From Across the Net: “‘SUPERHOT is a Game About Porn”

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I can’t tell if C.T. Casberg’s piece titled “‘SUPERHOT’ is a Game About Porn” is brilliant or a massive stretch. At what point, in criticism, do we move beyond the objective to the subjective and project our own meaning/worldview on the art?

I disagree with SUPERHOT‘s logic that video games equal pornography. The article feels written to be controversial. Dragging the thirteenth apostle, C.S. Lewis, into the mix. Definitely a misfire.

It also informs the player what is the inevitable result of an addiction to pleasure: the destruction of the self and enslavement to those who provide that pleasure.

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From Across the Net: “Oxenfree: The Beauty of Traveling Together”

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My friend Josh wrote a piece for GameChurch titled “Oxenfree; The Beauty of Traveling Together“.

The cop ticketed Adam and called us a tow truck. We crammed the three of us into the tow truck’s cab with the massive sweaty driver. Then we rode back to Adam’s camper. Adam despaired. He told us how he’d gotten thousands of dollars in debt and fines before this, got kicked out of college, and long since stopped believing in God. That may have been one of the crappiest car rides in Adam’s life, but this was the most honest and meaningful conversation I had ever had with him.

I love how Josh compares the conversational/relational aspects of Oxenfree with those that we have in real life. I’m a guy who loves deep conversation. Surface level hellos, just not enough.

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Neat to think that a video game captures those moments of connection. The interactive medium continues to mature.

For The Win: An Interview With Zachery Oliver

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Zachery Oliver is the Agent Paulson/Nick Fury of the video game world. Which is to say that he recruited me for the Avengers Initiative…I mean to TheologyGaming.com. In an effort to pick his brain and figure out exactly where he comes from, I thought it best to interview the recruiter himself. 

Zachery Oliver

Mickey looks angry. Watch out, Zachery!

Q: Tell us more about yourself and the site.

Zachery: I owned and created the site. I’ve got a Master’s of Theological Studies from Boston University’s School of Theology, as well as a BA from Merrimack College in Theological Studies and Philosophy. Did any of this help me in forming the blog? In a way, I suppose.

I’ve been playing video games since I was 3-4 years old, and can’t remember I time I wasn’t playing them. Probably a more formative experience was playing Secret of Mana with my brother and my father over a Christmas break, as the Sprite, without a guide or anything. The game clock on the cartridge (which I still have) is somewhere in the hundreds of hours. There’s just something about video games that works for me, entertains me, and really helped me out in life to sort ideas out (weirdly enough). And there’s so many of them!

But what I really love is that there’s so much theological exploration. I’ve got a wealth of knowledge of Christianity and video games…a weird combo, to say the least. There’s a dearth of substantive content regarding both, and thus we have Theology Gaming. I just started writing stuff that I wanted to read, and so far it’s been going well! Also, I didn’t get into any Ph.D. programs for theology, so probably that too! I needed a change from the rigors of academic study, all said, and I guess it just wasn’t for me (or God’s will).

Bryan: Hold up, your Dad plays/played video games? I’m trying to think if my Dad ever picked up a controller…

Sounds like you were a man of the Super Nintendo. I see now where your loyalties lied…with the Dark Side. While you were playing Secret of Mana, I was over on the USS SEGA Genesis cruising with Sonic, Ecco, and Vectorman. I had no clue of all the awesome RPG’s I was missing out on by not owning a SNES.

Q: What do you hope to accomplish with Theology Gaming? How can you differentiate the site from the thousands of other enthusiast blogs?

Zachery: These are difficult questions to answer for a few reasons.

First, I hadn’t had the intention to compete with anyone; I honestly (and naively) figured that I discovered some untapped area of theological discussion. To my surprise, sites like GameChurch, JohnnyBGamer, and others already existed. Silly me, apparently, for not checking the demographics!

In all seriousness, though, my real goal was simply to express a long-held conviction that Christians can use anything they do for the glory of God. Combining my primary hobby with my God-given talents and developed skills, I decided to start a blog about my sometimes cogent, sometimes rambling thoughts about all things theology and video games.

As you may notice from reading, I focus greatly on the mechanical elements of games and that is where I find the theological exposition in most areas. There’s a reason for this: I don’t think video games differentiate themselves from other forms of entertainment through their story-telling quality. Also, that would be rather droll and place them into undesirable categories. Rather, I see them as a uniquely engaging entertainment form that, in my experience, creates human connections across all kinds of divisions simply through our common experience of playing video games. The same goes for regular games played throughout human history, but video games make it possible to communicate with lots and lots of different people with the power of the Internet – sometimes positively, sometimes negatively, but that’s human nature I suppose.

It’s in making human connections that I find validity, and it gives a common ground for discussion that wouldn’t exist otherwise. Would you and I be talking right now if not for video games? Probably not; we live in disparate places, and find ourselves in completely different age demographics, yet here we are talking about video games and theology. God’s will is a whirlwind sometimes, let me tell you.

