The Name of the Game

I have a confession to make. I’m not a gamer. Just like everyone old enough to be aware in the 1970s, I was amazed at Pong. Television, which had always only been a passive producer of entertainment, could now be interactive. Slower than real table tennis, the game nevertheless easily consumed hours of life otherwise productively spent. I went off to college and left the burgeoning video game market behind. Then in the late 1990s Myst appeared. The new Macs of those days came loaded with action games about dinosaurs stealing eggs. My daughter was fascinated and so I played. Then I lost interest again. That had been family bonding time, so it wasn’t completely wasted. Now we live in a world where, writers tell me, the real money lies not in movie rights to your novel, but game rights.

Kids, developmental psychologists assure us, need to play. It’s how they explore their world. As the human world becomes more and more electronic, games become more a part of virtual life. Some even have plots and genuine character development. A friend sent me a link to a story on Mashable, “Jesus battles the Buddha in fighting game hellbent on offending.” Victoria Ho describes Fight of Gods where deities of all denominations duke it out for dominion. After posting about god novels recently, it seems to me that we’ve begun to enter a time when the divine world hasn’t disappeared, but has transmuted. In this new world while all gods are not exactly created equal, they all have a shot at supremacy. It’s a matter of who can hit hardest.

No matter whether one finds this offensive or not, there is an element of profundity here. Historically religions have made gods of the things we fear. Storms, diseases, wars, and death—all of these have been, and continue to be, represented as deities. Human insecurity is deeply rooted in our psychology. We’re afraid of things we can’t control. In periods of governmental chaos, phobias naturally rise to the level of personal panic. What can we do in the face of such forces? Especially when prominent figures tell us all religious belief is for the weak-minded and feeble? Don’t we have to strap on our virtual armor and hope some powerful divinities are on our side? In such times as this we need our gods, no matter their tradition of origin. For me, I fear I won’t be able to spin this dial fast enough and that strangely square ping-pong ball is going to get past my virtual paddle.

Gothic Mother’s Day

What does Mother’s Day have to do with horror films and religion? I serendipitously discovered last night. I generally run a few years behind the media, reading books after they come out in paperback and watching movies when I find a copy of the DVD. Last night as a family we watched The Sound of Music. I’d never seen this show until after I was married – musicals were not popular in my blue collar neighborhood growing up. Of course, I am now a veteran viewer. Last night, during mother’s choice evening, I noticed that if the music were removed (itself a weird concept) The Sound of Music is actually quite gothic. The interior settings, the use of shadow, the dark, Nazi threat, the stonework of the gloomy abbey – all of these things add up to a disturbing collage. In the mood for something more baldly gothic, I stayed up to watch Silent Hill.

I tend not to research movies before watching them since it reduces the visual impact. For those films based on books, I generally read the book afterward to see what was “really going on.” Silent Hill, of course, is based on a video game. I do not play video or computer games; “Pong” may have been my last serious attempt at doing so. Silent Hill, therefore, was a complete unknown. The gothic element did not disappoint, and as Sharon, the adopted orphan, began her sleepwalking scenes being shown beneath a lighted cross in the night, I knew that religion and horror were once again coming together. Indeed, the driving force behind the gruesome story is a religious cult on a witch-hunt that is set in a village based on Centralia, Pennsylvania. The cult, believing those who are different are witches, seems to enjoy the medieval pastime of barbecuing them. Centralia’s ongoing mine-fire was used to great effect. Rose, Sharon’s devoted adoptive mother, of course, rescues her daughter. The line in the film is “Mother is God in the eyes of a child.” (There is the Mother’s Day tie-in.)

Having been invited to present an adult forum to a local church on Christian themes in popular cinema, I have been recharging my attempts to test my hypothesis that what truly frightens people is religion. Silent Hill would support this hypothesis. I did not miss the significance of the names: “Rose of Sharon” is a popular biblical trope. The impotent father is named Christopher. Centralia’s predicament is often vividly compared to arcane ideas of Hell. And mother’s are, in the eyes of many children, saviors. Perhaps that last point is why we celebrate Mother’s Day on a Sunday. Although films such as Silent Hill may not make the best family viewing, even here where religion destroys, the divinity of motherhood is underscored.