October 26, 2014

Video Games and Christian Maturity

addict.jpgI just finished reading the current edition of the Highland Study Center’s monthly publication, Every Thought Captive, with the theme “Revolt Against Maturity.” It’s a good issue, and it will eventually be on the net, but not yet. Several of the articles, such as “Theologians in Diapers,” are excellent, and I would welcome access to them when available.

The general critique of the HSC authors is one that is being marshalled all across the God-blogosphere these days: men in our culture are immature, and are postponing maturity while embracing adolescence. They are addicted to juvenile ideas, activities and behavior. They engage in the pursuits of children long after they should be married and embracing adulthood. It is the avoidance of marriage and responsible maturity in the support and nurture of Christian families that is at the root of much of the culture’s invasion of the church.

(Bloggers Alex and Brett Harris write about the same phenomenon in “Addicted to Adultescance” at Boundless webzine. Al Mohler addressed the issue in April of ’05 with “The Generation That Won’t Grow Up.”)

High on the list of immature activities of today’s young men are “video games.” Sproul, Jr’s article “Confederacy of Dunces” mentions video games no less than 6 times in two pages as a marker of immaturity among men.

I haven’t played video games seriously since the early 80’s. (My recent acquisition of Civ IV is sitting unused in my cd rack.) I am aware of the part that video games play in the life of young people. My students are more involved in video games than any other kind of recreation. My school chess club, long a success at our school, was effectively done in by video games.

I think I could probably give a good talk on twenty bad things about video games, and passably impress the audience of a “family talk” radio program. I see the content of many games, and I cringe right along with any other morally sane person.

Still…it seems to me to be a bit of a pot-shot to continually use video games as a marker of maturity. Just as I am aware of the stereotypical “dark” and “troubling” side to video games, I know that millions of normal, mature men, devoted husbands, church leaders, responsible citizens with no unusual attraction to “adultescance” play video games.

Is it just me, or is there a tendency on the part of evangelical culture critics to always look for the latest version of “corrupting technology?” First radio. Then television. Then records. Then MTV/videos. Then animation. Now computers and video games and so on. All are conveyors of culture, and culture is fallen, even rotten. The devotion of Americans to technology has implications, but are the critics right that video games, as the latest in a long line of amusements that dominate youth culture, hold a particular danger of keeping grown men acting like boys?

Somewhere in all of this lurks “the man in the grey flannel suit,” i.e. the 1950’s style “adult” who was responsible and thrifty, and quite the distortion of a Christian version of a man. Evangelicals fear the triumph of the counter-culture that made that responsible father into a hated icon, and the technology of adolescence is a prime culprit. But have they gone too far? Was Jesus pointing us to Ward Cleaver as the grown up? (And he was a great example of a grown-up. Don’t miss my point.)

While evangelical moralists and culture warriors focus on men playing video games, I wonder if the “adolescence” of much evangelicalism has been noted? Not its devotion to gaming, but its addiction to entertainment and consumerism, and its reduction of discipleship to activities participated in and Christian consumer goods purchased.

Are Christian radio and television activities for the “mature?” Concerts? Movies? Fellowship events? Conferences?

I sometimes wonder how much Jesus himself is the definition of maturity we are looking at. There is something about Jesus that would never make the “family values” contingent very comfortable. So much of what he did seemed- to those who criticized him- a kind of immature rebellion against responsibility and tradition. He was not a cultural icon of conformity to expectations. He warns us, I believe to beware of looking for “maturity” in places other than the Father’s imprint in His sons.

I’m not taking these critiques to task. They are needed. I simply wonder if a focus on caps, clothes and video games is stereotypical to a fault. Are we wrong to say that Jesus would play a game, whether it be soccer or a video game? If Jesus wouldn’t play a game, what is the reason?

Maturity in the image of Christ may be more diverse and less driven by the analysis of evangelical critics than we are led to believe by those who have their own ideas of what Christian maturity/politics/culture/ etc ought to look like. Jesus’ own maturity was measured in devotion to God’s will and to God’s mission. Isn’t that what we should be pointing out?

Comments

  1. Thank you! As a young, married female that is involved in missions and the church people are usually shocked and disapointed to discover that my husband and I love to kick back and play video games together when exhausted and have little energy for much else. We don’t do it often (maybe once a month) as it can quickly become a black hole of wasted time, but an hour or so of Zelda’s Four Swords is always nice.

