Playing video games can be a way of experiencing the capacity for joy and pleasure that God has built into us as his creatures, said communications professor Kevin Schut in his January Series 2014 presentation this week.
By entering the imaginary worlds provided by video games, said Schut, players can be transported to places full of fun and even rich with meaning.
“God has made us to be more than survival machines,” said Schut, author of the book "Of God and Games."
“One of the great values of video games is play. God has built us for a remarkable playground in creation…”
The January Series 2014 is being held at the Covenant Fine Arts Center on the campus of Calvin College. People can listen to live audio presentations that start at 12:30 p.m. on their laptops and computers. Also, people at 44 remote sites can watch and listen to the speakers
An avid gamer himself, Schut does video game research as a professor of media and communications at Trinity Western University in Edmonton, Alberta.
In his presentation, Schut said video games are a unique entertainment technology because of how they involve participation.
Unlike reading a book or watching a movie, you become part of the narrative action and “this means choice. You make tactical and ethical decisions,” he said.
Schut also wanted to debunk some popular beliefs.
Some critics say these games are responsible, to one degree or another, for violence in society. But evidence for the games doing this is scarce.
“The evidence shows that for some people there may be some short-term effect,” he said. “There is no evidence for any long-term effect.”
At the same time, Schut said, these games present serious problems.
They can be addictive, trapping the gamer into a compulsive activity that walls them away from others. Some gamers become so addicted that they lose their loved ones, their jobs and even their health.
“Video games have lots of features that make them addictive,” he said. “The games are great to create a flow state that comes from intense pleasurable concentration.”
This state can be relaxing, but they can also lead to the addiction.
In addition, some games are especially geared to luring you in and then ramping up with difficulty to challenge and keep you hooked, he said.
Along with being addictive, gaming can erode a person’s sense of right and wrong. Opportunities abound in such blockbuster games as “Grand Theft Auto” and “Call of Duty” to pretend to kill and maim hundreds of people.
In “Grand Theft Auto,” the player can choose action-adventure missions to progress an overall story through role-playing, driving, shooting, and other activities. “Call of Duty” is a first-person shooter game set in a landscape of war.
Schut says pulling the trigger in these games, and others, can be complicated. For one thing, gamers know they aren’t killing real people.
Beyond that is the issue of motivation. You can look over someone’s shoulder and see that they are shooting everyone who pops up on the screen. But why are they doing that? asked Schut.
Are they doing it out of the sheer pleasure of pretending to kill, or are there other reasons?
“The questions are ‘What frame of mind do you adopt?’ and ‘What moral values do you employ?’ when becoming a character in one of these stories?” said Schut.
“You have to be asking how does the game affect you. Is it okay to do something evil in a game? If I sacrifice myself, am I on the bright side of the light?"
What this means in practice, he said, is constant self-monitoring, conversation, finding ways to play and at the same time not fall into the traps of addiction and sin.
Video gaming is a billion-dollar industry that was once largely for the lone gamer, at home with his or her console or computer, playing the game.
But today millions of people are playing the same games, several with explicitly Christian themes, and often doing it together, bringing into gaming a strong social aspect, said Schut.
Also, there remains for those seeking it a close connection between gaming and God. And that has to do with creativity and play.
“In playing these games and creating these imaginary worlds, we are imitating the primary creator, the God who created us.”