I have a confession to make – I LOVE playing video games. In fact, even today at age 43 – I have to keep myself from playing them because it’s so easy for me to get sucked into their grasp. I can still play all day if I let myself go.
Technology propels society forward perhaps like nothing else. I came of age in a decade where the video game industry saw leaps and bounds like never before. I was seven in 1980 when perhaps the greatest video game of all time was released. Want to take a guess which game that was?
That’s right – Pac-Man.
But the 1980s saw even greater innovations that propelled the numbers of kids and adults playing video games to new heights.
The first scrolling shooter games like Defender (1981) were created along with racing games like Pole Position (1982). I spent hours playing Duck Hunt (1984) with its light gun zapper. And who could forget Super Mario Brothers (1985), one of the most influential games ever.
And when Nintendo released the Game Boy in 1989 – well, kids thought they had died and gone to heaven. Now playing video games could happen on the go.
Today, the video game industry is all about mobility, apps and connection with others. Pretty much all the teens I know have apps on their phone or tablet. And some of the games they enjoy the most are the ones that allow them to play against each other.
As a parent of four kids, I have sincere concerns about the amount of time my kids spend playing video games. And I also care about the types of games they play. Some are pretty benign. Others, however are rude, suggestive and violent.
I filter everything for my family through my faith. As readers of this blog know, I’m a follower of Jesus Christ and believe the Bible has answers in some form to all of life’s challenges. So, as a Christian parent, how should I instruct my children on their use of video games? Is it something God is OK with? Or would He question our participation in that form of entertainment and maybe even say it’s wrong?
Before I get to that, it’s important to understand why video games are so attractive. So I offer up these 7 reasons why we end up playing video games so much.
Reasons for Playing Video Games
The number one reason I can think of for playing video games is simply for the thrill. I still remember the day when I, as Little Mac, beat Mike Tyson in Punch Out (1987). It had taken forever to master the right moves to make it through all the competitors. Beating Tyson took even longer. And when he finally went down and didn’t get back up, I went screaming around the house. It was a drop the control pad moment.
We also love video games for the mystery. Remember when you found the secret warp zones in Super Mario Brothers? Or when you opened up a secret passageway in Wolfenstein 3D (1992). Nothing gets your juices flowing and wanting more than opening up a secret passageway to a room of treasures, only to be confronted by a room full of Nazis you have to mow down with your machine gun. Guten tag!
We also play for the competition. It’s either you against the computer software or you against another person. It’s how high a score you can get or how many other people you can beat. In today’s world this has been taken to new heights as there are actually professional tournaments you can enter so that you can play for the money.
My kids play video games the most when they are bored. There is nothing else to do on that rainy Saturday so let’s go blow off a few hours. In truth, there is usually something else to do, or something else they could find to do if video games were not an option.
One of the more concerning reasons people play video games is for the diversion. What I mean by that is that they are using video games to escape from some personal pain in their life. It makes people feel better if they can forget about their troubles and lose themselves within the video game for a time. But of course, the problems are still there when they are done playing and still not resolved.
The final reason people end up playing video games is that it’s forced upon them. What do I mean by that? Well, the next time you are in grocery store or a restaurant look around and see how many parents are using games on their phone or tablet to keep their child quiet. 40 years ago a mom or dad would have had to manage their child. Now, sticking a game in front of them does the trick. And it’s happening to kids at younger and younger ages. I’d wager in most cases, the first time they were handed a video game to keep them quiet, the child didn’t ask for it – it was the adult’s decision.
God’s Take on Playing Video Games
So what does God think about all this? Would He approve of us playing video games?
Well, the Bible has no verse that says, “Thou shall not play video games.” But it does have verses that give clues to what God might think. So to figure this out, I’m going to ask some questions about video games and provide my perspective with a corresponding Bible verse.
Question #1: Will the video game edify me in some way?
The word edify means to build up. Video games could be beneficial in many ways, like how they make you laugh and build connectivity with friends. Or how they help you build a closeness with your sister as you conquer Gauntlet (1985) together.
But many games do nothing to build you up. They don’t help with your attitude or emotions or relationships. They are a drag on you moving forward to become a better person.
This is where I think verses like I Cor. 10:23 can help. Paul says here, “All things are lawful for me but not all things are helpful; all things are lawful but not all things edify.” In Paul’s case, he was talking about a big controversy in the early church about eating meat that had been given as an offering to idols. Many Christians thought you shouldn’t eat that meat. Others didn’t think it was a problem.
