When I was young, gaming was still considered a new and mysterious thing. I remember attending Sunday school sermons where well-meaning but perhaps poorly informed youth pastors warned about the insidious distracting power of too much gaming and the moral-corroding violence of "Resident Doom.” I’ll admit, when I was a teenager at the height of my PlayStation days, I used to giggle at their seemingly out of touch views of what gaming was. To me, games were cheap entertainment and little else. Making a big deal out of them seemed a little silly.
Now that I’m an adult though, I think those out of touch youth pastors might have had the last laugh.
Games are no longer new and mysterious. They are not something that only teenaged boys are into. Games are for everyone! Boys and girls as young as three cut their teeth on Paw Patrol mobile games. Older kids and teenagers (especially in this last year of Covid) socialize and converse through games like Minecraft and Fortnite, they’ve become casual hang out spots like the mall might have been 20 years ago. Most of my adult friends play games to some degree or another, from the busy mom who likes to unwind with a bit of Animal Crossing at the end of the day to the 45-year-old lawyer who STILL drives hours out of town to play in Street Fighter tournaments.
But for as prevalent as games are, now I find I’m the one who worries about them becoming a distraction. I see the violence and content in some of the most popular series of games out there and I have to wonder about what Jesus would think if he was on the couch next to us while we played them. So as Christians, what should we be looking out for when it comes to games?
What are you putting in your brain?
There are lots of games out there and most of them are harmless fun. There is nothing wrong with jumping on a few goombas in Mario or following the adventures of Ace Attorney Phoenix Wright as he tries to solve another mystery. These are fun pieces of entertainment just like your favorite TV shows or books.
But there are some games that give me pause. When I see things like Grand Theft Auto, a series which centers realistic depictions of violence, crime, and sexualization, or war games that delight in coming out with more and more realistic depictions of battle and bloodshed every year, I get discouraged. Some of the most popular and bestselling games out there seem to be nothing but poison for your mind.
While there has never been a proven link between criminal behavior and playing violent crime games, that’s not the point. The worry isn’t that playing a game like that will lead you to commit those acts in real life - it is what they are doing to your heart. There is a kind of crime of the soul to take joy in simulated acts of barbarity.
Let’s put it this way. Yes, I know you would never walk into a convenience store, shoot the clerk in the stomach, and watch him bleed to death on the floor while you clean out the register. You’re not a monster. So why do you enjoy doing it in a game? What is appealing about simulating that act, even in a safe environment where no one is hurt?
Some people say the enjoyment is in pushing these taboos, for having a chance to "play” at terrible things you would never actually do. But that is a very dangerous thing. When you re-wire your brain to accept the unacceptable, even with a lot of provisos and context, you are doing the devil’s job for him.
The things you put in your brain become a part of you. Next time you pick up the controller to play a game, ask yourself if what you see on screen is something you are comfortable making part of yourself. If the answer is no, find another game.
This is the most important question to ask yourself while playing, but far from the only one. We’ll look at more in part 2 later this week!