This week I have been playing a 21 year old computer game called Syndicate, which has led me to ask the question is it possible to sin in a computer game?
Syndicate is a fantastic game, and one of the first games where you play as the bad guys. You are the shadowy executive of a monstrously evil mega-corporation attempting to take over the world by brainwashing people via the cybernetic implants in their brains. Your four man squad of cyborg killing machines are tasked with doing the dirty work, killing or brainwashing anyone that stands in your way.
There is a certain glee when a policeman shouts “Police!, drop your weapons!” only for the brief but entirely satisfying sound of a minigun buzzing a thousand rounds a second to silence him permanently. Even if this policeman does manage to hit you with an uzi or a shotgun it hardly scratches these technological monsters you’ve created. The feeling of power is awesome. The only threat to your agents are cyborgs from rival syndicates and even then the AI is so terrible you can usually run rings around them. The game plays on all the worst aspects of humanity and there is an extent to which it is so enjoyable because it indulges these parts of ourselves that as Christians we suppress (with varying degrees of success).
On a tangential but perhaps related subject; I talk to various stripes of ‘traditionalist’ Catholics and the anger we have towards the infantilisation of the Mass we currently have to suffer through is real and quite bitter. Its important we give vent to this anger. Suppressing it, or internalising it, often morphs it into self hatred, or it gets displaced onto the wrong target. We run the risk of turning into grumpy old curmudgeons.
Today my parish priest asked me if I had a hymn book, I replied no. What I didn’t say is that I had absolutely no intention of singing the utter drivel we are subjected to every Sunday. The beauty of being an altar server is that it should hopefully focus the mind on what is actually going on in the Mass, and the truth is that these days the music is nothing but a distraction, a myopic singalong of absolutely zero artistic merit. We should rightly be furious that the greatest event in human history is being given this godawful soundtrack of half-baked pop songs. Quite frankly if I wanted a good singalong the protestants do it far better than us.
And this brings me back to this game Syndicate. The original game is roughly 40 megabytess in size, it only has sixteen colours and two midi music tracks, it was programmed by two people, yes TWO PEOPLE. There is no way that such a game should be as good, or even better than the games of today which are at least four gigabytes in size and have production values that run into the hundreds of millions of dollars.
Recently the Syndicate IP was turned into a drab first person shooter that bore little to no resemblance to its predecessors. Why? Because FPS’s are currently popular. So it was pitched to the CEO’s as a surefire way to make money. Of course it failed miserably because there are hundreds of companies that are far better at making FPS’s than they were. If they had stuck to their roots, what they were good at, then they would probably have met with the same success as the recent turn based XCOM reboot did. This is the exact same lunacy the hierarchy of the Catholic Church has engaged in for the last forty years.
(Interestingly the company that rebooted XCOM also made a third person shooter on the same IP that also died on its arse, but at least they did that in addition rather than instead of a faithful re-make.)
So what does this mean? wasn’t I the same person who was saying that the Catholic Church has become slightly over obsessed with the Mass? Yes I am. We need the Mass to sustain and nourish us. But a healthy person doesn’t eat all the time, the Mass should be the beginning of our weekly engagement with what it means to live as Christians, not its summation.
There are a myriad of other things that reside in the treasure troves of Catholicism that we can and should explore. Like singing the office. Plainchant. Benediction. The stations of the cross. The rosary. The list of intriguing devotions is basically endless and I’m sure as a modern convert I never got told a quarter of it. For example the St Blaise blessing against sore throats seems to go down a treat with the average Joe Bloggs in the pew.
Why is it that Catholicism has all this amazing untapped diversity and accessibility tucked away just waiting to be discovered? Its because our bishops are like the Syndicate FPS team going to the CEO’s to explain why their game made a loss of millions of dollars saying “but we did everything right”. Our seminaries and pews are almost empty but the bishops say “but we did everything right”.