Christian groups have for years unified against “violent” video games, as well as those that they believe promote a worldview antithetical to what God wants. Some Christians have even opposed games like Call of Duty because, in their minds, they violate the sixth commandment, “You shall not kill.”
Most recently, we saw The Christian Post stoking outrage among thousands of readers about The Sims 4 allowing its simulated game characters to have scars from “top surgery.” It’s as if a virtual change in breast size is the end of the world.
And this steadfast opposition to video games exists in other faiths, as well. For example, Islamic forces in Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates had Injustice: Gods Among Us banned in those countries for a short period, in part due to the title including “Gods.”
But this is a new world. Not only has it been proven that playing violent video games is not associated with aggressive behavior in teens, but also that violence in games can be a good thing by reducing real-world homicides. And video games make up a larger part of the entertainment industry than ever before, making them a great medium for getting one’s point across… or, say, proselytizing.
Believers Getting on Board
Some religious groups have already jumped on the virtual bandwagon. There have always been explicitly Christian video games, mostly games created by Christian groups to promote a Christian lifestyle, but not many people are eager to play those. That being said, there is now a growing number of Christians who want to utilize the power of the virtual world by making games with more subtle Christian influences, or who feel that embracing games in general might help build their faith.
Fr. Blake Britton, who was born and raised in the Diocese of Orlando, Florida, argues that the heroic aspects of many games lend themselves to the Christian narrative. He further claims that video game culture is “one of the most fertile grounds of evangelization.”
“The gaming community is filled with souls ready to be guided and formed,” he wrote in July of 2020. “They are good people with hearts that desire greatness. All we need do is steer them in the right direction and allow them the opportunity.”
Christians aren’t the only ones waking up to the value of the video games for spreading their views on faith. We are seeing the same trend in Islam, including among religious extremists. In fact, it was reported in 2016 that even the Islamic State, also called ISIS, was using video game themes to lure people into joining their militaristic ranks.
Just as some religious groups are beginning to understand the staying power of video games as a medium – and the power such games have to affect society and the world around us – we are also seeing the beginning of another dramatic shift: the one toward virtual reality gaming.
As with all new innovations in entertainment technology, there has been the obvious knee-jerk reaction to virtual reality, especially among religious groups. Primarily, this has taken the form of warnings that “virtual sex” is just as sinful as “real sex.”
But some Christian leaders have also highlighted the potential positives of utilizing this new technology to reach more people, or generally improve the church experience. Presbyterian pastor Christopher Benek said in an interview that he believes the technology – once it’s fully developed – could be used to “develop virtual worship and Christian education experiences” to the benefit of sick or otherwise homebound individuals.
“This would be a great asset to the church universal, as it will enable the infirm, homebound, and potentially even the poor to participate from afar regardless of their personal mobility or lack of affordable transportation,” he said. “Small groups will be able to meet more frequently, even at great distances. The way that we currently do care and discipleship will radically change as will our expectations as to what it means to participate in those aspects of the church.”
This kind of technology is still developing, so we don’t know with certainty what the future of religion will be, let alone whether video games and virtual reality will have a prominent role in it. But what we do know is that these immersive entertainment mediums can accomplish wonders when it comes to generating powerful experiences for users, and that it would be foolish for the faithful to ignore such an advanced tool.