  2. Hehe, those sticks-in-the-mud probably got pwn3d at Street Fighter 2 one time too many during high school. Now, watch them turn around and make fun of Baptists for criticizing beer consumption.

  3. I wonder how many of those who view videogames as a mark of immaturity would view a group of ladies playing canasta. Or Scrabble. Or working crossword puzzles.

    They can have their games… I’ll have mine. The difference is that mine cost more and teach me valuable lessons like how to kill monsters and roll up giant balls of garbage. Try learning THAT from a word search.

  4. They’re just jealous, because no one’s been able to make a decent “Christian video game” yet.

    On a related note, according to Jon Stewart, Evangelicals are planning to protest the impending release of Homo-bortion City: Sexy Edition (near the middle of that video clip). Sorry, it was too funny to pass up…

  5. I don’t know. I think gaming can be the thing an immature man is obsessed with, but it’s not the problem. Inherently, it’s certainly no worse than baseball stats, football, TV, dominoes, etc. You gotta keep things in perspective.

  6. I think what some of the problems come down to are context and priorities. In many ways “video games” seems like the new way of saying “Walkmans” 25 years ago…a sign of youth’s culture creeping older and older. However, the problem seems to come when people’s priorities are off kilter. A 28 year old should be able to play Mario or Final Fantasy now and then for fun without feeling guilty. If
    their waking hours and paychecks are spent on persuing the latest and the greatest out there, then there is probably some inbalance in their priorities….it’d be a little like the difference between a 50-year-old woman liking Coldplay’s music, and camping in line at midnight for a store appearance.

    The problem for my (I’m late 20s) generation is far more than video games and living at home, it’s an issue of priorities. People don’t save money, and have tons of credit card debt. They expect life to be easy, sexy, and exciting – like on the TV shows they buy en masse when they come out on DVD. Society worships youth, and they are simply following suit. Having misplaced priorities is a problem for any generation and group of people, it’s just easy to pick on “Video games” because they aren’t really that old — and there are genuine addicts out there that make everyone look bad.

    Of course, the other apparent sign of “adultescents” is being single. This seems to be a pet peeve of a lot of lamenters out there, and I can’t help them. We all don’t get married at 20 and have our first kids at 21. Then again, we’ve been sent to many mixed messages from the church on this one, it’s a wonder someone hasn’t tried to re-introduce arranged marraiges.

  7. Yes, video games can be a waste of time: I know. And they can contain bad content, as we are all aware (though I am more a fan of historical simulations like Civilization, which have many redeeming qualities). But, like all things, they are not bad in of themselves and should be enjoyed in moderation and not condemned carte blance. I can easily spend a few hours playing Total War, but then again, I don’t watch TV and I don’t waste 4 or 5 hours twice a week on the golf course like a lot of people. As someone mentioned in the comments above, there are many things that can take time: cards, shopping, watching television, fishing, reading, etc. Some may have other redeemable qualities like exercise, social interaction, or mental stimulation, but to condemn video games as a whole is a lot like the typical evangelical temptation to whitewash an entire genre of something with a broad brush.

  8. The problem with a lot of folks (Christian and nonChristian) is that they believe following Christ means you can’t have fun. And that’s absolutely not biblical! Christ came to give us abundant life! Not life that’s dull, boring, tedious, and monotonous. There’s nothing wrong with playing video games, board games, card games, or any other kind of game. As long as it doesn’t take you away from your responsibilities in life. I remember in college being completely addicted to a particular game..so much so that I didn’t do homework and often skipped class to play. That is a definite sign of immaturity. But now I play the game when I have time. My schedule does not revolve around the game and I’ll frequently go days or weeks without playing. But when I want to have fun and relax, I’ll play. There’s nothing wrong with having a little bit of fun! I think God immensely enjoys it when we have fun.

  9. There also seems to be an association between being mature and surpressing the sense of humor. People who laugh easily, or point out the humorous side of things, seem to be percived as not having a sober, well-grounded spiritual walk. Even people who are naturally funny seem to feel like they have to get really grave when talking about their faith, and it makes them sound a little false.

  10. joel hunter says:

    Well, my 50-year-old, game-playing brother will be quite pleased with this.

    The 5th paragraph from the end is an upper-deck home run.

    The problem with this evangelical critique of technology is that it completely fails to understand the essence of technology. They moralize without understanding their own complicity in the technological system.

