“Of Games and God”: A Review

Note: Tomorrow, we’ll be posting an interview with the author of Of Games and God, Kevin Schut. Don’t miss it. In the meantime, here’s the review.

It’s no secret around here that I’m a fan of playing video games. I heard there was a book out there that was attempting to reconcile Christianity with playing video games. I’m not actually sure ‘reconcile’ is the right word; I’ll steal from the cover, then: Of Games and God is A Christian Exploration of Video Games.

Which, of course, I’m interested in. And I think you should be too.

Christians haven’t done too well interacting with film. We (by-and-large, though not exclusively) wrote film off, early on, and so we’ve taken a long time to get to a point where we’re creating interesting, beneficial, and even beautiful films. It’d be a shame if we retreated from video games without carefully deciding if they were worth retreating from. For my money, and for Kevin Schut’s, they aren’t worth giving up, just yet.

I’ll get to what I loved about the book in a moment, but I’ll start with what frustrated me. The book is very much an introduction; gamers will most likely be bored with some of the chapters (“How to Understand a Video Game,” for instance). While these cursory and introductory chapters could be helpful—I could give this book to my Mom, and she’d follow it without a problem, even though she’s far from a gamer; I could probably give this to my Grandmother, too—they’ll simply be boring or too simplistic for much of the audience. Likewise, the book skips across the surface more often than it settles into the river; while Schut covers the majority of what you’d like to see covered, question-wise, he does so rather quickly. Each chapter ranges from roughly 15-30 pages, while each of them could easily be a book on their own.

These frustrations are probably necessary evils, for a book of this kind. If parents are going to read it, particularly parents who have never played one of those newfangled television games, then you’re going to have to actually introduce the material in a straightforward manner. Additionally, not much has been written on this topic for the Christian market, just yet. Schut’s breaking ground, and the topsoil is still a little rough. So he can’t dig just yet, unfortunately, but hopefully future books will.

And now for the good, which is certainly in greater supply.

For all the surface-skipping the book does, it lands on all of the important topics. We see a discussion of religion, ethics, violence, addiction, social living, and even the rise of educational uses for video games. Answers aren’t forthcoming, at least not definitively. You’ll find explorations more than you will conclusions: the book concerns itself with presenting information for both sides, making tentative arguments, but it primarily wants to introduce the reader to each issue that we could think about when we consider playing games.

Consider, for example, the chapter on violence. While many (both parents and gamers) might want a clear conclusion (the former may want a good reason to ban the games; the latter may want justification for playing them), Schut sticks to presenting both sides. The conclusions he does decide to offer, however, I think are relatively spot-on. Let’s stick with analyzing content based on the context it appears in, much like many of us have when analyzing film. Perhaps it isn’t always wrong to have a little violence (is Bugs Bunny really so deplorable?), but that doesn’t mean all violence is acceptable.

Perhaps the most useful chapter, at least for those who aren’t convinced we should even be playing video games, is his chapter on fantasy and escapism. In the latter half of the chapter, Schut recounts arguments from both Lewis and Tolkien on the nature of fantasy, and the benefits of world-building as an exercise of our creative nature. Schut takes the argument and expands it to all interactions with fantasy. Oddly, this is something both Lewis and Tolkien would have likely disagreed with (as they both had a distaste for non-print media), and Schut acknowledges this. But the strength is in the form: if creating and reading about and imagining fantasy worlds can actually be good for your soul, it isn’t much of a stretch, if you have to stretch at all, to arrive at the conclusion that playing some video games can actually be good for you. I’m thrilled that the positive argument was made, rather than the more common negative argument (that is, “Well, it’s just like other forms of entertainment, so it isn’t bad for you, necessarily”).

All in all, I’m quite glad this book exists. I’m happy with it, despite its few shortcomings. And for many readers, those shortcomings will actually be clear positives. I can safely recommend it to anyone interested in learning about this relatively new medium, regardless of your involvement with video games. Even hardcore gamers will find fresh perspective, even if you need to skip the second chapter.

A physical copy of this book was provided by  Baker Publishing Group on condition of a review. There was no requirement for the content of the review.