Video Games: Harmless Fun, Genuine Community, or Mind Pollution?
*This blog post is a follow-up to Episode 130 of the Provoke & Inspire Podcast: “Should Followers of Jesus Play Video Games? Are They a Waste of Time, Harmless Entertainment, Toxic and Mind Polluting, or a Genuine Form of Community?."*
To listen to the full episode click here.
In case you haven’t noticed, gaming is a big deal. The video game market generated over 78 billion dollars in revenue in 2017, and there are a staggering 2.5 billion video gamers worldwide!
Just the game “Fortnite” has a whopping 125 million players and ESPN (the US-based sports television channel) just endorsed its first “e-athlete.” It is clear, video games are a dominant force in culture today.
There are some Christians who find the ubiquitous video game culture hard to comprehend. “Isn’t that for kids?,” they’ll say with a look of bewilderment on their faces. Others are in step with the trends and consuming the latest games with enthusiasm.
Many more followers of Jesus are somewhere in between - not believing video games to be the devil incarnate, but suspicious of their content, addictive nature, and influence. Perhaps most apprehensive are parents, trying to raise kids in the midst of the gaming revolution.
It’s clear that we must search out a biblical response to video games and how to interact with those that love them.
For the purposes of this blog, I will frame this search for truth in a series of questions.
Are all forms of entertainment equal?
Criticize a video gamer, and you will invariably be met with a fierce, “This is just another form of entertainment - no different than watching movies, or bowling!”
Eliminating qualitative distinctions is a common argument strategy - it’s a logical extension of relativism and a powerful force in secular culture. There is no right or wrong and thus no better or worse. Death to truth - viva la opinion!
But do we really believe that all forms of entertainment are equally beneficial? As a parent, I find this argument unconvincing. There are times when I cave and allow my son to watch YouTube Kids. The app gathers together kid-friendly videos and is comparatively safe to the cesspool of possibilities found on the regular site.
This is comforting on some levels, but is this activity better than building a furniture fort in our living room or kicking a ball in the backyard? Of course not.
Each type of leisure comes with its own set of positives and negatives. There the types that bring us in contact with people, exercise our bodies and brains, and result in the development of skills and abilities.
There are other kinds of entertainment that glue our eyes to screens, expose us to questionable content, and in large part isolate us from face-to-face interaction. Straw-man arguments aside, it appears reasonably self-evident that not all entertainment has been created equal.
Is it more a matter of what than if?
Pro-video game people of the Christ-following persuasion will often say that not unlike other art forms (music, movies, books, etc.), there are good video games and bad ones. If one is wise, he or she can play games that aren’t morally corrupting.
I agree with this logic. My only response is, are we following our own advice?
I was reading a review published by a high profile Christian website of a popular new video game called “Red Dead Redemption” - a game rife with violence, vulgarity, and sexual content. While there was an abundance of praise for the game’s technical prowess and mesmerizing, open-world possibilities, there was no mention of its extreme content. None!
By and large, the Christian community has become far too casual with the entertainment it consumes. Companies spend millions of dollars on 30-second commercials, knowing that even such small exposure to their content will influence our behavior. In light of this, how can we be so casual about the types of movies, songs, and video games we consume?
We are deceiving ourselves if we think we are impervious to the explicit content found in the preponderance of video games today. I agree it should be a simple matter of not playing games that pollute our minds, but sadly this appeal to discernment is readily deployed as an argument and rarely lived out as a real-life principal.
Can this be a real community?
The argument for video games that should produce the most heartfelt compassion is that, for many people, it provides a sense of community. We should never trivialize a person's genuine need for connection. Loneliness is perhaps the greatest felt need in culture today. The internet has connected us unlike any other time in history, and yet people have never felt more alone.
Many people are turning to video games for a sense of community, but are these games helping or making things worse?
MIT author Sheryl Turkle wrote, “When online life becomes your game, there are new complications. If lonely, you can find continual connection. This may leave you more isolated, without real people around you. So you may return to the internet for another hit of what feels like connection. Again, the Shakespeare paraphrase comes to mind: we are consumed with that which we were nourished by.”
I’m not suggesting that video games can’t be a social experience (LAN Party, anyone?), and undoubtedly friendships have been founded on and nurtured by a shared love for playing “Call of Duty.” I am merely appealing to the person for whom video games are not part of their connection to people, but are their only connection. I believe each person was created for deep, face-to-face relationships, and sadly our fallen world has left many people settling for some form of community over none at all.
The apostle Paul ends his letter to the Philippians by saying, “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” (Philippians 4:8)
As a follower of Jesus, we must continuously judge the culture by God’s design as revealed in scripture. The question we should be asking all the time is, “Does this bring me closer to God or farther away?”
An honest assessment of the most popular video games today is that they’re rarely pure, lovely, or commendable.
If you’re like me and don’t get what all the fuss is about, let me be the first to say that Jesus wouldn’t shame or ignore people who love video games. He would know them, and he would love them deeply.
If we are going to be relevant in reaching people for Jesus, we need to care enough about them to take seriously the things that matter to them - and for hundreds of millions of people, it’s video games. A dismissive attitude doesn’t reflect the God we claim to serve.
Our posture should be one of humility as we meet people where they're at, and perhaps provide the genuine community that they are so desperate for.