For those not in the know, the next big controversial video game has been released. Years ago we heard all of the complaints about Grand Theft Auto III, then IV, and now we’ve got Rockstar’s biggest game yet: GTA V. Christians have fallen on all sides of this issue, ranging from liberty in all things, even killing digital prostitutes, all the way to suggesting we ought to avoid all video games at all times, even something as apparently harmless as Pac-Man or Mario.
Here are four questions you should ask yourself if you’re considering purchasing and playing Grand Theft Auto V.
1. Is play endorsement?
I’ve talked a little about my answer to this question, but the question is one we should all consider. Many Christians (parents especially) draw arbitrary lines in video games: it’s okay to kill in a game like Call of Duty (war simulator) and Splinter Cell (think Jason Bourne if he were mostly stealthy), but when it comes to something like GTA V, it’s time to stop. Maybe that’s because of the setting: Call of Duty at least happens mostly in the context of war; Splinter Cell you’re playing as the “good guy” taking out the “bad guys.” But in GTA V, you’re clearly just playing the bad guy. You’re fighting against cops, often, and killing innocent people on the street at will.
But violence itself, even violence enacted in clearly questionable ways, might be the right starting point for a number of discussions and personal revelations. You can learn a lot about yourself from the way you play your games. Some games deal with that by choices, as in the Mass Effect series, while others do so in a sandbox environment, like GTA V.
2. What do you get from playing?
If you play GTA V because you find murder, theft, assault, and other crime intrinsically fascinating, you should probably consider skipping this one. We shouldn’t just fascinate ourselves with evil. There may be a time when an experience is worthwhile for what it can teach us, or even how it can entertain us, but if you are filling the felony-shaped hole in your chest with GTA V, maybe you should spend less time in front of a television and more time in front of people who care about you.
3. Who else in your life is playing?
There are two routes you can take with this question. The first is fellowship. Maybe you’re a young guy, and every single kid in your youth group is playing GTA V. This might not answer the question, but it could definitely influence you if you’re on the fence. The multiplayer can be an excellent shared experience (I say this having played other video games cooperatively). In addition, teens especially seem to be sucked into certain video games so deeply that they won’t want to talk about anything else. Perhaps you should steer the conversation elsewhere, but having some common ground might make it worthwhile.
Additionally, if you’re a parent (or a youth pastor, or anyone who interacts with teens) and your teen wants to play this game, it might be worth a rental beforehand. Judge the content for yourself. Talk with your teens about what makes you uncomfortable about the game, what makes it worth playing, or what makes you forbid it outright. Teens may be rather rebellious (and they may play this game elsewhere, even if you ban it), but explaining your reason for a decision goes a long way.
4. Do you know when to quit?
Let’s assume you’ve decided to purchase this game. If a scene in the game becomes too much, will you know that you should stop? What if you look at the time and realize that you’ve been playing for 18 hours straight? What about 6 hours? Did you skip dinner with your best friend? Take time off from work?
Before deciding to invest in video games as a hobby, it is important to make sure you can manage your time well. People are more important than digital entertainment, period. I don’t think it is wrong to play video games (which is probably quite clear), but if you prioritize them consistently over people, you’ve made a pretty big error.
GTA V will likely have more hours clocked on it during this month than any other video game. That means it is worth thinking about, if only so we know how to engage it.