How to Respond to the Video Game Crisis

There’s no question: we are facing a crisis. A number of men are shirking their responsibilities, finding fulfillment in trivial things, and abandoning crucial spiritual and academic pursuits. That’s the alarming and accurate claim of a recent article about video games’ damaging effect on young men. It’s the latest in a long string of articles that examine and decry this medium. But this article goes even further than most by associating video games with pornography as twin threats to young men.

I’ve played a lot of video games in my lifetime. When I was a boy my dad bought an Atari 2600—the one you could use to play Pong and that E.T. game everyone hated. I played video games until my college (and seminary) years, when I gave them up for my studies. When seminary was over, I started playing them again, more interested this time in how they might function as art. Seeing video games as art was, at least for me, a new concept, but today critics, players, art museums, and artists alike agree games can be studied this way. Since then, I’ve written about gaming for a number of ministry-oriented and mainstream outlets.

So far I have never struggled with addiction to video games, and I can’t speak to the psychological research and theorizing. Instead, I simply wish to provide in this article some clarity and nuance for a subject too often considered in an alarmist context, especially within the church. Video games are a comparatively new medium, and as such they are the object of much skepticism and intrigue. Those who do not play games often view the medium as a waste of time at best and a corrupting influence at worst. Meanwhile, video game proponents—permanently on the defensive—make excuses for bad art and actual corrupting influences. We Christians must be truthful about these things, but neither side right now is telling the whole story.

Responsible Play

In their article for CNN on the demise of guys, Philip Zimbardo and Nikita Duncan point out that “research reported in the Annual Review of Public Health suggests a link between violent video games and real-life aggression: Given the opportunity, both adults and children were more aggressive after playing violent games.” I will take them at their word. But then again, there are studies that make similar claims about watching television and, well, even reading violent Bible passages.

Still, these are not useless findings. They illustrate a problem inherent to an information- and entertainment-saturated culture: media affect us in ways we don’t always understand, even if we ultimately determine that effect for ourselves. Each medium has unique dangers. But simply consuming entertainment media does not cause us to sin any more than eating idol-sacrificed food or hearing our next-door neighbor shout an expletive causes us to sin. God has expressly forbidden legalism in his Word for times such as these, when the benefits may outweigh the apparent dangers of a medium. Books can encourage both isolation and thoughtfulness; television can encourage passivity and empathy. With a certain amount of sober and vigilant reliance on the Holy Spirit and the truths of Scripture, many video games can provide insightful, even beneficial experiences.

It’s a problem that video games tend to reward violence. Games should be more about play than success, experimentation than victory, discovery than dominance. Thankfully, the best (though admittedly not always the most financially successful) games leverage this truth, providing a way for the player to overcome obstacles through means other than violence, challenging the player to rethink his knee-jerk assumptions about the “enemy,” and providing opportunities for discovery and exploration of other worlds and people. Even as blockbuster games become increasingly violent, these more beneficial qualities are slowly becoming more mainstream within the gaming industry.

Still, the quickest and easiest way to craft a compelling video game experience is to make it about killing enemies. As a result, video games are generally much more violent than other media. But the traditional “shooter” has reached a saturation point. Consumers are looking for something other than the latest Call of Duty. As a realistic optimist, I suspect they’re looking for something more resonant with the human experience, something more mature. And now they are being offered such experiences. We have games that question the validity of violence, games that stress the importance of community, games about the loss of a loved one, and even games about our inability to attain redemption for ourselves. Video games grow more varied each day. Violence may always be a staple, but how that violence is portrayed may change for the better.

The charge that games are addictive has merit. Developers have mastered the ability to draw in the player for “one more game” with increasingly advanced techniques. One can only assume this trend will continue. Those who play games would be foolish to ignore this danger. As with alcohol, food, or reading, we must refuse to be mastered by anything (Rom. 6:16; 2 Pet. 2:19), preparing ourselves for inevitable temptations by establishing clear boundaries as necessary. If this sort of discipline is a particular weakness, it may be best to avoid games altogether.

Yes, video games are contributing to our crisis of a pervasive entertainment culture. Much of what we watch, listen to, and play encourages escapism. But the problem isn’t so much with the medium as with the naïve and thoughtless ways we indulge ourselves. Neither blindly chasing “cool” video games nor stubbornly rejecting every new form of entertainment can protect us from our sinful disposition. What we choose to play, we must learn to responsibly engage.

  • ForeBarca

    “So far I have never struggled with addiction to video games, and I can’t speak to the psychological research and theorizing.”

    Sir, you are talking about the psychological and physiological condition of addiction, and you have not engage the relevant scientific and social resources. What a shame!

    • Pat Devine

      “So far I have never struggled with addiction to video games, and I can’t speak to the psychological research and theorizing.”

      I agree, ForeBarca. We cannot deny that that implicit, if not explicit, reality of the video game industry is “We want you to be consumed with thinking about our game. When you are playing, we want you thinking about it. When you are not playing it, we want you thinking about it so you will come back to it.” Games that don’t do that, don’t survive. It’s time to seriously engage the research.

      That said, taking every thought captive to obey Christ doesn’t work side by side with a cultural phenomena that is also attempting to take every thought captive.

      Last, “As a realistic optimist, I suspect they’re looking for something more resonant with the human experience, something more mature.”

      Hoping for an altruistic motive change by the video game industry is silliness. First person shooter games will never lose their appeal as long as dopamine release in the brain has the effect it does.

      Please, do us a favor take your own counsel: “Responsibly engage” what’s happening – I think you’ll find there is far more than “stubborn rejection” going on.

  • zilch

    A very thoughtful and thought-provoking article, Rich, equally so from a secular viewpoint.

    You are probably aware of this, but one thing that should also be pointed out is that correlation is not necessarily causation: it might well be that attraction to violent games is symptomatic, not causal, of violent behavior. I’m unaware of any study that has isolated this possibility.

    In any case, as a fellow gamer, who has fragged countless opponents on the computer, I know that it’s quite possible for gamers to refrain from murdering real people in real life. In some cases, we’re even pretty nice people. But some seem to have difficulty separating fact from fantasy.

    cheers from cloudy Vienna, zilch

  • Jimmy

    Finally an article that is written by someone who has an understanding of gaming! I find that far too many articles on the issue (which it definitely is) are bias against gaming from the outset. This is a refreshing read and as a very casual gamer I am challenged and encouraged by this article.

    Scientists should test people who play Fifa 12…Now thats aggression lol

    • James

      Ha! I don’t believe my blood pressure has ever risen so high! I am turned off by senseless violence, but I honestly feel little to no aggression when playing first person shooters. However, sports games- in particular FIFA- drive me to levels of aggression that scare my dog, makes my wife think I’m crazy, and have more than once woken my boy up from his sleep. I don’t even play games often enough to call myself a gamer, but after a few months of playing the newest incarnation of FIFA, I had to give it up for a while because of my anger at the silly thing.

  • Dean P

    I really hope and Look forward to a rebuttal article on this subject.

  • Chris Julien

    Reading this article is simply painful. Every sentence seems like a struggle to retain legitimacy, but it so obviously and slowly escapes between your fingers.

    In particular:

    “But simply consuming entertainment media does not cause us to sin any more than eating idol-sacrificed food or hearing our next-door neighbor shout an expletive causes us to sin. God has expressly forbidden legalism in his Word for times such as these, when the benefits may outweigh the apparent dangers of a medium. Books can encourage both isolation and thoughtfulness; television can encourage passivity and empathy. With a certain amount of sober and vigilant reliance on the Holy Spirit and the truths of Scripture, many video games can provide insightful, even beneficial experiences.”

    How do I begin? As you previously mentioned, media do affect us, so this is never a question of “simply” consuming media. We always do something with that which we put into our minds; video games do show evidence of their influence in our thoughts, thought patterns, speech, and actions. It isn’t what goes into a man that makes him unclean, but what comes out of the heart. And couple these things with Psalm 11:5:

    “The Lord tests the righteous,
    but his soul hates the wicked and the one who loves violence.”

    It isn’t simply about violent video games influencing violent actions. It’s about relishing in, cherishing, and enjoying violence in your hearts, and looking to it for “entertainment.” The Lord hates the one who loves violence.

    Furthermore, of course it’s true that the Holy Spirit can use video games to teach us things. He is constantly working through our sin and using all things for our good. The point is, would you learn more from an hour of video games, or an hour of reading the Word? Or reading another book? Or talking to your wife? Or leading an additional Bible Study? Or serving your community?

    I cannot make the case, except for the instance of violence (as cited above), that playing video games are sinful. But I will continue to insist they one of the most mindless, insidious ways that today’s generation of men is shirking their duty, distracting themselves, and proving themselves to be more indulgent in the American Dream than excited about our Lord.

    I have played over 2500 hours of World of Warcraft, and many hours of Starcraft 2. I speak from experience. I am 21. Christian men need to be challenged instead of coddled in this issue, and that’s why my words are so strong.

