how that makes me any more or less an outsider than someone who does or doesn't like grapefruit, except that, unlike my taste or distate for grapefruit, faith or lack thereof tends to be a core component of the self and therefore a highly combustible topic. (By the way, I don't much care for grapefruit at all.) Despite faith being a core component of a Christian's self, the author seems suprised that,

The rampant cynicism of the gaming industry doesn't seem to dent their morale at all.

I would respond that, of course my morale isn't dented because I deal with cynicism every day from co-workers, friends, media, random strangers on the interwebs, even my own. Why am I unaffected? Because I absolutely, 100% do not see myself as an outsider in any part of my life and anything you might say doesn't really sway my opinions much. However, returning to the article, the author continued to use language that throws an implication of negative labeling back at me:

These outsiders-but-not...

It's a subtle dig, but it makes me think that Mr. Drake wants me to be an outsider. I'm not allowed in the club for whatever that's worth. In the end, I was a little disappointed that the article didn't make any attempt to overcome its own biases as other Escapist articles have done on less weighty subjects.

The forum discussion presents quite a bit more material, especially the recent posts, and I don't have time to go into it all today. However, I did want to say something about logic and faith as that particular idea has permeated nearly all of the posts. If anyone reading this is interested in the topic of logic and faith and wants some fascinating reading material, whether or not you belive in the Christian God, please do try to make an effort to read something by one of the apologists mentioned at the following Wikipedia aricle: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christian_apologetics. C.S. Lewis' Mere Christianity and Josh McDowell's More Than a Carpenter are widely available and also excellent starting points. Perhaps start by reading the article itself if you are unfamiliar with the school of thought. Faith in Christ does not immediately and totally demand that one quell one's desire to understand the world around one in a logical way. In fact, any Christian scholar worth his or her salt will tell you that thinking logically about religion, faith, and the Bible is absolutely necessary.

DrRosenRosen,

I suppose that when I think of a christian gamer, I think of someone who would play those games to the exclusion of other good games, because those ones did not deal with God. I shall work on that. It's rare I find myself the culprit of seperatism, yet your comments have made me realise that I seperate gamers from christian gamers in my mind. As though any overlap of christians who played "regular" games was so small as to be negligble. My apologies to you, my understanding has changed slightly.

an Afterthought:

It's also interesting that I assumed no christian gamer had contributed their thoughts because there was nothing that made them identifiably "christian" to me. I think I expected them to bring out threats of brimstone and hell for my disagreement, and the absence of a direct offense to any opposing point of view meant they had as yet not appeared. A second apology for that assumption.

- Tom

I think the issue must be considered of distinguishing moderate Christians from the really dedicated ones - the difference between those who are passively religious and those who make their religion the dominant influence in their lives. Because, let's face it, in discussions like this, "Christian" is just not a precise enough term.

Bongo Bill:
I think the issue must be considered of distinguishing moderate Christians from the really dedicated ones - the difference between those who are passively religious and those who make their religion the dominant influence in their lives. Because, let's face it, in discussions like this, "Christian" is just not a precise enough term.

I think the word you are looking for is evangelist. Maybe some gamers are afraid of videogames becoming another tool of religious recuirtment or religious fanaticism, which may be the reason why so many peopole just dismiss or put them down without ever giving christian games a chance.

Personally I don't mind religion in my entertainment as a backdrop or theme, for example: Grandia 2, Constantine, Frality.

But when things get preachy I tune out. If someone could make a high quality religious themed A class game that while being religiously accurate, was fun, and doesn't try to preach a message I would be all ears and I'm sure alot of others would too.

Until that happens no matter what the developers of these games may think, religion based games will have a stigma of being evangelistic and of poor quality.

Tom, absolutely no apologies are necessary for anything. As for your afterthought, no discussion ends well that starts with "Well, I'm a [insert religion] and I think...". That's browbeating, or "Bible-bashing" in the context of Christianity, and I don't like it any more than anyone else.

DrRosenRosen:
It's a subtle dig, but it makes me think that Mr. Drake wants me to be an outsider.

No, it's not a dig, it's the truth. They (and you) don't see themselves at outsiders, but they were still getting funny looks from the assembled masses, and they bring an entirely different valueset to the table than the typical game company. As Lex Darko just above me says...

Lex Darko:
Until that happens no matter what the developers of these games may think, religion based games will have a stigma of being evangelistic and of poor quality.

...which is why I referred to them as "outsiders."

As to my own biases, that's certainly a fair point, but people who talk about spirituality in an unironic fashion tend to not be the norm in this particular industry.

Woah, I'm a bite late to the party eh?

Nevermind, since this is actualy something that has been on my mind. Being someone who takes both Christianity and Gaming seriously the lack of overlap really does annoy me. Unfortunately most Christian games (to be honest I haven't played one, but I have heard the stories) are really dull and rarely anything more then Doom with Christian imagery or just bible story adventure games. This is not Christian art! The Joshua Tree is Christian art, Narnia is Christian art, The Brothers Karamazov is Christian art; a superficial mod isn't.

Recently I have listened alot to Amazing Grace sung by Elvi, not because of it being a Christian song. But because it reflects my feeligns towards God. C.S Lewis tells me about God in his books and Bono sings about his struggles with him.

I want games that explore religion in general (both mine and others), not in a politicaly correct way; but in a honest one. People have tried to express and covey what matters most to them (something that often is religion) through every art form ever, it is a shame that games, who show so much potential, are left out.

One problem is that it is a very touchy subject, but screw that. Religion means something, good or bad, to anyone and I definately hope we get to se some genuine works from it.

Gotta thank you for bumping this - this is a great article.

Like others have said, I am definitely against gaming used as any sort of Christian recruitment tool. Not only is it ineffective, I think that it is wrong to try and steer any one towards a certain religion. I maintain a firm belief that people should be able to associate with any faith they want, and if someone is an atheist, good for them.

If anything, I do think that using games as a way to teach gamers about different religions (not just Christianity). It would be great to learn about happens in the Bible or play a Hindu who dies and his journey to become one with Brahma. If it ain't preachy, and it's done well, I'm all for it.

In terms of religion in game stories, as long as it's done in an intelligent, mature way, it's fine with me. There have been many games that have dealt with religion well; there are quite a few Japanese games such as Xenogears and Grandia 2 involving religion(funny how Christianity rather than Shinto plays a large role in lots of Japanese media).

See the theme here? I don't want to be converted, but I'm fine with learning more.

*maybe it should be noticed that I consider myself agnostic (A.K.A. atheist but not really)

 

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