Thankfully, in the recent publication, Halos and Avatars: Playing Video Games With God, editor Craig Detweiler and his contributors forego the well-worn arguments of whether or not video games promote violence and take a deeper look at their theological and spiritual potential. A Belgian film, Ben X, reveals such potential while continuing to raise questions about video games as violence-inducing or as a location to vent pent-up violence.
Ben X tells the story of Ben (Greg Timmermans) a teenager with severe autism. He has been a quiet child all of his life and found it extremely difficult to interact with others outside his family, particularly in large groups. Yet, due to his high intelligence, his parents (at his father’s insistence) keep him in the mainstream educational system. Unfortunately, his classmates tease him mercilessly and occasionally physically abuse and humiliate him. To compound his difficulty in relating to others, he must control a growing anger and desire to lash out that festers in him.
For apparent entertainment and escape, Ben plays ArchLord, an MMORPG (massively multiplayer on-line role playing game), several hours a day. He is quite successful at it from both a gamers’ perspective (he has reached level 80) and a social interaction perspective (he has befriended a female gamer who even wants to meet him when she learns of his real-world difficulties). Things go from bad to worse for Ben after a particularly humiliating prank (video of which circulates on the internet) and a failed attempt at retaliation. He goes to the train station to meet Scarlite (Laura Verlinden) but cannot bring himself to talk to her, and she leaves, disappointed. Ultimately, Ben feels that suicide is the only way out and even asks his parents for their help. I’ll save the brilliant, effective ending so as not to spoil it.
Ben X works on a variety of levels. From a gamers’ perspective, it reveals the therapeutic potential of video games. Ben is not violent because he plays ArchLord but is violent, rather, because he is being abused at school. In fact, ArchLord allows him to fight back without hurting others and to image revenge in real-life without actually striking back. It also allows him to nurture a social interaction without the threats and fears that plague his real-world relationships.
On a theological level, it perfectly embodies Marjorie Suchocki’s notions of creative, non-violent responses to violence. In fact, it was a selection in her Whitehead International Film Festival two years ago. Examples of this are clearly evident in the ending that I do not want to give away. Suffice it to say, it is worth watching and talking about for quite some time after.
Ben X is a perfect film for parents and teenagers to watch together (especially if either or both are gamers). It is available on DVD through Netflix.