    See my blog’s latest post for my thoughts on the American Dream and Christ’s call to true discipleship. We aren’t getting it in today’s culture.

    God bless.

    • Tom

      Chris – thank you for your post and sharing your own experiences.

      it raises some questions for me:
      “It isn’t simply about violent video games influencing violent actions. It’s about relishing in, cherishing, and enjoying violence in your hearts, and looking to it for “entertainment.” The Lord hates the one who loves violence.”

      Could the same also be said of people who enjoy UFC, or boxing or wrestling? Or even some sports that involve violence in less direct ways such as Football?

      “Furthermore, of course it’s true that the Holy Spirit can use video games to teach us things. He is constantly working through our sin and using all things for our good. The point is, would you learn more from an hour of video games, or an hour of reading the Word? Or reading another book? Or talking to your wife? Or leading an additional Bible Study? Or serving your community?”

      I agree totally. perhaps we need to cut down on our use of entertainment in general? Video games, movies, TV, Comic Books, trash novels, watching rather than playing sports, etc.

      • Chris Julien

        Hey Tom,

        Yes, I think in many instances the same could be said for those things. I think my thoughts can extend to the other ways that we Americans use our time. Though there is something to be said for the value of organized sports, such as giving structure and discipline to kids who otherwise would have none in their lives. But still, we do have to take Psalm 11:5 seriously and evaluate our own hearts as we play or watch football, etc.

        And yes, I think we have been fooled about our right to entertainment here in the U.S. and what godly leisure looks like. I don’t know the numbers, but our hunger for and indulgence in entertainment seems to be at its peak right now in history. We could use a little (or most likely a lot of) cutting back on entertainment.

        God bless.

    • Caleb


      I’ve been reading a through these comments and have enjoyed the interactions and thoughts that have been posted. I don’t fully agree with all that you are saying, but I see your heart. I love video games, but I have seen how it can be detrimental to my spiritual walk. Through my sanctification walk I’ve slowly grown to love Jesus more than video games. This happened through developing my relationship with Jesus, not changing my behaviours. Behaviours are just symptoms of something deeper, a root. Videogames aren’t a root but are a behaviour that stem from a root in our lives.

      Having discussions about these things are good, and can be healthy (as well as unhealthy), but it’s much more effective to get to the bottom of the issue, rather than behaviour modification. I’ve been a missionary for the past few years and having come back into western culture it is evident that we have problems. We don’t need Jesus in the West. We have savings accounts, comfortable houses, steady jobs and the list goes on. We have so much in our life were we don’t need to really rely on Jesus and therefore not really seeing Him as our all in all. Videogames can be one of these distractions along with sports, books, TV, movies, you name it. These aren’t in themselves evil but can lure us away. As I have grown in my relationship with Jesus my desires have changed and I will more easily say no to videogames now then before. Jesus has changed my heart

      And this is were my concern comes in when we outright say something isn’t good (outside from what the Bible specifically says is evil, and videogames isn’t one of them). We do have a culture that videogames is heavily involved in and as Christians we are called to engage it, which may include videogames for some people. I’m not saying every Christian should play videogames to engage culture, but some of us may. Those people in the gaming community need Jesus.

      All this will be based of personal convictions. You seemed to be convicted that videogames are something you need to say no to. For me I need to check my heart to see if videogames are becoming an idol. When I read through your comments it sounds potentially condemning to those who are not Christians. We need to be all things to all people and in hopes to bring any closer to Jesus. Then through the working of the Holy Spirt He will change their hearts.

      Basically we need to make sure Jesus is being represented here to both Christians and Non rather than just behaviour modification.

      As far as your Psalm 11:5 quote you often bring up. I’m not sure if I fully agree with you on how you are using that verse. Can you better define how you are using the word violence?

      Because when Jesus over turned the tables in the temple, that was fairly violent. Violence is through out the Old testament at Gods bidding. When you are saying violence it comes of as any act that can be deemed violent God hates. I don’t think that is what God is saying there. With that thinking you would have a problem with all of the soldiers who are at war and have been to war. I’m not saying you are, but thats the logical steps with how you have been using the term violent throughout some of these post. You also would have problems with LOTR, Narnia, including the Bible as they are packed with a lot of violence. If someone breaks into my house and were to attack my family I wouldn’t stand by and let it happen, but I would get violent and stop the intruder. I don’t believe God would hate me for that act. As we know God was quite violent when he poured that cup of wrath on to Jesus and the cross. If we don’t understand violence, we can’t grasped more fully the concept of our depravity and Jesus’ work of salvation on the cross.

      I’m not advocating for violence in videogames or other media, especially not senseless violence. I just want to make sure you are more clear when using that verse to back up your point.

      Not matter the source, we need to be discerning whether it is truly pointing us towards Jesus (Phil 4:8-9). Videogames are much more of a hot issue nowadays. It’s a new media compared to what has been around. In the past decade it has grown huge. To the right person books can be just as detrimental to a person as videogames can be. Because it’s new we aren’t sure how to react towards it. As Christians we shouldn’t be scared to engage with these types of things, but bold and creative in how we bring Jesus to this world.

      And for some, videogames are involved.

      Let me know what you think. I’m sure there are holes in my thinking and I’d like to have a different view on it so I can mature in my thinking.


      • Chris Julien

        Hey Caleb, thanks for your thoughts.

        It’s especially interesting to hear your thoughts about American Christianity here in the west. I would reiterate some of my points elsewhere, however, and say that yes, on one level video games can be just as distracting as books, tv, etc. But on another level, I think the medium of the computer game (along with TV, for that matter) leads it intrinsically to be unwise to engage in. For some background to my thoughts, check out McLuhan’s thoughts on Hot and Cold media, as well as T. David Gordon’s “Why Johnny Can’t Preach,” C.S. Lewis’ “Experiment in Criticism,” and Postman’s “Amusing Ourselves to Death.” Those books give a good background to much of my thinking.

        Yes, I agree that behavior modification alone isn’t the be all end all. Change needs to happen at the heart, and that happens only through the Holy Spirit. But I don’t think that means we shouldn’t seek to change our behaviors. I don’t think we should disregard either level (behaviors or the deeper “heart”) in our desire to be more like Christ.

        In my comment above I mentioned that I know I cannot say that playing video games is sinful, since it is not explicitly forbidden by the Bible. That’s why I’ve instead been insisting that they are unwise. I have wrestled with the whole engaging-the-culture side of it as well…I honestly don’t know what I think about that. I understand that thought, I’m just still struggling to see the justification for playing video games.

        I certainly don’t mean to sound condemning towards non-Christians, though I think, since my thoughts are based around wise living, they could certainly benefit from what I’ve tried to express. But anyways, I’ve certainly intended to direct my comments to the majority of readers of this blog- evangelical Christians. And I’m all for being all things to all people in order to win some; I just got back from spending three hours under the elevated train in Philadelphia at Kensington and Somerset, which is the worst drug corner in Philly, sharing the gospel with all who passed by. By God’s grace around 7 people went into recovery homes tonight and will begin the road to recovery from their addictions.

        Yea, that’s a good point, we need to define what we mean when we mention violence, as is found in Psalm 11:5. Simply put, I think it’s telling that this verse cuts right to the heart. Notice that it says, “…but his soul hates the wicked and the one who loves violence.” The emphasis seems to be on 1) wicked actions and 2) love of violence. So no, I do not think this condemns all soldiers, and obviously God is not condemning himself since he did pour out his wrath on Christ at the cross. Though, we must keep in mind that some attributes are in line with God’s character, such as jealousy, that are almost never acceptable in us (the exception that comes to mind is that a husband and wife can be jealous for one another in a holy way. But anyways…) Furthermore, glorifying himself is completely righteous and good for God to do, and that is the aim of all creation, whereas glorifying ourselves is never ok. My point is, just because God condemns something in us that doesn’t mean it also condemns the same attribute in him.

        But back to the thoughts on violence, the emphasis seems to be on the love of violence. So I think that a right apprehension and understanding of the reality of violence in our world is warranted; our world has been marred by sin, and to neglect the violence that is around us would be naive. So I think it comes down to cultivating a mind that tends towrads violent thoughts or enjoys violence for violence sake. So, in general, while soldiers are not condemned for fighting in a war, I would say it’s not right for a soldier to fight in a war if he does it out of a love for violence. In the same way, a gamer would be in the wrong if he played a game that is explicitly violent, since he knows that he is cultivating a mind, thought patterns, and enjoyment in something that God hates when it is adored, loved, etc. And I think we are very desensitized as far as violence is concerned in our culture.

        Thanks again for your thoughts. I would really encourage you to check out the books I’ve mentioned, because they describe a bit of what I’m thinking far better than I can express through these comments. Media Ecology is an extremely pertinent field to our contemporary culture, and one that should be studied at least a little bit by every Christian who wants to live wisely and take captive every thought to Christ in our current world.

