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Catholics for Video Games

Why should Catholics care about and play video games? This post covers four positive reasons for promoting video games to Catholics, and for that matter, everyone.

Kent NORMAN, Blogger

April 20, 2011

5 Min Read

Yes, the title of this blog is a bit provocative.  My wife looked at it and immediately said, "Are you kidding? Don't write that." So I deleted what I had started. Then I realized that her reaction was the very reason that I needed to write it.

But a first a few disclaimers.  Obviously, I only represent one Catholic, me, and not all Catholics; and I am not advocating all video games, only the one's I like. Wait, don't go!  I am no worse than every other opinionated, egocentric blogger out there.  I am just up front about it.  But I should also mention that i have a lot of experience with video games of all types.  Moreover, I am a cognitive psychologist who has been teaching a course "The Psychology fo Video Games" for three years and I have been doing laboratory research on video games for the same period of time.  So I will attempt to speak with some academic relevance.

Second, as noted, I am a Catholic.  But let me explain that.  There are a lot of flavors of Catholics, particularly, the nominal type.  So let me tell you where I come from.  I was raised in a Protestant church, went agnostic in college, and then had a conversion experience back to Christianity.  But when Project Gutenberg, originally founded in 1971, hit the web in 1994, I started reading the early Church Fathers, you know, Polcarp, Origen, Dionysius, Augustine, those guys.  Anyway, to make a long story short, not being entirely happy with the Roman Rite, I actually joined the Urkrainian Rite.    For my initiation studies and  in the spirit of Project Gutenberg, I scanned in and posted on the web the "Orthodox Confession of Faith" by Peter Mohila, Metropolitan of Kiev (1633-47). But after spending a sabatical in Rome, living two blocks from the Vatican, we currently attend a Roman Catholic Parish.

So back to video games! Why should Catholics care, other than to condemn the violence and the sexualizing of women? I will leave that for some other time. Right now,  I will give you four positive reasons why Catholics should be for video games

1.  Play is inherently instructive.  We learn a lot through play.  We learn roles by acting them out (playing house), engaging in competitive sports (football), and by learning and playing by the rules (chess).  I could rant on about the beneficial aspects of video games, learning eye-hand coordination, enhancing perceptual skills, acquiring problem solving skills, and even social/cooperative skills.  We probably don't learn to be better "Catholics" playing video games, but neither do we in algebra, chemistry, or computer science classes.  We just learn declarative and procedural knowledge.  Good stuff our vocations.

2. Play allows exploration of moral alternatives with minimal consequences. Imagine putting someone into a situation in which they have the opportunity to do good or evil, allowing them to do evil, and then condemning them to eternal death for doing that evil. Now imagine putting someone into a video game (I will not pick on any favorites) in which they can make good or evil choices, allow them to choose evil and die, but then be respawned, and try a new set of choices. The first scenario is sort of  life itself, except for the grace and mercy of God to forgive our sins.  The second scenario, video games, allows the player to experiment with moral alternatives, experience the consequences, and hopefully make better choices in the game and in real life.I don't believe in reincarnation. We are meant to be born once and die once.  But as Tom Bissell points out in his recent book Extra Lives, video games provide the opportunity to play through RPGs with different moral narratives.  I should note that Tom mentions that he was/is a Catholic.

3. Video games are contemporary, cultural narrative.  We need to be aware of the world around us.  The Catholic Church has known this throughout it's two millennia history, not as much accommodating itself to the world, but rather engaging in dialogue meaningful to all parties.  We do this by reading the newspapers, reading contemporary novels, listening to contemporary music, and watching television, film, and theater.  Today, video games have become a major part of our cultural experience. As Catholics we need to know where people are coming from,  what they think, what games they have been playing, and what game worlds they are escaping to (see consenter).

4. Video games can be educational and can actually be used to teach the doctrines of the Church.  Wait! Wait! I hate "educational" video games! What am I saying?  Ninety-nine percent of educational games are lame especially the "Bible" games.  But some people suggest incidental and/or tangential learning. Check out Daniel Floyd's animated lecture. Just to pick a controversial game that I am currently playing, let's take Assassin's Creed.  One can learn some bits of history from the narrative and one can ask questions that can be answered by other sources such as Wikipedia.org and the Vatican.va.  Video games can provide the illustrate 

So I am not saying the all Catholics should be playing Grand Theft Auto, Mass Effect, and Gears of War.  Not my favorites anyway. But play the games that you are comfortable with, just as you would read the novels you like.  And most of all, don't condemn all games just because of a few really bad ones.

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