Video games and justice

Video games as more than just a game

How much recognition do video games get given when discussing the impact of the content we consume? I’m 22 and my generation grew up playing video games. They were the main source of fun in my free time as both a child and young teenager, which was pretty normal for my demographic. Which leads me to question – how much do we look below the surface of the video games that we consume? How much do we look below the surface of anything we consume?

‘Video games’ and ‘justice’ are two words that are rarely put together. To be completely honest, I feel like I might have bitten off more than I can chew when I asked to write about this. The two topics of video games and justice are far more extensive than I had let myself believe. The more you look into the relationship between the two, the deeper it goes. Two issues immediately came to mind when I decided to write about this. Firstly, what are the justice issues within the video game industry? Secondly, how is the concept of ‘justice’ portrayed in video games?

Video games as community

Before I look into those two questions, I want to talk about the role that video games have played in my life during the past seven months. Quality time is not something that I think most people would link to video games. But it was the primary way that I spent time with my friends during the lockdown. ‘Eight ’til late’ was a term we used to play until the morning’s early hours. Starting at eight, getting a takeaway delivered and catching up as we ‘pwned some n00bs’ in Verdansk.

Separated by lockdown restrictions, we spent time with each other online. We couldn’t meet in the pub, so we met on the servers. It was how we coped in many ways, but it was also how we maintained our friendships. We laughed, got a bit frustrated, and made some jokes at the expense of the person whose K/D R is below one. In my experience, gaming has been a crucial form of spending time with my friends and maintaining our relationships. Especially during the lockdown period.

Video games as social commentary

As much as gaming has been positive for me over the past few months, it’s no secret that there is a darker side of misogyny, racism and violence within the industry. I recently came across a story that showed one of the ways that light can be shone over this corner of the gaming world. There’s a Netflix documentary called ‘High score’ which caught my eye earlier this year. It is a fantastic series on the history of video games, looking into the artwork, concept development, and the gaming industry’s business battles. One of the things that stood out to me while watching was the idea of representation. In one episode, Gordon Bellamy, an American video game executive, talks about how much he loved the Madden NFL game. The game became such a passion that he was determined to get a job with Electronics Arts, the company that makes Madden.

The first thing Gordon did after getting the job was to include Black players in the game. He did this because of the freedom that comes to the marginalised when they are the ones set as ‘default.’ Gordon is a gay African American and wanted to be able to see himself on the screen. He says, ‘Video games afford you the opportunity to start over…in games we all start in the same place, [we have] the opportunity to play together under the same rules.’ There is no discrimination of the player based on their identity; it allows each individual to participate in a campaign that matters. Video games enable marginalised people to be put into the story and to become the hero. A feeling that might seem impossible for someone like Gordon.

Video games as moral

There is another side of justice that stands out to me when I think about video games. It is the side of morality. Right and wrong. Red Dead Redemption, Fallout, Fable, Skyrim, and so many other games have a built-in system of right and wrong. Red Dead Redemption 2 had the highest-grossing opening weekend in the history of games. What I find most interesting is that within the game there are consequences for your actions. The more immoral things you do, the more immoral things you are asked to do. The more moral things you do, the more moral things you are asked to do. If you are more immoral, you might be asked to help a bank robbery. If you are more moral, you might be asked to find a stolen horse. You get the idea.

As a Christian, I can’t help but see the parallels between video game’s moral structures and the moral system of the world that we steward. Are we living in ways that see the increase of ‘good’ or ‘bad’? That question might seem unbelievably vague but what I am trying to get across is that, I believe there are ways we should live and ways we should not. What do we play? Who we play as? How do we play? Are three questions that I think are worth asking ourselves in this conversation. While I am drawing these comparisons between these in-built structures of morality and the world around us, why not ask ourselves those questions in our daily lives. What do we do to impact the world around us? How do we act towards the people in our lives? Are our actions good?

Perhaps the consequences for right and wrong actions go beyond the tasks we’re asked to do. I’m reminded of the parable of the talents from the Bible. In Matthew 25, Jesus talks about a group of slaves who are asked to look after money for their master. Essentially, two of them invest the money, while the other stashes the money away. The first two are considered ‘good and faithful servants’ while the third is ‘wicked and slothful.’ The moral of the story is that as Christians, we are called to invest God’s gifts. To do ‘good’ things. Through doing that, we will be asked, by God, to do more ‘good’ things. It might be too far to say that these video games have in-built moral structures that can act as modern-day imagery for the parable of the talents. However, I think that there are parallels that can be seen. 

Final Thoughts

Video games are so much deeper than we give them credit for. They are a way in which we can build relationships and maintain friendships. Video games allowed me a sense of community during a period in time when that feeling was incredibly hard to come by.

They have allowed the marginalised to find inclusion and experience fair treatment under the same rules as everyone else. Gordon Bellamy is a man who saw the need for fair representation, and in pioneering his vision brought a sense of recognition to people who might feel like society does not see them.

Video games with moral structures have an element of Jesus’ teaching. The more ‘good’ we do in terms of the kingdom, the more opportunity we will be given to do it again. We see the world of Red Dead Redemption 2 entrusting its players with what they do best. God entrusts his people with the gifts of the spirit. The more we use them, the more of the Kingdom of God we will see. There is so much potential for the movement of God’s spirit within the video gaming world. I want to see more Gordon Bellamys; I want to see more of God’s freedom over people’s lives and I really think that the video gaming industry could be a vehicle through which we can learn more about justice.

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