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Every Game Has A Worldview – Whether You Like It Or Not

No matter how much you may want video games to be plainly fun and devoid of any ethical or moral message (If I had a dollar for every person who said that to me…) it will never happen. The statement is nonsensical on the order of whether or not God can make a rock bigger than He can lift. There’s a season in our lives where that statement might seem profound and ‘paradoxical’ but at some point we grow to understand it’s nothing more than semantic nonsense masquerading as deep insight.

  • Every single video game includes a set of rules.
  • Every rule implies an underlying assumption or statement about the game’s vision of its self-contained reality.
  • Any collection of assumptions about reality is, by definition, a worldview.
  • Ergo: every game explicitly or implicitly preaches its worldview to you.

Take The Sims for instance. Any male or female character can more or less pursue a romantic relationship with any other character – those are rules. The implication is that the characters have no built in sexual identity but rather it’s all a matter of choice or environmental influences. That’s a part of a larger worldview of the Sims that all come to describe a world that rewards certain things while punishing others, it allows certain things while diasllowing others – it, like every game, is constantly enforcing a very specific worldview through every interaction the player makes in that context. (You know what’s ironic here? I strongly suspect the makers would tell me that homosexuals are born that way and can’t change. That for them it’s not a matter of ‘choice’ though their game mechanic clearly implies that it is…but I digress.)

Now admittedly, different games do this to a greater or lesser degree…mostly lesser. But even pong is built on assumptions about what constitutes fair play and whether or not it’s ethical to compete and keep score…assumptions a lot of people are coming to disagree with these days.

This is no trivial or academic point, especially for us at Soma Games. As gaming grows and matures into the primary cultural medium of our generation its important to know the power of what we’re working with. It’s a well known axiom that games are some of the best learning tools ever created. So let’s get rid of the puerile notion that “it’s just a silly game” and wrestle with larger implications. At first that’s simply to be more cognizant of what we’re being taught but for content creators it’s also to embrace the deeper power of this medium and be willing to build our worlds with full awareness of the message we’re sending.

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Posted in Games & Faith and Pop Culture and Soma Culture and Soma Games 4 years, 8 months ago at 1:36 am.

5 comments

5 Replies

  1. Josh (Sourpunch) Jan 4th 2010

    I was wondering when you guys were going to update the blog…lol.

    Great post, love it.

  2. Yeah, it has been a while. The last three weeks took the whole team by surprise. We were swallowed up by the port project to the pc for G. We sure appreciate your support Josh!
    Keep it coming.

  3. Amazing as always

  4. You know, there’s a term used for games that intentionally portray a deeper meaning through game rules: art games.

    I have a sincere question for you, though. What would you say is the meaning of shooting missiles with gravity? What is the worldview of that mechanic?

  5. God At Play – fair question and I’ll answer it in the spirit it was given. :)

    But before I start, I need to make a distinction that I think is important. You mention ‘art games’ as a game that ‘intentionally portray a deeper meaning…’ and I agree with that definition. However, that’s not really the point I was making in the post. I’m saying that ALL games embed the creator’s worldview and often it’s UNINTENTIONAL. I don’t think the people who made The Sims of Fable II or Pong were trying to make a statement. But the fundamental way they understand reality will be reflected in some way in the virtual realities they create in a game. Unless I have a concept of things like fair play or competition or even the pythagorean theory, the game I make will reflect that.

    Which dovetails with your question. Many of the scientists of the Renaissance (and later) pursued science as a way of knowing more about God. The thinking went that God was a rational, logical being who created an ordered and knowable universe. To learn more about the universe was to learn more God. G isn’t trying to make any kind of point or convey a specific message, but a belief that a thing like gravity exists and is predictable underlies the primary game mechanic.

    I can image most people saying “so what” – fair enough. For a game like G, there just isn’t that much to it. It also has a lot less of an impact when the game displays rules that you already agree with. But haven’t you ever played a game that somehow felt like it was cheating? The boss seemed to play by different rules than your character or playing or a harder level simply made baddies spawn in a room that you KNOW you cleared (L4D drove me nuts on this!). That’s the kind of thing I’m talking about. Games convey the nature of reality in the rules they establish.


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