Of Games & God: A Christian Exploration of Video Games, by Kevin Schut. Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press, 2013. 206 pp. $16.99.
It is easy to find heavily partisan writing on the video game phenomenon that has so deeply entrenched itself into our social fabric, whether it be a crusade against video game violence and its perceived real-world effects or “techno-utopianism” (9). Author Kevin Schut, associate professor and chair of the department of media and communication at Trinity Western University, instead approaches the subject from a balanced Christian perspective. He desires to “work out the relationship between Christian faith and games,” rather than take sides on any one of numerous specific points of debate, and in this endeavor he is quite successful (4).
The book is thoughtfully constructed; the author begins with the basics and builds from there. He takes the time to define what a game is, along with other key concepts in understanding games such as medium and communication. Operating from this baseline, Schut then spends the rest of the book approaching various hot-button issues related to video games such as violence, addiction, gender stereotypes, and education. In each chapter he does his best to offer both sides of the argument to the reader, letting the reader gain some perspective on where the debate currently stands. It is only then, at the end of a chapter, that Schut offers his own opinions and views, and when he does it is always in a spirit of humility.
The bulk of every chapter is devoted less to the author’s own opinions on issues than it is devoted to helping the reader develop a discerning eye of his own. Schut provides an excellent two-page concluding statement within the last chapter (175–76). Subtitled “Toward a Healthy Christian Criticism,” this section lays out, in summary, Schut’s guidelines on how to approach games from a properly balanced Christian perspective. It is in this passage that the ultimate goal of Schut’s book is clearest; again, his purpose is not primarily to take sides on major issues, but rather it is to help readers develop a Christian framework from which to approach them.
Upon first reading, and depending on a reader’s preconceptions, the book can seem a bit weak; after all, the author doesn’t really draw a line in the sand and make a strong argument for one side or the other of the various issues he discusses. Indeed, it can be easy to walk away from the book and feel that Schut gives nothing more than the classic law student answer to any question: “It depends.”
However, such a reading of the book entirely misses the point that Schut is trying to make. Instead of taking a side, he helps the reader develop a healthy, Christian, critical framework with which to view such issues; he isn’t simply waffling out of laziness. Perhaps, at times, he does indeed imply the statement “It depends,” but always along with that stance comes a thoughtful discussion of what factors and Scriptural principles come into play for the relative topic, allowing the reader to make informed decisions of his own. In a field of study dominated by knee-jerk reactions and strong emotions, Schut’s approach is a wonderful breath of fresh air.
The foreword by Quentin Schultze interestingly states that the book “reveals that gaming is implicitly like worship liturgy” (xii). While such a statement may be stretching things, a lot of what Schut has to say does have applications in the worship world. Indeed, his discussions regarding parallels between games and Biblical perspectives on art (see 90–91) have some application in the realm of worship; becoming a “monomaniac” and letting one of the most important things in this earthly life (such as making disciples) become the only thing in life is a mistake in that it ignores all that the Bible has to say about God’s love for beauty and excellence in corporate worship and Christian life in general.
Other worship applications can be found in Schut’s writing as well, such as in chapter four. In discussing how to approach the issue of video-game violence, he argues that we should be looking less at the consequences of violent media and more at whether such media is inherently wrong (59). This applies to the worship wars in the sense that, using the same argument, we should be looking less at the personal effects different styles of music have on people (e.g. whether or not it “speaks to a person’s heart”) and more at whether certain aspects of corporate worship are inherently right or wrong according to what God’s word has to say on the issue.
Such applications, while possibly useful, are in the end ancillary to the book’s ultimate purpose, which is to help Christians approach video games in a balanced, Biblical manner. The book is not without its flaws; the author freely admits that chinks in the armor of his arguments can be found (xvi, 175), and indeed they can. But such flaws are few and far between. Schut doesn’t try to give us the final word on the morality of video games; instead, he walks the journey with the reader, attempting to apply what the Bible has to say and helping the reader build a healthy critical framework from which to approach important issues in the gaming world. Of Games & God is a great book for the inquisitive Christian, whether a parent, pastor, or “gamer.”
Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary
Fort Worth, TX