2020 Q4

Church vs. Zombies: Gamevangelizing the Gaming World

When will the Church would realize video games “unfulfilled potential”?

Community quarantines makes us prisoners in our own homes. So to escape boredom, we need to rethink our activities, revise our schedules to keep ourselves busy again.

Keeping busy does not mean working all day long, but somehow making our work a play. For some who have hard time to consider this, they might really need a break. Break, I mean, is to revive the child in us. Play does not have any age limit. Both children and adults can be motivated and engaged through play.

Yet playing seems unimaginable now, since sports facilities are closed, while some are converted into quarantine zones. But there is one thing that perfectly fits to the social distancing measures our government mandates us to do when you need a break. The solution is playing video games.

With just a click, you can search the app store and download the game you want. Video games can help people cope up with their anxiety due to COVID-19. It can be a stress reliever. In fact, video game creators are united in promoting gaming as a healthy means of social distancing amid the Coronavirus pandemic.

On the other hand, just last May 2019, the World Health Organization (WHO) added “gaming disorder” to its list of addictive behaviors. “Gaming disorder” means “increasing priority given to gaming to the extent that gaming takes precedence over other life interests and daily activities.”

Despite its recent pronouncement on “gaming disorder,” WHO unites with the gaming industry in its campaign to #PlayApartTogether. Raymond Chambers, WHO ambassador for global strategy, tweeted that in order to help in flattening the curve and save lives, they are “encouraging all to #PlayApartTogether.” He believed that his tweet could reach the games industry companies’ numerous, diverse, global audience.

One might ask which video game should I play? Well, let us put everything first into context.

Pop Culture critic and writer Jonathan McIntosh, in his analysis of the gaming industry, had observed that most of the commercially available video games are “remarkably uncreative.” The reason is, despite all the talented programmers and technological innovations, the gaming industry falls back to one underlying theme—kill or be killed—or the much cuter version of less bloody games—squeeze or be squashed.

Based on McIntosh’s statistics, of the 133 games presented last 2017 in the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3), the world’s famous international convention of innovators in the interactive entertainment industry, 113 include combat and only 20 are without combat.

Note that the analysis focus is more on combat rather than violence. We usually used the terms violence and combat interchangeably. But there is a distinction between combat and violence. Violence is quite complex, for example, one can still play non-combat games, but the game might feature violent survival horror experience. Combat, on the other hand, requires the player doing the violence. In short, all combat-focused video games are violent while violent video games do not necessarily be combative-type.

A quick glance on the 2017 E3 video games reveals 82% are combat-focused, 3% minimal combat, 5% sports, 3% racing, 1% dancing and 7% non-combat.

McIntosh also observed that in 2015, 78% of the games presented in E3 are combat-focused. In 2016, it rises to 80%. And in 2017, to 82%.

That is why media reports in the US assumed that violent video games are the cause of mass shootings in American schools.

Those reports was disputed by the American Psychological Association (APA). They answered in their updated resolution on violent video games last February 2020 that scientific researches demonstrate correlation between violent video game use and increase in aggressive behavior and cognition. However, they reiterated that this does not necessarily mean that violent video games are the cause of violent behavior.

APA President Dr. Sandra Shullman clarified that, “Violence is a complex social problem… attributing violence to video gaming is not scientifically sound and draws attention away from other factors, such as a history of violence, which we know from the research is a major predictor of future violence.”

On the other hand, the same association in a review found that playing video games may be healthy to the child’s learning, health and social skills development.

The lead author Dr. Isabela Granic, of Radboud University Nijmegen, The Netherlands, said, “Important research has already been conducted for decades on the negative effects of gaming, including addiction, depression and aggression, and we are certainly not suggesting that this should be ignored. However, to understand the impact of video games on children’s and adolescents’ development, a more balanced perspective is needed.” 

I think it is quite alarming that most of video games today contain violence since there is an established link between violent video game use and aggression. Though playing video games has a positive impact on a child’s development, we still cannot deny the fact that these video games seem celebrating violence.

Considering what Reggie Fils-Aime, president of Nintendo America, said in E3 2017, “The game is fun. The game is a battle. If it is not fun, why bother? If it is not a battle, where is the fun?” It seems that gamers are forced to embrace this narrow definition of fun and leisure.

Maybe it is time to infiltrate the gaming industry. Use it as an evangelization tool. I think there is a need to “gamevangelize” the video game world.

I wonder where did all Catholic game developers go? What are they doing? Or is there any Catholic among them to start this call of “new evangelization?”

I have not seen any video games that promote Catholic doctrines or virtues. Some video games may be inspired of Catholic history. The games setting may be during Medieval Age. It may have a priest character, but with magical powers which essentially non-Catholic. It may include liturgical vestments, but it is the end of it. Nothing is said on enriching the spiritual life or even development of Gospel virtues.

Meanwhile, as I have surfed the Internet, there is a game I have found, but I have not personally played it. It is called “Arise: A Simple Story”. Based on the game descriptions, it is about a man who is about to die. He tries to reflect on the stages of his life. The player can control the flow of time. In the game, the player can die through making mistakes such as falling from a high ground. This happens without blood effects. Clearly, no combats. A good example of non-combative type of games as it promotes self-reflection.

We can hitchhike from that video game idea to propel us to start “gamevangelization.” Playing while praying.

Pope Francis, himself, in his apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium invites us “to be bold and creative in this task of rethinking the goals, structures, style and methods of evangelization.” Hopefully, the Church will not be afraid to be organically creative in presenting the faith to the young ones particularly now we are entering in a new age. ###

References:

  1. https://www.businessinsider.com/who-video-games-coronavirus-pandemic-mental-health-disorder-2020-4
  2. https://www.businessinsider.com/video-games-and-violence-2018-3
  3. https://catholiccourier.com/articles/arise-a-simple-story-video-game-suitable-for-all-ages
  4. http://popculturedetective.agency/2017/the-unfulfilled-potential-of-video-games
  5. https://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/2020/03/violent-video-games-behavior
  6. https://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/2013/11/video-games
  7. https://www.washingtonpost.com/video-games/reviews/arise-simple-story-is-game-symbolism-stages-life/
  8. Pope Francis’ Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium

 

 

EMMANUEL JOHN PANGAN is an instructor at Wesleyan University-Philippines where he teaches Social Sciences and Mass Communication courses.

Emmanuel John Pangan

"Fray Emman" once lived as a Dominican aspirant for almost two years. He left the seminary life in 2013 and pursued AB Mass Communication at Wesleyan University-Philippines. Right now, he is writing his thesis in Master of Arts in Education major in English at the same university. He was a former proofreader at The Daily Tribune, a newspaper company in the City of Manila. Currently, he teaches Mass Communication and Social Sciences courses at his beloved alma mater. A member of Philippine Political Science Association and cofounder of Samahang Lazaro Francisco, a literary writers hub in Nueva Ecija, he still involves himself in church works particularly in Mercy Ministry, the Catholic Diocese of Cabanatuan Hospital Chaplaincy’s official arm which aims to seek and help former church workers who are now sick. Most important, he is living happily with his parents Jasmin and Jaime, siblings Eliza and Joseph, and grandparents Yoly and Bering in the peaceful barrio of Liwayway.

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