Throwback Thursday – Game Mechanics: Unnecessary Checkpoints

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Growing up, I lived in a valley that was hedged in by foothills and mountains. The south end of the valley featured a Border Patrol Checkpoint. Set up to combat illegal aliens and drug smuggling, the checkpoint was situated roughly 70 miles north of the Mexican border. Unnecessary? Politics aside, I think so.

Recently, I have been playing through Dragon Quest IV: Chapters of the Chosen on the Nintendo DS. As the games title insinuates, DQIV is broken into chapters or side stories. The first 5 chapters focus on what turns out to be the support characters. Chapter 6 unites the support characters with the hero of the game, you.

Dragon Quest IV marks my first entry into the Dragon Quest series. While I have enjoyed the 20+ hours I have spent in the game so far, I do have a minor gripe, the unnecessary leveling checkpoints.

20 year old gameplay mechanics aside, Dragon Quest IV commits the sin of the invisible wall. Every few levels, these invisible checkpoints force players to stop and grind (level up) until they are at a sufficient level to proceed in the game. Dungeons, monsters, and bosses are some of the most common level checkpoints found in the game. While I know that this is a common RPG mechanic, I have never been so aware of it. Perhaps this is due to the age of the game? I’m not sure.

Grinding is one of those bite-the-bullet game mechanics. Properly instituted within a game’s design it can be a mechanic that one barely notices. While I am enjoying the time spent with Dragon Quest IV, I can’t help but wish that a more organic type of leveling system be created. However, I do find some sort of twisted comfort in level grinding. The old and the familiar, right? Until next time.

Discipleship and Online Communities

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11049542_990975067580576_2183769705003188231_nOn the side, I work as a Community Manager for Theology Gaming University (TGU). We are an intimate Facebook Group that enjoys healthy debates, Jesus-infused conversations, and videogames that challenge both our skills and thinking.

I recently shared this quote and response with the group:

“Christianity without discipleship is always Christianity without Christ.” – Dietrich Bonhoeffer

When I think of discipleship, I think of The Great Commission: “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:19-20)

Discipleship is something we do as we GO. Discipleship is active and ongoing. For the TGU Community, this means keeping Christ at the forefront of our conversations. That we aren’t simply here to talk about videogames but to challenge each other in faith and life.

How does one challenge/sharpen iron with another online? I think this is far easier than any of us think. I have grown, as a Christian, due to members of our group. I have learned that there is far more nuance, differing cultural perspectives, and grace than I once thought. Our denominational differences have allowed me to see Christ in videogames where I didn’t think He existed (thinking of my friend Josh and Journey).

This is the purpose and unspoken mission statement of Theology Gaming University, personal growth. Whether you are a Christian or a non-Christian, I hope our discussions cause you to pause and think.

I love our community and the respect that we have for one another, despite all coming from different countries, cultures, and backgrounds. If you have not yet joined TGU, I want to personally invite you to come be a part the discussion.

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Bad Parenting: The Diablo Debacle

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As a dad, I struggle with trying to discern what types of videogames are appropriate for my son and I to play. I have to remind myself that he is only six years old. Despite being a competent player, he isn’t one of my friends, someone who can make content decisions for himself. The little guy is my son, so I have to make media choices for him.

diablo-IIISometime last year, I made a bad decision–more like a ton, but this is just one example. Despite an all knowing parental voice telling me that playing Diablo 3 with my son was not a good idea, I proceeded forward. He loved the game! We found ourselves criss-crossing the map hunting down bad guys. Monsters that would burst, giving birth to electric eel-like monsters. All writhing in pixelated bloody glory. We were having fun. I wasn’t being a good dad.

I ended up having to confess to my son that I had been wrong. Diablo 3 was not a game that him and I needed to be playing together. I apologized. He cried. He wanted to battle monsters with his daddy. I assured him that there were plenty of other games that we could play together. He asked when he might be able to play Diablo 3. I told him that he could play when he was able to understand exactly what is going on in the game.

This was one of those parental failure/redemption moments. I want to encourage other dads and moms out there to consider what types of games they are playing with their children.

  • Is the content appropriate?
  • Does the game’s worldview run contrary to beliefs one is trying to instill?
  • Are you just playing the game because you want to play it, ignoring the voice in your head telling you that you need to stop?

Being a parent that is open, honest, and willing to admit mistakes allows your child to see you as real. That is a win-win in my book. Picking age appropriate media, another win.

Surf Report

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Surf ReportWelcome to the Monday edition of the Surf Report. A quick summary of my weekend.

.: God:

Why is Good Friday called Good Friday? What is good about betrayal, torture, and death? I understand Jesus’ death on the cross being a good thing but do not understand the goodness of Friday. Unless the word good, used in a more antiquated sense, meaning ‘holy’ is the sought after definition. Holy Friday, Sacred Friday, even Passion Friday convey more depth and meaning.

I learned something this weekend. Jesus is quoting Psalm 22:1a when he says, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” David goes on in verses 16-18:

Dogs surround me,
    a pack of villains encircles me;
    they pierce[e] my hands and my feet.
17 All my bones are on display;
    people stare and gloat over me.
18 They divide my clothes among them
    and cast lots for my garment.

