Growing up culture treated video games as a youth only past-time. Over 30 years later I think it’s safe to say our generation bucked the stereotype. The industry knows this: marketing games to 30-40 year olds. It has become a multi-generational past-time. They are everywhere. My iWhatever has video game apps. There is a long “strip” of road, with bright lights in my city where you can pay to play video games.
As a parent trying to disciple my children, I have to navigate them. I know people who love to play video games. They’re godly people; I know they’re disciplined; and not consumed by them. The last few years I’ve reflected on my own childhood (and college), my children’s interaction, asking questions, while analyzing these pixilated programming codes. Yet some are addicted to them. Everyone knows the 30+ year old “adult” who sits at home playing video games. Why are they addicted? What makes them dangerous? How should we navigate them? Can games be a safe hobby?
What are video games?
Video games are entertainment. Players explore worlds, play sports, build worlds (or franchises), and earn rewards or points. Some video games (VG) allow you to be the controller advocating athleticism, promoting health and family entertainment. Online, they provide competition and social environment. This seems better than movies because VG require thought and attention. For the most part VG seem amoral, safe, or harmless (Yes, I know there are some pretty vile games out there). Yet on the inside, they’re worlds we control and manipulate without penalty. VG can be mere fun, but for some they manifest idolatry. Herein lies the potential danger.
Why can they be addictive?
We are prone to selfishness and controlling our own world. God calls this idolatry. Our heart naturally deceives us and rejecting the Triune God we establish our own self-made kingdom. God provides insight regarding our heart and nature:
- “The heart is more deceitful than all else and desperately sick; Who can understand it?” (Jer. 17:9)
- “men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness” (Rom 1:18)
- “Take care, brethren, that there not be in any one of you an evil, unbelieving heart that falls away from the living God.” (Heb 3:12)
My heart naturally wants to rule and reign over my own life. I do not want to submit to God’s authority or follow Him. Humans naturally reject God seeking our own rule. We go to great lengths to deceive ourselves and justify every sinful and rebellious act. We want to be god.
Consider Israel’s rejection of the Lord. They made their own god according to their likeness creating a golden calf to worship Him. Why? Because they wanted life to fit their desires. We should not scoff at them for we are the same. Our problem goes back to the Garden of Eden. The Serpent told Eve eating the fruit would make them “be like God” (Gen. 3:5).
Unbelievers always seek idolatry and self-government. In the low point of Israel’s history, God actually challenges Israel to prove themselves to be the god they think they are,
“Let them bring forth and declare to us what is going to take place; As for the former events, declare what they were, That we may consider them and know their outcome. Or announce to us what is coming; Declare the things that are going to come afterward, That we may know that you are gods; Indeed, do good or evil, that we may anxiously look about us and fear together. Behold, you are of no account, And your work amounts to nothing; He who chooses you is an abomination.” (Isaiah 41:22-24)
Now, enter modern times (where idolatry still exists, but with less wood and metal). Humans seek to be king. Video games provide the opportunity. Here is a kingdom we can rule. We own them, rule, and reign supreme. “That is my world and if I don’t like it, I can turn it off and start all over. I am the master of this domain. You can have your world, but here, in my world, I control it. I am the sovereign king of the world.”
Video games provide mini objectives, points, totals, and goals. We “earn” something as we progress and win. The mere act of feeling accomplishment can keep us pursuing and engrossed in visual digital code. Remember people leaving parties and fellowship early to harvest crops on Farmville? Yeah, they left the fellowship to right-click some digital square in a make-believe-world — giving up reality for make-believe. But they ruled and reigned supreme!
For some, make-believe becomes reality. Digital code becomes my world. There is a safe place where I can rule.
How should we react?
Like most things, VGs need to be navigated with care. Just because they can be addictive, doesn’t mean they are addictive. Just because one man has no self-control with alcohol doesn’t mean we condemn it. Know yourself and know your family.
Remember everything in this world can be an idol. The video game is not necessarily an idol. Yet, beware of the danger. Traverse video games like you would any other hobby: with care. If it consumes your children, spouse, or yourself, get rid of the system.
Even when we dump the system, remember, only worshipping Christ fends off idolatry. If I take games away from an idolatrous heart, the heart will find another idol. Only a believer who loves Christ will pursue Christ and worship Him! Therefore, the true answer to VG idolatry or any idolatry is the Gospel. Only God can rescue us from the sin of idolatry.
Here is what I look for from kids and gamers:
In general I try to remain balanced. Unless the Bible specifically spells out an action as sin (pornography, lying, lust, etc) then we need to travel with caution. When it comes to hobbies, I consider these four characteristics in a person.
1. Do they know it’s just a game? I tell my kids they may not speak about video games with adults. I teach them Minecraft, though fun, is not the real world and the points have no redeeming value in life or before the Lord. Does the player understand the world, how VGs fit in, and where personal hobbies rank in following Christ?
2. Do they fulfill all their responsibilities? Is school (we homeschool), chores, and family projects taken care of? If someone ditches work to play, they have a problem. But if a man disciples his family, loves his wife, works hard, takes care of the house, and chooses to play games, I’m not going to say a word. What is the difference in this situation between being a reader and a gamer?
3. Can they exhibit self-control? Can they turn the game off? How do they respond when told to turn the game off? Do they whine? Can they control their money and spending habits towards the game? In Spring and Fall we take the console away for a minimum of two months. They survive.
Finally I remember one important point. The lack of video games does not make someone godlier or more like Christ. Justification is by faith alone. We are not justified by what we don’t do. Sanctification comes from living according to the truth (Heb 5:14-6:12). Whether they play VG or not, I still have to teach my boys (and others) to learn, love, serve, and work. Taking things away does not ensure godly direction. Preaching the Gospel, teaching believers, and promoting godliness promotes godliness.