For more from Zachery Oliver, head on over to TheologyGaming.com and check out the site.

The Fulton Incident

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Note: I came into contact with Jordan Ekeroth sometime last year when he started his Follow and Engage blog. A blog that was very near and dear to the mission I set out to accomplish with JBG. Since then, I’ve managed to keep up with him via Facebook and follow his exploits as a new writer for GameChurch. Via twitter the other day, I noticed that he was launching a book, “The Fulton Incident”, and so I thought I’d take it for a whirl.

The Fulton Incident

Jordan Ekeroth’s debut novel, “The Fulton Incident”, opens with a man who is barely getting by. Drowning in business and student loan debts, Josh Fulton, Ekeroth’s protagonist, is living out the new American dream. When not running an auto repair shop or pining away for the girl that got away, Fulton bravely goes on mission trips into the city to feed the homeless. Josh is a typical American leading what many would call a normal life, when he happens to notice a political figure at a local hotel. Armed with a camera, Fulton captures this figure with a woman who is not his wife. The lift hill of the roller coaster is about over at this point of the novel. The rest of of “The Fulton Incident” is a steep decent down a course filled with intrigue, suspense, and motorcycle-driven action. But is any of what Josh Fulton experiences real?

.: The Good :.

One of the subtle themes of the book is that of creating idols. In Josh Fulton’s case, her name was Angelica:

“They stood smiling at each other for a few moments and despite the cacophony of distractions surrounding them, neither was willing to break eye contact. Josh felt as though in those few moments, this girl he’d just met somehow saw deeper into his soul than anyone, possibly even himself, had ever seen.”

Angelica ends up going away. Josh never sees her again. He constantly wonders what and why all the while building her, in his mind, into something she could never have been. I’ve seen a lot of guys do this with women who have broken their hearts. I like how Jordan plays with this theme.

.: The Bad :.

“He told me that he had been so tired of the world that day. He had seen so clearly that he had been living for nothing but his own comfort. Everything that was his life: his job, his friendships, his hobbies, his religion, existed only as a system for him to avoid any real pain, and thus avoid really living.”

What does this mean? Are we relegating different pain levels?

When we first meet Josh Fulton, he is in a world of real pain. Lost relationships (Angelica, his parents), ticking time bomb finances (he could lose his auto repair shop), these are real pains.

How is Josh not living? He owns his own business, he is active in ministry, the guy clearly has a life. What about Ecclesiastes 5:18-20 –

18 This is what I have observed to be good: that it is appropriate for a person to eat, to drink and to find satisfaction in their toilsome labor under the sun during the few days of life God has given them—for this is their lot. 19 Moreover, when God gives someone wealth and possessions, and the ability to enjoy them, to accept their lot and be happy in their toil—this is a gift of God. 20 They seldom reflect on the days of their life, because God keeps them occupied with gladness of heart. (NIV)

There is a quiet undercurrent in this book that attacks the Christian norm. This is good. However, there is also the message that we can only find purity in life when we lay down our possessions and go live in the slums. Not sure about that.

Overall the book is a page turner, I couldn’t wait to see where the story was going to go next. By the time the story rounded into the station, I found my curiosity satisfied. “The Fulton Incident” is one heck of a ride well worth the $2.99 admission fee.

Thinking Aloud: Why We Don’t Need Another Christian Video Game Site

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9 years ago I noticed that the Christian worldview was sadly lacking in the mainstream video game press. I wanted to find a web site that discussed the theological impact of the games that I played. A web site written by actual gamers that attempted to go beyond discussing the surface elements of video games (violence, language, etc.). My questions all revolved around:

  • What thoughts, ideas, and experiences am I being exposed to by video game developers?
  • How do these worldviews differ from my own?
  • As a Christian, what should my response be?

I envisioned a web site that could compete with the big boys at the time, Gamespot and Gamespy. So I created JohnnyBGamer.com to go against the best. Quite quickly I learned that a large amount of time, talent, and money are needed to compete in any real way. In short, I couldn’t compete. Eventually I relaunched JBG as the personal blog it is today. I wasn’t defeated, just confronted with reality.

Almost a decade has gone by, and I now find myself questioning the need for a Christian video game web site. Why do we, as Christians, have to segregate ourselves from the world and form our own personal ghettos? Instead of having a Christian video game site, why can’t we have writers writing for major publications that are Christians?

The digital landscape has changed a lot since 2003. Sites such as GameChurch and The Cross and the Controller (which seems to have gone missing) now exist to plumb the depths of video games and the Christian worldview. I am in no way against such ministries, but I openly wonder at the audiences they reach. Would it not be better to influence the gaming culture from inside a major web site versus from outside in the ghetto?

What do you think?