In Defense of Video Games

Video games have been getting a bad rap lately. A couple of months ago Mark Driscoll made the statement that video games aren’t sinful, they’re just stupid. Last week Russell Moore wrote a piece on why pornography and video games are ruining a generation of young men. Of course I agree wholeheartedly with his conclusions on pornography. There is nothing good or defensible about porn.

But the statements that both Mark Driscoll and Russell Moore made about video games bother me. But first, some full disclosure: I play video games. I enjoy playing them as a way to unwind. I am a colossal nerd of pocket protector proportions. Sometimes I play with my friends online. And wear a bluetooth ear piece. Now back to your regularly scheduled program.

Both Driscoll and Moore suggest that the problem with video games is their “fakeness” (not sure if that’s a word, but this is my blog, and on my blog I can make up words if I want to). Video games allow young men to engage in combat without really risking anything. They allow young men to conquer kingdoms from their basements, and to win the princess without ever winning a real princess. They allow young men to have their ambitions satisfied without actually accomplishing anything. Instead of becoming productive, married, fruitful members of society, they play video games. They find their validation from a game. They build fake empires and kill fake enemies instead of engaging with reality.

I get what they’re saying, I really do. In some ways, the young men of my generation really are lazy and ambitionless. But to pin the problem on video games seems rather odd to me, like treating the cough instead of treating the lung cancer.  Video games are a symptom of the problem, not the problem itself. After all, couldn’t the same argument be made against sports or movies or muscle cars or fishing? Both sports and movies allow us to satisfy a thirst for adventure and greatness without really doing anything.

The problem isn’t sports or movies or video games. The problem is selfishness. We live in a post-modern culture where self is king. If it makes you happy, it can’t be that bad, right? If video games make you happy, spend hours playing in the damp cool of your mom’s basement. If sports make you happy, get the NFL Ticket from DirectTV and never miss a single game. If movies make you happy, stream thousands of them directly to your television for hours and hours of couch bliss.

The solution is not to tell all the young guys to stop playing video games. The solution is to help them put video games in their proper orbit. Video games, like television and fishing and gardening and restoring antique cars, must orbit around King Jesus. Jesus gets our greatest passion. Our energies should first and foremost be dedicated to conquering for the kingdom of God. To serving others. To building up the local church. To spreading the gospel in our local communities. To pushing back the forces of evil and darkness.

We need to give our young men a compelling, glorious vision of Jesus and his kingdom. We need to help them channel their youthful energy into the things that really matter. If we do these things, video games will fall into their rightful place. Video games can be a helpful diversion for the mind – a way to unwind and relax at the end of a long day. To flat out condemn video games doesn’t really solve the problem and verges on unhelpful legalism. After all, if you take away video games then the young men will simply turn to something else.

I think of my friend, Sean. Sean is a single guy who enjoys watching movies and playing the occasional video game. But Sean is also a fireball for Jesus. He serves like a maniac and is following Jesus at a dead sprint. Should I tell Sean that he can’t play video games or watch movies? I don’t think so. I hope every young guy in my church is like Sean.

The problem isn’t video games, the problem is selfishness. Let’s help our young men and women see that there is a glorious kingdom and that they can be a part of it.

  • http://twitter.com/mfant @mfant

    I had some of the same thoughts reading these articles last week and earlier this week. I told my wife I doubted anyone would stand up to defend video games–how would you do it? Very clear and good presentation. I wish I had written this article. Great job, and thanks for re-focusing the conversation.

    • Stephen Altrogge

      Thanks! Glad it was helpful!

  • http://jxd1689.tumblr.com Jason D.

    I had similar thoughts when considering how Mark Driscoll's love of cage combat fighting or Russell Moore's love of music can all be looked at at ways to unwind and, in a sense, remove from reality. Same can be said for reading books… isn't that why we love fiction? Should I not encourage my kids to read great fiction then. They just can't be consistent.

    Thanks.

    • Stephen Altrogge

      You're welcome!

  • yitzhaklee

    I had a smirk cross my face as you mentioned that you played video games, almost as if to say, "I wonder how Steve's going to defend THIS." I understand these things as being a way to unwind and relax, what would you say to someone who tries to compare the productivity of certain activities. A love for music might involve practicing the skill of using a musical instrument that would be "useful" for the rest of your life. The skill that comes with being a genius at playing Guitar Hero or Call of Duty doesn't translate into "real life". (I put some terms in quotes because it requires more of a definition of terms might take a while.)

    Or, since we are in the conversation about addressing selfishness, in what ways does video games promote selflessness? As a former gamer, the time spent on the computer was more about me (although this sort of indicts my internet usage at times.) and it tends to isolate me from interactions with other people.

