Radical

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This morning I started reading David Platt’s Radical. So far, I find myself agreeing with Platt in regards to the disconnect he notes between Christ’s radical calling and how we live as Christians. Good stuff. Anywho, as I have been reading, I have been keeping in mind a review I read of the book recently here. I’ll keep ya’ll updated as I progress.

Final Fantasy XIII: Next Gen?

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Run down a linear path, fight 20+ times, and watch a movie. Wash, rinse, repeat.

For a game representing the next generation of role playing games, Final Fantasy XIII sure doesn’t deviate from the established formula. I mean sure, the Paradigm shifts are fun and the battles are quick and breezy, but where is that next-gen wow factor? One could argue that:

  • The graphics are amazing. This is true.
  • The battle system is an extremely polished version of what has come before (what has worked and what hasn’t). This is also true.

But what about the storyline? The heart and soul of the game. Already, in my few hours of game play, I have found myself trying to figure out what exactly is going on. I have even visited wikipedia in an effort to unravel this mystery. This isn’t a good thing. Past Final Fantasy’s have grabbed ahold of me straight from the beginning. Take for instance Cloud in Final Fantasy VII. The game opens with Cloud, on a train with the terrorist group AVALANCHE, going to blow up a Mako reactor. At the time I didn’t know what a Mako reactor was, but I sure wanted to see it blow up! Simply epic. Similarly, Final Fantasy XIII begins on a train that quickly devolves into an endless escape sequence. Questions such as:

  • Why are we running/ escaping?
  • Where are we? Are we apart of the good guys? Are we bad?
  • Why do so many people have to die from all of these suspended roads collapsing? Surely someone thought that building such roads could be hazardous.

Soul burning questions (okay, not quite) aside, these questions are just not as compelling as going to blow up a reactor. No, I’m not bashing Final Fantasy XIII. I have kept playing it to see if the story becomes any clearer/ gets better. So far, I have learned that the story involves the main characters trying to figure out how to defeat a curse by figuring out exactly what they have been cursed with. This could be interesting I guess.

The graphics and battle system have kept me going thus far. But I wonder if ultimately I am wasting my time. I will not deny that this game certainly represents a step forward for the series, but I also wonder if it could represent a step back as well.

Darksiders

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Update: Looking back, I don’t think my criticism of this game was healthy. Read this.
Press Start:
War, one of the four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, has been accused of somehow beginning the end of the world early. Stripped of his powers as punishment, War must traverse what is left of the Kingdom of Men in order to seek out and eliminate The Destroyer.
Ideology/ Worldview:
Darksiders envelopes itself in a world of distorted Biblical allusions. No where is God mentioned, even though the entire story is loosely based on the book of Revelation. Instead of God ruling supreme in the game’s world, the four Horsemen of the Apocalypse act as some sort of cosmic referees between the forces of Heaven and Hell. Which come to think of it, this game also exhibits a mixture of Eastern mysticism with focus on balance, and yin and yang. Also present are altars which require blood offerings.
Interaction/Gameplay:
Slaughter monsters and collect their souls to feed to demons. Beyond that, lots of flashy swordplay which evokes games such as God of War or Devil May Cry.
In the End:
As a Christian, I feel personally convicted over playing this game. The flippancy with which demons are interacted with and treated (as if it were a normal thing to interact with demonic creatures) sickens me. I also dislike having to feed “souls” to demons in an effort to buy them off/ obtain information. Darksiders is a dark game – surprise! – based on a pseudo spiritual mythology. While I am willing to overlook certain aspects due to their fictional nature, I am unwilling to treat Hell and demons with such a non-serious attitude. I really wanted to like this game (graphics and gameplay are fun) but in the end find that I cannot recommend it for myself or others.
Due to Darksiders intense spiritual nature, avoid at all costs!

– Level of Impact Rating –
Medium: Casual play. Does not require large chunks of time.

A Pixar Afternoon Revisited

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Today I bring you a follow up to A Pixar Afternoon, this time written by my friend Jacob. Enjoy!

Greetings, My name is Jacob Ingalls and I’ll be telling you why Bryan is wrong about his Pixar Reviews. The following list is compiled in order of what I think the best Pixar movies are:

1. Up

When historians look back at this time period in Cinema in the United States and the chapter is written on the studio that is Pixar. Up will be considered the Everest of this fantastic studio. The range and depth of up is un-parallel by almost any film in any genre. Coming out in the same summer that included Star Trek and Transformers 2, the cartoon character of an 80 year old man was the best action hero of that summer.

