Friday, April 15, 2011

Halos and Avatars

Halos and Avatars, edited by Craig Detweiler, is an interesting book. It's basically a collection of essays exploring how Christianity and video games intersect. Only this isn't exactly a book that decries the violence or graphic nature of some games. No, this book examines and explores why games matter, can games be art, what do they reveal about ourselves and the way we view God.

To be honest, I was a little hesitant going into this. I was worried that the essays would hit one of two extremes. On the one hand, I feared that it would be completely inaccessible, mired in technical jargon that I couldn't decipher. Or it would be a surface skimming that didn't delve deep enough into the subject matter. Thankfully, it was neither. Sure, there were some discussions of game theory that went over my head, but by and large, I really appreciated a lot of what these authors had to say.

The essays I especially appreciated dealt with Ultima IV and BioShock. In those chapters, the authors discussed the moral implications of actions within games. For example, in Ultima IV, the game was focused on the player's moral choices, only there was no handy bar to tell if the player was making the "correct" moral choices or not. A player had to muddle through it all and hope they were making the proper choices. Compare that to modern games, such as one of my favorites, Mass Effect 2, where you have a handy metric that tells you how moral or immoral you've been. It actually made me want to find a copy of Ultima IV and give it a spin.

Of course, any book like this has to include BioShock. I love that game, specifically because of the story and setting's moral ambiguity. The player is forced to make moral decisions, difficult ones. And this is on top of the game itself being a stinging rebuke of Ayn Rand's objectivist philosophy. If any video game has reached a level of "art," I'd say it's BioShock.

That's part of the reason why I appreciated this book. It's an acknowledgment that games are important, that they can have something to say about the world, and that Christians don't necessarily have to fear them.

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