Monday, October 8, 2007
Is Halo Christian?
With the advertising push for Halo 3, the United States is beginning to see gaming everywhere. Now I am a gamer and most people know it. I love old school Nintento. I dream of returning to my first gaming system, the Atari. There's nothing like shooting down airplanes and choppers in the game CHOPPER. Though the Atari was my only game system until college when I purchased a Playstation, I have had experiences with all game systems from Dreamcast (don't ask if you've never heard of this system...it's a sad story) to the PC. As I have grown up with computer games and video games, and am a Pastor many times people ask me if these two are compatible. I will attempt to answer this question with a certain example.
This morning I was handed an article from The Gazette titled "THOU SHALT NOT KILL-EXCEPT IN A VIDEO GAME AT CHURCH!" The article basically addresses the issue of churches reaching out to youth with violent video games. Ethicists seem to be on one side and youth pastors/leaders seem to be on the other side with Focus on the Family in the middle not knowing what to do. The youth leaders argue that Halo 3 is a tool that can be used to draw youth into their groups where they can then (during the break of course) give a lesson to connect kids to Christ. Other pastors use the opportunity to talk about God and the devil. A youth minister is quoted in a letter to parents stating "We want to make it hard for teenagers to go to hell." Others are prompting teens to use Halo as a theme to talk to their friends about good and evil. In a response to their critics Kedrick Kenerly, founder of Christian Gamers Online states "I'm not walking up to someone with a pistol and shooting them. I'm shooting pixels on a screen." (which is a horrible response...I guess many men aren't cheating on their wife by viewing pornography, they are just viewing tiny pixels)
On the other side of the issue are religious ethicists and pastors who claim that "Halo" has a corroding influence and gives access to adult-themed material. They would also state that "Halo" associates thrill and arousal with killing. Daniel Heimbach, a professor of Christian ethics at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary states "To justify whatever killing is involved by saying that it's just pixels involved is an illusion."
First let me address the 'pro' side for Halo. I do think that it is a complete mistake to use this as a tool just to get youth into the door of Church. Yes, we want to use everything at our disposal but where is the focus of the activity. It is solely on the activity of playing Halo. The youth won't care what you have to say they will just believe that they have to listen to this little commercial (the Christian message) to play Halo. And we all know how easy it can be to filter out 'commercials'. The message of Christ is to take center focus not a side adjunct to play Halo. And this goes with other 'activities'.
Second, the 'anti' side of the issue has some valid points. Yet, kids these days are able to distinguish fantasy from reality. My fear is that this may spill out into all aspects of media, books, movies and the like. Do kids still play Cowboys and Indians? I think so (even if it is not a politically correct activity) Now churches though need to respect the rating that Halo has been given. It is not appropriate that they allow any aged 'youth' to play a game that is rated M for Mature which focuses on only 17 or older crowd. Sure, younger kids will play it at home and parents will allow that but the church needs to take a stand on this issue. Would you allow youth to watch a rated R movie? I doubt it. This gets to the problem that many people just don't understand the evolution of video games (which may be a blog for another time).
Simply, "Halo", I would argue can be appropriate as a fellowship activity (just as Softball league and the like). But there needs to be some parameters such as respecting the rating of the game. This means that Halo may be great for young adult men's ministry as a fellowship activity. If this just becomes a tool to get people to listen to the message I believe you have already lost them. Certainly some will come hear the message but let's be honest we want to use what is effective. Video games are not effective means of evangelism. It is a fellowship tool. Many forget the aspects of multi-player that most use when playing Halo. This creates a bond and venue in which people share their experiences with each other and creates an aspect of fellowship.
Another aspect that is lost in the game argument is that Master Chief (the main character you play) is a soldier. This brings up the question: Can a soldier kill? The answer is yes. Luther writes how being a soldier is a valid vocation. Now the response may be "But these kids aren't soldiers!" True. But as one looks at the single player of the game through out the trilogy, you will find a wonderful plot that shows how soldiers should act and behave. It takes you through the vocation of a soldier to save and protect. This is especially clear in the 'movies' that were made to promote Halo 3. Watch them, they are rather interesting. Speaking of Halo 3 and the single player plot, I have come up with an interesting conclusion (I have not played the game). But as I watch the movies and follow the story line of both Halo and Halo 2, I have seen where Halo 3 might be pursued. I believe that Halo 3 really sets Master Chief to be a Christ-like figure. Where he will sacrifice himself for humanity and not just for humanity but probably for those in the Covenant (enemies) as well.
That is my take on this whole Halo 3 phenom. And by the way...I probably will be getting a 360 and Halo 3 this Christmas! I am a gamer after all.