        God bless! :)

  • Mark

    Well written. So many times have videogames been bashed as mindless entertainment simply because they are targeted towards males and children. The deceiving aspect about the “let’s target videogames” is that its the sole brain-waster of men and women. Yet as the author rightly points, any form of entertainment can at times serve no purpose: “Books can encourage both isolation and thoughtfulness; television can encourage passivity and empathy.” If you want attack entertainment, then you have to approach it as a whole and see where a person’s heart is when pursuing it: if that is a sole person’s way of gaining pleasure and insight in life, then its idol worship. That can be books, TV, movies, Internet, sports, social media etc.

    Personally, I too as a youth spent volumes of time as a gamer, and at times it was time wasted. Yet as I come to learn the Truth of God’s Word and His Grace, we come to view the world with a Biblical lens and that we should not subject our minds to the world but to the Holy Spirit. My pastor once advised me that with entertainment, we should not be subjected to it but rather have a critical view of it. This might include avoiding some forms of entertainment that would encourage sin, but there are moments we can see genuine benefits from some forms of entertainment.

    When I game now, instead of just setting goals to just beat the game and toss it aside, its more interesting now to notice the intricate design of games, the gameplay, graphics, narrative, and its overall worldview. With today’s advanced gaming structure, games have approached this scope, and have become like films very artistic. Some game’s overall plots are very rich and have some thoughtful points to them, such as many role-playing games that explore in-depth human themes, evil, relationships, and redemption. Some are pointless and have no need to played because they simply glorify violence and sexual immorality.

    With any form of entertainment, it is essential as believers of NOT setting legal boundaries about what we watch or do for fun, but have a child-like reliance on the Holy Spirit to guide us in all that we do and say. If VG’s causes us to shirk our responsibilities as believers, then we have genuine cause for concern and need conviction to pursue change.

  • Ben

    Thanks for the thoughtful, nuanced article.

    It reminds me of how many moms try to keep guns away from their kids. Some don’t allow guns at all, some allow toy guns but nothing that looks realistic, some have no problem with everything up to paintball guns, and some moms are ok with kids learning to shoot real guns. Those are individual parenting choices that each has to make, but in ALL of those cases there is a responsibility to teach kids why murder and killing are such horrible things in God’s sight. The real danger isn’t the tool, it’s the sin in the heart of the person holding it.

    Video games can be as challenging as chess and as beautiful as art, and to dismiss them entirely is to misunderstand their potential for good. Wasn’t it Augustine who dismissed theater because of its dangerous affect on the passions? And yet somehow we have shown that area to be quite redeemable.

    Making war against this medium as a medium is a valueless exercise. But teaching and encouraging the church to be wise and thoughtful about principles that should guide how we interact with the medium (and any other medium) is a great exercise, and I appreciate the steps taken here down that pathway.

  • denice

    I was going to write what Chris wrote, but he did it for me! I would just like to add that I feel like everyone is afraid to say “ABSTINENCE” is a great policy in all things that we seem to struggle with…..I thinkg “rejecting a form of entertainment” won’t change your sinful nature, but that’s not the point. Its to die to it, and rejecting seems like a winning course for young men. Our 19 year old has thanked us for protecting him from this form of entertainment.

  • Owen

    Many men who marry a woman, pursue children (whether naturally or through adoption), work hard to provide for their family, and serve their church are going to find it almost impossible to play video games for any meaningful amount of time. At least, if they are going to care for their souls, the souls of their wives, and the souls of their children.

    So, are video games inherently wrong? No. But, is it going to be wise for many men to spend much time at all playing video games? Definitely not.

    If, after pursuing a strong devotional walk, working hard all day at work, playing with his children and caring for them, spending quality time with his wife, serving his church in different ways, managing upkeep of the home, and doing any number of other tasks that are the very basic responsibilities of a typical adult man, a guy has time for video games, I suppose he’s free to play them. But again, if he’s living wisely, that will for most men amount to an infinitesimal amount of time. Life is hard, God is big, and there are lots more meaningful and needful things to do.

    • Ben

      I suppose then the same could be said of playing sports, playing chess, going for long leisurely walks, fishing, wathing sports on TV, or reading a non-edifying mystery novel.

      You’re also ignoring the many marriages where couples LIKE to play video games together, or the many couples and families who use video games as a way to connect. When I get together with my family, you can bet the Wii gets a great workout.

      And really, nothing about your point strikes me as Scriptural. Your perspective may describe wisdom in your life, but that fact does not make it the wisest or healthiest policy for everyone. Teaching people to “do as I say or do because it is meaningful for ME regardless of whether it is sin or not” is not a wise or healthy method of leadership. Instead, we should be teaching people to think through the Scriptural principles involved and show them how to apply those principles to their individual situations.

      • Chris Julien

        Yes Ben, much of the same could be said for those things, though they are radically different from video games. The comparison of video games to those things shows just how desperate we are to defend the validity of something that we know is not wise at all.

        Since certain people enjoy doing things together, that validates their doing so? Where is the Scripture in that?

        In my opinion, in defending video games (and many other useless ways that people waste their time) people essentially resort to the broken saying of the Corinthian church: “All things are lawful for me,” to which I respond, with Paul, that not all things are helpful or beneficial, and we should not be enslaved to anything. We are called to be disciples of Christ, and we are called to live wisely.

        Not to mention Psalm 11:5, which I wrote about in my first comment. The Lord hates those who love violence.

        “Forbid it, Lord, that I should boast,
        Save in the death of Christ my God!
        All the vain things that charm me most,
        I sacrifice them to His blood.”

        Those last two lines are not ones which the American church can sing without conviction of the Holy Spirit; notice the line is “vain” things, not “sinful” things.

        I pray we will wake up soon, because the plane of American Christianity is far from soaring; we are plummeting towards the ground as we choke on our own mindless laughter and watch wise living, faithful stewardship, and radical discipleship eject out of the plane. We look back at them as they whip behind us in the wind, and we faintly remember what they were like, or we timidly dream of what we could have been if only we had heeded them; but all too quickly we drown out our discouraging thoughts in a torrent of noise as we put our headphones back in and return to killing baddies.

        God bless.

        • Ben


          I would ask you to listen carefully to the nuance in the above article. The question isn’t whether video games hold potential for being unhelpfully addictive. They do. And the question isn’t whether spending massive amounts of time to the exclusion of responsibilities, relationships, and the proclamation of the gospel on video games is wrong. It is.

          Instead, the questions are these: Do blanket statements about video games as inherently wrong fail to note the valuable and redemptive value of the medium? And do those statements incorrectly diagnose the problem as one of medium rather than the condition of the heart?

          The simple answers are yes and yes. The church has found plenty of ways to enjoy and appreciate the redemptive possibilities in theater, in fictional literature, in radio, in television, and in the Internet… and more and more we are seeing the emergence of ways video games can have those redemptive possibilities as well.

          The article above doesn’t sugarcoat or fail to acknowledge the dangers you note. It simply highlights the fact that the medium has all sorts of helpful possibilities, and so our goal should be discernment and wisdom in how we use the medium rather than fear or absolute rejection.

          Making redemptive use of new mediums and advancements has always been a difficult task, but it is one the church should take seriously and with calls to wisdom rather than angrily with calls to overkill abstinence (as opposed to say, premarital sex or adultery, which SHOULD include calls to abstinence because the acts in themselves are sinful).

          • Chris Julien


            Yes, I do hear the subtle nuances of the article, I just disagree with them. I believe that there is little to nothing redemptive about video games, and I think we are fooling ourselves to believe that we really are doing ourselves a favor by playing them for any amount of time. I think it is foolish and unwise living. I’m aware that this is unpopular or radical to say, but that’s what I think. I know I cannot prove that it is inherently sinful to play video games, but I do think it is unwise and a waste of the time that God has given us here on earth.

            I have gone back and forth on all this in my life (which is not very long; I am young) but I keep landing here: I’m convicted of wasted time and wasted potential, and therefore I’ve come to the belief that playing video games is unwise.

            I would also disagree with you on the redemptive possibilities on the things you list. Well let me rephrase: of course God works in all that we do and uses things for our good. We can learn from anything we do. But I do not believe that means we should do all things, or that we have free reign to do as we please simply because we know that something redemptive will come from it. And so I disagree with you. I believe that there is little redemptive about TV in particular, but also in movies this is true, though to a lesser extent. Radio is different from TV and theater in large ways, and books are a completely different animal altogether. And I believe books are “redemptive,” or, in other words, a part of wise living.

            I agree that we need to use wisdom in evaluating new mediums; I just think the wisest thing in this case is abstinence.

            Take a look at C.S. Lewis’ “Experiment in Criticism,” T. David Gordon’s “Why Johnny Can’t Preach,” Todd Gitlin’s “Media Unlimited,” and Postman’s “Technopoly” and “Amusing Ourselves to Death” in order to get a feel for where I’m coming from. But if you only read three, get the C.S. Lewis, T. David Gordon, and “Amusing Ourselves to Death.” They will radically altar how you view new mediums and how we as people use art, TV, and books.

