Sunday, August 3, 2008

On Temperance, Prudence and Purchasing Video Games

As a Catholic and as a gamer, I recognize that there’s a fine line between gaming for the glory of God and glorifying games INSTEAD of God. The cardinal virtue of temperance is absolutely essential in order to distinguish between the two. Scripture tells us that “for everything there is a season, and a time and a manner for everything under heaven” (Ecclesiastes 3:1-2). Catholic gamers would do well to remember that only a portion and not the entirety of their God-given existence is to be spent here on earth, let alone playing video games.

In the decision to purchase a video game, though, the virtue of prudence must be exercised, as well. Ever since video game violence first became a nationwide controversy in the ‘90s, there’s been no shortage of media coverage – including the Catholic media – regarding unsavory video game content, and while I personally believe that extolling the evils of violence in video games has became something of a tired refrain and easy scapegoat these days, I’m glad that, at least, there’s some attention to the issue now. But there’s no amount of media coverage or preventive legislation that can replace good parenting, and the complete lack of prudence on the part of some parents disturbs me greatly.

I’ll never forget the time I saw a youngster (I’d guess that he was, oh, maybe7 or 8 years old?) in a game store petitioning his mother to purchase the kid-friendly Gamecube game Luigi’s Mansion, which not only carries “E for Everyone” ESRB rating, but was available for a very inexpensive $20. The mother, however, had her eyes on the even cheaper item on an adjacent shelf: Turok, an “M for Mature” rated game featuring violence, foul language (as advertised on the box!) was available for a measly $10. The mother, seizing the opportunity to save $$$$, replied to her child in turn. “Honey, how about this one instead?” The child shrugged his shoulders and acquiesced. He went home that day with a game someone of his age should never play.

The obvious lack of prudence on the mother’ s part notwithstanding, it’s worth mentioning that Turok is a very low-quality game irrespective of the level of objectionable content. I would never recommend the game to even the most hardcore FPS (that’s “first-person shooter”, for those unacquainted with video game lingo) fanatic – the game is just completely intolerable, featuring slipshod controls, bad graphics, and tepid, repetitive gameplay. I do, think, however, that despite the game’s objectionable content (which renders it unsuitable for consumption for the younger set), there’s nothing in the game, morally speaking, that would make it unsuitable for a more mature crowd.

Part of the reason I started this blog to begin with was a perceived need for more information on this subject. Despite ESRB ratings, most parents I know are woefully ignorant of the content in videogames, and seeing as prudential judgment implies an informed conscience, the lack of knowledge (and in some cases, a lack of scruples, as the aforementioned story demonstrates) on the part of many parents about videogames as a whole is simply not acceptable. If my knowledge of the medium and its various minutiae can aid in abetting this problem, I will gladly share it.

I realize that what presents a temptation to sin for one may not present such a temptation for another – people of various ages and temperaments can digest various forms of media while others can’t, and such situations call for the discerning Christian to utilize prudential judgment. But for children who are unable to make such judgments, parental guidance is an absolute necessity; try as I might to lend my association with this medium to those who need it, I cannot be a substitute for a parent, who knows their child better than I ever could. So, for any parent reading this: know what game your child is buying/playing. Not everything is ok for a kid to play.

There are even some games that, dare I say it, NO ONE should play. Some games (like some movies and books) simply aren’t worth your time, and it’s actually not too hard to know a game falls into this category.

For example, just a few days ago, new information was released about the upcoming action game, Bayonetta. Now, the game’s premise is dodgy enough: playing as a witch who is quite literally hell-bent on killing angels certainly can’t be very wholesome, regardless of the merits of the gameplay, but tack on some posts from the link from the forum above, and…well, see for yourself:

“Bayonetta's outfit isn't actually leather despite the stitching you see in the CG art - It's magical hair that covers her entire body, and it's used in her attacks. The most powerful ones render her almost completely nude.”

“A fine mist covers the ground during the miniboss battle, designed to create a "holy atmosphere". The battle ends with an onscreen button prompt, which summons a giant hair dragon who bites the angel miniboss in half.”

I shiver at the thought of some parent(s) buying this game for their 8-year-old when it’s released sometime in the coming year. In the modern American lexicon, prudential judgment sometimes goes by another name: common sense. I pray that parents (particularly those of the Catholic variety) start employing it more frequently.

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