Headshots: no, not photographs, but gunshots aimed at someone’s head. But does Jesus love such a violent action, even if it’s taking place in virtual reality? This provocative question was explored by Dr. Kevin Schut in his talk “Does Jesus love headshots?”, which zeroed in on how technology and faith intersect through the medium of computer and video games. Schut was one of three Christian thinkers who dug into faith in the digital age at Redeemer’s Beyond Worldview lecture series.
“Video games are fun partially because they play with our interpretive lenses.”
Schut is professor of media and communication at Trinity Western University in Langley, B.C. Gaming has always been a part of his life—he grew up playing on a host of different consoles. Naturally, this led to pursuing a PhD in Communication Studies, with a specialization in video games, and to competitions with his three daughters on their Wii, Xbox and PlayStation.
Video games aren’t all bad, Schut argues, and there are methods for Christians to thoughtfully engage with them. “Fantasy creates in us a renewal of the way we think about the world around us,” he says. It’s a statement in the spirit of Christian fantasy mainstays C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien, who wrote, alongside their beloved books, about how fantasy refreshes our ability to engage with reality.
At the core of Schut’s argument is that games are just another form of art, and mature art wrestles with the shades of grey and messiness of our fallen world. “Games are increasingly giving us moral decisions to make,” he continues. “But, we need to interpret what’s actually happening in video games before we can apply ethics to them.”
His thesis does not survey games from just one angle. “Video games are fun partially because they play with our interpretive lenses,” he says. “We can look at the exact same game with very different eyes.” Schut terms these “frames,” utilizing frame analysis, a sociology theory popularized by the influential intellectual Erving Goffman.
We can go through any amount of frames at one time. The “literalist” frame sees the game as a complete reality, as if it is representation of our world into which we can escape. It begs the question: can we really view video games as the half-real reproduction of the world that they really are?
Yet another frame, that of the “tinkerer”, allows for the player to build a world—Schut cheekily refers to this as the “Lego-building” frame. If we construct structures for characters or ourselves to interact with in a virtual reality, are we playing God? And, if we tear down a structure, or cause harm to characters in this reality, are we ethically responsible?
Regardless of how we interact with the medium, Schut pushes us to tread carefully and think critically. The meaning of the art form is interpretive, and we must look for the hope of Christ in every interactive story. Games, like great books and movies, also bring us into relationship with our neighbours. “Games can be a social glue for people from completely different perspectives and different walks of life,” says Schut, who takes part in strategy board game and video game communities. “It brings to people a shared passion that leads to fellowship.” Perhaps we could even call it a shared digital liturgy?
Schut’s lecture was part of the Beyond Worldview series. Hosted by the Centre for Christian Scholarship, three Christian thinkers dug into faith in the digital age. Read more.