Thursday, May 14, 2015

The gift of Knowledge and Video Games

The gift of the Holy Spirit called the gift of knowledge is the gift by which our intellect is illuminated to find truths about God present in creation around us.

So it is the gift of knowledge that enables you, when you look at the vastness of the ocean, to think- wow! How great must God be to have made all this. Or again, you take a cold shower on a freezing cold morning and think to yourself, "my goodness, hell must be truly awful". Or again, you think of how much your mother loves you when she goes out of your way to pick you up from somewhere, and you realise, "My Lord and Saviour loves me to a degree miles greater than this".

Well it's entirely possible for us to see and appreciate aspects of Almighty God's plan of salvation when we play video games.

I think a lot of my posts on this blog are about this really.

Let's pray for the gift of knowledge when we play video games, that we will move from them to appreciate the eternal truths about God, and that way even playing games can help at our sanctification.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Why are some priests against videogames?

There was an article not too long ago at Catholic Household entitled "What do 10 Priests say about Video Games". I can't say I was that surprised about the responses but I really think that most of their points were not that well thought through and were pretty fallacious. I thought I'd just list and respond to some of them.

1) Video Games absorb up your time and your life.

This could be said about any recreation- watching films, playing football, going running, building train spotting, painting, fishing, shooting. The point about all of these is the same- moderation. I personally think for a single man about an hour a day should be the limit. If you have a wife and children it should be less, more like 30 mins a day and really it should be the kind of thing some of your children can participate in in some way. St. Thomas Aquinas actually puts "play" or "recreation" as an necessary element of the virtuous life, no life should be without some recreation otherwise that individual becomes intolerable to live with.

2) Video Games are a form of alternate reality and entering an alternate reality is evil. 

This is a weird argument that can be made about reading any novel, watching any film or participating in any drama production. I think that if within this alternate reality you play as a character whose role is to perform intrinsic evils (such as GTA5 or certain FPS games) then there could be a problem, but generally speaking it isn't the case. Certainly the idea that playing Zelda II for the NES or a car racing game on the PS4 are being sucked into another life where anything goes simply is ridiculous.

3) Video games are full of satanic influences and these are infectious.

Again, we are dealing with a tiny number of games that have satanic elements. I turned off the Persona IV for PS1 because I thought it was satanic. I think that possession and diabolic assault generally requires the viewer/participate to will the evil and to be open to diabolic influence, a Catholic who is going to regular confession and who turns off something that seems to be glorifying satanism would be perfectly safe.

4) Ultimately these games lead to mass shootings in schools.

There may be some links between teenagers in broken families playing endless hours of FPS games and games that reward vice like GTA and violent activities, or at least violent fantasies. The link is very very small though inasmuch as there have been very few of these mass shootings and yet millions of copies of these games sold. There is also a question of causality, perhaps messed up violent teenagers who had had really bad homes tend towards violent games as an outlet and perhaps in more extreme situations they choose to take real life violence as an outlet. So perhaps the real issue is with broken homes, poor parenting and ultimately a lack of relationship with the saviour Jesus Christ. Of course, even if we concede that there are a couple of game franchises that should be avoided insofar as they promote a vicious mentality this wouldn't rule out playing the vast majority of games that are, in moderation, either morally neutral or perhaps even morally good.

Legend of Zelda, the Christian past?

Not too long ago I started playing Legend of Zelda the Ocarina of Time by downloading it from the Virtual Console. I never owned an N64 as a boy so it has been interesting getting to know what all the fuss was about... more on that another time.

What I wanted to post was a link to an article by Chris Qu exploring how in the early Zelda games the world of Hyrule is Christian but that with the Ocarina of Time all of a sudden you get the religion of the three goddesses (who dress like prostitutes).

Nintendo made the decision in the mid 90s to move Link from being a kind of crusader knight character towards what we have today.

The article makes some really interesting observations, pointing out Christian artistic motifs in the early games as well as the fact that what is known in English versions as "spell book" is in Japanese referred to as "the bible". 

My absolute favourite piece of evidence is the great promotional artwork for "A Link to the Past" which shows Link in prayer before our Blessed Lord. Note he ain't a protestant either.

