On November 20th, one of the most anticipated games of the year will be released for the Xbox 360, Bioware’s Mass Effect; when it arrives on my doorstep, I will have the choice to encourage alien, unnatural, sexual immorality. PC gamers have known Bioware for their Baldur’s Gate and Neverwinter Nights series, but console gamers were first introduced to the game designer with the 2003 hit Star Wars Knights of the Old Republic. Capturing the spirit of the epic Star Wars story KOTOR (as the kids would soon call it) became one of the most popular games for the original Xbox and arguably the systems best RPG. Aside from the Star Wars branding, KOTOR succeeded because of its compelling storytelling. Much of the game could be spent getting to know your characters; the more they liked you and approved of your actions, the more they would share about their history. In addition to back story, talking to the other characters in the game opened up new plot threads. Ultimately, however, these conversations didn’t affect the plot of the game much, they just opened little side missions. In Bioware’s new role playing game set in space, how the player treats the other characters will determine if they are able to visit entire worlds and whether or not they will witness an alien, lesbian, love scene.
Is it wrong to punch a random pedestrian in Grand Theft Auto? Or to steal a car? If I purchased the upcoming Grand Theft Auto 4, would I have to obey all the traffic laws in order to avoid sinning?
I have Mass Effect preordered. Lord willing, on November 20th I will be exploring space and trying to save the galaxy in what looks to be one of the best RPGs (and maybe even one of the best stories) of the year, but what I won’t be doing is watching video game characters have unnatural relations. So am I going to avert my eyes when that scene comes on? No. I just won’t let my characters act or talk in a manner that will lead to the scene. In Mass Effect, the characters are not predetermined to be fornicators, the player has to have conversations and do things to encourage the other characters be alien, lesbian, lovers. And I won’t do that. So it’s okay to play and enjoy the game, right?
I tell myself that a game which gives players the option to sin in the game world is no different than the options we have to sin in the real world. I’m not in sin just because I have the opportunity to punch someone in the face in my real life, so if I have the opportunity to punch someone in the face in a game, but I choose not to, am I sinning to play the game? I don’t believe so.
I’ll go so far as to say that it is alright to play and enjoy a game which gives you the option to view sexually immoral acts, but that still leaves a much bigger question: at what point (if any) is it a sin to act a certain way in a game?
Is it wrong to punch a random pedestrian in Grand Theft Auto? Or to steal a car? If I purchased the upcoming Grand Theft Auto 4, would I have to obey all the traffic laws in order to avoid sinning? This is far from an easy question to answer for sincere Believers, but if we are to take every thought captive, then it is important that consider this issue.
Does it matter what I do in a game? To some extent, I have answered this question “no” for my own gaming. I don’t think it’s wrong to run people down on a video game; but what’s interesting is that I rarely choose to play the “Bad” character. If given an option in a video game to save someone and get less points or kill them and get more, I nearly always save them–even though I don’t think it’s “wrong” to “kill” them. It may be permissible in my mind, but it’s not profitable (or comfortable) in my heart.
So where does this leave us? Although it seems pretty clear that games such as Mass Effect, which merely allow players to make immoral decisions are not necessarily sinful to play, we are still stuck with the question of whether or not it is a sin to steal a car in a video game (and what if you’re stealing it from Nazis?). In other words, does a sin committed by a digital character constitute a sin on the part of the player?
There’s no quick and easy answer to this outside of legalism. Rather, we must use discernment. Instead of quickly deciding that a particular game is “good” or “bad,” we should be testing all things to see how they line up with Scripture, what God commands, how it might cause a hindrance to our walk or a stumbling block to others. The relationship between digital immorality and real-world transgression might not always be clear, but we can know that as long as we sincerely and diligently choose to test all things against the Truth, God will give us the grace to discern between alien fornication and speeding to win a race in Need for Speed.