2. The Incredibles

Intense, Philosophical, Dark, Beautiful, Imaginative and a great leap of faith, these things are what makes Pixar’s The Incredibles the second (and an extremely close second) best Pixar movie ever. The Incredibles is a bit of Ayn Rand for 12 year olds, it deals with being different, being better and the absolute mortality of fame and getting old. More so than any Pixar film, The Incredibles examines the human condition and the want to be normal in an un-normal world. “Remember you are special, just like everyone else”.

3. Wall-E

I’m not entirely sure where to begin or end with this movie, butWall-E is a masterpiece, an amazing work of art that will stand the test of time for generations. Pixar has never been a stranger to taking risks and this one was their biggest. Wall-E is almost completely silent but manages to tell one of the purest love stories ever. Even though it was wrapped in a kids film wrapper it really strikes the most chords with the 20-something generation.

4. Finding Nemo

A great story about a Father and his boy, Finding Nemo never ceases to make one smile and ponder what it means to be a parent or a child for that matter. In my opinion one of the funnier Pixar movies Nemo manages to incorporate a beautiful love story has a side plot while also seamlessly integrating a coming of age story alongside a letting go story. So much is packed into this 90ish minute film that it’s hard to absorb it all in one sitting.

5. Ratatouille

My personal favorite Pixar movie, this movie take dead aim all that those who point fingers and blame just to feed their ego (odd that it’s also the villian’s name? I think not). Remy is one of the most accessible characters in all of Pixar, his dreams might be simple (to be a great chef) but seem so out of reach because of him being a rat. This movie is for all the dreams and all those who wanted something that seemed so out of reach.

6. Toy Story 1-3

Let’s look at this franchise as whole, From the first Toy Storythat changed movies forever, not just animated movies, but movies as a whole forever to the third that put an amazing end to the franchise. Toy Story is great for many reasons, but one of the biggest and one of the most over looked reasons is its ability to deal with death in such an amazing manner. Woody’s character in particular struggles with his own mortality throughout the films and with the “inferno” scene in 3 that mortality is brought full circle from fighting to acceptance and is one of the most powerful moments in all of Pixar.

7. Cars

This movie is simple and fun and extremely well written. It’s what I consider to be a second rate Pixar are movie but it’s still Pixar which means it’s better than 99% of the animated movies out there.

8. Monsters Inc.

Another truly funny movie from Pixar, While the main characters are nowhere near human you can’t help but connect and fall in love with them. Pixar does a great job of setting up the world in this movie.

9. A Bug’s Life

The second Pixar film was their look into the dystopian through the lens of the oppressed ants and their struggle against their overlord grasshoppers. All in all probably the worst Pixar film, it’s cute and fun and funny but borders on not being worthy of carrying the Pixar name.

To follow Jacob on twitter, click here.

Christians and Gaming: Part 2

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For the second part of this series, I would like to take a look at what is currently out there in regards to Christian video game sites.

Our tour begins with an organization called gamers4Jesus.org. The site exists to provide a safe place to play and fellowship on the Internet. You can read their About section here. The site doesn’t feature any news, reviews, or editorial on gaming. However, it does feature a game/ Team Speak server and a Bible study that is hosted over Team Speak every Thursday night at 5pm (5pm PST; 8pm EST).

Another site that seems similar to gamers4Jesus, is Hardcore Christian Gamer. From what I have known about them in the past (their Our Mission link is broken), they provide a podcast, devotions, occasional articles, and a forum. They primarily seem to provide sort of an in-game club for PS3 and Xbox 360 users.

(Note: As I am writing this, I am noticing that these sites can be classified. For instance, the sites listed above could be classified as clan/community sites; below, the sites can be listed as review sites.)

Chugging along, Guide2Games.org offers video game reviews from a Christian perspective. This site is more user review driven as one can submit a game review.

Other sites that offer game reviews from a Christian perspective include:

  • Christ Centered Gamer – I can’t tell if this site just started or what (lack of dates). I did note that there is not a ton of content.
  • Plugged In Online – Probably the most professional looking Christian game review site I found. The only problem is that the reviews aren’t written in a format comparable to a major video game review site.
  • Plain Games – Christian video game reviews rated with their unique “Bar Rating” system. Definitely written by a gamer/s.

