This page is an extended answer to a letter on another page, Difficult Questions:  Christianity and Console Role Playing Games.  The reader may wish to refer to that page for a better understanding of the background of this one.  This is the answer page.

Thanks for your note.  I'll try to address your questions as well as I can.

Regarding Final Fantasy VII, yours are the first concerns I've heard expressed on the game.  My children play it, and what I've seen of it looks harmless enough; my 17-year-old is very familiar with it, and is unaware of any devils or demons within the game ("just a guy who likes to dress in black and use fire").

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That doesn't mean I would dismiss your concerns out of hand.  It does mean that you might have to clarify your concerns about parts of the game that "look evil", what you've identified as "demons", and why you're concerned about "spells". But I'll make a few assumptions about these things, and give you my thoughts.

There are many games that include demons and devils as adversaries; there are also many in which demons and devils (but more commonly efreet, the evil fire spirits of Islam) play a plot role, such as providing information or assistance to characters.  I don't have a lot of trouble with this.  In fact, I favor games in which player characters are pitted against spiritual forces of evil; and I favor them even more strongly if the game makes it clear that normal means of combat will be ineffective against such forces--demons and devils must be fought with spiritual/supernatural weapons.  In a game, that almost invariably has to be spells and magic; even if you try to build a spiritual combat system around faith directly, the details are not distinguishable from spells and magic in application.  This is, in a sense, how it should be.  As to using demons as character allies, while it would not be my choice, the demons of the game are completely unreal; any story which creates "good demons" is merely misusing the word.  I'd rather keep the meanings of language pure; but it's not much different from Christians saying that Adam and Eve ate an apple--it's the use of a word that conveys an idea somewhat metaphorically.  Just remember that when this game says "demon", it means something entirely different.

I would recall that in Perelandra, C. S. Lewis allowed one of the characters established in Out of the Silent Planet to become, by his own invitation, possessed by the devil, and thereafter to act the tempter in the unfallen world.  It is probably important in our fantasy to recognize demons as a very powerful and influential force for evil; to do otherwise is to ignore the basic realities of good and evil, which transcend our mere preferences.

I've already indicated my support of games that include spells and magic.  In fact, in a forthcoming article in The Way, the Truth, and the Dice [now available in PDF format--ed.] I argue that games, especially role playing games, in which magic is excluded should come under much greater scrutiny than those in which it is included.  You and I know that we are living in a magical world; God is working around us at every moment.  To play Star Trek (even to watch Star Trek) and accept their notion that there is no magic, that all supernatural is explicable as something natural but beyond our experience, is to flirt with wrong thinking.  To play Dungeons & Dragons and recognize that their understanding of the supernatural is confused but they do admit it is there is to find oneself in the world of Paul, a world in which everyone knows that magic exists, but only a few of us truly understand it aright.

As to things which "look evil", H. R. Giger's designs in Alien are (or at least at the time were) truly horrific. But no one ever suggested they were demonic.  They were intended to be alien, and were accepted as such. Even H. P. Lovecraft's Cthulu work was, in his mind, about alien creatures, not demonic ones (although later contributors to the mythos may have shifted that concept). Just because something is alien and deadly doesn't mean it's necessarily demonic, even if it is intended to be villainous.  Good fiction requires powerful antagonists, enemies who make our skin crawl.  Consider the Nazi villain in Raiders of the Lost Ark.  He makes us shudder; he oozes evil.  But we never imagine him to be other than human; and when he oversteps and is gruesomely killed (by what Charles Williams would have called a "terrible good"), we approve.

Your concerns about New Age theology would bother many of those I know who play games.  They don't bother me.  The reason they don't bother me is that I see no danger in the possibility that I might absorb and accept new age ideas--I'm too careful an expositor for that.  This is not to say that I have no weaknesses.  I categorically refuse to listen to popular music, because I recognize within it a strong tendency to subtly preach prurience, licentiousness, and infidelity, and find within myself a response to that message.  I am better off not hearing that message, so I avoid it.  And so it is with some gamers of my acquaintance in relation to new age thinking:  they recognize within themselves a susceptibility to the dangers of those ideas, and so avoid them.  You must ask yourself whether new age thinking is a danger for you, personally; and whether the presence of it in this game is wearing down your resistance to it.

And in the end, that is how you must approach all the issues in any game:  is this a danger or a problem for you?  There is nothing in life, no employment, no entertainment, no recreation, that doesn't contain elements which pose a real theological danger to someone.  The trick is to enjoy those things which are not a danger to you, and avoid those which are.  We must all recognize that in some areas it is we who are the weaker brothers, needing to avoid something because of its inherent danger to us which is of no danger or concern to the stronger among us.  That is as important as the other aspect, to have respect for the weaknesses of others to which we are immune.  Whether it is meat offered to idols or horror flicks at the theater or games that promote capitalism, each should be considered carefully.

And with this in view, I can better answer your other question:  I would not, as a rule, tell people that there is any game Christians should avoid en masse.  Rather, I would say that one should always be circumspect and intelligent in approaching any game (or any other aspect of life) to recognize the dangers within it.  Dangers in games include violence, competitive spirit, anti-biblical theologies, and others; but all these together do not condemn a game.  That said, there are some games about which I would be particularly circumspect--but none of them are console or video games, and I would play any of them myself provided I had some control over how it would be played.

I hope that helps.

--M. J. Young
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