From mobile apps to home consoles to entire virtual worlds, video games have become a lasting mainstay in our culture. Even e-sports venues, leagues, and TV channels have emerged to give gaming significant prominence and credibility.
How should Christians approach video games? Should we avoid video games altogether? And if we decide to play, which games should we play, and how often?
Christians may play video games, but like other avenues of recreation and entertainment, we should be careful that we are not inviting inappropriate content or idolatry into our lives.
Like TV, movies, and the Internet, video games provide a wide range of entertainment options. In the mid-to-late 20th century, playing video games meant going to the mall with a pocket full of quarters and blasting some highly pixelated asteroids or alien invaders.
But as technology improved, games became more complex, more realistic, and more widely available. Now gamers can choose to create lifelike avatars of themselves and interact with players from across the globe in a massively multiplayer experience.
As Christians, how do we begin to evaluate to what extent gaming is permissible and acceptable? As with many modern advances that aren’t presupposed by scripture, our participation comes down to a matter of conscience.
As we evaluate video games and weigh our conscience, it helps us to consider several criteria:
Perhaps this is the easiest factor for Christians to consider when assessing video games. When we ask, “Can Christians play video games?” many of us are likely asking if we can play certain kinds of games.
Most of us would not give a second thought to games that involve simple puzzle-solving skills involving shapes, words, and numbers. Rather, the games that spurn our question are the first-person shooters, the fighting games with excessive gore, or the racy adult-themed games involving crime, sex, and drugs.
Jesus teaches that “the eye is the lamp of the body” (Matthew 6:22). And Paul reinforces this truth by reminding us to set “our minds on heavenly things” (Colossians 3:2). So as Christians, we should refrain from games that include:
- Gratuitous Violence- including excessive gore and the glorification of criminal activity.
- Pornographic Content-including graphic nudity, and sexual encounters between players
- Occult influence- including games that compel the players to devise spells, consult mediums or spiritists, and engage in cultic rituals
Finally, be watchful for the blurring of good and evil. Conflict is a necessary driver of stories (including stories experienced through video games), so where there are “good guys” we should expect to see “bad guys,” but we should be mindful of what is presented as good and evil.
In recent years it has become well established that video games can be an addictive force in the lives of some participants. As with gambling, the stimulus effect on the brain is enough to trigger an addictive response in some situations.
Even apart from addiction, more complex games require hours of playtime to solve the quest or achieve whatever goal is applicable. While it is not wrong to enjoy a leisure activity or a hobby, excessive recreation is not consistent with the Christian life.
The writer of Ecclesiastes realized quickly that pleasure for its own sake could easily become a meaningless indulgence:
I said to myself, “Come now, I will test you with pleasure to find out what is good.” But that also proved to be meaningless. “Laughter,” I said, “is madness. And what does pleasure accomplish?” I tried cheering myself with wine, and embracing folly—my mind still guiding me with wisdom. I wanted to see what was good for people to do under the heavens during the few days of their lives.Ecclesiastes 2:1-3
Similarly, Paul encourages his readers to make the most of the limited time that we are given:
Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is.Ephesians 5:15-17
God has called each of us to a purpose and has prepared good works for us to do. One of the best ways to miss out on God’s purpose for us is to devote our time to the pursuit of pleasure. Even a game with harmless content can become an idol if it becomes a priority for our time, our money, and our attention.
Most people are introduced to gaming as children. As Christian parents, we have a responsibility to not only model self-control and restraint with our own recreation habits, but also to set boundaries for what our children are doing.
Managing access to inappropriate content usually comes easily to Christian parents. But we must be watchful for some of the other trouble signs discussed above, too.
If you have young children, you may even use tablets and mobile games to help your children with their reading and problem-solving skills. Such games can be inherently beneficial for intellectual development, but be mindful of the cost.
Managing time is just as important as managing content. It is good that we teach our children to prioritize appropriately (as we continue to model discipline and self-control ourselves).
Video games can be fun, and many are harmless. But like work, sports, hobbies, and every other activity that we engage in, we must be mindful of where and how our gaming fits into our lives. We must be prepared to recalibrate our time and priorities as our circumstances change and as the Spirit convicts us.
Each of us is given only one race to run, and we are called to run it with purpose, and with an eye on the fullness of Christ:
Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever.1 Corinthians 9:24-25