Christians and Gaming: Part 1

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For the first part of this series, I wanted to layout how I have personally come to the conclusion that there is a need for a Christian influence in video games and then present the overall vision of Johnny B Gamer.

Growing up in the 1980’s, the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) was a staple in my parents’ home. I remember long days spent adventuring with Mario, Donkey Kong, and Link from The Legend of Zelda series. Though I did not realize it at the time, I was actively engaging in a new form of media—video games.

As the years progressed, my passion for this new electronic media has both increased and matured. The Internet has provided me with a way to connect with fellow game enthusiasts from around the world. I often spend time reading about the latest video game news, reviews, and editorials. From my vantage point of watching video games integrate into popular culture, I have noticed a disturbing trend in online video game web sites. Besides the increase in violent games, offensive content displayed on the sites themselves has increased dramatically. In the early days of video game media, the enthusiast sites reported the news and stayed clear of any offensive or lewd content. However, over the past eight years language, sexual images, and an open disdain for God have slowly encroached upon a once clean form of web site media. I believe that God has pressed upon my heart the need for a Christian influence in this increasingly perverse form of media. Not wanting to fight a war against secular culture, but wanting to influence the video game media with the love of Christ, the concept that is Johnny B Gamer has been created.

Johnny B Gamer (JBG) is a video game enthusiast web site dedicated to integrating a foundationally solid Christian perspective into the world of video games. The web site sets forth a twofold mission: 1) to provide a safe place online to check out the latest in video games, and 2) to build community both online and in the real world. JBG features articles that explore faith, and video game review articles that examine in-game worldview and the level of potential impact the game could have in one’s life. Building community, both online and off, is an integral area that JohnnyBGamer.com uses to differentiate itself from other video game sites. Employing a relational style of evangelism, I plan to take JBG on the road and engage gamers face to face. I envision eventually hosting video game competitions in which gamers could compete and experience other gamers who are transparently following Christ. Overall, I see a complete ministry that passionately models Christ’s love for this fallen world.

For Part 2, click here.

Balancing, Rated, Violence

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The other day I was looking up something on Focus on the Family’s Plugged In Online, and I came across an article written in 2007 entitled “‘Halo’ and the Holy”. The article discusses the use of Halo 3, in churches, as an evangelistic tool. It goes on to talk about:

  1. Church vs. Pop Culture
  2. How Halo 3 is M-rated (age 17+) and not appropriate for those under the age of 17.
  3. How the church has always been a sanctuary, therefore violence and mayhem need to be kept outside its doors.

And now, a bulleted response:

  • The balancing act of being in the world but not of it is something that every Christian must deal with on a daily basis. Churches often use different genres of music to bring in non-Christians (oh no, rock-n-roll!) and the use of video games is no different.
  • I readily agree with the fact that Halo 3 is a M-rated game and not meant to be played by those under the specified age. I have no issues with that.

  • I do, however, have an issue with the article’s conclusion about the lack of violence in the church. The Bible itself is full of violence, war, rape, and general mayhem. Violence is apart of the human experience, unfortunately. I don’t see having video games within the church as inviting violence into it. If anything, one is inviting competition, team work, and communication.

In the end, I feel that the article fixated too much on Halo 3 and ultimately failed to to touch on how other games  (such as Mario Kart and Super Smash Brothers) can be used instead. I see nothing wrong with using video games in an effort to bring people into church. I don’t believe that should be the reason that people attend, but I also don’t think that it is harmful in the least. Heck, most of these kids have video game consoles at home anyways.

Plugged In followed up their article with a reader response post. Some of it was quite entertaining.

Sold

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This is one of those mornings where I am not too sure what to write about. Lately, I have been selling off my video game collection. So far I have managed to ebay my:

  1. Virtual Boy
  2. PS2
  3. Dreamcast

All had been sitting on various shelves, wasting their plastic lives away. So instead of letting them choke on dust, I figured that I would much rather sell them and let someone else play with them. No use keeping something if your not going to use it, right? So now I have a bunch of money saved up. What to do, what to do…

I‘ve been going back and forth between getting a PSP (to feed my handheld gaming fix) or a PS3. Either way, it looks like its going to be a Sony life for me (yo ho!). Now if only these early Black Friday deals would feature some sort of deeply discounted PS3 bundle. Here’s to dreaming huh.

Happy Tuesday!