I’ve written about the usefulness of gaming at least once before, and I was primarily arguing that happiness should not be our final determiner for our actions, particularly in choosing which games we play. I mentioned that games can provide us with a unique world to discuss a variety of issues, especially questions of morality. This holds true, but it presumes that gamers are gaming thoughtfully. This isn’t always the case, unfortunately, but it is something Christians should hold themselves to, if they decide to game.
The Gospel Coalition had an article about the dangers and benefits of gaming recently, which is worth checking out. In fact, take some time and read the articles linked there, because they are all fascinating. I think there’s definitely cause for concern when it comes to youth and gaming. Studies have shown that gaming can be addictive, though that should hardly be surprising. I’m a little more wary of suggestions that gaming leads to violence, mostly because people barely bat an eye at other sorts of violent media. But I’m no sociologist or psychologist, so I’ll leave that one up for speculation and further research. The Gospel Coalition’s article’s conclusion is spot on:
Yes, video games are contributing to our crisis of a pervasive entertainment culture. Much of what we watch, listen to, and play encourages escapism. But the problem isn’t so much with the medium as with the naïve and thoughtless ways we indulge ourselves. Neither blindly chasing “cool” video games nor stubbornly rejecting every new form of entertainment can protect us from our sinful disposition. What we choose to play, we must learn to responsibly engage.
When it comes down to it, Christians should be thoughtfully engaging in anything we face; this includes television, books, movies, video games, blogs, social media, and a host of other things I’ve likely forgotten. If we don’t step up and make it a point to consider carefully what we are participating in, we’re likely to be influenced negatively by these forms of media, particularly when they become far more interactive. As a gamer myself, this topic is important to me; I want to learn to analyze the ethical issues surrounding decisions in Mass Effect and Fallout 3 as much as I want to flex my creativity muscles in Minecraft. Sometimes the game itself won’t provide much food for thought, beyond the enjoyment of strategy and problem solving, but that doesn’t mean I can’t recognize and think through the experience of a multiplayer match of Halo. Sometimes spending time side-by-side with a friend against a common foe will teach me about cooperation and sacrifice, rather than seeking the glory all for myself.
Of course we should not spend all of our time gaming, but this is true for any entertainment. Much like we should consider both the content and the themes of the films we choose to watch, so should we seek to understand both the explicit narrative moves and the actions we vicariously take in these games. If my gaming always comes down to “killing the bad guys,” but I never think about what justifies my conclusion that the bad guys are bad or why that makes it my responsibility to end their lives, I’ve probably missed at least one useful aspect of participating in a war game.
This applies to movies just as easily. For instance, when I watched the movie Taken, I immediately felt what a lot of viewers felt: if it were my daughter who was kidnapped, my gut instinct is to fly to Europe, kill the people responsible for taking her, and save her life. Upon reflection, I began to question what I would do in that situation, realistically, in light of not only my own lack of skill in regards to hunting and killing terrorists (I’m sorely lacking), but also considering the ethics behind killing what are obviously bad men; it would definitely be my place to defend my family from evil, but at what point do my actions become evil themselves? The question isn’t as easy as “killing is always wrong” or “kill anyone who hurts your family at all,” of course, but the point here isn’t to answer the question. The point is to say that the entertainment industry can help us ask important questions.
Let’s remember to ask questions when we view films, play video games, or read books.