Saving your kids’ souls, by any means necessary.

Here’s an entry that’s going to combine two things I talk about often, but which usually aren’t associated with each other: religion and video games. It’s seems a number of churches around the country are using the ever popular Halo video games to lure young men into church so they can be proselytized “ministered” to after a couple of rounds blowing the living shit out of everything on the screen:

Thou Shalt Not Kill, Except in a Popular Video Game at Church – New York Times

First the percussive sounds of sniper fire and the thrill of the kill. Then the gospel of peace.

Across the country, hundreds of ministers and pastors desperate to reach young congregants have drawn concern and criticism through their use of an unusual recruiting tool: the immersive and violent video game Halo.

Right off the bat we have a conundrum for our Christian friends. The Bible says “Thou Shalt Not Kill” and yet they’re luring in kids with the promise of being able to virtually kill to their hearts content. It goes even deeper than that, however, because the Halo games are rated M for Mature and is considered inappropriate for people under 17 years of age. Yet many churches are letting kids several years younger than that play the game:

Those buying it must be 17 years old, given it is rated M for mature audiences. But that has not prevented leaders at churches and youth centers across Protestant denominations, including evangelical churches that have cautioned against violent entertainment, from holding heavily attended Halo nights and stocking their centers with multiple game consoles so dozens of teenagers can flock around big-screen televisions and shoot it out.

Far from being defensive, church leaders who support Halo — despite its “thou shalt kill” credo — celebrate it as a modern and sometimes singularly effective tool. It is crucial, they say, to reach the elusive audience of boys and young men.

Witness the basement on a recent Sunday at the Colorado Community Church in the Englewood area of Denver, where Tim Foster, 12, and Chris Graham, 14, sat in front of three TVs, locked in violent virtual combat as they navigated on-screen characters through lethal gun bursts. Tim explained the game’s allure: “It’s just fun blowing people up.”

Now, personally, I don’t think there’s all that much in the Halo games that the average 12 or 14 year old can’t handle, but I’m not the one using the game to lure kids in for a little brain washing ministering with it. Needless to say some other Christians have a bit of a problem with this tactic:

“If you want to connect with young teenage boys and drag them into church, free alcohol and pornographic movies would do it,” said James Tonkowich, president of the Institute on Religion and Democracy, a nonprofit group that assesses denominational policies. “My own take is you can do better than that.”

Free booze? Maybe, but I don’t know of too many adults, let alone teenagers, who’d rush to church to watch some porn followed by messages about Jesus dieing for their sins. That’d be a bit… awkward. Whereas the free booze might make sitting through the sermons a bit easier to handle. Still, think of the slogans you could have: “Get a boner, for Jesus!”

Daniel R. Heimbach, a professor of Christian ethics at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, believes that churches should reject Halo, in part because it associates thrill and arousal with killing.

“To justify whatever killing is involved by saying that it’s just pixels involved is an illusion,” he said.

I can imagine that how you approach your interpretation of the Bible would play a role in how acceptable you find this practice. The Baptist church I attended taught that just thinking some naughty thoughts was enough to get your ass in a sling with God and there’s at least one Bible passage to back that claim up. So wouldn’t virtually killing be more or less the same as thinking about killing as far as God is concerned?

Apparently such questions aren’t an issue to this fellow:

Playing Halo is “no different than going on a camping trip,” said Kedrick Kenerly, founder of Christian Gamers Online, an Internet site whose central themes are video games and religion. “It’s a way to fellowship.”

Mr. Kenerly said the idea that Halo is inappropriately violent too strictly interpreted the commandment “Thou shalt not kill.” “I’m not walking up to someone with a pistol and shooting them,” he said. “I’m shooting pixels on a screen.”

Mr. Kenerly’s brother, Ken Kenerly, 43, is a pastor who recently started a church in Atlanta and previously started the Family Church in Albuquerque, N.M., where quarterly Halo nights were such a big social event that he had to rent additional big-screen TVs.

Ken Kenerly said he believed that the game could be useful in connecting to young people he once might have reached in more traditional ways, like playing sports. “There aren’t as many kids outdoors as indoors,” he said. “With gamers, how else can you get into their lives?”

Which just sounds insidious to me. It’s no secret that if you can get people to believe something when they’re young they’re more likely to hold that belief when their older and this sort of thing just reveals how far Churches are willing to go to suck people in when they’re most likely to buy the bullshit. When they’re older you have to wait until people are in a hard way and vulnerable to have the same sort of impact so catching them when they’re young is key. And the thing is, it works:

David Drexler, youth director at the 200-member nondenominational Country Bible Church in Ashby, Minn., said using Halo to recruit was “the most effective thing we’ve done.”

In rural Minnesota, Mr. Drexler said, the church needs something powerful to compete against the lure of less healthy behaviors. “We have to find something that these kids are interested in doing that doesn’t involve drugs or alcohol or premarital sex.” His congregation plans to double to eight its number of TVs, which would allow 32 players to compete at one time.

Among parents at the Colorado Community Church, Doug Graham, a pediatric oncologist with a 12-year-old son, said that he was not aware of the game’s M rating and that it gave him pause. He said he felt that parents should be actively involved in deciding whether minors play an M-rated game. “Every family should have a conversation about it,” he said.

Mr. Barbour, the youth pastor at the church, said the game had led to a number of internal discussions prompted by elders who complained about its violent content. Mr. Barbour recently met for several hours with the church’s pastor and successfully made his case that the game was a crucial recruiting tool.

In one letter to parents, Mr. Barbour wrote that God calls ministers to be “fishers of men.”

“Teens are our ‘fish,” he wrote. “So we’ve become creative in baiting our hooks.”

