No Disclaimers: Vouching for Videogames, Once and For All
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.
Personally I am finding this “argument” becoming tiresome and it goes nowhere. People have preconceived notions and don’t research what they talk about (or they look a little until they find something that supports their already established opinion and then they know they are right).
Video games are part of the world, they are part of our society, they are part of entertainment. There can be no better or worse argument against it than television or movies (and books for those learned among us that still read). I can’t tell you how many pastors I know that raved about the series 24 and Jack Bauer being this super cool character, etc… Is watching Keifer Sutherland an act of withdrawing from reality? No it isn’t. (okay, one could make a psychological argument that it is on some level and that is why we find it entertaining, but for the crux of the stance it doesn’t hold up). Sure, some video game players are withdrawn, it is bad for their lives in social, psychological, and even economic ways. Whatever. I’m sure there is some 24 nut out there doing the same thing. It doesn’t represent 99% of the people out there, so stop insisting it does.
So to me it boils down to prejudice and closed mindedness. We are all in the world. Why would we single out anybody for any “sin”? Assuming something is actually wrong (which the argument still needs to be proven and is highly lacking in support) then why separate video games from anything else? You guys obsessed with media such as movies are in the world too much, and you guys on Facebook all day are even worse, but you video game players…I don’t even want to associate with you lepers. Yeah, and Christ only came for the good.
This is what has been fundamentally wrong with Christianity for ages. People need to get over themselves.
Amen, this is really less an argument against those silly notions and more a personal testimony of my experiences playing videogames which were mostly positive.
But I obviously understand your frustration.
“Most articles I read by ‘Christian’ gamers express fear of this stigma.” More than anything, this just goes to show that Christian gamers are indeed a cowardly lot. Stupid Christian gamers ^_^
Actually, the thing that I find most amusing about the whole critique leveled at gamers is that their pastime is a disengagement from the real world. I’m not going to quibble and try to prove that it isn’t. Because of course it is. Still the argument is guilty of begging the question in that it assumes that disengagement from “reality” is somehow wrong or an unwise use of time.
Tell that to people who read books or watch films or play sports or (worse) watch sports. Tell that to people who take naps or sleep nights. Tell that to people who daydream. Tell that to theoretical scientists who spend their days considering hypotheticals. Tell that concern to anyone who is willing to consider the claim for more than a second or three and they will give you a hearty laugh, pat you on the head patronizingly, chuckle as you run off to play in the mud, and say endearingly, “Little scamp!”
Because really, the idea that we must be all “here” is rather childish. It’s a simplistic notion that forsakes any understanding of how the human person is built to interact with the world. After all, we’re not mere mechanical creations, meant to accomplish an engineered purpose. We’re creatures of imagination who spend the entirety of our thought lives in a non-physical space that we prefer to think is somewhere behind our eyes. While our bodies interact with the stuff of “reality,” our heads carry on this non-stop soliloquy about the present, the future, the past, and numerous worlds both related and unrelated to the one in which our body lives and moves.
We are, if we stop to think about it, always finding ourselves in a world other than the tangible one our bodies were born into. And while activities that are overtly divorced from “reality” (like reading or playing a game) are easy to pin down as “escaping reality,” so are things like studying theology or puzzling out a complex database architecture or trying to figure out what to say to that girl you’ve got a crush on.
Disengagement from reality is not a bad thing. It is a thing, a normal thing. And one person may engage that disengagement more than another, but so long as they are loving their God and their neighbour with all their hearts, minds, souls, and strengths, let ’em do it.
Also, gamers: grow a backbone and stop feeling bad for participating in an activity that is theoretically identical to reading books and going to movies. And stop letting the people who don’t understand you control the conversation.
There was one thing I’d disagree with you on. And I think most readers or film-lovers would take issue here as well.
“Games, unlike many other hobbies (i.e. reading and movies) provide us with opportunities to connect with people.”
Reading and movies have always been a more intensely social engagement for me than videogames. 1) It’s always been easier for me to find people who love reading or love film with whom I can share my own love with. And 2) the people I find who love books and film have generally shown themselves to be a more intellectually involved conversationalist with regard to their love.
(This isn’t to say that there aren’t smart, eloquent gamers out there—just that they may be more likely to be found in smaller numbers. If I find a reader of literature, someone who spends their free time reading, I’m almost guaranteed a pretty fair discussion of books. If I find a regular gamer, my chance of finding someone who I can hold an interesting conversation about games is going to be pretty low.)
@Seth–thanks for the feedback. This post was in some ways my way of saying, “I have a backbone” lol. I am not ashamed to enjoy this hobby. Given the stigma that you apparently don’t notice that much, it needed saying. Its my contribution to hopefully turn the tide of that unhelpful conversation.
I think in general you live a pretty detached life with relation to evangelicalism compared to most Christians I know–that is both interesting and refreshing.
