A few weeks ago, mega church pastor Mark Driscoll said videogames are stupid. I offered a rebuttal that I mostly still stand by. But as I thought about his comments, I realized that what bothers me most was that they were so foreign to my experiences growing up playing videogames. I know Driscoll doesn’t think all hobbies are time wasters as he has his own but his comments were roughly equivalent to saying, “hey gamers, your hobby is lame because it pulls you out of the real world!”
Videogames continue to carry a certain stigma–so much so that for many years I hesitated to admit in certain social circles that they were something I cared about. Most articles I read by “Christian” gamers express fear of this stigma. Every exclamation of enjoyment in a videogame is followed by fear of idolatrous disengagement from the real world. I no longer have that fear. I have decided its disingenuous to say anything other than, “I like games and I play them.”
I am under no false assumption that videogames are necessary in this world but I do believe they are valuable. Whether they are art or something altogether different, videogames can provide meaningful experiences and opportunities for people to connect. Certainly they can be abused, and perhaps my vision of the past is a bit blurred, but I just don’t remember them ever being much of a negative force in my life. So I thought I would share a bit about how games have consistently provided opportunities for me to connect with real people in the real world.
Videogames have always been a part of my life as far back as I can remember. Looking back, the few times I quite playing were motivated more by legalism and fear of man than anything else.
It may be hard for you to imagine, given how cool I am now, but growing up I was not always so. I had it a lot easier than many in the various public schools I attended but there were definitely moments when middle school and high school just plain sucked. During these times when my “friends” decided to shut me out, games like Final Fantasy VII and Warcraft 2 were there for me. These games not only provided an outlet for my energy but also told stories that I connected with. My fascination with these games even introduced me to new people as I discovered that I was not the only person who enjoyed games.
Certainly many other hobbies could serve similar purposes, but videogames were the hobby that often won me. Mine is the generation privileged with observing the evolution of videogames—this shared observation has been a constant grounds for social connection. Watching a friend play games wasn’t boring, its just what we did. And it was never a passive activity–my gaming friends and I were constantly observing, strategizing, and even critiquing each others play. As developers recognized this community, more and more multiplayer games were released and gaming became a legitimate outlet for me to make new friends. And it wasn’t just playing games that helped me make and maintain friendships–it was talking about them. Talking about games has always been as important to me as playing them.
In high school several friends and I played round robin style Warcraft 2 and Starcraft tournaments. On the weekends, all nighters featuring Goldeneye for N64 were not uncommon. In college I met an awesome group of guys that hosted a weekly Halo game which I frequented despite getting mercilessly schooled for the first few months. Some of these guys became some of my best friends in college. When my brother moved out of the house, we started spending time together playing intense games of SOCOM: Navy Seals online. When I started serving at a church as a youth intern and interim youth minister, I started playing Halo regularly with my students. They loved games, they’re friends loved games, and I did too.
As a Christian, the world of videogames became a natural mission field for me. Not because I dropped gospel bombs on Starcraft discussion boards (I did try that a few times and it never went well) but because games connected me to real people, most of whom I played with both in person and online. Spending time together naturally grew into sharing our lives. Discussions on the gospel naturally flowed out of that. Often times those I would share with would not agree with me but we still shared games in common and the friendship could continue. The more time you spend with someone, the more serious conversation naturally flows out of that relationship. As a student minister, students I discipled would invite their friends to our Halo parties and soon enough many of these students became a part of my church, student group and community. To this day, I regularly have conversations with people about games with whom I would probably never converse with otherwise.
I won’t pretend that these experiences were categorically positive. Many of these experiences were competitive in nature. Thus tempers were lost and friendships rocked at times but never to the point of losing them altogether.
Sadly I no longer have a weekly gaming group, but games continue to be a source of connection for me whether its playing Dance Central with my wife, Little Big Planet with students from our middle school group, Halo with the extended CaPC family, or Assassin’s Creed with Rich. Certainly, like all things this side of eternity, videogames can easily take an unhealthy place in our lives. But this notion that videogames isolate us from real people in the real world never comfortably sat with my experiences playing them. On the contrary they often provided shared experiences and common ground with people to whom I otherwise would have found little–two things Christians would do well to recognize more often.
Games, provide us with unique opportunities to connect with people in ways other hobbies do not. Videogames are often actively experienced together in ways that books and movies are not. When we play games together, we begin on common ground—namely that of doing something we enjoy together. That has been my constant experience. There have certainly been times when I have chosen videogames over people to my own shame but those instances have been rare. Like anything else on this earth, I want to be careful to use them for the glory of God. I know that for some games serve as an escape from reality but they have only rarely been that for me. My experience testifies to just the opposite. With the proper perspective, games can be wonderful parts of our lives.