            And thanks for showing graciousness and gentleness in your responses; I’ve been fairly adamant or blunt, and I’m not trying to be angry, and so it’s refreshing to see you not respond harshly (which is often what happens in this blog’s comments!) So thanks for that my brother. I know it can seem intense since I’m disagreeing with Americas main forms of entertainment (TV, video games, etc.) so thank you for simply talking with me about it and not yelling, as it were.

            God bless.

            • Ben

              I can understand your perspective, Chris. Perhaps one key difference for us is our view in response life experiences. I have a tendency to push back on authoritative statements regarding how “everyone” ought to live simply because in the experience of that leader, the life they articulate is a better life. This approach has a dangerous tendency toward legalism, and I think it is the responsibility of godly church leaders to focus on training the church in discernment rather than categorically telling them what they can and can’t do.

              Josh Harris gave a fantastic talk on this called, “Where We Are Growing” in which he helpfully articulates the difference between principle and practice… we derive our principles from Scripture, but we need to be very cautious about telling “everyone” that they need to have a certain PRACTICE. So, for example, it’s great to practice leadership in the home by homeschooling your kids, but Scripture does not require it so it is important not to suggest that one person is being a better Christian by homeschooling when someone else sends their kids to public school.

              Your fire and passion are good things, and I can appreciate your desire to challenge yourself in areas that were previously stumbling blocks for you. I think your willingness to challenge your old self is wise and healthy. But to be clear, I would be unwilling to, say, put you in front of my church with this message. It could easily hurt and confuse where no chastisement or confusion is necessary, and it would be failing in my goal of encouraging solid hermeneutics and wise discernment rather than a dangerous leaning toward legalism and authoritarianism.

              Anyways, I certainly wish Godspeed to you as you pursue holiness in your life. I hope, though, you will also continue to think about what it means to lead others with patience and nuance while avoiding the dangers of oversimplification.

              And I’ll be sure to read those articles and books you recommend. ;-)

            • Chris Julien

              Yea, I think we just have to agree to disagree on this one, but it’s ok because you’re still my brother in Christ that I love :) I understand the desire to want to fight against legalism…I just feel that I cannot stand by and watch thousands of Christian men do what I consider to be a waste of our minds and, ultimately, foolish behavior.

              I’m very far from legalism, in which we earn our righteousness or standing before God by adhering to certain principles or codes of conduct. I’m also not trying to lay unnecessary burdens on the shoulders of others: but I do want us to discern hard and wisely what it means to live for Christ, even when that means we give up all of our most cherished toys. I’m through and through gospel-centered (to say it succinctly.) Even in the past week I have talked with prostitutes, drug addicts, and homeless men and women in Philadelphia, sharing the good news of Jesus Christ and salvation for all who would call on his name- and I didn’t ask if they played video games :) I say this not to boast, just to point out that I’m not, shall we say, caught up in suburban, upper-middle class Christianity. I’m in the thick of urban life, and I don’t tend towards legalism.

              But I would press you to consider that just because I fall on the side of abstinence, that doesn’t mean I’m not using wise discernment. The middle of the road isn’t always best. I fear that we are far too easily fooled and deceived by all our entertainment here in the U.S. I wonder what the Lord will say to us Americans, who have been given the most in history and who have chosen to squander their time and money on their passions and preferences rather than furthering the kingdom of God. When Christ called a man to come and follow him, he bid him to come and die.

              I know one helpful, potentially convicting thought in all of this is how much we have hidden the Word of God in our hearts. Are we able to memorize sports statistics, the latest pop song, lines for a play, our favorite movie quotes, and video game strategies, but unable to memorize any significant amount of Scripture? I can’t imagine us truly believing that we have been faithful stewards of the unbelievable gift of God’s Word when this is the case, especially since it seems like we now have more Bibles in the U.S. than ever before in all of history.

              I would also reiterate Psalm 11:5, and say that those who revel in the constant violence of many video games need to think hard on this verse and conform their life to the pattern of Scripture. We must be holy as God is holy. That’s not legalism, that 1 Peter 1:13-16.

              I’ll check out that sermon :)

              God bless.

            • zilch

              Chris and Ben- I’d just like to point out, again, that these are pressing issues for those of us who are not Christians as well, and I don’t believe there are any easy answers. Of course gaming can become an addiction and consume one’s life, or at least use up time that might have been put to better purposes. As many have pointed out, however, the same could be said of any pastime that is not directly involved in saving the world (however you might conceive of that). I don’t see any harm in gaming as long as one is grounded in the real world, in which case gaming will remain a harmless occasional pastime.

              I do see a problem in the medium itself, when carried to extremes: getting all or most of one’s perceptions of life from a computer or TV screen, regardless of whether it’s Quake 3, a televangelist sermon, or Dawkins on Youtube, is an impoverished way of looking at the world. I heartily endorse talking to one’s wife or husband, or going for a walk in the woods, over staring at those pixels (of course, I’m doing the same at the moment, but I’ll be back to planing and carving in a minute…).

              The real problem I see with gaming, and porn and televangelists for that matter, is not that they are evil in themselves, but that they all represent gross oversimplifications of the real world, and they are attractive and insidious because of this oversimplification.

              As with many things, it’s hard to say where a good balance may be drawn.

              cheers from sunny and cybernetic Vienna, zilch

      • Owen

        Ben, snarky tone aside, thanks for the intelligent feedback.

        For most people, playing video games does not foster community nearly as well as many of the activities you listed. I’ve played a number of games in the past and can testify firsthand to the way that players often “lock in” to the game. Some games do make it possible to work together and even learn things. But video games are more involving than many other activities–which is a HUGE part of why they are so addicting. I write this as someone who could play Team Fortress Classic as a sniper, or NBA Live as a Celtic, for hours.

        Even watching a basketball game with a friend is far less involving than many games. Now, perhaps the Wii is fun for company. I’m open to that. But even there, if I had a buddy who wanted to play Wii all the time, I would think that a bit Wii-rd, as I think many folks would. Video games are a young man’s enterprise, I think, at least by and large.

        So for a number of reasons I think they are different than many other leisure activities. It’s harder to talk to someone about other things. Gaming takes much more concentration than even watching sports. Because it is usually pretty intense, that means responsible, family-building, wife-loving, church-serving men are going to have, in ordinary terms, precious little time for it. Maybe some will protest this to the skies, but I honestly think it’s a pretty obvious reality.

        In terms of your BibleScanTest, yes, I didn’t cite Bible, because, um, there’s not very much in 1 John about, well, video games. By the by, in fitting irony, you didn’t cite any, either. If I were to seek to make an explicit biblical case, and not merely to try to use common-sense, biblically informed wisdom (informed in the sense that the importance I attach to the family is clearly driven by biblical teaching from texts like Deuteronomy 6 and 1 Timothy 3), I might point to Proverbs, which chapters like 6, 13, and 26 has a good deal to say about the sluggard.

        In my own experience, and the experience of many others, video games induce lethargy, sluggishness, and apathy. I remember a brilliant guy at my college who essentially lost himself in the world of video games. He almost flunked simply because of games, which are by and large for children.

        I’m okay with a little gaming here and there. The Wii is okay (though not nearly as fun as, say, actual tennis!). But there’s at least SOME connection here to the infantilization of American culture. We’re doing kid things. Someone might say, well, playing soccer is a kid thing. To which I would say: 1) it’s less isolary than gaming, but also 2) you’re right. Grown-up men doing grown-up things, should God bless, will have a heap of trouble finding time to play games of any kind.

        • Ben


          I’ll lay aside any snarkiness, then, because I do think there is a really important discussion to be had here.

          First, there’s really no question about whether many video games are intense, about whether they hold potential for addiction, or about whether many young men have destroyed themselves in their obsession with video games. I think Rich was quite accurate and generous in admitting that problem and the need to speak against it. Repeating the charge that they hold those dangers isn’t confirmation that video games shouldn’t be played, it’s just restatement of a fact we all agree on already anyways.

          Rich’s article asks for examination of how the medium can be used well. That’s a pretty fair request; the church has had to deal with changing mediums throughout history, including theater, fictional books, magazines, newspapers, radio, television, and the internet. In every case, there are plenty of ways to misuse mediums. And in every case, there are many examples of people falling deeply into sin in a way that wasn’t available to them before the medium came about. However, in every case, the church has also found ways to make each medium a part of everyday life in a healthy way. The answer is not to live life by not watching plays, not reading fiction, not listening to the radio, not watching TV, or not using the Internet. The answer instead is to live in a constant state of vigilance and accountability, so that the many tools available to us are used wisely.

