A generation ago, the media most households consumed consisted of radio, television, newspapers, books and magazines. Today, as technology advances rapidly, our homes are filled instead with music and television streaming services, online video games, virtual and augmented reality, smartphone apps, podcasts and a plethora of social media.
These forms of “new media” – which refers to any media delivered digitally – have become commonplace in society almost overnight. But what challenges and opportunities do these new media forms present, for the Church and for society as a whole?
It’s helpful to begin with some contextual information.
In the world of television streaming services, Netflix, Amazon Prime, Fetch TV, AppleTV+, Disney+, Foxtel, Stan and YouTube Premium allow subscribers to access a massive range of popular content. At the end of May 2020, more than 15.7 million Australians had access to a subscription television service.[i]
When it comes to music streaming services, recent figures showed more than 12.7 million Australians use Spotify, YouTube Music, Apple Music, SoundCloud or the like.[ii]
The one that flies under the radar somewhat is the video game industry. Worldwide, the video game market was worth more than US$159 billion in 2020[iii], with the largest region for gamers being the Asia Pacific region, with almost 1.5 billion gamers.[iv]
The numbers make it clear that these forms of new media are well entrenched in Australian homes. But how do we go about using them without making them the centre of our lives? Are parents aware of the content being streamed, downloaded and accessed in their homes; in their children’s bedrooms; in their cars? And are they equipped with the knowledge to be able to manage the challenges new media presents?
All of these questions require individual reflection and careful discernment.
Thankfully, there are some within the Church, locally and abroad, who are game enough (pardon the pun) to tackle the challenges new media presents. Sydney’s Peter Holmes, a gaming expert and a father of eight children, has written and spoken extensively about video games and morality from a Catholic perspective. Links to some of Peter’s works are included at the end of this article.
Other creative geniuses have tackled new media directly, by creating faith-based alternatives. Rather than subscribing to Netflix or Stan, Catholics might consider watching on-demand video content provided by platforms like EWTN, FORMED, Shalom World, Parousia Media or the Parramatta Diocese’s The Well. There are also Christian-based services, such as Pure Flix, VidAngel, Christian Cinema and Minno.
In the United States, Fr Blake Britton writes regularly on the video game phenomenon, and his insights help to demonstrate that it’s not all doom and gloom. He acknowledges the importance of understanding the video game culture and engaging with those who are a part of it – discovering their underlying needs and desires.
He writes: “Video game culture is one of the most fertile grounds of evangelisation. The gaming community is filled with souls ready to be guided and formed. They are good people with hearts that desire greatness. All we need do is steer them in the right direction and allow them the opportunity.”[v]
This “fertile ground” of evangelisation is one that the National Centre for Evangelisation (NCE) hopes to reach.
The NCE recently took on the responsibilities of the Office for Film and Broadcasting, which produced movie reviews over many years, providing readers with insightful and helpful guides to navigate their way through cinematic releases.
In continuing this good work, the NCE will seek to include reviews of video games, popular streaming service content and other new media. In time, it is hoped that such information will assist the Church in understanding the realm of new media and to be better informed of practical ways to navigate the challenges and opportunities it presents.
For more information:
‘Gaming with a moral code’ by Peter Holmes: https://catholicleader.com.au/people/gaming-with-a-moral-code
‘Virtual Worlds’ – This Catholic Life Podcast: https://www.thiscatholiclife.com.au/e/virtual-worlds/
‘Ready Player 3’ – This Catholic Life Podcast: https://www.thiscatholiclife.com.au/e/ready-player-3-s01-ep11/
Words: Matthew Biddle
Images: Souvik Banerjee; Sam Pak, Unsplash