Friday, May 1, 2015

Priesthood as summoner

As I prepare for my ordination to the sacred priesthood, I have been thinking a little bit and drawing some spiritual fruits from seeing priesthood as in some ways analogous to the role of the summoner in ffx.

The summoner is set aside from the people, is called from among them in order to represent the people and to offer a sacrifice for them. The summoner's life is for others, that is, the summoner literally performs a summon that will bring about a period of peace for the people but it will be at the expense of his life.

The Catholic priesthood is a sharing in the sacrificial priesthood of Jesus Christ, His work is extended through time and space.

Sharing in Christ's priesthood means sharing in His victimhood because Christ only saves humanity by being a priestly victim.

So the Catholic priest sets His life aside, is willing to offer his life as a sacrifice in order to enable Christ's redemptive work to reach more souls.

When the hands are laid in you, it is like a mortal blow, a death sentence, as it was for the lamb about to be sacrificed. I embrace it for the salvation of souls and out of love of Jesus Christ the one high priest.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

The easy ending and the good ending

A little while ago I played through Castlevania- Symphony of the Night which I bought from the Playstation Network.

The game is full of little secret areas, special items and optional bosses. In fact if you play through the game leisurely, and don't go out of your way to do more than is required you'll probably end up with "the easy ending"- like I did when I played through. When I got "the easy ending" I knew something wasn't right and I consulted a walkthrough guide online which revealed to me that I had missed out on SO MUCH in this game, but that if I wanted "the good ending" I would have to put in a lot more hours and a lot more effort.

The whole experience reminded me of the situation of mankind after the fall. The tragedy of Original Sin means that if we just go through life following the dictates of our flesh and what the world around us is suggesting we will end up with "the easy ending"- eternal damnation in the fires of hell. As a priest I know once said, "no one needs a manual to get to hell".

To get "the good ending", like in Castlevania, involves consulting the guidebook (the Church teaching and Sacred Scripture) or asking getting the advice from those who have already finished the game and achieved "the good ending" (the writings of the saints). "The good ending" requires effort, extra hours and much more discipline.

Most people will finish with the "easy ending" in difficult computer games, and in life Our Blessed Lord teaches it will be the same.

  "Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the road is easy that leads to destruction, and there are many who take it. For the gate is narrow and the road is hard that leads to life, and there are few who find it.

Strive to get the "good ending". Put in the effort, resist the devil, the world and the flesh. Remain faithful to the teachings of the Church, and cling to Christ Who is the way.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Secret of Mana- some thoughts.

I recently finished playing Secret of Man from the Virtual Console for the Wii (in fact I finished it last summer, but never got round to posting about it). I really enjoyed the game, it has a whimsical, light-hearted quality that is lacking in modern day rpgs. There isn't much to review about the Catholic dimension of the game but I'm going to try and fill a few pages!

Character and identity

There are 3 main characters in the game, none of which are particularly well developed, so much so, they default names are simply "boy", "girl" (who bears a striking resemblance to CT's Marle) and "Sprite" (some kind of imp, which we are not actually sure as to whether it is if male or female). If you are looking for a gripping, roller coaster of a story, you won't find it in SoM, but there are still a few minor plot-twists and there is enough to keep the player interested. The character of the boy and girl and both driven by noble quests, the boy, with the task of charging the mana-sword so as to defeat a wicked sorcerer, and the girl, with the desire to rescue her boyfriend, Dyluck, who is being used by the evil sorcerer as a host-body. The boy faces being rejected from his own town in pursuit of the good and the girl, even with the companionship of the brave boy, remains entirely committed to being re-united with Dyluck, she says at one point, when someone wonders whether she might be attracted to the boy says- "Knock it of, I'm Dyluck's girl!". The character of Sprite is rather uncertain, he is mischievous and even devious at times its not entirely certain why he joins you on the quest but towards the end of the game he shows himself capable of noble self-sacrifice. 

Reality of Objective Moral laws.

For the most part the game succeeds here. the bad guy is diabolically bad, and all forms of sorcery and witchcraft are displayed as evil. A very large number of enemies are clearly diabolical fiends. The problematic character is the "mana beast" a character that the mana tree summons up to destroy the sorcerer, but lamentably, this mana beast which the speaking tree summons is rather out of control and has to be killed as the final boss- a bit strange really. The mana tree is definitely good, mana seems to keep balance and harmony in the world, and the depletion of its power enables monsters to emerge. Why the threatened mana tree summons an uncontrollable wild beast to destroy everything is rather odd. 

