Monday, October 08, 2007

The Father, the Son, and the Master Chief

Ryan sends along an article in yesterday's New York Times about a nationwide trend: churches using Halo as a recruiting device. It's fascinating stuff, and a little difficult for me to get my head around.

On one hand, it seems like a distasteful bit of bait-and-switch. As one person quoted in the article says, "If you want to connect with young teenage boys and drag them into church, free alcohol and pornographic movies would do it." I don't necessarily agree with the comparison, but the difference between games and those other vices is, in this case, a matter of degree. The M-rated Halo has been deemed inappropriate for kids under 17 by people who (mostly) know what they're talking about. It almost seems lurid, like the holy flipside of luring a kid into the back of a van with promises of candy. Give them what they want -- and then get what you want. (In some industries, this is known as "marketing.")

On the other hand, the church officials behind the Halo congregations have their heads on straight when it comes to games. The stereotype of the foaming-at-the-mouth games censor in my head is certainly that of the far-right Bible-thumper (even though the facts don't bear this out -- some of the most stridently anti-games politicians in recent years have been Democratic Senators Joe Lieberman and Hillary Clinton, and Illinois Governor Rod "The Bod" Blagojevich). Instead, the pastors quoted in the article take the pragmatic approach: "We have to find something that these kids are interested in doing that doesn’t involve drugs or alcohol or premarital sex." As someone who spent all of his teen years playing video games, I can confirm that such a lifestyle definitely does not lead to drugs, alcohol, or premarital sex.

Who knows? Maybe these types of church programs will even help to turn down the heat under some of the more excitable culture warriors. As a general rule, I think whatever starts a dialogue is a good thing. If a kid has to defend Halo to his parents on theological grounds, then he's probably looking at the game more critically than most professional reviewers do. And if this is merely another fissure in America's ever-crumbling religious foundation, then we godless gamers will achieve final victory!

Wait, scratch that last part.

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