I’m willing to bet that last line has some Christian readers nodding their heads in agreement where it just makes me cringe. Of course there’s nothing new here as the churches have always been willing to usurp anything they consider popular to try and bring in the heathen. Again I point to Halloween, Christmas, and Easter as prime examples of the True Believers taking something popular — pagan festivals in this case — and using them to their own ends. This is just a lesser example of the same thing.

Gotta get their asses in the pews by any means necessary. After all, it’s only for their own good.

Halo: The Future of Gaming

The folks over at Loading.Ready.Run takes a look at why Halo is the future of gaming:

 

“TIME” reporter Lev Grossman is a clueless ass about video games.

I knew there was a reason why I tend to prefer Newsweek over TIME magazine. Newsweek just seems to be more in-touch with reality than TIME does and I always thought it was some bias I held more so than any actual fact of the matter, but then I read an article by Lev Grossman on Microsoft’s money-printing franchise known as Halo called The Man in the Mask which is chock full of idiotic passages such as this (emphasis added) one:

There is an invisible subculture in America. Those who belong to it love it with a lonely, alienated, unironic passion. Those who don’t belong to it walk right by, uncaring, just as people walk right by that unmarked building in downtown Kirkland. It is the subculture of hard-core video games, and that oddly shaped building, which houses a company called Bungie, is one of its temples.

We start right off with a couple of absolutely idiotic statements. Does Mr. Grossman seriously expect his audience to believe that video gamers are an invisible subculture? Who the fuck in 2007, outside of Mr. Grossman obviously, doesn’t know that gaming is a hugely popular pastime among a good percentage of the population? Given all the negative attention the news media puts on video games anytime some nutcase who happened to play video games goes on a rampage it’s kind of hard to see how this “subculture” is all that invisible.

According to the Entertainment Software Association surveys show that 69% of American heads of households are gamers, the age of the average gamer is 33 years and they’ve been a gamer for around 12 years, 80% of gamer parents play games with their kids reporting that their families are closer as a result, and 49% play games online for an hour or more weekly. Lonely and alienated? Hardly. Much like my blogging habit, my years as a gamer has provided me with friends I’ve never met face to face but have spent hours gaming with and even a few that I have met face to face for offline non-gaming activities.

Bungie makes a series of video games called Halo that are among the most revered in the gaming canon. It’s doubtful that many people reading this could say exactly, or even approximately, what the Halo games are about.

If that’s true then apparently TIME has a much smaller readership than I thought, probably mostly idiots who don’t read mainstream newspapers or watch the evening news if Mr. Grossman is anything to judge by. Gamers come from all walks of life and more than a few of us take the time to read news magazines such as TIME. Considering the number of gamers out there it’s probably a safe bet that most of the folks reading Mr. Grossman’s article know more about Halo and its plot line than Mr. Grossman himself.

That much becomes clear once Mr. Grossman attempts to explain said plot:

IT’S DIFFICULT TO EXPLAIN THE STORY OF Halo, but that difficulty is in itself worthy of note. This isn’t Donkey Kong. The Master Chief is not an Italian plumber whose girlfriend has been kidnapped by a gorilla. His story is rich and complicated in ways that we’re not used to in video games.

You’ve got to be fucking kidding me. I’d be willing to bet, again, that more of Mr. Grossman’s audience is unfamiliar with the “story” of the original Donkey Kong, in as much as it could be said to have a story in the first place, than is unfamiliar with the plot of Halo. This would seem to indicate that Mr. Grossman may have once played a game or two back in the mid-80’s and probably hasn’t touched any since then. The fact that he claims Master Chief’s story is “rich and complicated” in “ways that we’re not used to” only serves to confirm that suspicion.

Maybe you aren’t used to it, Mr. Grossman, but I’ve played a lot of video games with some amazingly sophisticated story lines not the least of which would include the Splinter Cell series , the Hitman series, Silent Hill series, several of the Final Fantasy series (particularly FFXII), and many many others. Just because you’re ignorant of the current state of video games doesn’t mean everyone else is.

Moving on we come to another couple of stupid statements:

THE CLICHÉ ABOUT GAMERS IS THAT THEY’RE antisocial, if not sociopathic, but Bungie is very much a community.

The Bungies bring a grinding, jeweler’s meticulousness to what most people consider an unhealthy amusement for children.

A small reminder: 69% of American heads of households are gamers. I’d be surprised if “most people” consider video games an “unhealthy amusement for children.” Certainly some people view it that way, Mr. Grossman seemingly among their numbers, but not most nor even a majority.

We’ve got time for a couple more slams from Mr. Grossman before he wraps up his stunning display of idiocy:

This devotion is fueled by a belief, not shared by the world at large, that video games are an art form with genuine emotional meaning and that Halo 3 will be the premier example of that art.

There’s an opportunity beyond video games, too, for Halo to break out of the ghetto and become a mainstream, mass-market, multimedia entertainment property.

Not that the Bungies care. They don’t need to legitimize Halo by associating it with other, more respectable media. They sell enough units and make enough money. They’re happy in their invisible geek ghetto. But that’s the logic of the marketplace: it can’t leave subcultures alone; it has to turn them into cultures. It may be time for the Master Chief to come in from the cold and join the party, with the popular kids. Just don’t expect him to take off his helmet.

About the only way TIME could have come up with a more offensive column on video gamers would’ve been to invite Jack “Douchebag” Thompson to write it. As it is they should try to find someone who’s more familiar with video games beyond the likes of Donkey Kong for any future articles they decide to undertake. It’d be nice if he’d at least played something from this century before sitting down to bang out this tripe.