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'Halo' in the pews: Go to church, blow people up?

Today in the overlooked arena of gaming culture and theology: Should churches use violent video games to lure young people?

Violent video games
Violence in video games: Holier than thou? CNET Networks

The New York Times on Monday ran a piece on the use of violent video games in Christian youth ministries. They get the kids into the parish hall by offering Halo 3 sessions, for example, for fun and community-building.

Following this revelation, anyone with an opinion on first-person shooters, God or teenagers took to the keyboard and beat the devil out of it. As a result, there's some pretty broad analysis out there. Whether churches should use violent video games as a recruiting or "outreach" tool is a topic that raises a number of questions.

Is it OK for a church to expose 12-year-olds to rated "M" games? Is this any better or worse than youth fellowship paintball leagues? Is pixellated graphic violence unwholesome? Does violence in entertainment lead young souls to perdition?

Are churches advocating warfare? Are they training soldiers? Do they talk over the ethics of a just war with the youth? Do they talk about whether and when it's OK to kill another human being? Is God on anyone's "side" in an armed conflict?

Or maybe that's just me. In the immortal words of blogger Dan Whisenhunt in AnnistonStar: "What would Master Chief do?"

Below, a few bloggers offer their take on the subject. Anyone else want to weigh in?

Blog community response:

(This comes under the headline: "The Master Chief Loves You and Has a Wonderful Plan for Your Life") And here it is: You sneak around the back of the berm, stay low with your covenant sword, and your youth minister will follow you with frag grenades. He'll start throwing grenades into the building. Bobby will make a tactical error, expose his positions, then you and your pastor slash him. Take a break for a quick study of the Sermon on the Mount, then grab an M90A shotgun--the one with the Soellkraft Hippo 8 gauge magnum rounds--and start wasting all the 7th graders hiding near the Heretic Banshee. Close in prayer.
--Letters from Kamp Krusty

It seems to me that these churches are simply using Halo 3 to draw people into church. They are providing them entertainment, and then hoping to teach them something about God in the meantime. That seems like a bait-and-switch to me, however. Moreover, it sends the message that love isn't enough to keep butts in the pews (or the overstuffed chairs in the youth rec room). God shouldn't be the spinach that you suffer through only because it gives you access to the chocolate cake coming at the end of it all--and I find it more than a little disturbing that churches feel it necessary to treat Him that way.

Halo 3 is rated "M" which means it cannot be sold to anyone under 17 and yet twelve-year-olds are encouraged by their churches to play on site. Of course the arguments pro include meeting people where they are and the constant need to save souls. However, except for talk about "good and evil"--a tacked-on point accessible to any 3rd rate gamer--it seems pretty clear that mainstream Christianity has sold its soul to the false marketing idea that we judge Christianity by its growth, not by its witness. Without dipping into questions about virtual life vs."real" life, it seems that Christianity loses its prophetic voice and moral clarity when it fails to distinguish between market-driven entertainment and serious questions about human existence.
--The Spectrum Blog