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Sunday, April 26, 2009

Best BIOSHOCK review I've read from the Christian perspective

BioShock is not a video "game". It is more like a brand new kind of high brow literature for the modern age, masquerading as a video game. How many "games" have ever tried to touch on the stark horrifying reality of what human nature is capable of doing in the conscious absence of God?

Heck, there aren't even many movies or TV shows that attempt to do that...

Unfortunately, practically every so-called "Christian video game reviewer" that I've read over the past year has completely ignored the extremely powerful moral underpinnings of BioShock, and instead quickly sought to condemn the game for its graphic violence, its harsh language, and of course none of them have seemed able to help but make very wrong insinuations about the Little Sisters and their relationship to the Big Daddies.

Which is why I want to cast y'all's attention on Jerod Jarvis' review of BioShock, which he wrote for his college's newspaper at Whitworth University. It's an excellent essay and Jerod amply demonstrates that he not only "gets" BioShock, but also why it is a game that should be more widely appreciated by those espousing the Judeo-Christian ethic.

Here's a portion of Jerod's thoughts...

However, it is startlingly, shockingly clear upon one's first entering into Rapture that something went terribly wrong. As the game is explored and the mechanisms of the city's self-destruction are uncovered, the clues increasingly point towards the one thing that Andrew Ryan and his idealists didn't factor in — that human nature is innate, not something impressed upon us by outside influences. Human greed, desire for power and selfishness are not things that religion and government have given us, as Ryan believed — instead, in seeking to escape those things, he instead created a place where they could truly thrive. The sad truth of the matter is that human beings are fundamentally flawed — greed, selfishness, and pride are built into us. Social conventions can certainly mellow these somewhat, but without a true inner heart change, as Christ offers, humans are humans wherever they are.

The truly fascinating aspect of this predicament that the game hints at is found in the gruesome execution scenes of smugglers. Throughout the game, you develop a feeling that Ryan is not fond of smugglers bringing things in from the world above, outside his control, and the crucifixions of these apparent criminals highlight this in tragic fashion. But what is far more interesting is the glimpses into what those smugglers were smuggling: crates of Bibles.


So what are the developers saying? That when the world starts collapsing, people turn to religion? I suspect that might have been the point they were trying to make — but their stab in that direction actually illustrates a much stronger, deeper point — when man removes God from the picture, the picture falls apart. Man can only keep up his acting for so long before his true nature begins to reassert himself — and when that happens, when people find themselves at the mercy of their own natures, they turn to things that can change those natures. In this case, in what is either a stroke of genius on the developer's part or an award-winning case of God using people in spite of themselves, the people of Rapture were turning to the truth: the Bible.

Most of the Christian reviews, and even some of the secular reviews, seemed to take the execution of Bible-smugglers as a slam against Christianity. And it is—but it's Andrew Ryan slamming it, not the message of the game. I strongly suspect that this nod to Christianity was unintentional on the part of the developers — listening to interviews and commentaries leads me to believe they weren't gunning for anything deeper than man’s apparent need for a religious crutch when things get hard. But if one takes the time to look deeper, a different message can be found.

Read more of Jerod's review here. And he also asked if I could pass along the link to his blog Duality, featuring even more of his deep musings on modern video games :-)


Modern Greetings said...

I learned a lesson today that bioshock is not a video game. Thanks for this post.