This is what an LoL advertisement looks like in Singapore

Note the money-hugging Uncle Sam

Recently, these advertisements have appeared in bus stop billboards in Singapore, and probably elsewhere.

My first thought: I’m unsure about the ethics of this advertisement campaign targeting youth given that LoL is a highly addictive micro-transactions based game.

My second thought: No way that 1 in 4 figure is correct.

After some digging around, turns out that this figure is based on the statistic of 200,000 registered Singaporean LoL users.  While it is just misleading to assume that these 200,000 are unique users, or that all of these 200,000 are even active, 200,000 is still a huge number, given’s Singapore’s small population of 5.3 million.  By comparison, there are only 523,00 local residents (excluding foreigners) between 15 to 24 years old living in Singapore (source)

Videogame addiction is an increasing common problem among youth in Singapore today, and I won’t be surprised if that’s true elsewhere as well.  Perhaps there needs to be a much more concerted effort to address this issue both in the church, as well as in civil discourse.

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Videogames and the Idols of Society

I’m in the midst of doing research for an article on gender issues (since every video game website must have an article on sex and gender nowadays), and while reading through various articles on gender I find myself thinking about a related side issue: how do videogames reflect the state of society?  Let’s explore this issue further.

Not too long ago, Jeremy Parish from 1Up ran an article on “perverted” Japanese games, describing how Japanese game developers, especially in harsh economic conditions, continue churning out such games because they are the most reliable source of income for them, due to the reliability of a segment of society known as the “otaku” to purchase such games.

[Quick side-note: As an Asian, and as someone who had been regularly consuming manga and anime ever since young (much more manga/anime had been translated to Chinese than English, and is much more mainstream in Chinese-speaking countries like Singapore/Taiwan/Hong Kong than in America), I have a great deal of empathy for otakus, but they also sadden me greatly.  Perhaps this is worthwhile discussion for another article.]

“Welcome to the N.H.K” is a great novel/manga/anime for learning more about the tragic side of the Otaku and their culture.

Videogames, like any other economic product, is based on supply and demand, and if there were no demand for “perverted” games, there would be no supply.  But why exactly do otakus demand such products?  The sad truth is that as socially isolated people, these games are often the otaku’s only source of various felt needs: being in power, having a sense of achievement, belonging to a community, being loved and respected, and the feeling of being intimate (emotionally and sexually) with another.  All of which they have difficulty getting access to, outside of videogames.  But even beneath the surface sin of lust is the idol of pleasure: the point of my life is to enjoy myself.  Deep down inside, otaku are unfulfilled hedonists, and as a recovering hedonist myself, I can understanding their urges and the desire for quick fixes available to them through videogames (and over the last decade or so, the internet).

I’m no expert on Japanese culture, but it appears to me that for Japanese there are largely two main philosophies for finding meaning in life: either you find it within the context of emotionally fulfilling relationships (in particular the family) or you find it in sheer out-and-out hedonism.  This, I believe, is why Japanese games tend to have a greater focus on relationships between characters, and strong narratives which develop these relationships.  This is also why I think some Japanese games tend to appeal to our basest (and in western eyes, uncivilized) instincts. Dead or Alive is the obvious example here.

It’s hard to find a DoA image which isn’t objectionable in some way.

But this isn’t really unique to “sexual perverted” games and otaku.  Games everywhere shed light on what that particular segment of society want from their games (again, supply and demand).  For the longest time, I had no idea why the Modern Warfare series sell like they do, until I saw the Extra Creditz episode on ‘the gun‘, which explained how FPSes appeal to the western gamer’s deep desire for empowerment.  I guess this desire for empowerment is somewhat universal amongst all teenagers, but it must be particularly so for Americans and those influenced by the American ideals of freedom, autonomy and independence. (Culturally, we Asians aren’t so big on this, although we’ve no doubt been influenced by western ideals over the past few decades).  But this desire for empowerment, to my Christian understanding, is but a clever disguise for the sins of pride, discontent and rebelliousness – the refusal to be obedient to any authority, even the authority which you should be obedient to (i.e. God).

I have no idea why you Americans spend so much money on these.

Finally, let us briefly consider the use of gender and sex in western games, in particular how relationships work in Bioware franchises like Dragon Age and Mass Effect.  As explained by Tom Dawson, sex with a romantic partner in these games are treated as a reward for courtship, a personal achievement for overcoming a series of obstacles.  Such perceptions towards sex are not restricted to games alone (see also: The Game, American Pie), and perhaps, it is already the global contemporary zeitgeist towards sex.  That said, from the Christian perspective, this view is fundamentally untrue and an extremely harmful attitude. Instead of being a beautiful expression of intimacy between two individuals whom have covenanted with each other, it becomes a individual-centred conquest for pleasure and/or fulfilment.  Fundamentally, this is the idolatry of the self – even in our deepest most fulfilling relationships, we are primarily seeking self-benefit, and not the selfless love towards the other which we were supposed to display.

