Friday, May 17, 2013

The Novel, The Bible, and Video Games

Last night I heard a conference speaker talk about the present and future state of the novel. It was really quite interesting. He suggested that, while novel reading has diminished over the years, the need that used to be filled by the reading of fiction is now, in part, satisfied by other activities.

Like playing video games. That’s right—video games.

He pointed out that video games have evolved to be something more than just explosions and shooting. The more recent and sophisticated games develop lengthy (sometimes 1,000 pages or more) “bibles” that track the ongoing story of the game. Players often get together to discuss the various characters, plot points, variations in interpretation, and so on.

This is a fascinating shift. Reading words on a page is a relatively new phenomenon in human history. Prior to the broad availability of text, people’s imaginations were fueled by pictures and stories told over meals and campfires. Now, it seems, many people (research shows that over half the people in the US play video games 13 hours a week or more) desire the fanciful journeys provided by novels, but also want to participate as a character in the story.

The speaker (much to my relief) didn’t pronounce the demise of the novel. Instead, he suggested that the world of creative fiction is expanding and changing. I’m okay with that.

This has caused me to think about how we participate with the expansive narrative we call “The Bible” (heresy alert: I’m not putting Scripture into the category of creative fiction. Relax). Over the years our texts of Scripture have been reduced to propositional statements (limited to verses, as though God intended that in the first place) that stand over and against us, demanding our obedience. But most of the Bible is written as narrative—as a story—rather than as bullet points of command.

I think the video game image is helpful here. What if we engaged with Scripture as participants in the story? What if we allowed ourselves to be drawn in to the narrative, imagining all that is happening, even inserting ourselves into the drama now and again? Martin Luther spoke of the Bible as having hands and feet, pursuing him and grabbing him, alive and dynamic rather than dead and static. Sort of sounds like a video game.

If I had any techno-skill whatsoever (which I don’t), I might invent a video game that tells various stories of the Bible. The player could then enter the story as a character. The player couldn’t alter the outcome, but could engage in conversation, ask questions (think of all the scholars who would line up that job!), and experience the ongoing drama. Maybe you could carry Jesus’ cross, or have a private conversation with Judas. The possibilities are endless.

Lacking that, I’ll probably just stick to reading it from my tattered old print-text Bible. It might also be good to go back to memorizing long sections, and letting the story flow through the mind.

I wonder if Jesus would show up in that? I’ll bet he would.

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