Book Review: "God in the Machine" by Liel Leibovitz

God in the Machine: Video Games as Spiritual PursuitGod in the Machine: Video Games as Spiritual Pursuit by Liel Leibovitz
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

To enter the matrix of video games is to enter an Augustinian world? So concludes Liel Leibovitz, senior writer for "Tablet Magazine" and visiting assistant professor focusing primarily on video game and interactive media research and theory at NYU-Steinhardt, in his recent work "God in the Machine: Video Games as Spiritual Pursuit." This short, 144 page hardback will intrigue gamers and religious alike. Though written more on an academic level, well educated readers will be able to fathom much or most of the author's material.

This book unfolds in four chapters where Leibovitz seeks to make the case that gaming, unlike television, literature or warfare, is more attuned to religion. Not that it is an alternative to religion, but that gaming "is a practice in rituals, ethics, morality, and metaphysics" (x). Similarly, religion is modular, rule-based, moved my metaphysical designs that are governed by earthly designs (xi). To make his case, Leibovitz draws in Descarte, Hume, Kant, Kierkegaard, Rabbi Akiva, Maimonides, Augustine, Plato, Aristotle, Wittgenstein, Heidegger, and a host of other communications theorists and philosophers. The author's reason for bringing in such a vast regiment of thinkers is "not to delve deeply into abstract philosophical issues but rather to appropriate their theoretical frameworks and, in some cases, language, to address the distinct realities of video games" (115).

For my part there were two issues that made the book a bit stiff. Firstly, the second chapter was all based on the author's gaming experience, described in great detail over 39 pages. It was quite a tedious section to labor through. The second has more to do with the connections the author makes between gaming and some aspects of religion. Sometimes the logical connection Leibovitz perceives is not so clear. I found myself scratching my head on occasion, unable to see what the author saw.

On the other hand, I was delighted by some observations. For example, toward the end of the book the author brings into the discussion the old debate between Pelagius and Augustine. Leibovitz surprised me by seeing that Pelagius's "enlightened doctrine" was actually "far more rigid than it sounds; it places upon people an onus no individual could bear" (124). Whereas Augustine offered "a much more humane approach ( . . . ); while life under the shadow of the original sin might appear unjust, divine grace emerges to kindle the torch that illuminates the path to redemption" (125). This brings the author to shockingly conclude, "Video games, then, should be seen as an Augustinian simulator, a rule-based environment into which one enters, abandoning the pursuit of reason and receiving instead a chance to transcend the irresovable anxieties of modern media" (126).

"God in the Machine" shows depth as well as breadth. It would be a fitting addition to a book discussion group or theological reading circle. Whether you come to the same conclusions as the author or not, "God in the Machine" will change the way you see gaming here on out. I recommend the book.

{Feel free to post or publish this review. And as always, please give credit where credit is due. Mike}

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