Can God be Glorified by Playing Video Games?

Everyday, Ordinary Worship blog

A few weeks ago, my pastor mentioned Grand Theft Auto V in a sermon. He did so casually, and wondered if violent video games were linked to violence in the physical world.

He also mentioned that our congregation had a LOT of doctors and PhDs, and he wants to find ways of engaging with the scientific community on matters of faith.

These two thoughts cemented an idea I’ve had for a long time. After some consideration, I proposed a program to the pastoral team: a talk and discussion about video game concerns with parents. I’ve taught a class on video games before, so I’m familiar with all the research about violence, body image, sexuality, race and gender issues in games, addiction, fitness and obesity, and more. Video games have been controversial for 40 years.

In this program, then, I’ll talk about what the research actually says on these controversies, and explain to parents how the video game rating system works, giving them guidelines so they know how to choose games appropriately for their kids.

To help promote the program, one of the pastor’s asked me to write an article for his blog about how playing video games can glorify God. The following is an excerpt, with a link to the rest of the article:

Video games have been a huge part of my life ever since I was five or six. I’ve been playing for over 20 years and have spent countless hours mastering so many games I can’t keep track of them all.

A few years ago, I was trying to explain to my friend, a fellow Christian, why I enjoyed video games and how I thought they were beneficial to my faith. He dismissed my explanation and thought I was just trying to justify mindless entertainment. Maybe so. After studying mass communication in school for the past decade, it’s natural that I reflect a lot on my media consumption. As a Christian, I am constantly endeavoring (often unsuccessfully) to point my life to God.

I played video games for about 10 years before I found Christ. At first, my Christian faith didn’t have much effect on the kinds of games I played or the way I played games. But slowly, God has been molding me after His image, so I think it’s possible that at least some of the games I play are glorifying to God. If He were beside me on the couch, I think He might even like playing video games with me.

Read more

Game on,
~Dennis

Setting Up My Odyssey2

In Summer 2013, I taught the inaugural session of The Cultural Impact of Video Games, a class I developed at the University of Florida. In this class, we examined how video games have developed over the last 50 years, as well as all the controversies about video games.

We began the class by talking about the origins of video games, spending ample time studying the earliest consoles. I posted something about the class on Facebook, and my friend’s dad sent me a message:

Would you like an original in the box Magnavox Oddessy II with a bunch of games?

Would I! Born in 1985, I missed the Odyssey² completely as it was discontinued in 1984. The Odyssey² competed against the better-known Atari 2600, which sold 30+ million units compared to the Odyssey²’s measly 2 million.

By the way, they pronounced it Odyssey “Two,” even though it’s written Odyssey “Squared.”

I tried to impress upon my students how revolutionary these earlier games were, even if they haven’t aged well. I thought the Odyssey² would be the perfect teaching tool, so I went about setting it up in my office.

Outdated plug-ins

Modern video game systems are plugged into TVs using a variety of cables, such as Component HD AV cables or standard AV cables (the three-pronged Red, Yellow, White one). I opened up the Odyssey² box and was surprised to find this:

Odyssey2 Switch

This switch is supposed to attach to an analog TV antenna, something my current digital television is not outfitted with. The audio/video was connected through an RCA cable, yet even that was outdated:

Odyssey2 RCA Outdated Cable

Notice that little notch at the end of the cable? Yeah, that makes it incompatible with modern hookups. I showed the guy at Radio Shack the cable and he says he’s never seen such a thing before. Such is 1982 technology!

Hacking the system

Luckily, I found this tutorial on how to hack/modernize the Odyssey²’s hookups. I’ve never hacked a gaming console before, so I was a little nervous but confident I could do it (even though the instructions look like they were created back in 1997).

The procedure was actually pretty simple.

Odyssey2 Hack Step 1

First, I removed the back cover. Notice all the empty space inside.

Odyssey2 Hack Step 2

Next, I unplugged the old RCA cord. Unlike modern consoles, the a/v cord could not be removed from outside the console: it was attached internally.

Odyssey2 Hack Step 3

Unfortunately, the modern RCA cord’s end was too fat to fit in the little space. So instead of having the cord come out the back of the console, I drilled a hole for it to exit the side.

Odyssey2 Hack Step 4

Finally, to connect the Odyssey to my television, as all of the other video inputs were in use, I used the coaxial cable. Connecting the RCA to the coaxial cable was simply a matter of using an RCA female to F female adaptor, purchased from Monoprice.com.

Testing the Odyssey²

Next came the big moment: firing it up! I remember fondly the days of playing with a half-broken NES. My brother and I often began our play sessions with a half-hour trial in getting the thing to work (procedure: blow on the cartridge, turn on machine, turn it off, remove cartridge, blow on it again, insert, turn on machine, hit reset, hit reset, try hitting reset a third time, turn off machine, repeat). I envisioned a similar thing happening with the Odyssey². Fortunately, about 75% of the games worked on the first try, and the others just took a little fiddling to get them to work. Success!

Odyssey2 Test 1

Odyssey2 Test 2

This game, Blockout, is similar to (a rip-off of) the arcade classic Breakout. The difference? Those little men walking around inside the rows will slowly rebuild the blocks if you aren’t fast enough in destroying them.

I spent the next 2 hours playing through my pile of games with my roommates. As these kids were all born in the 1990s, about 6-8 years after me, this technology is even farther removed for them than it is for me. I at least remember playing a 2600 a few times as a kid, so I knew what to expect. One of my roommates, an avid gamer himself, had a hard time imagining how anybody could’ve enjoyed these games. He remarked, “If I had been born back then, I don’t think I ever would’ve become a gamer.”

Even though my friend’s dad gave me tons of games, only about half of them were playable. Why is that? Well, my Odyssey² is one of the original models, which did not have detachable controllers. Yep, the controllers are hardwired into the system. Weird, huh? And unfortunately, the right controller doesn’t work.

And why is that unfortunate? Two reasons:

  1. Some games are only playable with two players, like racing games and sports games. They don’t have single player modes. I can still turn them on and start them up, but Player 2 sits there helplessly while Player 1 has all the fun.
  2. Some single player games require the right joystick, not the left, to play! This just blows my mind, but I guess it makes sense when you think about it. In the early days of video games, everything was being created for the first time: industry standards were a few years away. The Odyssey² was released at a time when Player 1 wasn’t standardized as the left controller. My theory is, the designers thought that most people are right-handed, so it only makes sense to use the right joystick for single player games.

Despite the unplayability of many of my games, I still had a blast with the system. It’s a great reminder how far video games have come in such a short period of time.

Now the real test: Students

After getting my fill of the Odyssey² at home, I brought it to school and set it up in my office.

Odyssey2 in Office

Yes, everything’s connected to a cute little 13″ CRT television, right next to my Super NES and Atari Flashback 3. I’ve already showed it off to some students and colleagues. Even though the games suck by today’s standards (let’s be honest, they haven’t aged well at all), everybody’s had a lot of fun so far.

If anybody has any memories of the Odyssey², share them below!

Game on,

~Dennis