Many Christians remain on the defensive in response to the culture around them, pointing out dangers and condemning anything that makes us uncomfortable. We find warning and condemnation to be a valid position, but not a valid default position. In order to demonstrate an alternative, we thought we’d demonstrate what it’s like to give popular culture the benefit of the doubt. All this week, the writers at Christ and Pop Culture will be playing the role of evangelist for some of the things we’re most excited about this year.
We’re not exactly recommending these things. Christians have different weaknesses and convictions, not to mention the unfinished or unrevealed nature of the concepts, releases, and artifacts we’re discussing. Nonetheless, this week we humbly present to you, the reader, a list of trends, films, television shows, albums, games, and books that we think you should give a chance.
Heavy Rain – Developed by Quantic Dream. Platform: PS3.
Billed as a crime drama “for an adult audience who want[s] to be emotionally engaged,” Heavy Rain is another attempt at capturing the film-noir genre in a video game. Where previous attempts at this translation have heavily relied on combat and gun play (see Max Payne, or don’t), Heavy Rain is an adventure game, and so the emphasis appears to be upon exploring the environment and uncovering clues rather than blasting countless enemies. Considering that film-noir has never traditionally been about gun play, Quantic Dream’s choice to focus on the gum-shoe elements of the genre in Heavy Rain seems promising. As for the mystery itself, the basic plot of the game is that you are “investigating a series of unexplained slayings in a dreary, east coast American town.” Beyond these facts Quantic Dream has been fairly guarded about the plot. From the few previews Quantic Dream has allow of their game, the stand out features appear to be the incredibly detailed environments, realistic and emotionally charged acting and character animation, and the developer’s intent on making a game that is adult in theme, not necessarily in content. In other words, while the game may or may not include sex and violence, it will still be an “adult” game because the ideas expressed, the themes that it explores will be mature.
As video games are starting to surpass the sales of CDs and home video, it is appropriate that more diverse genres of games are released. Sure, Call of Duty, Wii Fit, and Wii Play can all sell incredibly well, but without a diverse gaming market, this soon-to-be dominate media will be overwhelmed with the TV equivilent of GI Joe, Jazzercise, and American’s Funniest Home Videos. Even though I don’t personally own a PS3, and therefore will probably never get a chance to play Heavy Rain, I am excited about this game’s potential to help redefine the Mature rating so that it doesn’t merely refer to graphic violence or sexual content. In addition, the developer’s emphasis on telling a story which impacts its audience is very encouraging. If gaming does replace TV and film to any significant extent, we run the risk of replacing narratives with simple games. Certainly video games have the potential to tell good stories, but in general they don’t (particularly if you look at the top selling games). And even fewer games actually affect the player’s emotions (unless it is to make the player frustrated). The fact that a developer is risking its sales (a party game for the Wii is always a sure bet) to make a game that tells a compelling and engaging story for adults gives me some hope that “serious” games have a future beyond their currently marginalized (PC) existence.
Bioshock 2 – Developed by 2K Games. Platform: Xbox 360 and Playstation 3
From a pure gameplay and technical sense, Bioshock was nothing new. Nonetheless, video game critics everywhere gave it near perfect scores and claimed it broke new ground when it was released. Why? Because the game strove to be something more than merely fun, or exciting, or groundbreaking. It strove to be good art.
And boy, did it succeed. It didn’t feel derivative or preachy, and it made the player think hard about the delimmas he faced as well as what might have caused the situation he found himself in. The main thing is, the game makes you think hard about why you’re doing what you’re doing. So, that’s really all I need to look forward to Bioshock 2: a first game that is so good it’s hard to believe the sequal could be any less than great.
As Christians, it’s important we surround ourselves not just with good art, but with entertainment that encourages us to think while we consume. There’s a place for a popcorn movie or a casual game, but mindlessly playing or watching can reap unfortunate side-effects on the soul. With Bioshock 2, you can rest assured you won’t be playing this game without thinking hard about the consequences of your actions and those around you.
Punch Out!! Wii – Developed by Nintendo. Platform: Nintendo Wii
I’m both praised and decried Nintendo’s casual approach since the success of the Wii. I’ve been Nintendo’s biggest fan and they’re biggest critic. The source of my praise: that Nintendo has provided an opportunity for real interaction and community through the medium of video games that hasn’t existed since the 80s. The source of my criticism: that Nintendo has squandered the opportunity to convert would-be gamers into regular gamers by providing opportunities for in-depth and rewarding games experiences that also feel inviting and compelling.
It’s taken way too long, but Nintendo has finally announced a game that could address this need. Punch Out is a game that most of us grew up obsessing over, and we often did so in the context of community. Our families would help us identify weak spots and patterns in our opponents and we would cooperate to defeat them.
Finally, depth and compelling gameplay in a game that will also be inviting to those who generally hate video games. It’s about time.