    As an expression of the “culture war,” I think inveighing against immaturity, lack of sobriety, or whatever a class of individuals supposedly lacks today, indicates a weakness in the critics that Nietzsche had his finger on: the spiritualization of hostility. It is all too easy in our resistance to change, becoming and creativity to make them into enemies. We value what does not change, what is static and predictable. We internalize our hostility through virtues like prudence and thoughtfulness, fighting against the torture of uncertainty, and, like you say, Jesus recedes from the picture of our doing, creating, working and willing.

  11. linkerjpatrick says:

    As a Christian I have found one series that was originally developed by Christians however the games are not a “christian” games in the pure sense of the word but rather tell a story from the perspective of a Christian in much the same way the Lord of the Rings and Chronicles of Narnia Series was written by Christians. The series I am talking about is the Myst series originally conceived by the Miller Brothers (Rand and Robyn) and currently another brother Ryan is now working for Cyanworlds, Inc. among the many other developers.

    The Myst games have always been about non-violent story telling and interaction however the stories and some images do have some dark elements. Unlike most games where you become the “top dog” of even a “god” the stories and plot of the Myst games teach the dangers of people consumed with pride and your job in the games is to help out the main character set things right by making moral choices.

    Ever since I started playing the Myst games I became involved in the online community which discusses the deeper back story of the games plus talking about everyday life. This has given me a chance to interact with many people I would have not meet in real life.

    In many ways the games are like interactive parables of which we associate with Christ and his ministry. Even though CyanWorlds isn’t a Christian company I can certainly see God being glorifed as he shines through those who “create” stories that not only are fun and challenging for the mind but teach moral lessons in a sometimes subtle way.

    To tie up the theme of the blog post here. The fans of the Myst games (some of whom are also Christians) are some of the most mature people I have encounter both offline and online.

  12. Brian Pendell says:

    Sir,

    I play video games regularly. Often more than I should.

    I also hold down a full-time job, love my family, lead two bible studies (meatspace and online), pay my taxes and vote in every election.

    Observations:

    1. Video games are a hobby. Like any hobby, they can consume all your time. However, this can be said of any hobby.

    “Normal” Christians waste a fair amount of time also .. the difference is that they waste it in socially approved ways like TV or watching sports or what not instead of my personal choices of anime, computer games, and science fiction.

    I do not believe this is a salvation issue. Isn’t there a verse in Romans along the lines of “who are you to judge another’s servant?” A sports addict has no more right to condemn my video games than I do to condemn his choice in watching football.

    1a) Video games are neither an indication of maturity or immaturity.

    While there are reflex games (such as Sonic the Hedgehog) that the very young enjoy, other games (such as Civ4) pretty much *demand* a certain level of maturity.

    To win at Civilization, one must have a great deal of knowledge at one’s fingertips, one must understand long-range planning, and one must have some idea how to get along with others. Rather than encouraging immaturity, a game such as Civ4 uplifts it’s players.

    2. Video games, while less productive than actual outside activity, nonetheless can have merit.

    A) Ones such as Civ 4 are very educational and will leave you knowing a lot more about history, political science and technology than you ever wish to know.

    B) Video games build self-confidence. I have asthma; I was always terible at sports, and thought of myself as a loser. My earliest successes in life were in playing video games. When I saw I could win at games, I made the jump to realizing that — in God’s strength — I could win at anything.

    C) online games can allow loners and people who are afraid to reach out to people in virtual worlds. Again, this is not as good as real people, but it’s a thousand times better than no one at all. I’ll take a person relating to other people only through virtual games over a person who doesn’t relate to *anyone* at all.

    D) Video games are a great equalizer. A person in a wheelchair can compete just as vigorously as an athlete. A person who is old can whip the snot out of a twenty-year-old.

    For people in rest homes or people who are otherwise handicapped, a trip to the world of everquest, say, allows them to forget for a time the limitations of their real-life bodies and — for just a moment — do things in a virtual world that no man ever did in real life.

    E) I contend that video games can only corrupt you by your own choice. No one is holding a gun to your head and forcing you to download a sex game. I don’t own Grand Theft Auto or Doom3. I own “The Hobbit” and “Homeworld” and “Star Wars: X-wing Alliance” and “The Sims” (my wife can’t get enough of that one) and Civ2. With very few exceptions, the violence is PG and the sex nonexistent.

