Keep in mind, this article has major spoilers for Bioshock Infinite and Halo. So go play them and come back or you will miss out on some great stories.
The first problem that some people, and not just Christians, seem to have with video games is that they think they are just for children. While video games started out as children's entertainment they are now being designed for a variety of age groups, including teens and adults. Games that are designed for an older demographic often cover more sophisticated themes. Take for instance Bioshock Infinite. It's a game for adults and its themes cover anything from racism to what if baptism was a physical change, from paying workers fairly to asking can God forgive us for what we have done?
The second problem that is prevalent for some Christians is misinterpreting video games. To demonstrate this we are going to use this article [christwire.org] which tries to make false conclusions on a game called Halo. Now I could spend all day ripping apart this guy's arguments but I'm going to keep it simple and short.
From the get go it's fairly obvious that the author of the article has either not played or understood the game. From what he has written he thinks the story is about the main character; Master Chief, wiping out the ancestors of the ark so that the United Nations Space Command can take over space. Well if you read the back off the game case you will find that this guy's interpretation of the game is quite wrong.
The description to Halo 3 reads:
"The Covent control earth, the all-consuming Flood is unleashed and the fate of the galaxy hangs in the balance. An ancient secret, buried under the sands of Africa for untold millennia may hold the key to our salvation or our doom.
Spartin-117; the Master Chief, a biological augmented super-soldier, must uncover that secret and stop the forces that threaten us once and for all. He is the last of his kind, a warrior born for combat, bred for wareâ¦ and humanity's last hope."
When you play the game or look into the extended universe you find that "salvation" refers to the Covenant (Covenant are a group of alien species and their society is somewhat cult-like) wanting to makes themselves gods and they want to use the Halo Rings to do so. The Halo rings were built by the Forerunners (an ancient alien species) to wipe out all life in the galaxy to stop the Flood Parasite. Then after the Flood dies off, the rings are programmed to repopulate the galaxy. Unfortunately, the Forerunners don't come back in the re-population and because of this the Covenant think the Forerunners found a way to become gods. Although what they are actually going to do is wipe out all sentient life from the universe with the Halo installations. The character you play in the main Halo games is responsible for stopping the Covenant from committing mass genocide.
The point I'm trying to make is that you would not skim the book of Revelation and then say it was about the adventures of a potato and a carrot. So then why would some people go and do the same with a piece of media? Before anyone comments on a video game she/he should make sure they fully understand it. Otherwise they can make false conclusions and look really stupid in the process.
So now that we actually understand how video games can be misinterpreted we can move on to using them as a tool to help explain Christian ideals. Using the games ideas/themes that are linked to Christian ideals it is possible to use these ideas/themes in the video games as a starting point for further discussion of Christian values with non-Christians or new Christians.
All you have to do is make a few corrections and connect a couple of metaphorical dots to help them understand. This only works with games that have religious themes and there are not a lot around unfortunately. Also keep in mind that exploration of Christian themes in games may not reach the same conclusions as Christianity and that is okay because you can use that as a comparison between the game and what true Christians really believe.
Related to Christianity
Bioshock Infinite is probably the latest major video game to have themes relating to Christianity, although the story and the ideas in the game are not exactly straight forward to understand. The story is very complicated and not always in order. Also when you look at the game note that there are 3 versions of religions portrayed in the game:
1. Christianity (very minor role only seen once or twice)
2. A Cult (the main religion throughout the game) based on a few small parts of Christianity. These diminish throughout the game.
3. Buddhism (only as a visual reference)
So don't get mixed up while playing or looking at the game because it is easy to do. Also treat themes like racism and paying workers fairly as not part of the cult because you will make connections that the game developers didn't plan to make.
Thirdly, remember that the game has parallel dimensions so expect the usual weirdness that comes for that.
The story of Bioshock Infinite is in some ways centred on baptism, however baptism in the game is portrayed as a physical thing. Instead of baptism being a representation of change it is a physical change where the person's life can either go in two directions; continue to be Booker or become Comstock. The person through playing the game realises that baptism is a representation of change and all you need to do is join the dots for them to understand what it represents in Christianity.
The game also raises the question of what God can forgive us for? In fact this question is asked twice and answered in the game as no God can't forgive us For What We Have Done (us/we = the two main characters Booker and Elisabeth). Can anyone else see the planting of an important question a person might want to ask a Christian?
Be aware that in this game it is possible to make connections that don't exist. For instance, Elisabeth is labelled as the Lamb in Bioshock Infinite and she does die in the end; for one of the games Expansions/DLC, in order to save a person. Now joining both Jesus and Elisabeth as having the same role would be an example of what not to do. Yes, they both die for people but what the deaths achieve is totally different and Elisabeth does not rise from the dead like Jesus did. The developers of the game use the nickname of the Lamb for Elisabeth to add to the Cults' weirdness as well as to keep a few story points from being figured out too early in the story; nothing more.
So to recap, what did we just learn? Video games are played for enjoyment by people of all ages and games are designed for different age demographics. Don't jump to conclusions about video games but understand the story, ideas and themes. You can use video games as an assistant to explain Christian ideals but don't make connections that are not there.
I say, "Bring on more good games with Christian themes!"
Zach Radloff lives on the Gold Coast and is studying IT and Multimedia at university.
Zach Radloff's previous articles may be viewed at www.pressserviceinternational.org/zach-radloff.html