Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Gaming and Spirituality

For significant chunks of today, I've been prepping for a presentation on gaming, part of a first-Wednesday of the month series of evening seminars at my congregation.   As a pastor and a gamer, I've got a strong appreciation for both the joys and the ethical challenges in gaming.

There are some ethical sinkholes in the gaming world, to be sure, virtual La Brae tar pits for the soul.  But to be honest, none of them are any worse than handing Ayn Rand to an impressionable teen.  Grand Theft Auto might make them a bit more thuggish, but at least it doesn't make them prone to bombastic, overlong, compulsively self-absorbed right-wing prose.

As I've been prepping for what will be a general survey of the ethics of gaming, I find myself wondering if this new medium can be a spiritual thing.   Games can tell wonderful stories, to be sure, filled with deeply real characters that genuinely move us.   Those of you disappearing into Mass Effect 3 this week know what I mean.  Games can make us laugh.  Games can be filled with wit and humor and grace.  Games can genuinely stimulate us mentally, forcing us to think as deeply as any brain twisting puzzle.  Games can be as creatively open and playful as a box of LEGOs in the hands of a child.  Games can be art.

But can they be spiritual?  Sure, an eight hour nonstop gaming session can put us into a pretty altered state of consciousness, but that's not quite the type of spirituality I mean.

Can a game give us that sense of wonder and mystery that comes with the most evocative music, or the most beautiful paintings?  Can it give a sense of being connected not just to the creative intent of the human being who made it, but the deeper reality of the Creator who formed that human being?   There is certainly art that does this, cinema and music that causes deep stirrings of the Spirit within us.   Ron Fricke's Baraka stirs that in me, as does the early work of Kurosawa and Bergman.  The music of Arvo Part also speaks it.

But games?

Some have come close.   The spare, subtle games produced by thatgamecompany seem closest to that for me.  Next week, I'm looking forward to the release of Journey, the latest in their series of remarkably elegant and haunting releases.  Like prior games flOw and Flower, each delightful in their own way, Journey seems less like a traditional game, and more like a powerfully primal meditation.   It's only three hours long, but the reviews so far have affirmed that those three hours are deeply memorable and affecting.

As with any unusually grace-filled thing, I'm eager to experience it.