If you’re a gamer, or a Christian gamer at least, you’ve rolled your eyes through a hundred articles by now, each one telling you why your gaming is sad, wasteful, pathetic. You’re immature, you’re addicted to pleasure, you’re a dopamine junkie. You might even have found yourself compared to a porn addict since in many minds porn and PlayStations go hand in hand. That’s not what the articles actually say, of course, but it can sure feel like it. Gamers are an easy target and a lot of people line up to take their swings.
It’s not that gaming isn’t without its downsides, of course. It’s not like gamers haven’t earned at least some of that reputation. Gaming exists in this world, after all, and is enjoyed by imperfect people. But it’s not beyond redemption, not beyond what we can enjoy. Today I want to offer a few simple points about gaming and gamers.
Before I do that, a confession: I love video games. At least, I love some video games. I loved them as a kid, I loved them as a teen, and I love them today. That’s not to say I play them much. I rarely have those extended gaps when there isn’t a long list of higher priorities. But when I do find those times—usually in that slow week between Christmas and New Years or one of those lazy Monday afternoons of a long weekend—I often take advantage. I have fun. I might join my son in some strategic world-conquering. I might sit with Aileen as we work through an adventure or mystery together. Or I might just find something to play on my own. I do it without shame and without regret.
With that confession made, let me speak to other enthusiasts about the highs and lows of gaming.
Enjoy the entertainment. Let’s be honest: There is little intrinsic value in gaming. For most of us it is merely entertainment. But that doesn’t make it wrong. Entertainment is a perfectly legitimate way to expend time, money, and energy—within reason, of course—, and gaming is a perfectly legitimate form of entertainment. This is true when it takes its proper place in life, well behind the more important concerns of family, work, neighboring, church. Well-earned entertainment is a gift we are free to enjoy and I see no substantial difference between playing a game and watching a movie or between playing a game and reading a novel. It’s not substantially different from fishing, for that, or crocheting, or playing a bit of golf. Like all of these, it’s restful, it’s entertaining, it’s neither right nor wrong on the face of it. So enjoy the entertainment that games provide.
Skip the bad ones. We cannot deny that some games are unsuitable to anyone, much less a Christian. Today more than ever there is an abundance of games that revel in gore and bloodletting, that feature sexual violence, that are full of porn or profanity. Those of us who remember the scandal of Leisure Suit Larry or Phantasmagoria a generation ago will know that such games are practically quaint by today’s standards. We need to be okay with skipping the bad ones and we ought to do so out of conviction and conscience. Thankfully, we’ve got access to a thorough rating system and a massive collection of review sites that can steer us away from the ugly ones. Look past the bad ones and we will find many that are harmless, fun, beautiful, and at times even brilliant.
Play in freedom. Many games engage the reward system within the human brain—the same system that can lead to addiction. Even when games don’t lead to full-blown addiction, they can lead to compulsive use, late nights, or neglecting more important responsibilities. This quality of games is both their strength and weakness. Without it they would be boring. The “just one more turn” or “just one more mission” effect is part of the draw and the thrill of playing a great game. But we need to be careful that we assuage the potential of addiction or out-of-control gaming with integrity, priorities, and self-control—the stuff of Christian character. Play your games in freedom, the freedom of moderation that comes through character, maturity, and a clean conscience.
Play in community. Part of the joy of gaming has always been gaming with others and today more than ever games are created with multiplayer capabilities in mind. Sometimes this involves playing together on the same device and other times it involves playing on separate devices connected through the Internet. Either way, playing in community can be a great shared activity, especially between family members. My son and I love to challenge one another or take on the world together. We enjoy this as a father-son experience. As I said earlier, Aileen and I will sometimes settle onto the couch together for an adventure or mystery game, or we’ll join the girls for some Lego The Hobbit. We’ve even been known to get the whole family playing along with The Beatles in Rock Band. These are good times and good memories.
Embrace the challenge. I know it can seem silly to build an imaginary army to invade an imaginary nation, or to serve as fictional mayor of a town that exists only on a screen. And sure, there’s something a bit silly about it all. But each of these scenarios represents a challenge, and challenge is at the very heart of gaming. Whether the game is about solving puzzles, conquering worlds, or completing an adventure, great games face us with difficult situations and challenge us to overcome them. That’s fun! When our lives are mundane, these challenges can trigger a sense of adventure and accomplishment. When our lives are complex, they can provide a welcome respite. The challenge is the point. The challenge is the joy.
So I say go ahead and play your games. Enjoy your games. Play them for the fun of exploring, conquering, experiencing, winning. Just play them like a Christian and you’ll be fine.