Evangelical Christian books on video games have typically been dreary, censorious affairs. Painting with oversized brushes, concerned authors with knitted brows have warned us for decades that our children and country are going to hell in a handbasket because of these games. They have not, let us say, been all that subtle or nuanced in their assessments. As a "gamer" myself, I have toyed with writing a book on video games, since there seemed to be a need for a balanced voice in the conversation. I'm glad I never got started on that project. Kevin Schut has already written it.
Schut is a media scholar at Trinity Western University in Langley, British Columbia. His book, Of Games and God: A Christian Exploration of Video Games (Brazos) tackles issues related to video games, both high-profile issues (violence, representation of women, addiction) and themes that have yet to receive much attention (video gaming communities, Christians in the video game business). Better yet, he deals with these issues as someone who knows what he is talking about. He's a gamer, and a video game academic (yes, video gaming has been of interest to academics for some time now).
But do not let that intimidate you. This book isn't a heavy, academic tome. Schut has put some heavy research into this book, including some interesting original survey studies of gamers and game designers. But unlike some academic books, this one is readable. One of Schut's strengths is his ability to unpack difficult and subtle concepts in a way that is approachable, using metaphors that are within anyone's grasp. His writing is clear and crisp and fun to read. Even his endnotes are worth reading; he cites so many good resources. Ordinary Christians who want an informed perspective on video games ought to read this book, whether they feel academically qualified or not.
'It Isn't That Easy'
That is not to say they will find easy answers here. Schut states his purpose up front: He wants Christians to develop a faith-informed critical perspective on these games for themselves, rather than becoming dependent upon a guide to spoon-feed them the answers. "If we can learn to think critically," he writes, "we can be our own guides." As they say, teach a man to fish...
But this will prove disturbing or irritating to some readers who yearn for someone to spell it out in black and white: "So, can my son, in good Christian conscience, head-shot a zombie to save the town?" Again and again, Schut responds, "It isn't that easy. It depends a lot upon the context, what your son is getting out of it, what he understands himself to be doing, how he unpacks the spiritual significance of this game." Frustrated moms everywhere can either grit their teeth...or else begin conversations with their sons. This book will help inform those conversations considerably. Concerned parents (or pastors, or youth leaders) will understand the dynamics of gaming better, so gamers will feel more understood. And gamers will have a better idea of some of the dangers and risks inherent in gaming that concern their parents (or pastors, or youth leaders).