What the Video Game World Can Learn from Religion

Don’t like this game? That’s okay, we can’t control our emotions.

Last week, I posted on intelligent charity and how we play games, but today I’d like to shift gears to how we talk about games, particularly in the context of contemporary culture. Among gaming communities, nothing is more polarizing than a critical comment about video games, and nothing will stoke the (f)ire of comment pages more quickly than a writer whose views are anything less than adulatory to gaming. Case in point, Bobby Hunter’s review of The Witcher 2; after negatively reviewing a game that has been generally well-received, the comment section was brimming with little gems of rhetorical brilliance. Some of my (unedited) favorites:

  1. What? Are you kidding me?! Did you forgot to play your Pokemon today and that’s why you are bitching around?
  2. Bobby Hunter are you serious?Dude this game is fantastic, the art, sound, combat, cgs, story…EVERYTHING…I suggest you quit your job, because you S-U-C-K TO REVIEW A GAME…GET ANOTHER JOB PLEASE…THIS GAME HAD 90 METRA CRITIC SCORE, IDIOT
  3. lol shitty review of amazing game

Clearly, there was much weeping and gnashing of teeth over this review (perhaps more gnashing than weeping), and it is this kind of bickering/flaming that has unfairly been associated with the gaming community generally.

The vast majority of popular writing on video games is rather tame in comparison, consisting of previews, reviews, and developer news. Where external controversies have drawn attention to video games, the community has tended to exhibit a circle-the-wagons mentality and concentrated on refuting the claims of opponents. I should add that I don’t think that defending video games is a bad thing; Fox News’s assault on the original Mass Effect was laughable in the extreme and only served to further impugn a reporting reputation that was already in tatters, and Geoff Keighley was fully justified in his attempt to refute their fear mongering. But I don’t think that our responses should end there.

Is it possible for them to meaningfully co-exist?

The gaming community could learn something, I think, from the Christian community when it comes to communication with opponents on issues vital to them. To put it more clearly, I think the gaming community could learn from the ways in which the Christian community has often failed to engage their skeptics effectively. As a Christian, I have often been disappointed by my faith community’s inability to respond lovingly and compassionately to those with whom it disagrees. True, religion can be a topic just as controversial (and often more so) than video games, and both have their vilifiers, skeptics, converts, and faithful. Not surprisingly, combative and argumentative tactics are rarely successful when discussing the topics of religion and skepticism. What communities of faith have realized (some more than others) is that well-reasoned and authentic conversation is more beneficial (this links to the recent discussion with Richard Dawkins and Rowan Williams, a breath of fresh air from the typical debate acrimony). For the gaming community, I think that this means we have to move away from a posture that seems to say “we’re here to stay, so deal with it” to video game skeptics and critics; we should, however, begin to offer more substantive discussions that establish why we’re worth having as part of the larger cultural community.

One genre of writing and communication that I think does quite a decent job of maintaining a sense of intelligent conversation is (and you’ll be shocked to hear this from a graduate student) academic research. The problem is that, as you’re probably well aware, very few people have access much less the inclination to voluntarily read academic articles and research. A lot of the research into video games that gets reported in the media has to do with psychological or sociological questions on violence and cognitive impact. And yet, there is a growing interest surrounding video games within the humanities as well. The Smithsonian’s exhibit on video games as art speaks to this. Research from the humanities can be particularly valuable in delving into questions that are fundamental to ourselves as human beings–offering us the opportunity to consider the deeper implications of what video games are about. So here’s what I think we need in the gaming community: less arguing (this has been said before), more conversation, and a greater engagement with the intellectual discourse surrounding our pastime.

How do you think the rhetoric and writing about video games might be changed?

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