Can Video Games be Meaningful?

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Art Festival (pic: Festival (pic:

Art Festival (pic:

When I’ve mentioned that I play video games in public I’ve often gained a reputation as a time wasting closeted individual who can’t cope with the real world. Well, this used to be the case but the tide seems to be turning.

As you’ll well know, headlines are made in mainstream media by the explosion of family gaming with the Wii, or the abilities of the new controllers to offer genuine fitness benefits.

But what goes unsaid and unnoticed is the cultural value of some of video gaming’s hard core games. These experiences create encounters that challenge the ethics, morality and humanity of players as much as a book or a film. Players find themselves in situations where they grapple with difficult decisions that in the real world would be frightful experiences.

Here though they can experiment, play and discover how these things make them feel in safety. It strikes me that this is a large portion of the value in our religious texts – they provide a safe space in which to meaningfully resolve the difficulties of life, so as to provide a resource when frightful days arrive in reality.

For many younger players video games offer just this sort of experience. Even dark and shocking games such as Grand Theft Auto, Fable 2 or Shadow of the Colossus can provide valuable and meaningful experience when played in this light. This is something I have been discussing with my community on Family Gamer – a grass roots bunch of families that play video games together.

Then, on August 29th I’m offering the chance to put this idea to the test in public. At the Greenbelt Arts Festival (Cheltenham Racecourse, UK) visitors to our venue will play games on our big screen then respond to the experience through discussion, drawing, writing and story telling. Our hope is that these hand picked games will provide the opportunity to engage with deep themes (as we’ve seen with Rebecca Mayes and her video game songs), and possible discover how they resonate and illuminate new facets of books or films – just like other art forms do.

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