Lots of people have been sending me links to this NY Times story on churches adopting video games to lure teenagers back to the faith. I am amused. I find the trend to be a very encouraging sign.
To get this out of the way: I don’t think violent video games make for violent people, so the whole argument that this is not in harmony with the message of the church is silly, to my mind. I also don’t see the message of religion as being one of peace, anyway, so even if it did lead to teen violence I wouldn’t see any incompatibility with Christianity … just more of the same.
I’ve played Halo … poorly. I’ve liked Bungie’s games since way back when they were a Mac-only shop, and my family played the network games together (See? Family values!) quite a bit when the kids were young, and I stood a chance. Nowadays, on those rare occasions that I try, I get turned into a smoking, bouncing pile of gibs a little too quickly, or Connlann takes me out with a single well-placed shot with the sniper rifle. Aside from my inability to play at all competitively, though, I think they’re impressive works of art, and I mean that entirely sincerely. The message may be crude and single-minded and geared too exclusively to a narrow demographic, but they’re technically amazing. Right now they’re at the Lascaux cave art stage, all focused on young males and hunting, but give ’em time, there’s a vast potential there.
So why am I encouraged by churches adopting video games?
It’s a sign of desperation, and evidence of decadence. There was a time when the church was a center of literacy, when they were temples to art, and when they inspired great art. Look at them now. They’re refurbished grocery stores. They’re boring brick modernist warehouses. They smell of industrial parks and cheap stain-resistant carpeting. There is no art in modern churches. They are not inspiring great music (with maybe the exception of some gospel, but even that is fading). Rock has roots in religious music, but look now at Christian rock…pathetic, unoriginal attempts to ape secularized rock, replacing lyrics that worshipped cars and girls with strident screeching for Jesus.
See how low they’ve sunk. They’re reduced to enticing youth by lifting elements of secular youth culture wholesale — they aren’t even trying to modify the message of the games to fit them to the church, and they definitely aren’t trying to create something good within the genre (their attempts there have flopped spectacularly). What we’re seeing is another sign of religion’s growing irrelevance to the life of the mind.
I’d be happy to see churches all across the country turned into free video game arcades. It would be a far better use of those rotting hulks than their current purpose.