For The Joy of It: Video Games Pt. 4

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I like Batman.  I do.  He is the only superhero without any super powers which makes him more “super” in my book, despite what the nay-sayers say.  Plus Batman is far more 3 dimensional of a character than any other super hero.  He is a protagonist that struggles to find the limits of his own power and morality.  Christopher Nolan brought much of this to light in his brilliant Dark Knight Trilogy, but the Arkham games, which were released during the same time, perfected the character.

The original game, Arkham Asylum, was meant to be a low budget affair with mild sales.  However, brilliant game play along with incredible boss fights, an excellent original story penned by the comic book scribe Paul Dini, and an open map format with gadgets that resemble the Zelda franchise all launched the game to a 92% rating by Metacritic and a Guiness Record for “Most Critically Acclaimed Superhero Game of Modern Times.” (You can read a bit more on the wikipedia page.)

I bought it for a few dollars at Wal-Mart and fell in love with it almost immediately, well.  .  .after I spent an hour dialing down all the graphics so my lousy laptop would run it.  To my (not) surprise, a sequel called Arkham City had all ready been released so I bought it for a few bucks.

Arkham City is just good fun.  It has the right amount of everything.  The story is thought provoking and passes all the tests I have spoken about in the other posts.  The game play is delightful and opens the player up in those conscious and subconscious ways to the struggles of good and evil.  The puzzles are complex and intricate and take a good amount of time and creative thinking to solve.  And the ending asks all the right questions without leaving the player with any easy answers (you can tell I am big on that.)

However, the game also introduced me to the online video game marketplace called Steam where you can pick up old and new games for a fraction of what they are worth.  However, Steam also tracks your game play statistics including achievements earned, the percentage of the game you have beaten, special things you have unlocked and how many hours you have spent playing the game.

It is that last statistic that annoys me completely.  It has been around since the Super Nintendo days.  Almost every game tells you on their opening screen how many hours a player has logged on a save file.  I don’t know why the developers included it.  I personally think they are being arrogant and bragging to you about how much time you have wasted.  It is akin to the victory lap you sometimes see after Track races.

But the number always unsettles me, especially for Arkham City.  I won’t tell you what it is but let’s just say when it passed 100, I gave the game up for several months.  100 hours is 4 days.  I have spent more than 4 days of my life being Batman.  And the more I think about that number, the harder it is to justify it.

I have never, nor will ever, add up all the hours on all my save files on all the games I have ever played.  Sometimes I think that God might know that number and will probably share it with me in eternity.  You can blame that on my Evangelical Protestant upbringing, that despite emphasizing grace, seemed to care a lot about silly things like hours logged playing video games.  Still I wonder what my response will be if God ever gives me that number.  Will I try to justify it?  Will I be ashamed?  Will I ask for more time to beat that one final mega boss?  I have no idea.

What benefits and what consequences have come about in those hours?  There was probably a great deal of both but still 4 days is a long time and it reminds me that simple enjoyment of great art can turn into a dark obsession.

So I want to end this blog series by addressing some practical concerns when it comes to video games.

1) Time: To repeat what I said in the first post, there should be a line drawn concerning how much time one spends on a game.  My own rule is that a game needs to tell me to stop playing it, which means the game has to end.  There are a lot of open ended games out there and those seem to be the most dangerous when it comes to addictions.  Despite your policies, every person should have a limit and it should a rule formed in conversation with mentors, family members and friends.

2) Money: Not much needs to be said here except that in all things work with a budget.  When I discover a game I want to play I will regularly look at my finances and say, “I will not buy this game for more than this amount of money” and then watch sales until I can find it.  This means there are some games I haven’t played because they never dropped below my set amount.

3) Quality of Games:  Like every other artistic medium there are video games that are just a waste of time and money.  Although all engagement is risk, if you are going to spend 100 hours on something, it probably shouldn’t be trash, even if it is addicting trash.

4) Video Games At Church:  I have known several church groups that fellowshipped while playing Mario Kart or Halo or Wii Sports.  Those times are just as fun as playing cards or board games.  However, like any movie, song or TV show, I think church leaders should be mindful of both their members (are any of them addicted?) and of the games they choose to play.  This brings me to number 5.  .  .

5) Multi-player Games:  If I wanted to extend this series into next week I would talk about multi-player gaming and the way it both benefits and detracts from true community.  Instead I will limit myself to this paragraph by stating that if you are playing games with a group, care should be taken about the subconscious nudges of the game.  Does this game really add to group identity, increase cooperation and love among its members?  Or does it increase hostility and divisions?  These concerns go for the greater culture of online video gaming.  What cultures are cropping up around these games?  Are these cultures true, noble, right?  Or do they increase hostility?  I know I avoid playing with people I don’t know because I have heard the “F” word used in hostile ways too many times.

6)  Christians in the Video Game Industry: As with any other industry, I think the world and the church can only be helped by Christians being employed by video game manufacturers.  With that said, some companies only seem to make games that are grotesquely violent or focus on paranormal activity to a fault.  As a Christian I would pray long and hard about joining such companies.  However, I think a Godly influence from within would be great for even such companies, so long as the Christian employee is well defended with the armor of God and willing to quit if the Lord so leads.

I want to close on a more devotional thought.  I think God calls us to be a people of enjoyment.  I think ultimately Philippians 4:8, which calls us to dwell on things that are true, noble, right, etc., is ultimately about enjoyment.  As Christ followers we are a people who delight in all good gifts whether those gifts come to us in sunrises or on our televisions.  So before we critique a game’s message or a game’s truthfulness or a game’s aesthetic qualities, we should set out to have some fun while dwelling upon the things in the game that open us up to further enjoyment of the world.

In Arkham City, after a confrontation with one of the villains, Batman looks at the villain and says, “You seem stressed.  What is really going?”  That line is incredibly impacting.  Here is one of Batman’s arch nemesis’, a villain who had moments ago tried to kill him (and had succeeded in giving me a “game over” message about twenty times). And yet Batman looks the villain in the face and with compassion engages him as a friend, “You seem stressed.”

That is a true, noble, right, loving moment and it is one of many in that great game.  To not enjoy that gift would be shameful.

Until Jesus returns, thanks for reading these unnecessarily long posts.  I hope they inspired you to love and see you all next week.

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