What does the Bible have to say about Christian Computer Games?

Intro: Getting the diagnosis right

When I first started programming on the BBC Micro, what got me hooked was my insatiable urge to create. I’ve always loved seeing my code come to life on screen, especially in games. Like many other Christian software developers, I’ve often asked myself how I can best put these particular gifts God has given me to use for his kingdom. What is the most pressing need facing our world to which I can apply my gifts as a games developer?

One of the TV shows I used to love was Supernanny. Supernanny would swoop in to dysfunctional families with misbehaving kids, and witness all manner of tantrums and disobedience. She’d then offer advice to the parents on how to deal with the little terrors. The interesting thing was how often the root cause always seemed quite surprising, and how the behavioural issues turned out to be mere symptoms of a deeper problem: maybe a father shirking responsibility, or a mother unwilling to say ‘no’. If Supernanny had merely attempted to treat the symptoms, she wouldn’t have had such a dramatic effect.

How we understand the problem will control what shape our remedy takes. If we think that the biggest problem facing our culture is the excessive violence on our screens, we’re going to work hard at non-violent alternatives; if we think it’s a lack of moral standards, we’re going to want games that instil values such as caring for one another; if we think it’s ignorance of God’s law, we’ll make games that help people learn how they should behave. It’s not that each of those alternatives would have no value in their own right, but getting a right diagnosis is essential to bringing about lasting change.

The world’s big problem

So what does the Bible have to say? Just as Supernanny’s piercing gaze saw through all of the chaos to identify the real problem, so the Bible gives us a surprising diagnosis of our dysfunctional world. It claims that the biggest problem is not the breakdown in family values; it’s not the violence on our TV screens or declining standards in education; it’s not even global warming. As tragic as these things are, according to the Bible these are merely the side-effects of a much deeper malaise: a world under the wrath of God. As Romans 1:18ff explains:

“For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For although they knew God, they did not honour him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened.”

Despite the beauty and wonder of the world around us clearly pointing to the existence of a mighty creator God, the apostle Paul is saying that the human race has an ingrained aversion to his authority: we’d much rather shut our eyes, pretending that he doesn’t exist, than acknowledge him for who he is and have to submit to his loving rule. We take the good things he has given us and exploit them thanklessly.

God doesn’t just sit idly by and watch our rejection of him – he’s far too loving for that. In the next few verses, three times we read that God “gave them up” to the passions of their hearts and minds to do what ought not to be done. Unnatural and unrestrained sexual relationships, malicious backbiting and disobedient children – these are not the root problem, but rather the outworking of a sinful race under the judgement of a holy God. It’s too late now to simply clean up our act – his righteous anger has become our most serious problem.

In the next chapter, Paul makes it clear that being a ‘religious’ person doesn’t let you off the hook either. God’s chosen people, the Israelites, stood a better chance than any of being in the right, and yet 2:13 says “it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the law” (emphasis mine). Not one of us can claim to be perfect ‘doers’ of God’s law, and so we reach the obvious conclusion of 3:19b, that “every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God.” No excuses, no buts – we are all guilty before God, and there’s absolutely nothing we can do to acquit ourselves
before him.

God’s big solution

If the big problem facing our world is God’s wrath, then ultimately the solution is going to have to originate with God. Only God can save us from his own righteous judgement. It’s into this context that the first few words of 3:21 speak with such joyful relief: “But now, God”. When there was nothing that we could do to justify ourselves, God himself has put forward a solution in the form of his son, Jesus. In dying on the cross, Jesus takes our sin upon himself, and with it God’s wrath. He is the propitiation that turns aside God’s anger, he is the justifier who takes away our guilt, he is the redemption that rescues us from slavery to sin. For all who believe in his name, Paul says, there is now no condemnation (8:1). It’s of this gospel message that Paul speaks in 1:16:

“I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes”

and who can blame him! To our broken and fallen world, this is truly the best news imaginable! Many will choose not to accept it, many will be too proud to admit their need of God’s intervention, but for those who will believe it, the gospel is truly the wisdom of God and the power of God.

Conclusion: Preaching in word and code

People hearing and responding to this glorious gospel is the only hope for our world. Conviction of this naturally leads to a conviction in the priority of preaching this message. As Romans 10:14-15 puts it:

“But how are they to call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who preach good news!'”

So despite not exactly being renowned for their personal hygiene, even programmers can have beautiful feet! The challenge is to figure out how to preach God’s word through code – can we make a genuinely entertaining game that proclaims this message in an engaging way? I’m gonna do my best to find out!

“Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them” (Romans 12:6). How will you use yours?

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