          I’ve heard this language around the, “ideal Christian man,” many times, and I don’t mind it if some people want to live that way. That doesn’t mean it’s the right type of life for everyone. I’m sure I would be a terrible fit for your life, but in the same way I know you would be a terrible fit for mine. Christian leaders seem to have some sense that by making blanket statements about what the ideal Christian “should” or “should not” do, they are protecting the church. However, this sort of “leadership” almost inevitably sways into a form of legalism, whereby Christians are held to standards above and beyond the standards God laid down in Scripture. Again, I highly recommend the talk Josh Harris gave called “Where We Are Growing” where he discusses the difference between Principle and Practice. It’s good to derive principles from Scripture- don’t be lazy, lead and care for your family, do not be mastered by anything, etc. However, when we start trying to be overly controlling of Practice, we can easily depart from the standards God set. This has a way of alienating and hurting people who are seeking to honor God but whose lives look somewhat different from the lives of their leaders for whatever reason. Sovereign Grace, for instance, has recently had to take a long and careful look at the way they have not paid attention to this distinction. And the many arguments about things like smoking, drinking, and dancing within the Southern Baptist denomination are centered around the same problem.

          There reason that Scriptural warrant is important is because in the way you make your case, you are telling people to live their lives differently, according to a particular standard you believe to be a good one. But the Christian life is one of Christ-centered worship and freedom. When we limit ourselves in various areas, it’s because God has clearly stated where the lines are drawn, and we avoid those sins out of love and respect for God. In the above article, Rich does a great job of clearly stating the continuing need to stay away from sin and to set boundaries that protect from addiction and irresponsibility… but he also makes a strong case that the medium itself has many redeemable qualities, thereby creating space for it to be used well and wisely (as opposed to, say, pornography, which has no similar redeemable value because it is automatically based on pure sin).

          Christian leadership is a funny thing… people want and need direction, and a good leader provides it. However, a Christian leader must also be in continual submission to both the commands God gives and the freedoms He provides to his children. I do not mind a Christian leader saying, “If video games cause you to sin, it is wise to stay away. And even if they do not, it is wise to make sure you have accountability in your life to make sure you use them responsibly.” But I DO mind Christian leaders who take it upon themselves to demand a higher standard than Christ demands. Rich does a great job here of showing why there is and can continue to be a good space in life for video games. I hope lots of Christian leaders read his argument and realize their need to encourage wisdom and discernment, rather than doggedly promoting an “ideal life” that is nowhere proscribed in Scripture.

          Nobody is asking you to say mindless addiction to a video game is morally neutral any more than they would ask you to say mindless addiction to watching ESPN or mindless addiction to working in the garden is morally neutral. We’re just trying to show that video games have room for Christians too, and it would be nice for those who are exploring that space to not have to put up with denunciations they do not deserve and that are not Scripturally warranted.

        • Drew


          I play games and write about them for Christian outlets so that probably makes my comment have zero validity but here is to hoping you will look beyond your definition of a Christian man and hear me out.

          I think you have a woefully ignorant understanding of the medium of videogames. It is probably not your fault though and I don’t fault you for this. The game industry looks largely juvenile–most games you see in commercials on TV are silly games about bros with guns. The industry is diversify rapidly however and there are a growing number of games aimed at all different kinds of demographics. There are games about fatherhood, our relationship to God, the struggle of faith, the futility of violence, and man’s need for redemption. Games are doing fascinating things, if we are willing to look beyond the puerile veneer that the biggest games have presented us with.I don’t spend much time on puerile games. I play a lot of indie games–games that are saying something interesting about the human experience/condition. I think games can do a lot more than they are doing now and I hope that they will mature such that they offer us more than mere entertainment.

          Additionally, since you back your argument with examples of people who have ruined their lives with games, I can tell you that I play probably less than a hour a day. I never play games as a replacement for family time. I play them with my family at times. I play them with friends and I can assure you that in my neck of the woods, many of the games I play with friends are far less involving than watching college football with them. You should see how much fun can be had playing Dance Central with a group of students.

          And that is part of the issue to isn’t it? Is there value in leisure? How much leisure is ok? How much time in a day is a Christian man free to spend leisurely? Should all his leisure be focused on encouraging his wife, family, and church? I appreciate the questions you are bringing up, but I think Ben has a point in questioning whether making implicit principles in these areas is healthy. I have known people who have an unhealthy affiliation with games–I am not comfortable leaving them in such a position without challenging them to overcome such an addiction, but neither am I comfortable calling out the people (not just men mind you) who enjoy games leisurely in healthy doses.

    • James Rednour

      I don’t play video games, but your post sounds like a recipe for burnout. Every person needs an outlet whether it is reading, exercising, watching movies or playing video games. A life devoted only to responsibilities and no joy is not going to be one you enjoy for long.

      Moderation is always the key.

  • John

    Thank you! I have been sick to death by ridiculous legalistic claims of certain individuals who say video games are the cause of sin. While I dont play games but once in a great while, I can say it has had no negative affect in my life, I countinue to work my 40 hour job and spend quality time with the people in my life and in my church. These legalistic people who condemn video games really need to chill

  • Michael

    Excellent article. I think you nailed what needs to be understood among Christians in regards to the subject of this medium.

    I think in the end, people who hold tightly to opposition of video games as art are sometimes those who struggle with finding relevance in art altogether. My grandfather who I loved dearly, found it very difficult to see “fiction” as useful, much less video games.

    I remember making him sit down in front of a computer take a look at RIVEN (Myst’s sequel) to try to argue that not all video games rot your brain; rather work it.

    Speaking of Myst; I would argue that not only was it a breakthrough in the idea of gaming as art…but that it was a game that had Christian truths woven within the framework of the story; I’ve always thought of it as “The Lord of the Rings” of video games. (Myst being the hobbit….Riven being the trilogy)

    I would love to see the future of gaming produce more work that truly can be seen as “good art”…which is art that honors our creator.

  • Aaron Meares

    Mr. Clark,
    You conclude that, “the problem isn’t so much with the medium as with the naïve and thoughtless ways we indulge ourselves… What we choose to play, we must learn to responsibly engage.”
    The Zimbardo and Duncan article was on the effects of video games *and* online porn. Would your conclusions apply to both?

    • Richard Clark

      That’s a great question, Aaron.

      I isolated the videogame subject here because I think most of this audience understands the inherent problems with porn. I would not apply my conclusions to porn, but to sex instead. Porn is by definition a perverted and deceptive warping of God’s gift of sex. When we choose to have sex, we must do so in a way that is responsible, and God-honoring, which presupposes it being in the context of a monogamous married relationship.

  • Alan Noble


    You, like most “gamers” missed the crucial issue here: broken-hand syndrome, otherwise known as “over-use syndrome.”

    I used to be an avid gamer until my hands began causing me increasing pain to the point where I had difficulty typing or using a remote pain-free.

    Admittedly, I am the only one who has experienced this problem that I am aware of, but Science tells us that when one event precedes a second event, the first event must be, Logically, the cause. Therefore, we can know that many youths will soon be suffering greatly thanks to “video” “games” once their hands follow mine into uselessness.

    That, my friend, is the True Video Game Crisis.

    • scott cunningham

      Man. When I think about how because of video games, these people can’t even pantomime the real-life “hand-quotes” because of video games, it makes me mad. “Mad”! It’s like a silent epidemic.

  • Chris

    The best answer is simple: cut out all the non-edifying aspects of your life. Cut out everything that is not worship to God. We were created to glorify and spread the glory of our Creator, so in an ideal world we would cut out all things that do not do that.
    However, is that realistic as the extent of our life? After a long day of work and studying for my education, followed by reading the Word and exercising, I am mentally exhausted. Reading further theological work generally is not accomplished, unfortunately. Also, I love sports and spend time several times a week listening to the baseball game on the radio, and I don’t see how that it’s so different than playing a video game.
    As far as the video games go, I used to a be a 40 hour/week World of Warcraft player (years ago) because I had the time in college, but don’t play much at all now due to a lack of time.

  • Shawn Woo

    It’s helpful to get a gamer’s perspective on this. Mr. Clark is indeed right that thoughtless indulgence is an underlying problem, and redemptive uses of video games should be explored. However, I’d maintain that arousal addictions such as video games and porn are particularly insidious and pervasive, and that these media in particular demand a focused response from the Church. Here is my take on Dr. Zimbardo’s article from a pastoral counseling perspective (

    • Chris

      If we are to attack video games and pornography, we must be consistent. All addictive behaviors must be approached; whether it is facebook, fantasy sports, fiction novels, pornography, or video games. In the end, everything that does not matter should be attacked for what it is, useless.

  • B.C. Askins

    Jane McGonigal’s gaming research states that the average gamer plays 10,000 hours of video games by age 21 (see her book “Reality Is Broken”).

    That is enough time to become an EXPERT at anything else…

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  • Bill Delvaux

    Thanks for the balanced approach. I teach may young men. I don’t blast video games, but I do tell them that they are a psuedo-adventure. It’s not the real deal that they are looking for or that they need. They need men to test them and they need to be testing themselves. Unfortunately, video games offer neither.

  • http://facebook Stella

    It’s unfortunate those who defend gaming have obviously not done their research on the creators of these games. Their history and motives are less than acceptable. The problem is not only the games, but the creators, and they should not be making millions off of Christians with Christian morals.

