Having just reviewed an anime series where the main character is a self-identified gaming god, and having just decried Roger Ebert’s argument that video games can never be art, I thought I’d do a trifecta by highlighting a few articles touching on the theological implications of video games. The first quote is from an article by Neil Sorens at Gamasutra, in which he considers the failings of God as a game designer:
With the ability to design both the players and the game, God should have been able to create a paradigm full of synergy and free of buzzwords. Instead, for many dissatisfied players, it is only hardcoded compulsion that has kept the player base intact. In fact, many players leave for significant periods of time and turn instead to games with far smaller budgets and ambitions and far less powerful designers to find enjoyment.
The comments on Sorens’s post are equally provocative and entertaining, as various people debate the merits of the thesis that our Creator buggered the job. “Larry Charles” is confused:
He designed and built an entire Universe… filled with worlds which he did all of the environment art for, populated it with fully functioning, self sustaining and self regulating ecosystems, where just one world in particular, Earth, currently hosts 6,000,000,000 plus users who are always online, in 6 days…
And you wont hire him for your next MMO project?
“Douglas Baker” presents delayed gratification as a transcendental experience:
When we forsake short term pleasure for long term goals, especially ones that are us undefined as “an eternity in heaven” we are forsaking our own default state. We become more than the flesh we are born into, we become closer to God.
In game terms–we level up.
I’d like to quote the article that brought Sorens’s piece to my attention in the first place. Over at Christ and Pop Culture, G. Christopher Williams has penned a thoughtful response to Sorens, in which the design flaws are reframed in terms of the designer’s artistic goal:
There is a certain kind of courage that an author has that is able to hand over his creation for others to play with, to take some authority over it, or, very simply put, to screw it up. At once, it seems a very bad idea. However, it also suggests that participation with the creation is important, that interaction with a world is desirable to its creator despite the potential for “failure” on the part of the participant, as if there is an interest in the creator in not merely dictating some script of his own design but to see what others will do with it and how they choose to enjoy it or abuse it.
In other words, it’s the nature of the medium that interactivity necessitates some form of player failure. Again, the comments for that article as equally as worth reading as the piece itself. Stephen Newport argues that perhaps the metaphor of “God as game designer” is apropos, but not in a good way:
[T]his player [was n]ever asked if he wanted to play the game in the first place! He is never given an option to simply “get off the ride” or merely not exist anymore. No, this designer has created a reality where there are two options: Find the key or be burnt alive! This is neither free will, nor a game where the player matters. Free will would give an option to not take part at all.
So maybe we’re not the players after all; maybe we’re the NPCs.
Let me posit just one more thought experiment. It is fairly easy to posit God as the ultimate game designer. But that restricts God to but one role, far removed from the game experience: the celestial clockmaker who winds up his cosmic watch and just lets events unfold as they may, allowing his Creation to rust and wind down, as if the universe were created simply so He would know when to take afternoon tea. What if God is more immanent than a mere designer? For the sake of rumination, let’s consider the metaphor of God as the game itself. In a way, this would make God the code, rather than the coder (although, being God, I suppose he might be the code, the coder, and the NPC visual representations of the code). Any metaphor we can devise for God will be both inadequate to expressing what exactly he is or how he functions, but every metaphor is an apt expression of the limited terms in which humans can imagine God as a concept. All I am proposing is that besides the function of Creator, we also consider the function of Sustainer. Theological problems will still be present, of course, as always. I’d just like to explore moving a bit beyond quibbling over the flaws of the game design(er) itself and focus on what the game means, how it functions, and how best to play. Isn’t that one of the highest functions of art in the first place? ☕