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To press B or not to press B?

‘The video games sector now accounts for the industry now accounts for 51.3% of the total entertainment market in the UK, according to new figures. The Entertainment Retailers Association (ERA) said the gaming market’s value rose to £3.864 billion, more than double what it was worth in 2007. It now makes gaming a larger market than video and music combined for the first time ever.’[i]

Many are sceptical, but video games are a hugely important medium. The world electronic gaming market is currently worth more than the music and film industry combined. But when was the last time you heard a Christian speak about video games in a way that was winsome and positive? If video games are such a key part of the lives of so many that we are reaching out to, we have go to start by understanding them.  

Video games are my favourite medium. I think video games have a greater storytelling power than any book, film or song. They can throw you deeply into a narrative, make you ask questions about who you are and what you think. Imagine what your favourite film would be like if you could participate in the action, or be a real bystander in the events. Imagine if you could even make decisions that impacted the plot!

Welcome to video games: the greatest narrative-communicating art form the world has ever made.

This term, I was asked to give a lunchtime evangelistic talk for University of Western Scotland (UWS) CU on the topic of video games. In the same way that it would be too big a topic to talk about film as a concept, the topic of video games needed to be narrowed down. I spoke specifically about how moral choice systems in video games actually indicate that we are made in the image of a moral God.

Video games ask you, as a player, to make moral choices as you participate in a storyline and direct your character. Video games with unconvincing moral choice systems allow only binary good or bad choices, which you end up calculating to get the best outcome or equipment.

However, the very best of moral choices in video games really gets us to engage with the complexity of the choices in front of us and live with often painful consequences of bad decisions. They allow us to trial, in a fictional place, choices and consequences that we could never have in the real world. Those choices, and our enjoyment of them, tell us something about who we are. I believe that they point us to the inescapable reality of being made in the image of a moral creator.

The University of Western Scotland has many video games design and development students so it was a great opportunity to scratch where their campus is itching! Wonderfully, several guests from those courses came to the talk. One student was a video games design PHD student from China. He knew about every single game that I mentioned in my talk and had a long chat with the UWS Staff Worker Suzy Cunningham after the talk. Meanwhile, I ended up talking to a student doing a masters in electronic arts development who wanted to hear more about why I think those moral choices tell us something beyond just the choices in the video game itself.

Give thanks for all those who came along and pray that they keep investigating Jesus through the CU. Many have been invited to begin exploring an account of Jesus’ life using Uncover: please pray that they would do so and begin to trust in Him as they read. And give thanks for the courage of UWS CU for trying an event that had not been done before!

If you have never looked into video games, perhaps now is the time to begin to understand them. Video games are a huge part of students’ lives, and not something that we can afford to ignore in the university mission field. Why not give this YouTube video a watch – written by some games designers on the differences between choices and consequences in video games. Or to think more broadly about engaging with culture, read Plugged In by Dan Strange – it’s sure to get you thinking about how we can make best use of media like this to engage our culture with the gospel.  And feel free to get in touch, I’d love to talk more about this and help others understand how we might be able to engage well in a world obsessed with gaming!

Simon Attwood is a CU Staff Worker with students in Strathclyde and Glasgow Caledonian Universities. He loves reading the bible one on one with people and seeing people come to know Jesus better. In his spare time, he loves cooking for others - so if you're ever in Glasgow and want dinner, drop him a line!

[i] https://metro.co.uk/2019/01/03/video-games-now-popular-music-movies-combined-8304980

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