  • scott cunningham

    I’m with Alan. The problem with Rich’s post is his blatant disregard for the physical effect video games have on people’s hands. I know a guy who used to lead a barely normal everyday life. Then he started playing video games. Now he’s bald and has broken hands. It’s a true story. I just emailed him.

  • Jonah Stowe

    In the 18th century, literary and cultural elites were suspicious of a new medium called “the novel,” and suspected that these “novels” would ruin everything good about literature. Socrates worried that writing would ruin our ability to remember things. New forms of media have always been greeted with suspicion, but without fail, within a generation or two, those forms have been normalized and often shown to be beneficial. The human penchant for creativity pushes us to find news ways of making; our goal should be, then, to make things that are both true and good. That means wrestling with the falleness of our world and drawing attention to our nature as God’s image-bearers. I think video games have a lot to contribute here, and I’m glad for the work that Richard and others are doing to help Christians recognize this good.

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  • Nathanial Sullivan

    It is really beautiful that there is so much discussion on this post and I think it is testing and trying us all in a Christ exalting way.

    I would like to point out that this discussion is happening on the internet, and has been over a 2 day period. That is a lot of time on the internet and not doing other things we could/should be doing. Just like these kinds of conversations transpired decades ago over the exact medium we are using now, they will continue over video games. Down the line it will be some “new” temptation for our affections and we will need the same grace then as we do now in order to navigate a fallen world with fallen hearts.

    That being said I cant wait to play Mario Galaxy 2 with my wife!

    • Michael

      My wife loved playing that with me :)

  • RN

    I think there are some good points to the article, but the main issue to me with video games, much like Facebook and social media, is that they serve as massive drains of time and life that could otherwise be spent in God-honoring pursuits.
    When you meet a pastor/seminarian who openly enjoys video games, ask them how well they know the original Biblical languages…

  • Andrew

    Good article. While I agree with some commentators that the American church is suffering from a lack of commitment (particularly from younger men), we should also be mindful of another dangerous fallacy pervades Christian discussions around leisure. When confronting the entertainment culture, some Christians tend to over-correct by holding that any time not spend striving on behalf of the kingdom is time wasted. This results in the “Christian workaholic” who struggles with guilt over any time not used to pour themselves out. This attitude results in “Christian burnout”; similar to when burning out on a job, the mind, body, and soul eventually cry uncle. Why do pastors, counselors, teachers, missionaries, and other “helping professions” have such high burnout rates? I believe it’s because we either convince ourselves that proper self-care is somehow “selfish”, or else lose sight of responsibility to ourselves out of passion for our service.
    Everyone needs to fill up their personal gas tanks in order to keep going. Most older, wiser Christian leaders have learned to find a sort of balance in my experience. We all need time away with the Lord, sleep, food, exercise, fresh air, relationships, and yes, sometimes even leisure. Pleasure and rest are not the purpose of life, but they are a part of our nature as God created us.
    Are there plenty of ethical issues to consider around video games? You bet, and I’m glad to see the author taking a balanced perspective here. Is playing video games for 20 hours per week a good thing? I highly doubt it. Is getting a little R&R through video games, a movie, golf, a Sunday drive, watching sports, fishing, et. al. wrong or even unhelpful? In most cases, absolutely not! We cannot serve others if we have nothing to give. Leisure in moderate doses isn’t just an excusable thing, it is actually a good thing.

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  • Zach

    As many have said before, I think if we are going to bash video games, we need to bash every other form of medium of entertainment–books, movies, watching sports, etc.

    To say that other forms of media are not as “mindless” as video games really only demands one response: you are ignorant. If you read fiction books and consider them edifying, at least in the sense that you expand your creativity, then the same can be said for video games. We are no longer playing Pong here people… There are intricate stories and universes that come with the same territory as a book or a movie.

    That being said… we need not let such a medium have mastery over us. Like in all cases of entertainment. Video games can be good, but they also can become an idol. Reading books can be good, but they also can become an idol.

    I am thankful for this article because at least the author has the context down. If we are putting games, or any form of entertainment before our God, our wife, our children, etc. We need to step back and re-examine our hobby.

    • Chris Julien

      The universes of Starcraft, Halo, Warcraft, and Diablo (to name a few) are not nearly as intricate as those of Lord of the Rings and many other fantasy books. Using the imagination to immerse oneself in a fiction novel is completely different from observing a digital one in which the main focus is not the story, but rather the successful accomplishment of missions, slaying monsters, and proving our worth. A story might be a component of video games, but you’re kidding yourself if you think there is anything close to the intricacy, plot development, and character progression as in real books. Stories exist in video games because they have to, but they are poor shadows and paltry comparisons to well-written fantasy books.

      And I’m all for evaluating those forms of entertainment which Americans have held dear. I think a reconsideration needs to occur of what it means to have times of leisure that are pleasing to God. But I don’t think it’s because they are all on the same playing field; those mediums are very, very different.

      Check out C.S. Lewis’ “Experiment in Criticism,” T. David Gordon’s “Why Johnny Can’t Preach,” and Neil Postman’s “Amusing Ourselves to Death” in order to get a more complete picture of how different mediums interact with and engage our minds, as well as the importance of developing the contemplative sensibilities that are becoming more and more rare in contemporary American culture.

      In short, to say that if we are to bash video games we must bash all else is to show that you are largely ignorant of the basic differences of various mediums. To compare books to computers to television to movies and not consider the inherent differences in their mediums is to be ignorant of most if not all of media ecological and social science work in these fields in the past 40 years.

      God bless.

      • Zach

        I agree, the universes of Starcraft, Halo, Warcraft, and Diablo (to name a few) are not nearly as intricate as those of Lord of the Rings, but some may actually disagree, as your view of intricacy is completely subjective. Someone may prefer the universe of Warcraft and its intricacy, both the games and the many books written on the subject, to the likes of The Lord of the Rings.

        Stories in games aren’t there because they have to be, in fact, some stories can be better communicated through games than in novels because of the added layers of interactivity. Games like Shadow of the Colossus and Journey can really only be appreciated through the medium of interactivity of video games.

        I agree with you that we absorb the various mediums differently, but that only is a testament to how we should diversify our interests rather than excluding one, namely video games. If while reading a fiction book I develop a certain skill, and playing a story-driven game I develop another skill, why should one be outright eliminated? I am not arguing that story-telling in games replaces story-telling in books. I am arguing that story-telling in games, or at least the experience of interactivity, can be just as effective as that of a book.

        The whole “video games are a waste of time” statement IS an ignorant statement, as there are games you can play that are focused on building a universe and a story–the same intention as a book. Should we balance our intake between books, games, movies, and other forms of art? Absolutely. Can each one be ‘good’ for us in its own right? Absolutely.

        • Chris Julien

          It isn’t so much that we absorb them differently, it’s that they are able to communicate different themes and messages differently, irrespective of the actual content of the video game. Form, not content, is one of the major problems with the medium of video games. The point is that lasting, beneficial, contemplative skills are not developed nearly so well or at all in video games as they are in other activities that we engage in, such as reading and writing (actual writing, not typing).

          Just because the intentions are the same, that doesn’t mean their success is. We must consider not only the good outcomes, but also the bad. I fear that this has not been seriously done in the case of video games.

          Look, you really do need to do some reading on the topic to order to understand the critique. Try to find and read works by Stuart Hall and Marshall McLuhan, especially McLuhan’s thoughts on hot and cold media, and also the books that I listed. Not much more can be effectively communicated until there is a larger grasp of the media ecological concerns that scholars have raised about these issues of contemporary culture.

          Furthermore, every game that is played must be put through the reality of Psalm 11:5 to see if it stands the test of peace, as we could call it. Psalm 11:5 proclaims a truth of God’s character that no gamer has interacted with in these comments, though I have mentioned it several times. (Perhaps because they simply don’t want to give up their games.)

          God bless.

          • Zach

            I would be open to reading any critique on this matter and will definitely take note of the books you recommended.

            Obviously I hold to what Ps. 11:5 states, and which is why I don’t play games that promote violence, not that I am aware of too many games that actual promote/endorse violence.

            I would question which games you have played, because I think lasting, beneficial, contemplative skills are obtained via video games. Puzzle games involve logic and problem solving; story games involve tracking a story, searching for contradictions, etc.; sports games involve interactivity with other people, etc.

            There are many upon many people I have witnessed to because we share the common hobby of video games. There are many relationships I have that could not have been had without my interest in video games. If I have mastery over such a hobby, by the grace of God, and I develop skills that grow and challenge my mind and expand my creativity, I do not see the issue with having gaming as a hobby.

          • Dag

            “The point is that lasting, beneficial, contemplative skills are not developed nearly so well or at all in video games as they are in other activities that we engage in, such as reading and writing (actual writing, not typing).”

            When movies were first being created, they were rather shallow in comparison with books. It takes time to learn a new medium’s strengths and weaknesses.

