Is there a Christian way to write about games?
After working as a freelance games journalist for a few years now, and after being a Christian for several more, I’m finding it increasingly difficult to separate my faith from the topics I choose to write about.
There’s a fascinating tension within Christianity. Believers say their talents are given to them by God, and should be used in His name. Such is my latest struggle: How can you possibly intertwine journalism, Christianity and videogames?
“It can’t be done.”
I remember the conversation clearly. Immediately after the morning church service had ended, but not before the soothing music had finished vamping out. The murmur of conversation had begun. Being a wide-eyed, 19-year-old eager beaver, at the beginning of my university studies, I wanted to know as much as I could about working in journalism, and particularly, how I could do so without jeopardising any of my personal values.
Journalism, you see, is a cutthroat occupation. Not fit for any young man of Christian standards.
I began speaking with an older gent who I knew had some experience in advertising and journalism. I figured he may have some wisdom to help me on my way.
My older, learned friend suggested such a feat was not just unlikely – it was impossible. I wouldn’t be able to balance my “values”, whatever those were, with the supposed tenants of journalism: lying, cheating, deception, manipulation and malice.
Of course, the warning was bogus. I’ve been able to balance a career in journalism with my own personal faith values just fine, but the conversation raised a key point: how does one’s faith impact their work?
Journalism is about seeing the truth, then repeating it for a wider audience. For this reason I’ve rarely had to stop and think about the moral purity of whatever I’m doing. At a structural level, the values of Christianity and the values of journalism line up very well. I see what I believe to be the truth, and I expose it.
The profession isn’t always as simple as this pithy summary allows, but it often is. Most of the time, journalism isn’t complicated. Listen, take notes, be fair. Write the truth. The gap between right and wrong, for all the guff journalists receive, is unsurprisingly narrow. That applies whether I’m writing about balance sheets or videogames.
I took a fairly non-traditional route into writing about videogames. (Most games media members would suggest there is no such thing as a traditional path). I didn’t consider journalism until well into high, although I was always a big reader, writer and a very curious kid. After a friend signed up to study journalism at university the year before my senior year, I considered it. And I got in.
I fell in love with journalism pretty quickly. I learned to recognize the ecstasy of reading a fantastic story. Something where the writer has talked to everyone involved, has found color and the bits of information no one knows, then has strung the story in gorgeous, readable prose.
I managed to swing my way into a business journalism gig during my final year of university. The role was for a journalist of an independent news website, where I remain as the deputy editor. There, I started developing my niche and love for business writing, which is among some of the best prose on the planet (see Michael Lewis for an example).
It was only back in 2010 when I actually considered writing about videogames. I was always a massive gamer, but never considered writing about them. I did a few reviews, a few (terrible) blog posts. I pitched an idea to Hyper Magazine, one of the longest-running games mags in Australia. I was published.
I quickly realized my comfort was not in games criticism or review, but in the longer-form exploratory feature. I start out with a question, and an inkling. I read, I listen, and I write. My stories are about discovery – I simply investigate an issue, then tell the reader what I found.
I love people. I’ve spoken with actors, developers and artists, and have listened to their stories.
To be perfectly frank, I’ve never much thought about how my Christian faith impacts my writing process. This is mostly because the ethics of a journalist mostly line up with those of the scriptures: Don’t bear false witness. Do not manipulate anyone. Respect your authorities, (editors). Be courteous.
The Christian God is concerned for the poor and oppressed. Such is the responsibility of the press. There isn’t much of a contradiction there. But last year, I wrote a piece for Polygon about Christians who make videogames. And it’s slightly changed how I think about the way I do my work.
The developers I spoke with mostly agreed: you can be a Christian and have that inform your work without forcing it into an evangelistic mold.
Christianity Today recently published an excellent interview with Tim Keller. At one point he mentions while there may not be a Christian way to land a plane, there is a Christian way to write a play. While it’s certainly enough to be kind and seek justice, the role of writer perhaps demands a slightly more conscious allegiance in the way we choose our writing subjects.
Christian journalists don’t have to write about Christian themes all the time. I don’t think they would be much good if faith was the only liquid in their well of ideas. The good folks over at Christianity Today have a breadth of experience from a wide range of “secular” publications, and they are all the better for it. It informs their faith.
Just as C.S. Lewis did so with gorgeous prose, or just as games developers display their talent through excellent games, I hope to do that by telling stories. To be a Christian journalist, you must be an excellent journalist first and foremost. I did not approach Polygon with my idea because I wanted to “spread the kingdom”. I did so because it was a good idea.
Nevertheless, there is, I feel, a responsibility to spy opportunities like this and better integrate the way we do our jobs and the way to write about faith in a way people will find meaningful. I’ve spoken to a few people who read the my story on Christian developers and said, “that made me think a little differently about Christians”.
I certainly didn’t choose the topic for those sorts of comments. But it’s made me think about the types of topics I’ll pursue in the future. I’m growing more conscious of the crossroads between my work, and my faith.
As writers, we have a responsibility to inject our prose with spirituality. We aren’t operating a piece of factory equipment, we’re using words to paint ideas. With that artistic power comes a responsibility. Art, after all, (writing is art), needs to reflect the nature of God. And while doing a good, solid job on any topic is praise in and of itself, I’m growing more convinced it requires a more conscious effort the more influence we accumulate.
Apart from simply following the “fruits” of structured Christian living, there is a way of injecting the way we see the world in two ways: the topics we choose and the way we write.
Consider the recent debate over religion in BioShock. This is a solid example of spying an opportunity to merge mainstream discussion with spirituality without hijacking the conversation. It identifies the spiritual already within the conversation – it doesn’t just create it out of thin air.
Games are filled with spirituality and spiritual issues – it’s a treasure trove of material for discussion. There are plenty of pastors who play videogames. Why not interview them and write an article about “The Priests of Gaming”? Does any game you’re playing right now beg for a spiritual reading?
Gamers love talking about the games they play. Why not give them something to talk about they may not have considered? If a game is an allegory for Christianity, or even brings up some interesting questions about religion, this is a great opportunity to point those out and get people thinking.
So can a journalist be a Christian? On a functional or practical level, absolutely. There is nothing morally challenging about interviewing people and telling their stories. We shouldn’t shy away from difficult subjects, or hearing viewpoints with which we disagree, (as the writing on GameChurch testifies).
On a more strategic level, however, perhaps there is an onus on Christian journalists – even games journalists – to write about spiritual matters. Not all the time. Not even most of the time. But if we don’t, it certainly seems like a waste.