Christians and Video Games

In the popular PC game Starcraft 2, there are these things called “achievements,” which are basically little accomplishments that you can attain as you play through the game in order to get points… points you use to buy new portraits which can serve as your online avatar.  It’s a lame reward, I know, but getting some achievements can nonetheless be fun.  However, there are some achievements that just boggle my mind:  One achievement category is “Win 1,000 league games as X race.”  Since Starcraft has three races plus a “random” option, to get all of these achievements, you’d have to win (not just play) an astonishing 4,000 games online.  Four thousand!  To make matters worse, there are similar achievements reserved for team play, and since it is unrealistic for a player to expect to win every game, you’re talking about someone who has to play over ten thousand games to have a realistic shot to get all of these achievements.  Wow.

As much as I like Starcraft 2 (still like Starcraft 1 better), it is hard for me to imagine playing that many games, doubly so since I never play league games and only play by myself or with my friends.  If you do the math, even if you play three games per day and win every one of them, which is unlikely, it’d take you the better part of four years to get all the 1 v 1 achievements.  I sincerely hope nobody has achieved any of these yet because SC2 is not even a year old, but I honestly wouldn’t be surprised if someone has or has at least gotten close.  There is something that is strangely addicting about certain video games, and Starcraft is one of them for many people (particularly Koreans).  I have heard stories of people playing Starcraft 1 back in its heyday between 8-12 hours per day, and it’s probably the same for games like World of Warcraft, DoTA, League of Legends, etc.  I have never owned WoW but I’ve tried it, and time can really fly away when you play that game.

Video games were first thought to concern only nerds, but they have slowly become mainstream in society, such that now even female gamers over 18 are increasing dramatically.  For many Asians, it is both a cool sign and a troublesome one:  Asian young people, for a variety of reasons, are stereotypically thought to love video games, but Asian parents are in turn stereotypically anti-video gaming because they think it is a useless distraction away from studying and piano practice.  Many Christians share the same concerns as the latter, especially since people have shown the propensity to get addicted to some games to the point of ridiculousness.  We’re talking about people committing suicide over Everquest or neglecting their infant child while playing WoW.  Thus, for some Christians, and Asian ones in particular, there is a certain amount of suspicion directed at video gaming, and it doesn’t help that some of them feature rather, uh, interesting gameplay such as Grand Theft Auto or Assassin’s Creed (I’m not going lie, these two games can be hilarious).

How then should Christians approach gaming?  On the one hand, I don’t think Christians can condemn video games as things bad in themselves; many games are completely harmless, such as Mario, and in many ways gaming is no different than other hobbies.  Also, while there are games that may have questionable content, there is little evidence that games encourage the destructive behavior they depict in someone who is otherwise not inclined to act that way (the vast majority of folks do not feel the urge to shoot real people after shooting fake people in Modern Warfare, for example).  There is even some evidence that gaming can be good for developing decision making, critical thinking, and reflexive skills.  On the other hand, gaming can become problematic as virtually anything else can be:  It can become an idol.  This is not something unique to gaming, but while there is nothing chemically addicting about games like nicotine, they seem, for whatever reason, more addictive than, say, rock-climbing (and quite a bit less healthy, I might add).  It’s obviously not a good thing when kids are failing school and people are getting fired from their jobs because they are gaming nearly non-stop.  In Ephesians 5:18, Paul says, “Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery.  Instead, be filled with the Spirit.”  This is more readily applicable to chemical intrusions on behavior such as alcohol and marijuana, but the broader principle still applies:  Christians should not allow other things, whatever they may be, dominate our behavior but should instead be led by the Spirit.

To be honest, while I have never been into games to the point where I’m playing such insane hours per day, I do like them enough that I’ll often spend more time on them than reading Scripture or praying, and I am thus in some ways guilty of breaking Eph. 5:18 even though I’m not getting wasted.  It’s not that games are bad in themselves but that some people put an unhealthy priority on them.  It’s one thing if you happen to be a pro-gamer and that’s your job (and yes, you are a gigantic dork if this is the case), but for most of us who game, it is merely a hobby, and spending that kind of time on video games just doesn’t make sense when we are called to walk with God.

For young Christians, especially Asian ones, they really can cut down on some gaming and try not to spend an unhealthy amount of time on them.  Can gaming be a fun hobby for anyone?  Yes.  Can gaming even be a good fellowship activity?  Sure; we got to be amused by some of our college girls playing Left 4 Dead, for example.  But gaming must be kept where it belongs, and that is in the category of a hobby or interest and not a way of life, because at the end of the day, a Christian’s way of life belongs to  God and nothing else.  For Asian Christian parents, they in turn need to realize that this critique of gaming is easily applied to pretty much anything else… and that includes their stereotypical emphases such as violin lessons, high GPAs, and financially lucrative careers.  Anything that gets in the way of our walk with the Lord is problematic, even if that happens to be UT football (oops).

If you like games, have fun with them and don’t feel legalistically inclined to quit.  It’s not the physically healthiest hobby but it’s not necessarily a bad one.  However, if you have a serious problem you may want to back off for a while and get some accountability.  A female friend of mine told me that my encouragement of her playing Starcraft was like me offering her crack cocaine, which is a bit of an exaggeration, obviously, but that at least showed some self-awareness about her tendency to play lots of SC (she actually isn’t bad, but her Super Mario World skills pale in comparison to mine).  This takes some honest reflection and prayer, like anything else, because whether it is League of Legends, shopping, or sports, nothing should be dominating our lives like that.

In other words, if you haven’t played SC1 or SC2 yet, give it a shot and go kill some zerglings.  If, however, you have already gotten those “1000 game” achievements, you need to stop playing, go to the gym, and make sure you still know what color the sun is.  Because that is just… absurd.

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