Review: Of Games and God: A Christian Exploration of Video Games @brazospress

Kevin Schut’s book is a must read for those struggling with the returning question of just what good are games and what are games good for. The author, a gamer himself, takes us through many of the logical pitfalls of the gaming community. His first and foremost point (something he covers in chapter one) is that “good criticism is not automatically positive or negative (175).” He is honest to this statement, which at times leaves the impression that he is overcompensating for the negative criticism; however, he does maintain a well-balanced view of the gaming world.

The chapters are nicely delineated into byte-size windows. He begins with a plea for a reasonable discussion, moves to understanding a video game,  and tackles the spirituality of the non-material ‘verse. From there, he moves to discuss the ethics of violence in games, the perils of addiction, the role of gender and, contrary to Mark Driscoll, makes chapter 7 all about how games can be and are used to further education. Finally, he ends his series with Christian uses and responses to video games, including stories about Christian ministries geared to gamers. There is hardly a subject left untouched — at least, none that I can think of. His chapters, then, become the talking points of nearly 30 years of anti-gaming critics, serving as an answer to them.

But, that is a drawback — the lack of direct focus on several of what I would consider major issues. While the author is careful to walk a fine line between online violence and how that mutates into the real world, I would rather have seen several chapters focused on this. The authors knows his Plato and Aristotle (mimesis and ethics, respectively), but he doesn’t really allow for the great swell of witnesses against images and their corrupting influence to be heard. Chapter 4 and chapter 5 deal expressly with these two issues. As odd as it sounds, we must have a discussion about the ethics of violence in video games.

Schut writes magnificently about the magic circle, that place that allows us to kill and steal inside the video game world, and how it interferes or mimics our real life attitudes and behaviors. He doesn’t really see it as such a significant boundary. He is correct, as well, that taking a digital life is not the same as taking a real life. Further, he is likewise correct that graphics tend to go unnoticed the more a gamer spends inside the game. But, added to this some of the discussion in the following chapter on addiction, and we have cause for concern, I think.

A particular noticeable highlight for me was the inclusion of so many games and terms I have come to love over the years. There are even images included in the book — images I can point to and say, “I was there!” For the non-gamer, though, Schut does include a helpful glossary of gamer terms.

One of the key aspects of this book is not so much the argument for or against games, but the acceptance that games, gaming, and gamers are here to stay. They are among us. We have them as friends, lovers, pastors, and children. Games are now even incorporating advertising, moving from games to film, and developing communities that transcend the so-called magic circle. He’s correct that a fuss over new technology is nothing new. We’ve even had controversies raised over using choral hymns rather than singing psalms, having pews or chairs, and of course, the blasted devil-in-your-den-box — the television. So, how does the Church respond? The author is at his best in answer, and perhaps the most Aristotelian. He urges us to play on, but to be mindful of the issues he has presented. This book should be a stable for youth pastors and parents alike who are fearful of what video games may be or may not be doing to or for their children.

There are positive benefits of the gaming world and they should not be overlooked; likewise, there are negative aspects as well. This is Schut’s drama, then, to walk the line and to play on.

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