Paul’s basically saying, “Yeah, I could eat it…to me it’s no big deal. But my actions may not edify others or the name of Christ so I’m not going to do it.”
I think we could look at playing video games the very same way. Can you play them? Sure – in most cases, it’s no big deal. That is until your playing starts to tear you or others down. Then you’ve crossed the line and it no longer is edifying.
Question #2: What are my eyes taking in?
There is an old saying – the eyes are the window to the soul. That basically means you can look into a person’s eyes and learn about what’s going on in their inner world – thoughts, feelings, emotions, etc.
I think about this a different way. It’s what comes in through the eyes that helps create your soul. Sunlight coming through a window brightens the whole house. But if all that comes through the window is darkness, the inside will be wrapped up in that darkness.
Psalm 101:3 says, “I will set nothing wicked before my eye…” Additionally, Christians are challenged in Philippians 4:8 to think on only those things that are pure and lovely and noble. I doubt God had zombies or bloody chainsaws or exploding heads in mind when He put those verses in the Bible.
Question #3: Does it hinder good works?
I Corinthians 15:58 tells believers to be “steadfast, immovable always abounding in the work of the Lord…” In essence, we are to be continually finding ways to minister to others. Each day we are to be a testimony for the Lord and a light to the world.
Video games could easily take us away from that. How? By being a substitute for the time we would otherwise spend helping others. God might take issue with the fact you’d rather stay home on a Saturday playing video games than go serve with your youth group on a community project for the poor.
This question falls under the same general category as “Are video games the best use of my time?” Ephesians 5:15-16 tells us to walk in wisdom and use our time wisely because we don’t have a lot of it. If playing video games is distracting you from greater goals like getting good grades in school or becoming a better athlete or advancing in your career or developing deeper relationships, then you need to reevaluate your usage.
Question 4: Is evil present and obvious?
Evil should be pretty easy to spot. But we’ve become so desensitized with images of evil that we sometimes miss it. Or we blow it off as “not as bad” as it seems.
The Bible is clear about this. I Thessalonians 5:22 says, “Abstain from every form of evil.” So when you see a game entitled Diablo, red flags should immediately pop up. I know, I know…you are the hero in the game fighting off a demonic invasion. But the demonic imagery that is present and the violence and the partial nudity should scream “Stay away!” I mean, the game name itself means “devil” in Spanish. Shouldn’t that be enough of a clue?
I don’t want to paint this as black and white as it may seem. I’ll concede there is a gray area. I mean you can argue that violence is violence. Even the Jedi of Lego Star Wars are “murdering” other Star Wars Lego characters.
What’s critical to understand here is that Satan – the enemy of God and therefore all Christians – wants our mind to be open to evil. He wants us to become numb to it. Often he works in subtle ways but other times he is blatant and obvious. In many video games the evil imagery is clear – and yet we don’t turn away from it.
Question #5: Are you under the influence?
What’s your tank (soul) full of? The Apostle Paul famously wrote in Ephesians 5:18, “And do not be drunk with wine…but be filled with the Spirit.” The issue here wasn’t so much about drinking alcohol as it was about who or what is controlling your inner man. Paul’s exhortation was that the Holy Spirit should be in control of our thinking and actions instead of other influences.
So has playing video games consumed you to the point where it’s controlling your everyday life? Daydreaming all day long about how to beat that level? If so, it may be distracting from your love for God and maybe even your life purpose.
You have replaced your love for God with a love for something worldly. And the Bible has many warnings for Christians about the dangers of that. Matthew 6:24 tells us we cannot serve two masters. Either we will hate one and love the other, or be loyal to one and despise the other. There is room in your heart for only one master.
So Should I Stop Playing Video Games?
I can’t give you a definitive answer to this question. It’s your own personal conviction. We will still allow video games in our house going forward.
But I can say we are monitoring the games and their usage very closely. I’m controlling what games and apps we buy and who my kids can play with online. I’m actually raising our kids on many of the games I used to play. Yes, I still have our Nintendo Entertainment System with all my old games, now some 25+ years old. They still work and are loads of fun to play. You can still find games of this era out there if you look.
I believe God created all things for our enjoyment. But our enjoyment of His creation should be tempered by its spiritual impact on our lives. If our activities distract from our love for God, damage our personal testimony or impact how we influence others, then those activities should be called into question. And I believe that includes playing video games.
Questions for Discussion: How do you think God feels about kids or adults playing video games? Are there any other Bible verses you could point to that relate to this topic? Do you think violent video games are contributing to violence in our culture? What was/is your favorite video game and why?