Your comment about my point about reading and movies not providing opportunities to connect with people was fair. In fact I will edit that line because reading it now, it does not express what I intended.
@Drew: Hah. I don’t know that it’s so much that I’m detached. It’s more that it’s impossible to make me feel bad about something I’ve thought about—especially when I’ve probably thought more about it than whoever’s trying to make me feel bad.
Therefore, if someone has a critique of the time I spend reading or gaming, my first reaction will naturally be to presume they just haven’t thought hard enough about what they’re saying and that this will be a good opportunity for me to help them see the world more clearly. Of course its possible that I’m wrong and they’re right and I just presume that if they are, then I’ll be led to see that naturally through the course of the ensuing discussion.
And if it turns out that I am wrong, I never see any reason to feel bad for it because I gave whatever-the-issue-is some serious thought and required a perspective beyond my own to see things from a more accurate perspective.
And that’s pretty much why my opinions are stated so strongly—because I’m looking for someone with the strength of reason to show me a better way.
The short of it is that I don’t experience stigma in the way that you describe is 1) because I do not take a defensive position on matters and 2) experiencing the shame of stigma has long felt irrational to me. It wasn’t always like this. When I was young and timid, I always felt embarrassed when others didn’t like the things I liked or disagreed with the beliefs I held. When someone said something I believed or liked was stupid, my reaction was defensive. I believe this was because I hadn’t truly considered the things I liked or the beliefs I trusted.
Somewhere along the line, I learned to think circumspectly about all facets of my life. Now, right or wrong, there is a reason for everything I do and believe. And with that knowledge comes this extreme confidence that is almost invulnerable to shame. So ideas like stigma now are pretty alien to me.
tl;dr – I’m glad that I entertain you ^_^
@Seth – I didn’t mean to come across as defensive in this post if I did. I am reasoning from my experience which is a less potent argument than reasoning from the value of games themselves, but I thought it would be helpful for some to read about my mostly positive experience with games in contrast to the negative light so many shed on them.
I actually added this part at the last minute in hopes of getting people’s attention:
In other words–that was never the main point of my article, I was just trying to gain a hearing. I also didn’t title this post what it ended up being. I titled it “Videogames are not Stupid.” Rich’s title here was helpful in getting people to read the article and basically fit my subject matter.
Oh, I didn’t think you were being defensive in any sort of negative way, just in the sense that you feel the need to say: videogames are not stupid. You are defending videogames against its detractors.
To illustrate the difference, my general reaction would not be to argue why videogames are a good and proper use of time. Instead, my reaction would tend to be offensive, arguing that someone who claims videogames are stupid is uniformed, uncritical, and doesn’t have the qualifications to be making assertions about any related subject. Rather than defend videogames, I tend to ignore the criticism and turn the critique back on my opponent with the mindset that their criticism is unworthy of serious rebuttal.
Right and I will admit that such is more valuable in many ways. I have just been drawn lately to argue from my experience and give people a chance to see another perspective in a less confrontational way. I am happy to chip away at those irrational thoughts whereas you would like take a sledge hammer to them! ;)
Listening to Mark Driscoll’s assault of video games angered me mostly for one reason: What does this have to do with Christ? Why are preachers preaching about video games unless it has something to do with Christ? Clearly, it can be accomplished, as this site illustrates.
I’m so glad I found this website. When creating funornotfun.com, I actually thought about making it a Gospel centered video game review site, but quickly dismissed the idea thinking that it was unrealistic. I stand corrected.
In fact, I find most articles on this site more glorifying to God than Driscoll’s rant. At least the articles here point me to Christ and get me thinking about my hobby in light of what it can teach me about God. Driscoll’s rant doesn’t do that at all.
The other reason is that a lot of video games don’t have anything to do with fighting epic battles, saving princesses, etc. That’s not why I play Portal 2, or Braid, or any number of other video games. Rather, I play Portal 2 because it’s like a suped-up math problem. It keeps my mind in shape. Similarly, Braid is like a sudoku puzzle. I wonder if Mr. Driscoll has a problem with those too.
Oops, read and commented here before I found this one.
My complaint about Driscoll’s sermon having nothing to do with Christ was only based on the sound byte. I didn’t hear the whole sermon, so I likely misjudged his purpose. Still, I felt like he was trying to make me feel guilty for enjoying video games when there is often redemptive value to be found in them, as there is in movies, books, and stories in general.
My other complaint was addressed thoroughly on the other post.
Thanks for the feedback David. I agree with you that Driscoll’s comments indicate a very narrow view of videogames which is a rapidly growing medium both in scope and content. It’s interesting that you bring up Portal and Braid because both of those were transition games for me that opened me up to many other creative games that were doing interesting things with the medium and not limited to blowing stuff up!
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