What David describes in Psalm 22 is prophecy fulfilled under Christ. Interesting to note that crucifixion did not yet exist in David’s time and yet he writes about it.

.: Life:

Spent some time outside this weekend. Trimmed bushes and filled up the trashcan.

Went to the Caldwell Zoo. Which is a most excellent menagerie. Ever had a white tiger roar at you? I hadn’t either until Saturday. Scary.

Celebrated Easter with my in-laws on Sunday. My brother-in-law cooked up some steaks, which were perfect! Had a good time hanging out with them and playing Ticket to Ride. Even though I lost.

.: Gaming:

My wife and I played Lara Croft and the Temple of Osiris for the first time this weekend. Mechanically, the controls feel tighter than Tomb Raider and the Guardian of Light. The gameplay is fun, varied, and adventurous. However, by the end of our first level we were both feeling eye strain. Not sure if it was due to how far the camera is pulled back or TV video settings, but our eyes hurt. Going to have to look into this.

Wave SplinterThat’s it for this weeks Surf Report. Make sure to comment below and have a good week!

Quote of the Day – Fear of Failure

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“The fear of making a wrong decision shouldn’t strip the faith right out of our faith. The only way our faith will ever strengthen is for us to use it. We need to apply thought and prayer to our decisions and then trust God for the outcome. We need to set our sights on growing in faith, not shrinking back for fear of failure.” – Lysa Terkeurst, The Best Yes

Rewind Wednesday – Healthy Christian Criticism

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darksiderswarHave you ever wondered what healthy Christian criticism looks like in regards to video games? I know that often I have been guilty of intentionally writing a negative review from the outset. I am guilty of making blanket statements just because I have been offended by a gameplay mechanic or content found in a game. Just because I am/was offended, I have illogically reasoned, all Christians must flock to my side and be offended as well. As I have grown and matured in my walk with Christ, I have found that criticism is a much more nuanced creature.

Of Games & GodKevin Schut, in his Of Games & God: A Christian Exploration of Video Games, talks about what healthy Christian criticism looks like:

To start with, good criticism is not automatically positive or negative. If we want to judge something fairly, we can’t prejudge it (although it’s impossible to completely avoid this). We also can’t judge something without examining it. p.175

Schut continues by saying that context is the key in:

…understanding where a game fits in gaming culture, in the gaming industry, and in relation to other games. p.175

Just as when we study the Bible, we must also examine the cultural and historical context of what we are reading. Asking questions such as:

  1. What is the developer/author/writer trying to communicate?
  2. What does this mean in light of the overall video game industry and it’s history?

7674.PongThe book continues:

…good criticism draws on or at least considers as many different critical perspectives as possible, even if we ultimately reject some of those ideologies.

Carefully considering non-Christian perspectives is, in my opinion, a healthy thing to do. Healthy Christian criticism is not defensive or prickly. p.175

In dealing with non-Christians online, I often find myself getting defensive (even with fellow Christians). This is not how Jesus would have responded. I have found that when I start growling that this is a signal to take a breather and step away from the situation. We don’t always have to have the answer or the last word, right? Right?

Fourth, my faith, the teachings of Christian tradition, and the words of Scripture are by far the greatest motivator in my criticism.

My worldview is based on my belief in Jesus… p.176

And finally:

…good criticism leaves the door open to the possibility of a change in perspective. p.176

Again, how often do we come to the virtual table with prejudged notions. I have noticed a disturbing trend in some online Christian communities where anyone that thinks differently than the group norm is quickly shutout and shutdown. Open communication and a lack of fear of where a conversation might head are needed with good criticism, period.

Healthy Christian criticism comes from a non-reactionary place filled with grace. In light of Scripture, we are able to take that which we consume and weigh it accordingly.

Paperbound – Giggle Fest

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I have been playing videogames with my son since he was three years old. We have grown from sharing a single controller, with him pushing a limited range of buttons, to full blown sessions of coop goodness. At the age of six now, he recently completed Skylanders Trap Team without my help. Still not sure how I feel about that. But I love sharing my hobby with him.

headerThe other night we fired up Dissident Logic’s Paperbound on the PlayStation 4.

Devious giggles ensued as my son and I slashed at each other and hopped all over the stage, swapping gravity at will. The little dude had trouble differing the jump button from the gravity button, but did a good job overall. His giggling is what got me though. He only does it when he feels like he is getting away with something. Makes me grin.

A few rounds in, my son started wanting to swap his character after each round. I call this the Skylanders-effect. (Side Note: For those of you who do not have kids or haven’t played Skylanders, the game allows you to swap characters on the fly.) Paperbound‘s minimal menu setup allows for kid-friendly character swapping. This kept our menu time brief and our game time at the forefront.

Paperbound is a solid couch coop that would be an absolute blast with four real life players (the game does offer an AI option). For my son and I, Paperbound scratches the brawler itch with a cool aesthetic and non-gory gameplay. There is nothing like hearing my son giggle as he slices through my character or pegs me with a pair of scissors. Little does he know that I’m holding back on him. The boy is going down. Hi-ya!

DEFCON 5wavesplinter5/5 – Just buy it already!

Wave SplinterTitle: Paperbound
Developer: Dissident Logic
Platforms: PC, PlayStation 4
Reviews on: PlayStation 4
MSRP: $9.99