As I reach the halfway point of the “threescore years and ten” years that the Book of Psalms promise to let us live, it occurs to me I have spent too much of my free time thinking about religion and its role in society. I have also spent too much time playing video games. Not only that, but I can’t even seem to separate church and PlayStation.
It wasn’t always like this. Many years ago, I wore out my thumbs on the Atari 2600, the NES and the Sega Genesis, leading Pac Man away from evil ghosts. My mind went numb as I defeated such fierce heavyweights as King Hippo. Videogames served as a comforting stress reliever after a trying day in junior high, but that was all.
While not up to Caravaggio’s dramatic standards, my road to Damascus went through a small apartment on the Upper West Side of Manhattan when my older brother dropped off a PlayStation along with a few games one day. While some of them remained good ways to relieve stress as they were in my tween years, others had a knack for sophisticated character development, plot and subplot.
For a few months, I spent inordinate amounts of time playing epic Role Playing Games (RPGs) on the PlayStation. I spent more time thinking about Final Fantasy VII than I did the political campaigns where I was volunteering or my profession. When my girlfriend told me she wanted to take night classes to complete her MA, I encouraged her so I could spend time with the other woman in my life, one Lara Croft.
While I enjoyed the political intrigue infused in a game like Final Fantasy Tactics, I found the subplot of a corrupt church, a hollow gospel and a fake messiah a bit disturbing. This was tame compared to Xenogears in which myriad oblique references to the Book of Genesis and Freud culminate in a player killing God to liberate man by game’s end. Think Philip Pullman with a bunch of giant battling robots.
There is something off-putting about Japanese video games subtly attacking the Western religious tradition. I don’t think manufacturers are deliberately seeking to undermine faith in American society, but there does seem to be an anti-religious pattern in RPGs.
The takeaway is that video games are as much a part of the religious debate in the public square–and acutely so for younger players who are not critical thinkers–as mega-churches, abortion debates, and the Rick Warrens of the world. It’s time to take final fantasies seriously and consider how they form our perceptions of God, faith and creed.