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Last year I wrote an article about how Christians need to innovate and create exciting forms of entertainment. One of the reasons I stated was that for us to begin planting those seeds of Christ, we need to appeal to more than just Christians. I used LOST as an example of how far reaching a piece of entertainment can become if it is geared towards a broader audience. Granted, LOST is not a Christian show in any way, but it contains many qualities that Christians should strive to surpass in our own creations.
Another example of a medium that has wide reaching capabilities is video games. There is much talk of violence and sex in video games that our children are playing. Also, arguments are made that video games contribute to obesity. While I am not going to argue for or against the validity of these statements, I want to point out something very important.
Recently, an extremely large amount of innovation has entered the video game industry in ways that have not been seen since their introduction in the 1970s. Who has ushered in this new innovation? Christians? Not at all. We are again at the back of society in something that is so mainstream we would be foolish to ignore it. Complain all you want that video games rot the brain and are of no use, but they are here to stay and there are some very good arguments to show they greatly improve hand/eye coordination.
I would like to note that the publisher Left Behind Games has produced a game called Left-Behind: Eternal Forces. I’m glad to see an attempt by Christians to enter this realm. Well, the attempt was just that—an attempt. Here is an excerpt from a review that sums up the quality of the game:
Don't mock Left Behind: Eternal Forces because it's a Christian game. Mock it because it's a very bad game…Nobody has enough faith to endure a game with such a hokey story, terrible mission design, serious problems with the interface and graphics, and loads of crippling bugs…
Of course, a lot of people won't make it far enough to find out. Because Left Behind is based on the evangelical notion that you have to accept Jesus Christ as your personal savior or spend an eternity at Satan's weenie roast, most gamers
won't get past the "apocalypse right now" premise. Still, games are typically based on outlandish ideas, so it's unfair to dismiss this one based on religious grounds. Yet this is an awfully tough game to take seriously because the absurd story only works as a self-parody.
The review gave the game a 3.4 out of 10. It’s hard for Christians to be taken seriously when our work comes across as mocking ourselves.
Two Examples from the Industry
Not willing to simply sit back and tweak previous iterations of the same old entertainment, Harmonix Music Systems and Nintendo Company, Limited have broken with the video game “establishment.” Instead of being content with what has worked in the past and packaging it in a new and improved package, these two different companies (with different goals) have both hit on something revolutionary—video game players want excitement and more importantly, they want their entertainment made for their enjoyment.
Every five or so years, the “next generation” of video game consoles come out. In the past, all it took to spur more sales was to add better visuals to the package. Instead of Pong and a one-button controller, children of the 1980s ate up Super Mario Bros and the revolutionary, for its time, two-button controller with four-way directional movement. Every cycle after that introduced the game player to better and better graphics which has gotten us to where we are today with photo realistic game worlds.
Sony created the Playstation in 1994 and revolutionized the gaming world with CD-Rom based media at an affordable price. In 2000, Sony added better graphics and a DVD player in the form of the Playstation 2, which helped make DVD players and DVDs mainstream. It became and still is the most popular console in history, selling close to 105 million units. In the fall of 2006, Sony introduced the world to the Playstation 3 and, with good reason, expected it to be an even bigger seller than the previous incarnations. Why wouldn’t it? The most popular console just got high definition graphics and a super charged
DVD player in the form of Blue-Ray. Whoops, they are sitting on store shelves in almost every electronics store. What did Sony do wrong? It’s what they didn’t do that has Nintendo laughing all the way to the bank. It’s also why Christians can’t seem to get a foothold anywhere in society.
Sony didn’t innovate where Nintendo did. Nintendo created a console that didn’t try to ante up the graphics capabilities. It doesn’t double as a DVD player. It really doesn’t “do” anything particularly special. The Nintendo Wii (pronounced “we”) has something that the Playstation 3 and Microsoft’s Xbox 360 (which is almost exactly the same system as a Playstation 3) doesn’t. The Wii uses advanced technology to allow more simplicity in video games. Nintendo transferred what the system used to do to what the user can do. In Real Estate the most important concept is “location, location, location.” Well, in video games you could call the concept “game play, game play, game play.” If it is not fun and easily accessible, the prettiest graphics in the world won’t make it a best seller.
Nintendo has created a game system where the controller looks like a remote control. To be honest, it doesn’t look like a very good idea. It is held in the same fashion and is waved, jerked, swung, pushed, pulled, slashed, or moved in any other variety of movements video game makers can come up with. This ease of use allows toddlers to senior citizens the ability to enjoy a game with their entire body. Nintendo’s Wii has become a phenomenon. Since its launch in November 2006, you cannot find it in any store. As soon as a new shipment arrives, it is gone. Go to your local Wal-Mart or large electronics retailer and look around. You will see plenty of Xbox 360s and Playstation 3’s but not a single Wii in sight.
Harmonix has done a similar thing in creating Guitar Hero 1 and 2. Granted, guitar along with other music games have been done before, but none are as simple and fun to play as the Guitar Hero series. Harmonix created a plastic miniature guitar that is about 75% the size of a full size guitar. There are five color-coded buttons that act as your strings and are located on different frets. Lastly there is a plastic switch that acts as your picking device that you can click up or down. That’s a total of six buttons used throughout the game. You play songs by pressing on the correctly colored button that coordinates with the same colored prompt on the screen and “picking” at the appropriate time.
The Guitar Hero series has been so successful because of how easy it is to pick up and play. You aren’t fumbling over twelve different buttons and two joysticks to find the right note to play. All your buttons are lined up so a two-year old could figure it out. The Easy setting is easy enough for someone with no guitar or video game experience to pick up and play and the higher you go, the more difficult the songs become to where you are eventually playing the songs note for note. In a way, you feel and look like you are truly a lead guitarist of your very own band. The difficulty levels are done in a way that make you progressively learn how to play better and better without actually thinking about it. Like the Wii, Guitar Hero 1 and 2 are sold out almost everywhere.
While Microsoft and Sony have been content to stay with the status quo, Nintendo and Harmonix are out there revolutionizing and advancing the video game world and giving people some of the best entertainment around. Likewise, Christians need to look at these real-world examples and ask themselves, “How can we revolutionize the world”? Then we must get to work and do it.