Reality takes on a new dimension

By Simon Barrow
June 14, 2007

The spat between Sony and Manchester Cathedral over the siting of part of its violent video game Resistance: The Fall of Man raises issues which go far beyond legal rights and moral posturing.

In an interesting article, Reality Bites, in, Mark Clapham writes:

In his recent interview with ITV News, Bishop of Manchester, the Rt Rev Nigel McCulloch, cited the 'photo-realistic quality' of the Cathedral's reproduction in Resistance as part of the problem. If Resistance had been released for an earlier system, with a more abstract, pixelated or jaggied portrayal of the Cathedral, then the reaction to seeing it in the context of a game may not have been so visceral.

That the realism of the portrayal has caused the kind of adverse reaction that, say, a live action film showing similar scenes might have garnered, is in some ways a back-handed compliment to the power of PS3's graphical grunt.

Greater realism in graphics makes, obviously, for images that will be more immersive and convincing. Stripped of the abstraction of primitive graphics, the images and actions in games are more easily comprehensible not just to gamers, but to more casual observers.

This is part of gaming's gradual movement into the mainstream, from the near complete abstraction of Pac-Man, requiring total suspension of disbelief from the player, to the instantly recognisable, realistic worlds of Resistance or Motorstorm.

The level of realism in a game alters the impact of player actions. Mario jumping on a bad guy's head is cartoonish, not even really violence in any appreciable sense. Abstracted, the consequences have no moral dimension and are not taken seriously. A casual observer may not know, or even care, what Mario is up to.

Transfer that sequence of events into a more photorealistic presentation, and the image of booted feet crashing into the side of someone's head raises considerably more questions. An observer will instantly understand what the gamer is doing, and have a real life context to put it into. A closer resemblance to the real world can provoke real reactions and potentially cause real offence. (c)

Read the whole piece. You'd have thought that the subtitle of the game might suggest that it raises some interesting theological questions, too... but the Church is often less alive to those than people who find the framework of 'religion' unhelpful or unnecessary, curiously enough. Or not so curiously, if one takes Bonhoeffer's view that 'religion' is extrinsic to what is actually at stake in the Christian story.

On related questions, see also my article here:, which I'm also linking to Ekklesia's 'Culture and Review' section (

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