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Polarizing Fallout

via Wikipedia
Kyle Hinckley made a stir in the video-game world by successfully completing the hardest mode of Fallout 4 with zero kills.
In this popular series of video games set in a post-apocalyptic United States, gamers make their way through a hostile landscape to achieve the goal of the story. Killing nonplayer characters is the usual way, but gamers like Hinckley make it their goal to complete the game with no kills.

That’s a challenge, because Fallout 4 doesn’t offer many nonviolent alternatives. In fact, as Maddy Myers at The Mary Sue points out, it seems rigged against nonviolent options.

This invites interesting comparisons to our culture at large, but I find a deeper cautionary tale embedded in this story.

Hinckley readily admits his version of virtual pacifism isn’t traditional. For example, when his character can’t get through a scenario without killing, he exploits the game’s mechanics by manipulating other nonplayer characters to commit the act.

In other words, Hinckley’s character technically doesn’t kill anyone but nonetheless leaves a wake of destruction.

“This is a ‘no-kill run’ according to the loosest possible definition of the term, but it’s definitely not a feel-good path,” observes Myers.

As I contemplated the contrast between Hinckley’s goal and his methods, I found myself think-ing about the conflict between our commitment as disciples of Jesus and our actions — particularly when we disagree — in a culture rigged toward polarization.

In this age of social media, most of us rub shoulders with people from a variety of backgrounds, ideologies and theologies. This can be enriching and enlightening, even when we differ on issues where we believe we’re right.

However, people are growing less willing to civilly engage and more hostile toward those with different viewpoints.

In a New York Times article, “Polarization Is Dividing American Society, Not Just Politics,” Nate Kohn reports on a 2014 Pew Research study that reveals how we’re becoming a self-segregated and “divided society where liberals and conservatives increasingly keep apart.” As a result, each party is “more ideologically homogeneous than ever before” and “partisan and ideological animosity is dividing American society.”

Believers are often deeply invested in ideological or theological beliefs because they are based on convictions rooted in Scripture, ministry or their relationships with God. 

Unfortunately, cultural polarity and animosity has infiltrated the way we approach each other when those convictions conflict. Too often, we manifest hostility and contempt for each other, tossing verbal grenades that destroy both personal relationships and public witness.

Even if we believe divine truth is on our side, we must be careful. “When God speaks to us, it does not prove that we are righteous or even right,” says Dallas Willard in Hearing God. “It does not even prove that we have correctly understood what he said. The infallibility of the messenger and the message does not guarantee the infallibility of our reception. Humility is always in order.”

Even if we are right, says Willard, we should remember “that God’s purposes are not merely to support us or make us look and feel secure in our roles or to make sure we are right.” Indeed, says Willard, few succeed in bearing up under being right gracefully. How we act must be grounded in an overall character of life, which includes humility, faith and, perhaps above all, “hopeful love.”

I’m not saying we mustn’t speak with passion, conviction and even righteous anger. But doing so without humility and love is destructive. While our culture leaves few alternatives to polarization, we are called to walk a different way.

The alternative is costly: We risk becoming Christians in the loosest possible definition, which is definitely not a feel-good path.

This post originally appeared as a column at MWR. 


Will said…
As I've gotten older, I've been increasingly aware of the fact that many of the world's deepest problems are not solved by shooting or punching some enemy. And yet there is an astounding amount of popular media where this is shown to be the correct solution. Shoot the zombies, punch the supervillains, blow up the alien mothership, stab the orcs.

Granted, some of it does depend on the genre (it's hard to have a game about being a soldier in a war that does not involve violence), but I wonder if the popularity of such media is a reflection on our own frustrations toward real life problems that don't have such a simple solution. Or worse, a growing feeling that nonviolent solutions are ineffective.
Robert Martin said…
Wow... linked video games, peace theology, political polarization, and church conflict all in one post... that took talent. :)

But seriously, I think you're on to something here. It seems that the tendency to be polarized and to "lash out" at opponents and excuse it by calling it a "prophetic word" is something that we need to examine closely in ourselves. While it is true that Jesus didn't exactly pull punches with his opponents, I think we need to be cautious at excusing our behavior by saying that we're doing what Jesus would do. Human as he was, Jesus also had a much deeper connection to the Spirit than we have, even to the point that there was still a good bit of the divine trinity in him (how much depends somewhat on your view as to how much of his divine power he gave up in the incarnation). So, just because Jesus did something in righteous anger does not necessarily give us the same license. As you quoted from Dallas, we are NOT Jesus, and in fact we are probably still, righteous as we may be, very far from Jesus' level of perfection. So, any acts or words of "righteous anger" we may feel justified in expressing MUST necessarily be tempered with a lot of humility, that as right as we are, we could still be wrong.

Thanks, Carmen!
Ryan Robinson said…
I remember not too long ago, a videogame developer (and feminist critic) I follow on Twitter tweeted photos of her game shelf. They were colour-coded to different things but the one I remember had about 90% of the shelf one colour, identifying that the primary mechanic of the game was violence in some form or another. About 9% were marked as sports and 1% other (e.g. puzzle).

I'm not quite in the camp where all videogame violence is a problem for me, but there's a couple of scary conclusions: 1) there's a startling lack of creativity in a supposedly-creative industry, or much worse, 2) they have other ideas, but don't think they'll sell because violence is so engrained in culture we have a hard time buying a game without it.

Also, Maddy Myers, not Mandy Myers. She's one of my favourite writers/podcasters when it comes to geek culture.

And I completely agree with the actual point about polarization, too, just wanted to weigh in from that gaming perspective.
Carmen Andres said…
Ryan, Thanks for the insights--and the heads up on my mispelling of Myers' first name. Changed it--thanks again!
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