In terms of purity and chastity, there isn't anything objectionable in this game. The violence is fairly sedate.

Interior Struggle to pursue the good.

There is very little introspection of the motivations behind characters' actions and so it is difficult to point this out. There are a few moments in the plot where characters are willing to face the prospect of their own death in order to save the world.

Divine Providence working through free will.

Very little on this point, only the fact that the boy himself is chosen by the mana tree to use the mana sword and save the world. We later discover that the tree is, or is perhaps inhabited by, the soul of his mother. A bit strange, but it isn't meant to be taken too seriously.

Basic Christian Theodicy- Monotheism, Goodness of creation, understanding of eternal reward/punishment based on moral behaviour.

 There are some rather strange ideas about souls in this game. I think this is linked to the Japanese view of Kamis, or spirits, inhabited inanimate objects. As mentioned, the tree is inhabited by a soul, but there are also moving treasure chests. 

Mana is also a non-Christian concept. The idea that there is a force out there holding all things in balance through the medium of mana crystals. The idea is present in some of the early FF games too. But maybe we could imagine Almighty God governing the world through these crystals and leaving humans the task of guarding them. The game doesn't oppose monotheism and I suppose that there is a sense in which creation is good insofar as its goodness is ensured by the well being of the crystals, monsters emerge where this balance is broken.

When characters die in battle they "see the reaper", but then can be resurrected, that is a pity, it is more Christian to have characters knocked out and then revived, as in most ff games.

The boy's father speaks to him as a ghost, so there is some continuance of souls after death although it is not clear that anyone goes to heaven or hell based on their lives.

In spite of all these theological flaws, I would still recommend the game to Catholics, why so? I think the essential reason is SoM is an RPG which is driven much more by gameplay than story or character development. The essential script within the game is very small (around 4000 words compared to Chrono Trigger's 20000) and whilst it sounds as if there is a lot of objectionable content, in fact, there is very little, because most of the game is dungeon crawling followed by curing and upgrading in the next town. The amazing musical score for the game is also one of the best of the 16bit era, in my opinion, second only to Chrono Trigger and highly enjoyable with a wide variety of moods and themes expressed. SoM doesn't aim to be the big block buster epic action RPG, I think it is satisfied with being a decent, enjoyable amusement between playing the FFVIIs and the Suikoden IIs. The game also seems to capture something of child-hood, at least it did for me, perhaps it was the soundtrack and the bight colours that evoked this. Overall the whole game carried an air of simplicity and whilst it isn't one of the greatest games of all time, it is a lot of fun and not too much hard work. 

Friday, April 3, 2015

Is emulating a game sinful?

If you're a Catholic who is serious about keeping in the state of grace and remaining in Christ's friendship then you probably think a lot about whether a given act is sinful or not. One of the things you might worry about is whether it's sinful to emulate games on your phone or computer.

Downloading a copy of a game you don't own, and which ordinarily can only be obtained by purchasing it is certainly sinful. I think if you have a habitual practice of doing this you are certainly dealing with grave matter, that is, mortal sin. Even stealing one game electronically could possibly be a mortal sin, if it is done with full knowledge that the action is serious. 

Some people would argue with this, but I think we need to see intellectual properties and software in the same way we would view physical items. If you apply the same rules to the physical item, would taking it be moral?

Anyway, lets move onto the question- is it wrong to download a copy of a game you do own?

This is licit so long as, in additional to owning a copy of the game you are going to play, you also own a console on which that game can be played.

  • So, for example, you own a ps1 and you own a hard copy of ff7. In that instant it is licit to emulate ff7 on your pc or phone.
  • Another example, you own a ps3 (which is capable of playing ps1 games) and a hard copy of ff7. In that instant it is licit to emulate ff7 on your pc or phone.
  • Again, you own a wii and you buy mario 3 on the virtual console, you can play mario 3 on your phone.
  • I would even go so far as saying- you own the nes cartridge of mario 3, you have lost your nes but own a wii upon which mario 3 is available for download, in this instance I think you can play mario 3 on your phone without sin.

Keep the faith my brothers, you have one soul and there is one eternity.