Video Games Studied in New Theological Framework ‘Theoludology’

Matt Millsap admits he made up the word “theoludology” for his doctoral dissertation in systematic theology.

Google theoludology (pronounced theo-lude-ology) and literally every result includes Millsap’s name. Broken up into its roots, his dissertation topic becomes clearer, even if doesn’t become easier to pronounce. “Theo-” and “-ology” are clear enough. “Ludo” is the Latin root for “game” or “play.”

Mashed together, Millsap created a new discipline: thinking about video games from a theological point of view.

Millsap is assistant director of library services at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City, Mo., and teaches courses such as Christianity and the Arts at the seminary’s Spurgeon College.

And he’s a bit of a video game nerd.

Literally every surface of his office is piled high with systematic theology textbooks and academic journals, but his home entertainment center is piled high with a PlayStation 4, Xbox One and a Nintendo Switch.

While some may dismiss gaming as a time-wasting holdover from boyhood or a trivial escape from the rigors of academia, Millsap would ask them to press pause.

Theologians regularly interact with media and the arts, he notes. Film and television are common topic for theological dialogue, and religious thinkers have been pondering painting, literature, sculpture and music for thousands of years.

Why isn’t the same true, he asks, for an art form that’s emerged in the past 40 years?

Beyond Pac-Man & Super Mario

One reason Millsap feels the time has come to consider video games with God in mind is that they have seriously evolved as technology has improved.

“We are naturally a storytelling people; that’s how God made us to communicate,” Millsap said. “You think back to arcade games of the late 1970s and the graphics were very crude. There wasn’t a whole lot technologically we could do to convey a story.”

So there basically wasn’t one. Games were simple and straightforward. Players dropped Tetris blocks into place, urged a hapless Frogger across a busy road, or frantically pressed UP UP DOWN DOWN LEFT RIGHT LEFT RIGHT to cheat an early shoot ’em up. Forty years later, gone are the primitive pixels of Pong or Pac-Man and the simple sprites of Super Mario or Space Invaders.

“Now, in 2018, game designers have millions of dollars and all sorts of technology at their disposal,” Millsap said. “They can tell a story much in the same way that a film can. Not all games do this, but people want to play stories.”

Indeed, it’s now common for the most popular and awarded games to feature 10-, 20- or even 50-hour storylines complete with motion-capture acting and top-tier voice talent. Many high-profile games are essentially interactive movies, and a compelling single-player story can overcome technological weaknesses or the occasional gameplay flaw.

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Source: Baptist Press