God, man and Civilization IV

9b67a0ed 56a7 4307 abfa 5d894ac5a244If there is anything that sets the hearts of the GetReligionistas a-twitter, it's reading a really interesting news feature and, lo and behold, running into a solid, relevant dose of religion. Here's a case in point. I have a teenaged son and my house contains five or six computers at the moment (depending on whether you count those that are unplugged), so you will not be surprised to learn that the family has had some lively discussions of video games and trends in the $10-billion industry that creates them.

As a rule, I hate video games, especially those omnipresent first-person shooter/slasher/basher games. However, because of my family's love of the classic Myst series, and the work of the brothers Rand and Robyn Miller, I am aware that it is possible to create -- or sub-create -- video games that bless minds and souls rather than twist them.

This brings me to the newsy Weekly Standard feature "'Civilization' and Its Contents: A video game for the ages" by reporter Victorino Matus. It focuses on the quiet artist Sid Meier and his mega-selling Civilization series, which Matus calls the "thinking man's Grand Theft Auto, the video game version of a classical education." The game is, in fact, a kind of social-sciences chessboard that blends history and logic into a game that demands a long, long attention span.

Near the end of the piece we also find out that Meier is a churchgoer, a Lutheran in fact, and that this may have something to do with his values as an artist -- especially when his worldview is contrasted with that of the competition (or much of it):

Religion plays a major role in Civilization and can be more vital to victory than military prowess. Competing civilizations can send out missionaries, found a religion, create temples, cathedrals, and even launch crusades. Meier is quick to point out, however, that the role of religion is just another dimension to gameplay. The same goes for choosing nuclear power or heading a government that isn't democratic -- you could opt to run a fascist or Communist regime, though these choices all have consequences.

... Nevertheless, Meier's faith puts him at odds with other game-design geniuses like John Carmack, John Romero, and Will Wright, who are all avowed atheists (and Meier is, incidentally, the only one from this group to have graduated from college). To be sure, Meier has the utmost respect for them and their pioneering work. But it is yet another factor that sets him apart.

When Carmack and Romero decided to introduce blood and gore in their breakthrough 1992 game Wolfenstein 3-D, they voluntarily rated themselves PC-13 for "profound carnage" -- a brilliant marketing ploy. Later, when Romero realized Carmack had found a way to enable players to interact with each other on a network, as noted in Masters of Doom, his thought was: "Sure, it was fun to shoot monsters, but ultimately these were soulless creatures controlled by a computer. Now gamers could play against spontaneous human beings -- opponents who could think and strategize and scream. We can kill each other! 'If we can get this done,' Romero said, 'this is going to be the f--ing coolest game that the planet Earth has ever f---ing seen in its entire history!'"

It's difficult to imagine the soft-spoken Sid Meier having the same reaction."

Check it out. It does appear that ideas, yes, and beliefs, often have consequences -- even in the digital world of virtual reality. Religion is only part of this story, but it is a crucial part. Amen.

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