American Christianities output in Video Games

Created: 2023/5/17
Updated: 2023/5/17

For the influence it has on culture and politics, American Christianity feels underrepresented in video games. And it’s not like there aren’t successful Christian game developers:

  • Five Nights at Freddies:, he had some controversy for doing anti-abortion stuff in an earlier game
  • The brothers that created Myst (Rand and Robyn Miller) also count themselves as Christians.

For me, it’s not that Christians can’t make video games that do well, but that the Christianity I grew up with, especially as a religion and philosophy, feels difficult to translate to video games, at least directly.

It’s certainly not for a lack of evocative imagery. DMC and Bayonetta pull directly from Christian imagery, but with the sort of irreverence that most folks don’t apply to their own faith, and Doom and Diablo and Dante’s inferno pull from Christian tradition. But those games aren’t claimed by most American Christians as exemplars, the way, say, C.S. Lewis or Toby Mac are.

There’s a lot about it (like how US Christian culture claims to dislike violence in video games, for example) that seems ill positioned for it, and there’s a certain sort of closed-mindedness that is often a part of the culture that seems to cut against the sort of creativity that is needed to investigate a lot of the themes of the Bible.

I think the canonicity of the Bible, actually, has a big influence there. Most Christians wouldn’t be comfortable making a game set directly in the events of the Bible, because putting a person with agency in the middle of that story would allow it to potentially tell the story differently than it’s written. Much of American Evangelical intellectual culture (a bit removed from the lay culture) has a lot of basis on being correct, and that being the basis for their moral authority. Being able to claim authority that specific details are that way for a reason part of that milieu.

Playing games with the Bible feels like it would have been sacrelidge to my exvangelical brain. I think this might be why we haven’t we seen a notable “Messiah in Palestine” game, about navigating all of the various politics and religions that were swirling around 1-30AD in Israel. We’ve seen a lot of stuff like that related to Dune, which does grapple with similar themes. Most churches would disown a game that used David as the protaganist of a God of War style character action game, even if it followed the plot as laid out in the Bible beat for beat, because of how it’d make the violence of David’s story a lot harder to sanitize. To say nothing of a game that simulated, say, the stations of the Cross and put you in the role of Jesus, or of his toturers. (there are some exceptoins, like Super Noah’s Ark 3D, but they aren’t common)

So, since the Bible can’t be the object of play here, other stories have to act as the frame, and the Bible ends up featuring in the game, usually as a source of moral instruction, or the like. Here, I think, the main blocker in terms of video game output is a general de-valuing of entertainment as a valuble pursuit in American Christian culture, that traces back to the Puritans and/or Quakers, as I understand things

There are Christianity influenced stories that have made for some good video games, Lord of the Rings possiblty being the most influential work there, with games that retell the plot of the books, to games that retell the movies, to roguelikes like Angband and Moria and Tales of Maj’Eyal. There are others, like Veggie Tales, and the Chronicles of Narnia, but most of those games aren’t about Christianity as such. Like, the movie tie in Narnia games aren’t about Christianity the way the books they retell are. And the Veggie Tales games tend to be mostly tie-ins, rather than deeper games.

Most of the energy to build those titles, comes in from outside the American Christian subculture,

Then there’s the “X but Christian” games that imitate Guitar Hero or DDR, but with sanitized music. Alternative versions of existing games like this certainly require some skill to execute. But, they’re explicitly alternatives, rather than being about Christianity

And, like, it’s not like someone couldn’t do something with the ideas, theology and philosophy of American Christianity in a video game. Bioshock Infinite certainly is about a lot of that, (though it kinda blunts the message by not committing to the criticisms it raises in the beginning.) The more you tangle with that, though, and embody and enact it in play scenarios, the more you have to stray from the puritanical media culture that is expected of Christian things.

Go too far in that direction, and it wouldn’t be claimed by American Christianity