Games reveal quite a bit about a culture. That’s a little takeaway from my undergraduate anthropology class. Different societies favor different types of games: chance, strategy, zero-sum, role-playing, the list could go on and on. Indeed, games have surpassed movies as the big money makers of the tech entertainment industry. We love to play.
Religions sometimes try to capitalize on popular culture. The difference is that religions are taken with a lethal seriousness that most games leave behind. Sure, you may end up shooting a few hundred people, but when you walk away from the flat screen you probably know that the game is over. Religions, of course, realize that they aren’t fun. Despite the constant criticism that religions get for being simplistic and superstitious, anyone who has tried to be a serious adherent knows that it isn’t as easy as it looks. Being religious is very hard work. So, why not turn to games to convey hard truths? The other day I found an old, still-in-the-box, shrink-wrapped game called Divinity. It is designed to teach the catechism of the Catholic Church. A Monopoly-like track edges a stained-glass center board, and, I suspect, you get considerably more than $200 for passing Go.
Using games to sugar-coat bad tasting doctrine is nothing new. One might argue that the Sunday School tradition long ago capitalized on the idea of making avoiding perdition fun. In some cases it does seem to have worked; some kids grow up terrified and spend their lives trying hard to win the game. In fact, it can set some lives on a trajectory far too high to achieve, but far too important not to try. We can’t all be priests, after all. Should we all be clergy, then many interested parties would be out of a job.
Once upon a time, the state religion could demand a sizable chunk of municipal funding. Taxes went to support the expensive luxury of clergy dedicated to pleasing the gods, Then the rules changed. With religious freedom there comes a great outpouring of creativity to ensure that the coffers never run dry. Christian comic books, Christian rock, Christian movies, Christian board games. We have come to an age of faith branding. It’s no surprise, really, for it is, according to the rules, a zero-sum game.