    But then, it’s the same with my movies — the movies we own are things like Casablanca and Miyazki’s “Spirited Away” and “The Incredibles”. Movies have not corrupted us (much) because we just don’t like those kinds of movies.

    It is possible to be “in, but not of” the world, and to like both movies and videogames. The trick is not to do without them completely. The trick is to be choosey about what you buy, what you play, and (most important) how much time you devote to either.

    Respectfully,

    Brian P.

  13. *puts down his PS2 controller and pauses Ace Combat 05*

    I’ve always loved video games. Even back in the day of the ATARI console. Like anything, it can become an obsession. But for the occasional relaxation away from the stress of the day or life, blowing up enemy planes and tanks feels good! And moving from Super Easy to Easy to Hard to Expert then to Ace validates I have some skill with eye/hand coordination!

    That said, my son and daughter can kick my butt on Super Mario brothers or Zelda. Both kids also excel at school work. Both kids are straight A students. Both kids read prodigiously. Both kids understand video games are for entertainment, not a lifestyle. While my parents generation sees it as mind-numbing my kids (and sometimes my) mind is not being numbed but stimulated into every increasingly difficult permutations to problem solving and discovery.

    BTW…technology is benign…it’s what you do with it that can be malignant or useful.

    My 2 cents…

    Eric

  14. korg20000bc says:

    I agree that games may be indicative of men remaining adolescents but it is hardly the cause. The main cause, it seems to me, is that most young men have had very poor examples of what it is to be a mature man in this day and age. The world our fathers were raised in was so different to what we are confronted with every day. In my grandfater’s time the world had not changed signicantly for hundreds of years and the accumulated wisdom of generations helped them to find there way. But now our fathers appear no better equipped to deal with their world than we are in ours.

    I have read that mature, adult dogs never bark or yap. A mature dog howls. Humans, by keeping dogs as pets (stroking, patting, feeding them) keep dogs in a permanent adolescence. This is why you dog barks and doesn’t howl like a wild dog.

    Could it be that the present tendentcy for young people to ramain in their parents house for longer and longer (and parents happiness to allow this) be leading to much longer adolescence?

    Rolemodels are so scarce particularly for young men and it is what is required.

  15. It’s no joke. I was seriously addicted to everquest for some time, so much so that I totally neglected my wife for about a month. Fortunately I woke up, realized it, and fixed it.
    http://fromthemorning.blogspot.com

  16. ghostbuster says:

    Video games are a problem for me. I owned a PS2 and ended up selling it on ebay because I knew I could not go to school and own the system. I would stay up long hours at night playing and my wife too felt neglected because of it. honestly, I like playing video games and have found a good alternative. My neighbor(who is 17) comes over with his game system and my wife allows us to play for a few hours. Afterwards he goes home with the system and all is well.

  17. Michael:

    You wrote, “While evangelical moralists and culture warriors focus on men playing video games, I wonder if the “adolescence” of much evangelicalism has
    been noted? …”

    Brother, you get a big amen from me!

    First it’s rock music, then it’s Harry Potter,
    then it’s NPR, now it’s videogames,
    ad infini-stinking-itum. These days when
    I hear about the next big thing that’s going
    to collapse western civilization,I just tune it out.
    Maybe people do some of these things to take
    themselves out of the banality of everything,
    including most evangelical church services
    these days.

    We all have our weaknesses. Personally, I like
    to practice music to relax. Could I neglect my
    family and get wrapped up in it? Yes. Do I? No.

    If people spent more time trying to walk
    in the spirit with Christ, as is our right
    and privilege, and less time trying to judge
    where they are in relation to other so-called
    believers, maybe the “church” in general would
    be healthier.

    I’m sorry if I got a little riled up.
    This is a bit of a hot button with me.

  18. KimberDill says:

    Thank you for this entry into your blog. My husband is an avid “gamer” however I don’t see this supposed sign of immaturity seeping into any other part of his life. He’s a great husband, works more than full-time, we attend church and Bible study regularly and we still have plenty of quality time together! Some of my relatives see his interest in video games as “immature” and I simply explain to them that it’s his way of relaxing, much like someone else would read a book or ride a bike.

    Sure, sometimes the video game “soundscape” can become tiring, but I’d rather he play video games than watch sports all day or be out doing something dangerous!