            Movies have the potential to use visual cues, music, and our own innate compassion to immediately engage us emotionally in ways that it takes a very good writer a lot of pages to try to match.

            Video games have potential to engage us as well, by making us actors in what’s going on on the screen. Most games currently make little use of this, but then there are games like Braid.

            I will not spoil Braid’s ending because the power of games, like memory, lies in the experience. I will say that it affected myself and others profoundly in ways that movies and books have failed to. A movie or a book would rely to some extent on preaching or showing. This game actually forced a change in perspective through direct experience. In my particular case, and I do not exaggerate, it dramatically helped my marriage.

            So condemn specific games with reason, and engage in gaming, as with all activities, judiciously. But do not condemn a medium simply because you have not found its uses yet.

      • Jonah Stowe

        So Chris, how would you respond to my earlier comment on the historical reality that new media are generally met with skepticism and suspicion? In the 1700s, your defense of the novel would have immediately labeled you as a proponent of the degradation of western civilization. Should we not look to these kinds of historical developments to inform our reactions and interactions with new cultural developments? I’m also interested in how you’re reading Lewis’s essay, because I’m not quite clear on how you think it serves as support for your position.

        • Chris Julien

          Hey Jonah,

          Yes, it is interesting that new media are generally met with skepticism, though I think we have to admit that in our generation there has been little skepticism and much unquestioning acceptance of the radical new forms of technology that have been developed. But I do think that, from history, we learn the valuable lesson that new media should be tested and thought through before being embraced. And in some ways, I agree with Socrates’ fear, as I think we see its completion in Google; what I mean is, if Socrates was right, and writing caused us to lose some of our ability to remember things, than Google has caused us to no longer remember things at all, but rather to remember where to find those things. I think we learn a lot from history when we look not at the fact that media were resisted but the specific reasons why.

          But I don’t think it’s the best course of action to assume that since something will be normalized in the future we should just accept it now and look for the good it in. I think, as Christians, we should question whether it should be normalized, and then go from there. And my point is, I don’t think video games should be normalized.

          New cultural developments don’t just enhance or adjust our way of life; in the end they give us a radically new world in which it feels impossible to go back in time to the old one. (For example, can you really imagine living in a world without the internet? I largely cannot.) I think that’s one reason why we should be cautious and evaluative at the start instead of being unquestioningly open-armed, because our decisions to embrace technology have far-reaching consequences. Check out a short blog I wrote that explores the depth to which we as humans have changed in the past 100 years due to technological advancements:

          As far as the Lewis essay, I point it out merely because it sets forth a view of art which “few” cultivate, yet which, I believe, is important and a worthwhile sensibility to develop. His essay, if read, would help define and clarify what we mean when we say things like “video games have become artistic, like movies” and “video games can be as challenging and beautiful as art.” In light of his essay, and especially the first 40 pages or so, those thoughts show themselves to be largely mistaken.

          God bless.

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  • Chris Comis

    Good article. Some very good points were made in the comments here as well.

    I think there are some other perspectives that need to be addressed and brought into the discussion, which I think will help clarify some issues:

    1) Unlike the machines we use, men are not machines that are “made” to act a certain way by our environment. We need to distinguish between environmental conditioning and mechanical causation. Our environment does condition us in certain ways (obviously), but it does not mechanically cause us to act in certain ways. Indeed, our environment cannot treat us like robots. God has so ordered us and His creation such that there is no necessary order of causation between our environment and our actions. We have freedom of will, freedom of conscience, and freedom of thought because God has graciously given us these freedoms; and He has done so in a world that He freely created. Contrary to popular (mis)conceptions about Newton’s mechanical cosmos, the real cosmos God made fits quite nicely with the free people He also made to go in it.

    My point in all this is just to say that whenever we try to fix a point of necessary causation between our actions and some thing or event in the created world, we thereby end up turning the creature into the Creator. In other words, we end up manufacturing just another idol. And ironically, this doesn’t just happen to those who enslave themselves to things like video games, but also to those who place a kind of automatic and mechanical causation between the gaming and the gamer. There is no ex opere operato in the contingent world God has made (video gaming not excepted). Only God has the right and authority over His human subjects to cause “whatsoever comes to pass.”

    So God has so ordered the world and everything in it that no creature (created thing or event) has the kind of necessary causation between it and us that God Himself has over us. Our freedom is only grounded in God’s freedom, and in what He freely chooses for us. Our freedom is never ultimately grounded in any created thing, video games included. And our sins are therefore never ultimately grounded in any created thing, video games included. We must learn to take full and complete responsibility for both our freedoms and our sins, if we are going to deal faithfully with this issue of “gaming.”

    2) So having said all this about our God-given freedoms, etc., what influence does our environment have over us? If we know it’s not a necessary influence, but only a contingent one, what kind of contingent influences does it have? Gaming, like any other activity we do, does not have the power to control us anymore than God gives it. Ultimately, it is God and God alone who gives men over to their darkened hearts and minds. This includes giving men over to their unbridled passions and pleasures. This includes giving young men over to their “gaming” activities. It’s God who gives freedom and it’s God who can take this same freedom away. This is why the bible is replete with warnings against using our freedom as a license for sin. The same God who gave us the freedom in Christ to do these kinds of things, can also take away this freedom when it is abused. Young men (or older men) who sit around playing video games all day are abusing this God-given freedom. And so what does God do in response? He gives them over to become slaves to their passions and pleasures. In other words, He takes away what freedom they had and makes them “slaves to the game” instead.

    So I think the warning we should be giving these young men is the same warning we would give to anyone who is being tempted to become enslaved again to the “elementary things of the world.” Stop lusting after the leaks and onions of the old world, and start moving into the new heavens and the new earth that Christ has purchased for you. Start taking dominion over your flesh and the lusts thereof because your baptism was a pledge that was put upon you which declares this reality about you. Your baptism was a declaration about you that your flesh has been crucified with Christ, and that you no longer live in the flesh according to the elementary principles of the world, but according to Christ and the laws of His inaugurated kingdom. Stop trying to feed what has been put to death. Dead things don’t eat very well. Start feeding the Spirit who has taken up residency in your new body (or temple). You are now a temple servant of the Lord (i.e. a priest) whose job it is to feed the Spirit with your whole body as a “living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your rational service.” (Rom 12:1)

    3) So practically speaking, how does this all work itself out? I think young men in our day are often treated like little boys well into their adult years. Which means they really aren’t given the mantle of manhood and told to go out and take dominion over the world. We perpetually treat them like little boys and then wonder why they never grow up. Young men need to be given hard and difficult tasks. They need to learn very early on that unless the Lord blesses them in these difficult tasks, then their labor is in vain. In other words, they must be given tasks that are well beyond what they in their own strength can accomplish. Obviously, this too must be conducted with wisdom and prudence, and according to their frame. But nonetheless, giving them tasks to do which you know are going to force them to turn to the Lord as their ever-present help in time of trouble and need, will nurture them to grow up into godly manhood. And to be blunt, most gaming is not going to accomplish this for most young men. There may be some games out there that could be useful in helping this process along. Indeed, I think a wise parent will discern which games will help this process along, but no parent should be so foolish as to believe that a boy raised on a steady diet of playing video games is going to know how to fulfill his missional mandate to take dominion over himself, his future family, and the world.

    I agree with some who have argued that video gaming can be a great source for learning to live and move and interact in the real world, but this should be the exception and not the norm. This is a fun exception that actually proves the norm. The norm is learning to live and move and interact face-to-face with real flesh and blood people. The kind of interfacing that takes place while gaming is a very dim reflection of the kind of face-to-face interaction that real people undergo everyday. It’s like living in world of shades and shadows rather than in the world of real sunlight and dirt. Video games try to replicate this real life stuff, but in the end they always come up falling way too short. As G.K. Chesterton used to say, “Truth is always stranger than fiction, only because fiction is always according to our own understanding.” Video games are no different. Which brings me to my next point.

    4) One thing I always try to impress upon my boys whenever we play a video game together, or watch a movie, or basically do anything that involves a screen and some digital images: I always remind them of how trite and boring these things are in comparison to the mind-blowing wild ride of the Tilt-a-Whirl (as one recent author has put it) we actually live on, called planet Earth. There is a whole solar system of activity going on in your own back yard, which if you knew enough about it, would cause you to think of your video games as petty child’s play in comparison. And there is absolutely no reason why young boys (and girls) can’t learn even a fraction of what is going on in these solar systems to be completely amazed at how crazy and wild these “video games” are which God has built into their own back yards. I guess what I’m saying is this: Don’t be surprised if as a parent you find it difficult to ween your children off of man-made video games, when you haven’t really taken the time to show your children the God-given “video games” that are going on all the time . . . and everywhere! No kid is ever going to learn to enjoy a good steak if all he ever gets to eat is Oscar Meyer hot dogs. Kids naturally gravitate towards what comes easiest and what will most quickly satisfy their desires. And video games can serve the same selfish impulses.

