Rethinking Video Games


I’ve got a confession to make…

I’m a weekend gamer.

I wouldn’t call myself a true gamer. I don’t really have the time. But as much as I don’t have the time to heavily invest in gaming, I do find the odd occasion. In the same way that I’d find time to invest in a novel – and I do love reading – if I find a game with a compelling storyline I’m more likely to invest into it as well.

But usually only on the weekends. Or late at night for around 15-30 minutes at a time. I prefer games I can dip into and leave – which is partly why Massively Multiplayer Online games (MMOs) just don’t interest me at all.

Which brings me to the point of this post. For a little while now video games and gamers have been the butt of many pastoral rebukes. A few years back I really appreciated this post from Stephen Altrogge on the topic – his basic thesis: video games aren’t the problem, the heart behind the laziness and abdication of responsibility is.

And he’s spot on.

Earlier this year the Council of Biblical Manhood and Womanhood also added their helpful thoughts on the evolution of games and what that means for gamers today. The final four paragraphs of conclusions are worth quoting at length:

Ultimately, one’s conviction in regards to video games should remain just that: a conviction. Whether or not one plays video games should come down to whether or not they enrich one’s life, whether they are able to do so to the glory of God, whether they enjoy them, whether they are able to remain present for their families and friends, and whether they are able to provide for their household. The answers to these questions are not uniform among all men. They vary wildly and are dependent on personalities, circumstances and seasons of life.

In play, forgiveness is assumed, but consequences are rigid. Through play, we learn to accept those consequences like men. We learn to bump up against the physical and moral laws of the universe, to rage against them even, and then to accept our inability to cross them.

Generalizations can be ugly, pernicious evils, particularly because they can so easily be “proven” to be true. It’s easy to provide circumstantial evidence that millennials are lazy, that baptist preachers are overweight gluttons, or that Christians are judgmental. After all, lazy millennials, overweight baptists, and judgmental Christians exist.

And yes, immature gamers who refuse to grow up exist too. Some of them play videogames in their mother’s basements. Some of them eat Doritos and drink Mountain Dew. Some of them are content with their situation and refuse to grow up. But not as many as you’d assume.

So I’d like to present my angle on video games to add to the picture. First, it’s not the only angle to view things from. I think both Altrogge’s and CBMW’s articles above add to the picture, as well as biblical mandates for godliness, doing all things for glory of God, and not being hindered by anything.

Second, my angle assumes that Pastors understand that most video games have moved well beyond the ‘mindless button mashing’ of the past. Sure there are still some around today, but usually in formats not designed primarily for gaming – like mobile phones. So to lump all games into one box would be as unfair as lumping fast food chains with 3-star Michelin restaurants into the same category.

Third, my angle is focused on the particular genres of video games which contain story elements and plot lines. There are heaps of games out there in many and varied genres, so my angle on this matter will not apply to every type of game out there.

So what’s my angle?

This: we’ve got to stop seeing games as mindless, and see them more as engaging stories.

I’ve come to this angle through one primary reason – the amount of time you’d invest in a story. For instance, the average reading pace for an adult (according to this site) is 300 words per minute. That means on average the following books would require this many hours to read:

  • Tolkien novels – The Simarillion, The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings = approx. 40 hours (720k words)
  • Harry Potter = approx. 60 hours (1,084k words)
  • Twilight series = approx. 32 hours (591k words)
  • Chronicles of Narnia = approx. 18 hours (323k words)
  • Hunger Games series = approx. 17 hours (305k words)
  • Jack Reacher novels = approx. 142.5 hours (2,565k words)

Interestingly enough the Bible would take approximately 43 hours (774k words) to read.

That might look like a lot of time. And it is. And I don’t think that’s a bad thing. It’s just a realistic take on how long we’d need to invest in these books. But when it comes to reading I don’t think there’s a Pastor out there who would say reading is a waste of valuable time. Sure, what you read is important, but I haven’t seen or heard a sermon titled, ‘Why reading anything other than the bible is ungodly’.

As with video games, what sort of games we play is important as well. Here’s a selection of games I’ve played in recent years which I thought had a decent story line – or at least story lines which held my interest – and their approximate playing time:

  • Star Wars Knights of the Old Republic: 40 hours
  • Force Unleashed: 10 hours
  • Force Unleashed 2: 6 hours
  • Assassin’s Creed: 20 hours
  • Assassin’s Creed 2: 38 hours
  • Need for Speed (Undercover): 15 hours

Now, does this mean I’ve wasted all that time? Well, that’s actually for me to be held responsible for on the day of judgement. But the point is this: let’s move past condemning video games broadly as a waste of time when the format of games themselves have evolved so much that they are pretty much the same as investing into novels.






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