    • Stephen Altrogge

      I think that these are good questions. I would mainly say that I don't think every activity we do must directly translate to real life skills. God gives us many gifts that are simply for enjoyment. Fishing doesn't necessarily give me any real life skill, but it does allow me to be out and enjoy creation. Listening to music doesn't really give me any real life skills either, but God created music.

      I think the same goes for selflessness. I don't think every single activity we do must promote selflessness. There is a time for rest and recreation.

      Does that make sense?

      • yitzhaklee

        Haha, fishing definitely isn't very productive for me since I never catch anything! I can see your point; it's not particularly the catching of the fish that matters, as long as there is an enjoyment of God and his creation during the activity. I might say that at that point the activity is producing a better worshiper of God if we rightly use recreation in the way that He designed it. (Not to pull us away from God, but rather, the opposite.)

        I do come into a little bit of Christian conflict as a am concerned with people's motives as it relates to leisurely activities. I don't think the issue should be so easily brushed off with side comments like, "God created this activity." Yet at the same time I realize that I'm not the judge of the world and God does just fine without me "pestering" people. I just want people to take an honest look at what they are doing without trying to fool themselves.

        Thanks!

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  • Andrew

    To be fair, Dr. Moore did allow that video games can be enjoyed in moderation. His article was exploring why so many young men are *addicted* to porn and video games at the same time.

    • Stephen Altrogge

      You're right, he did. Unfortunately though, his article made it feel like there was no place for video games at all. He lumped video games and porn into the same category, which seemed to me like painting with too broad of a brush stroke.

      • Dave

        It sounded to me like he was putting the addictions in the same category, not the activities themselves. That's very different. And he's right: they can both trap us because they hit at something deep in the male design. There's some wisdom there we can't afford to miss. You're right that any good gift can become an idol, and Dr. Moore was answering the question of why those two things have become idols to so many men today.

        He also said outright that there is a place for video games, one similar to a low-stakes competition like the softball league I'm playing in tonight.

  • Elaine

    Sean is a great example of a young man who has a passion for the Lord and is following hard after Him. Video games are harmless unless you make them an idol; if you're missing your quiet time, missing church, missing time from work, school or your family, yep, you've got a problem with it- no matter what it is.

    • Stephen Altrogge

      Exactly! Anything can become an idol when it takes the central place in our lives. It can be video games, music, playing in a band, and a bunch of other things. Christ must be at the center.

  • http://thebloginyourowneye.com caleb

    Ah, a voice of reason!

    I believe Driscoll (who I love) and Darrin Patrick (who I love) go a bit too far in condemning video games while admitting to a love of watching baseball. I'm not sure how 3 hours of playing a baseball video game and spectating a 3 hour ballgame on TV are inherently different when it comes to time management and obedience to Christ.

    • Pam

      I agree, Caleb. In fact, the one playing a video game is developing skill (which could be put to use as a fighter pilot or a surgeon performing robotic surgery!) whereas the one watching the game is probably not.
      ps I don't play video games, but I do watch Food Network.

  • Jason

    Excellent post. Thanks for being a voice of reason on this topic.

  • https://www.facebook.com/seth.rima Seth Rima

    Thanks for this post. I'm a seminary student who enjoys unwinding while playing video games as well. My rationale when conversing with people about it generally goes along the lines of some of the recent comments made. "Anything can become an idol when it takes the central place in our lives."

    I've even met people who spend all of their time serving, and condemn video games, when in private conversation it's apparent that serving is in fact an idol to them. EVERYTHING should be in its proper orbit, and that means that we can even idolize serving if it isn't done with the right heart.

  • RevTrev

    This is post is great. I LOVED it. You are right it's not video games but it's selfishness. I do agree with Driscoll it's "…not sinful but stupid." Let me clarify. I am a huge video games guy. Love my sports games and 1st person shooters. I also am a pastor. I was a youth pastor for 11 years now I am privileged to lead and serve our church. Yes I use video games to unwind and not think about people and ministry but it has used me as I have spent WAY too much time on it and lost sleep over it. I have been cranky with my kids over it and not been at my best for my wife and at times the ministry. So when it comes to video games or most things in life it's all in moderation. John Piper said, "You have only have one life, don't waste it." John is right. Mark is right. You are right. Thanks so much for posting this…it's brilliant.
    (We make fun of guys who play World of Warcraft or Diablo 3 but is Madden or MW3 any better? That's a whole other argument.)

  • kurt bennett

    You said it better than I ever could. Outstanding post.

    And I don't even play video games!

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  • Josh

    when I listened to Driscoll's comments, I got the strong impression that he was mostly talking about MMORPGs and online first-person shooters.

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