The mysterious Morrigan of Dragon Age: Origins, fulfilling fantasies for gamers everywhere who wish to sleep with demonspawn-birthing witches (all you need is to give her a few gifts and choose the correct dialogue options).

Honestly, we should not be surprised that society reveals such idols in what they desire in their videogames, because that is exactly what a fallen humankind is expected to look like.  If we don’t worship God, we worship ourselves, and whatever else we feel we need to make ourselves feel “fulfilled”.  Videogames, perhaps more so than any other kind of medium, are the most susceptible to the pandering of our idolatry (due to both it’s interactive nature as well as its relatively young history as an art medium).  It is also important to remember that we are called to show grace and humility to all who are sinful and fallen, because we too were once sinful and fallen as well (and in many ways, still are). The only difference between us and them is that we have been rescued by the grace of God (and not by of our own works).

What My Gaming Envy Says About Me

These may be the most difficult admissions I will ever make on this blog:

These are some of the games which I have played but never completed: Bioshock, Fallout, Baldur’s Gate, Oblivion, Braid, Half-Life, The Longest Journey, Secret of Monkey Island, Psychonauts.

These are some the games which I own, but never played (even once): Metal Gear Solid 2-4, Red Dead Redemption, Mass Effect (all), Portal 2, Planescape Torment, GTA 4, Half-life 2, Arkham Asylum/City, Crysis (both), ICO/Shadow of Colossus, Demon’s Souls/Dark Souls, Bastion, Chrono Trigger, FF6, Beyond Good & Evil, Star Wars: KOTR, Devil May Cry (all), Max Payne (all), Fallout (2 to New Vegas).

These are some the games which I neither own nor played: Persona (all of them), Minecraft, Zelda, Skyrim, Silent Hill (all), Resident Evil (all), Starcraft (all), FF Tactics, Suikoden (all), all Mario games after SMB3, MMORPGS, and pretty much all PS2, PSP, X-box or 360 exclusives.

Quite possibly I have reduced my gamer credibility to zilch, so what’s the point in my admitting these?

One reason why I didn’t play so many important games was that I missed out on the entire PS2/XBox console generation (college, but that’s not the only reason).  Even when I got my PS3, it was already 5 years into the current-gen.  The more I read from gaming websites and the more new games are released over time, the more my list of “games which I just have to play” grew and grew.  Soon it became apparent, being a working adult and all, that I’ll probably never have enough time to play this entire list of games.

And then I got sad.

At this rate, I may never get to play Bioshock Infinite =(

Hold up, let’s examine why exactly I’m upset, and what this reveals about myself and my motivations for playing video games:  I’m upset because I don’t want to miss out on videogame experiences which have been widely recognized by the gaming community as the best experiences videogames have to offer.  I want to go through and experience these experiences for myself too.  But what really is the value of these experiences?  Why are these experiences so desirable to me? Is it because:

  1. These experiences are so inherently valuable that my I cannot live my life without them?  If so, then gaming crosses the boundary into idolatry.  The only thing that I cannot live my life without is Christ.
  2. I just don’t want to miss out on experiences which other people have already enjoyed.  In other words, what other folks already have but I don’t, I must also have.  Is this not greed, covetousness and envy?
  3. I know that I cannot be seriously considered a gamer if I haven’t had these gaming experiences under my belt.  In other words, I don’t want to be looked down upon by the gaming community for my lack of key experiences.  Is this not vanity?

On further reflection, it should actually be a blessing to have missed out of some of these gaming experiences, just like it should actually be a blessing that as someone with a job, I have very limited hours in a week to game.  Theoretically, this means that my gaming choices ought need to be more critical and selective.  It’s like you’re given an large spread to choose from for a meal, you would want to skip out on the junk food and go only for the quality stuff.  Theoretically I should, on average, be having gaming experiences which are of greater quality, meaning and significance compared to other regular gamers.

Well, theoretically that is.  More often than not, I find myself playing the kind of game which I have an impulse to play at that point in time.  That’s revealing, because it shows that I’m not responsibly engaging video games, and I game primarily for self-indulgent purposes.  I hope this can change.  One reason why I started this blog is to explore the concept of how we, as Christian gamers, can pursue gaming in a way which is less about self-indulgence, and more about glorifying God.  Hopefully, we can discuss these things in greater detail soon.

For a start, I should learn to be content with what gaming experiences I have, and what I don’t.  Similarly, I need to be content with the limitations of my time which prevent me to have the kind of exhaustive gaming experience which I might desire, but is in no way truly necessary.  Only Christ is truly necessary.  And this lesson of contentment is in itself a blessing by the grace of God.  May God be magnified in all I do, be it in my moments of victory or in my shortcomings.

But godliness with contentment is great gain, for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content.

(1 Timothy 6:6-8 ESV)

[Addendum: This article from Rowan Kaiser discusses something similar from a game writer’s perspective.]