[Babylon 5]

Nathan Mates' Christian Pages

Dealing with Media

By Nathan Mates

As someone who programs videogames for a living, I was recently asked my thoughts on videogames, especially considering their perception (to some, at least) as being completely violent and evil. There are a number of violent, sick, twisted games out there with just about no morally redeeming value whatsoever to them, I'll definitely agree. However, I also believe the same can be said for just about any form of entertainment-- books, movies, music, theater, art, etc.: fallen human nature can and will pervert some instances of anything into something that doesn't glorify God at all. That doesn't mean they're all bad-- Christian books, movies, music, art also exist.

There's no way things will be perfect on this world, period. But, that doesn't mean we must shun all of it as well, and only live as isolated turtles, not engaging anyone. That tendency of American Christians over about the past century to turn to isolationist cliques has been one of the greatest mistakes we've made-- we've let the Devil make us ineffectual in reaching others. If the Devil can't touch you anymore, then his next best alternative is to make you not touch anyone else with the gospel. Thus, we must have some contact with the rest of society: not enough to get corrupted, but enough to present the gospel-- by words and deeds-- to those around us. A quote from the Psalms is appropriate here: "I will set before my eyes no vile thing." [Psalms 101:3a]

Just like with other art/entertainment forms, what are we to do with the games that just plain stink? Well, we live in a capitalist society, and in this society, people vote with their wallets for things. Buy good things. Don't buy trash. That may sound like kindergarten level instruction, but some people need to hear that. Same with TVs: watch good things, don't watch trash-- turn the silly thing off. That's a first step. Next, in talking to friends (Christian and not) about entertainment, speak well of the good shows, and downplay the evil ones. [And the more intelligently, the better.] If you can show there's a difference, and the good things are worth following instead of the poor, you'll work to change attitudes, and show you're different than the regular world.

At a larger level, organized Christians can protest certain things that are totally pieces of unredeeming crud. This is a very tricky area, as the media tries to portray Christians as the evil badguys for standing up to things, and there's free publicity for the rotten things because of the media's mentioning it. With games, that's especially true-- games that were evil to begin with, to be sure, but absolutely atrocious *games*, have sold like hotcakes after they got media attention as a "evil game." [To name names of things well out of print, _Nighttrap_, _Postal_, and a bunch of others.] Without such attention, such games would have gotten only few scathing reviews from the mainstream press, and quickly been relegated to the compost heap of the electronic age.

If you're going to resist something, then make sure it's got half a chance of being noticed first-- it's sometimes better to let evil die an unnoticed death than to give it attention and make it popular. Thus, this goes back to the wisdom bit mentioned in a previous writing.

Also, most Christian parents these days don't seem to care or monitor what their kids participate in. Just about every "Teen flick" in the past few years has been rated R, which would supposedly somehow prevent most teens from watching. Hah. Movies, music, and games are all rated for content-- are the parents monitoring? If not, they're failing in their duty to raise up a child committed to God.

For now, I don't see computers and videogames replacing TV and movies as the primary source of exposure for kids. Computers are still in under 50% of US households. Videogame systems, about the same penetration. Americans still watch, on average, something like 5-8 hours of TV per day. Computers and videogames are way down on hours exposed from there. Most videogames at least have the semblance of being interactive, while TV is the total "turn off your brain" activity that some prefer.

So, we've got several media forms that may be good or bad; what about the internet? Once again, there's an amazing amount of filth out there. However, it can also be used for good-- many missionaries have managed to get email, which is far faster than post offices for communication back home. This is one major strength of the internet: fast but non-synchronized communication, such as email, usenet, and other "bulletin board" type systems. With non-synchronized setups, you can pass around prayer requests, and other things, and the recipient can get them at their convenience, instead of requiring everyone's attention at once. This is great for long-distance, and multiple timezone "meetings." The disadvantage of this, is that people can be flakes or not respond instantly, but a device called the telephone usually helps for urgent requests.

The internet is also great for big archives and searching-- the internet can be like a big library, but more convenient and faster. I'd like to see a lot more Christian resources archived up on the web: all the classic theological books now in the public domain (St. Augustine, and just about anything else published before 1900). My archiving of all my writings to my website for free reading is just my little start to such a thing.

Like all media forms, we get out of them what we (and others) put into it. More Christians making stuff glorifying God means there's more stuff that can be picked up by others. If Christians walk away from something, and leave it solely in the hands of unbelievers, it'll sink into the gutter of sin. There's points where we may want to cut our losses, and shake the dust off our feet [Matthew 10:14-15] at something, but seeking God, and using gifts for His glory, not ours, is what we should be doing.

And, for those interested in the games I've worked on, while trying not to shamelessly plug them too hard, my first two were simulations of Bowling: _Ten Pin Alley_ and _Brunswick Circuit Pro Bowling_. Hardly violent, and evil, but only moderately good sellers. [As the more recent release, Brunswick Bowling is far better of the two if you're out shopping for a Windows or Playstation game.] After being "threatened" with working on a third bowling game, I switched to another company, working on the network code of _Battlezone 2_ where you build and lead armies of tanks and other vehicles into combat on alien worlds. Yes, this is far more violent than a ball slamming into 1-10 wood/plastic pins, but I'm not that big a sports fan in real life anyhow (and less so in the virtual realm), and the violence and gore level in this game is within my levels of tolerance.

Eventually, I would like to work on a good Christian game, but speaking from experience watching lousy games die on the vine before release, sometimes within the same company I was working at, a game must be good entertainment first and foremost to have a chance of being popular and played. If it isn't fun, the programming and artwork is better served in making a slide show, Bible reference, or the like. Like movies, games need a good script (called a 'Design Document' in the industry) before work commences if there's to be a good chance of a successful, coherent game. Thus, without such a design document, I wouldn't want to start programming one.

See more Christian writings by Nathan Mates at http://www.matesfamily.org/xtian/index.html