    So as godly parents who want to raise godly children, we must first learn to discipline ourselves not to be so easily and quickly satisfied. Our flesh wants to be satisfied “all the away and without delay.” But the Spirit wants us to wait, to learn to say “No” now, so that we can have full satisfaction later. (And we shouldn’t equate spiritual satisfaction with non-material satisfaction either. This leads to Gnosticism, not biblical Christianity.) The Spirit of God usually uses very physical means to satisfy our souls (video games not excepted). The problem with too much gaming though is that it trains our children to want to be satisfied right away and without delay. But if one of the fruits of the Spirit is self-discipline (and it is), then as Christians we must learn how to wait, and wait patiently and cheerfully, to get the satisfaction we so desperately want. And this gets at the heart of self-dominion. Without self-discipline there can be no self-dominion. And without self-dominion there can be no world-dominion. So unless your gaming is training you to become more self-disciplined, which means it’s being used as a tool for bigger and better acts of dominion, then it is really only enslaving you and your children. And this really get at the heart of the issue, to my mind at least, that young men need to know that there are bigger and better worlds to conquer than what they come up against in their video games. Young men want to take dominion over something. Mankind is dominion oriented. We were created this way. And in the end it’s going to be the actual world God has made that we will seek to take dominion over, or it’s going to be some cheap, synthetic, tinker-toy imitation of it. Dominion is inescapable. It’s never a matter of whether men will seek to conquer the world; it’s a matter of which world they are seeking to conquer.

    This leads me to my last set of questions, and I’ll end with these: How has the Church dropped the ball in the area of teaching her young men (and women) how to take godly dominion over the whole earth? How is the video game culture that we see growing up in our midst a direct result of a misguided cultus in the Church? And how is it that in evangelical churches (as opposed to, say, the Eastern Orthodox churches) there has become such bondage to image-based forms of entertainment? In other words, how is it that a whole wing of the Protestant church which has historically been so word-based in her overall epistemology, has become so image-based? Or to put it even another way, how is the gaming sub-culture we see cropping up in Christian homes the result of image-based cultus that has been firmly established in evangelical churches for decades now?

  • Ben Dunaway

    I have been a PC gamer since the early 90’s, yeah I’m getting kind of old. Anyway before being saved I was not very discerning about what I played watched etc. Video games are just like any other medium in that you should choose carefully. I don’t have an issue with violent video games, Sky rim for example, but avoid games were I am put in the roll of a criminal or villain such as GTA or saints row. I always prefer to be the good guy, and am true to this persona.

    However I have faced game addiction with an on line game, which are by far the most compulsive. I lost site of reality and made that idiotic game more important than even the people I care most about in life. It was a horrible time, and even now I regret terribly the time lost.

    Yes it can happen, and games can be extremely harmful!

  • Saboth

    I’m going to address a few points with this article. I won’t argue that certain individuals are highly susceptible to becoming addicted to games. Games are fun. They reward you. There are motivations for continuing play. This is true of gambling, drinking, even exercise. That said, the average US citizen watches around 4-5 hours of TV a night. Gaming is more engaging and cerebral than watching television. You make your own show, on the fly basically. Gamers spend this time playing games IN PLACE of watching TV. One hobby has replaced the other. My second point is your study cited. Every single study ever done (and there aren’t many) that has been done regarding gaming and violent behavior has only ever found a SHORT TERM rise in aggression. Meaning, you are more aggressive, “hyped up” etc. immediately after playing a game. There has never been a study that has even approached a hard link between negative long term behavior and gaming. Ever. The same rise in aggression you’d find in a child or adult that had just finished a competitive game of football. The only real negatives about gaming is they tend to be a solo activity, excluding other members of the household, making some people feel neglected. Unlike watching TV and movies, it’s not usually a “group” activity. So yes, there are people that have addictive natures that will find themselves forgoing family, job, friends for games. If gaming weren’t available, these types would probably be alcoholics, drug addicts or similar.

  • Ryan

    I just wanted to offer up a few comments coming from my position as a guy of a younger generation:

    First, I think it’s important to note that any diatribes against video games ought to come from someone who has experience with them. As much as I admire the heart of any pastor who gets up in front of his church and tells them to knock off the gaming, unless it’s coming from someone who understands them, most people my age are probably going to dismiss it as technophobic nonsense (which, to be frank, isn’t always inaccurate, either). Someone complaining about how “We got boys instead of men cause they’re spending all their time on the Google” isn’t going to influence anybody.

    That brings me to my second point: Lose the “boys vs men” angle. First, a large amount of gamers (some studies ( would suggest as much as two thirds) are female, so already if you’re looking at video games as a plague upon manhood, you’re missing the point. Second, it implies that video games and “true masculinity” (whatever that means) are mutually exclusive: You either play video games, or you’re a man. This ends up undermining itself because the man who makes allowances to catch the weekly football game but automatically writes off anyone who would spend the same time playing video games is, at best, a hypocrite. Finally, it is essentially an attempt to bully people out of video games. Now, I know there’s good intentions behind it, and it comes from a lot of men of God who have a burden for seeing His people rise up and take a stand, but to people on the receiving end, it sure doesn’t sound like that. It sounds like those jocks in high school movies who slam nerds into lockers on sight, only older and with more Christianese. In other words, if someone wants to take on the rather laudable task of trying to help people with video game addictions, don’t make it about being a “real man;” it’s a bit too heavy-handed to be well received, and it’s a bit too no-true-Scotsman to be taken seriously.

    Third, I think it does need to be pointed out over and over again that video games are not inherently evil, and even have some good to offer. They are, fundamentally, a hobby, and like any hobby they can be taken to an extreme, and also like any hobby they can provide opportunities to learn and grow. Here’s two benefits they’ve provided for me, personally.

    The first is mental stimulation. I’ll admit that I tend to drift away from shooters and sports games, but I love strategy games, and for me that’s because they get the wheels of my brain turning. They sharpen my wit and help develop problem-solving skills and perseverance. Heck, I think playing a lot of adventure games as a child, which encouraged non-violent solutions, helped to form me as a person today. I realize that I’m in the minority on these points, but I’m not trying to validate video-gaming culture, which I agree is posing some significant questions, but instead to assert that video games themselves are not inherently evil.

    Second, they’re a very social experience. I realize there’s a lot of literature out there arguing the opposite, and I acknowledge the validity of both its arguments, and the problems there that need to be addressed. However, it is not something that applies to all gamers. I would go so far as to say that for every one person locked in their room blasting away at strangers on the internet, there’s a good four-six buddies getting together for some XBox. It’s a way of hanging out, of spending time together. Especially for some guys who have trouble with the whole “let’s just grab a coffee and chit-chat” thing, video games provide an excellent opportunity for friends to come together and “chew the fat,” so to speak. I know for me personally, the only reason why I play online games is because it gives me the chance to virtually hang out with friends in different cities.

    This even holds true for families. As much as video game addiction is causing people to neglect their spouse (not just husbands neglecting wives, mind you; the opposite happens as well), I’m seeing an increasing number of young married couples who have turned video games into something to bond over, an activity they can do together. Heck, a lot of the men I know who play World of Warcraft only do so because their SO got them into it. Similarly, it’s provided a great way for parents to bond with their kids. I know that for me growing up, some of the best QT I had with my dad was just hanging out playing video games with him. The scenario of the neglectful father who wants to kick around outside throwing a ball around all day instead of joining his kids in video games might seem like a bizarre parallel universe right now, but I think that in a couple of decades it will be the reality.

    So while video games have a very real potential to damage healthy relationships and proper social growth, and do sometimes reach that potential, they can also do the opposite. Through what other medium could I get together with my old college friends who are scattered all over the country on a regular basis?

    Finally, I think this is reflective of a trend in evangelicalism that is opposed to escapism in general. To an extent, it’s a trend I can understand and even maybe support on some days. Our society is steeped in escapism and breaking out of that is a top priority. But at the same time, it has got its merits as well. I know for me personally, when I’m dealing with a lot of trauma or stress, escapism can really help me to calm down and deal with those things constructively. You might cry “But those hours you are spending indulging in video games are hours you could spend in the Bible or prayer!” To that I respond: If you are blessed enough to have all your troubles immediately swept away, your tears dried, your anguish silenced and your traumas ceased through sheer prayer and Scripture alone, that is wonderful. But it is not reality for many believers. There have been several points in my life where letting my mind drift away on video games for an afternoon has sufficiently driven darkness from my mind so that I might be prepared to embrace light. I am certainly not saying even for a second that entertainment can ever replace Scripture, of course not. But I am saying that there have been many points in my life where it has calmed my spirit and softened my heart, preparing me to encounter the Word of God.

    I realize that a lot of what I’m saying is anecdotal, but I’m not expecting this to be read as an academic treatise on the merits of gaming. I am simply presenting my own perspective on things, and why I very much appreciate this article. Video gaming is a problem, but it is one that needs to be handled very differently than it is currently.

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