Should a Christian play video games? Is it benign entertainment? Is it somehow sinful? Does it stunt spiritual growth? Does it help spiritual growth?
All these questions (and more) usually surface when discussing whether or not a Christian should play video games. Some of them are easily answered. Others are not. Further complicating the discussion, I think, is the issue of age: a child or teenager playing video games is a different situation from an adult playing video games. There isn’t really a straightforward answer to these questions or this issue, despite what some may claim. So, let’s take a look at some of these issues, and others.
First, I suppose we should answer the question: “What are video games?” I would classify video games as active entertainment. Instead of sitting on a couch watching something, like sports or Netflix, and consuming that content passively (i.e. not doing anything), in a video game you are actively participating in the entertainment experience. In my opinion then, on a broad macro level, to ask the question, “Should a Christian play video games?” Is the same as asking the question, “Should a Christian enjoy entertainment?” The answer is “it depends.” I think most would agree that framed this way video games are at least permissible, but here we are concerned with the advisability of playing video games, not permissibility.
Next, we have to consider who is the one playing? Is it an adult? A teenager? A college student/recent grad? A young adult (i.e. 20-something)? These are all very different life circumstances and levels of maturity. For this article we’ll start with the practical considerations for an adult and then move on to younger ages. Then we will take a look at the spiritual considerations.
An adult likely has several areas of responsibilities and commitments that need to be fulfilled. One would be to an employer (even if it’s yourself). You have to show up to work and have to perform well otherwise you make no money. Another area would be to their apartment/house in keeping it maintained and cleaned so that it is livable. If they are married then they have a responsibility to their spouse (and also children if they are present). On top of this they might also volunteer/serve in a specific area in their local church. If video games are getting in the way of fulfilling any of these responsibilities then it’s time to quit.
College student or recent graduate
A college student or recent graduate has similar responsibilities, but they are in a slightly different life context. They still have a living space they need to take care of. They still need to do laundry. And pay bills. And have volunteer responsibilities to fulfill. Most likely they are not married (although they may be involved in a serious relationship).
The most significant difference for this age group I think is their career. They are either just starting it or looking to start it. How this is handled can have a major impact on the rest of their life. In my opinion this should be the top priority for this age group. Whether it’s putting in extra hours at work or trying to get a certain internship (or additional internships) or whatever I think career considerations need to come first. Don’t become a workaholic, but do put in the hard work necessary to advance. If you are choosing video games over your future and your work, grades, or opportunities are suffering as a result, it’s time to quit.
Now, I will say, that if someone is early in their college career (or about to start it) and they are obsessed with a certain game for whatever reason they might be better off dropping college and taking care of their obsession first. Notice I said obsession not addiction, they are different. People who are obsessed still take care of their other responsibilities. There are some people who legitimately enjoy playing video games and obsessing over their performance and being the best. Not the best they can be. The best period. If someone fits this category I think they are better off chasing their obsession and attempting to fulfill whatever goals or dreams they might have for that game. If they don’t have any clearly defined goals or dreams then help them develop some (e.g. become a content creator for said game). Long term what will happen is that either they will succeed and enjoy success, possibly even monetary success. Or they will flame out and fail, lose the obsession, and start looking towards a career. Actually, they might even do both. In either case they will experience growth and character development (succeeding on a national and international level in video games requires discipline and commitment) and whenever they do move on to a more traditional career will have put this obsession behind them.
This might not sound ideal, and in some ways it isn’t, but it is what I think needs to happen. I have been around video games for quite a while now and have seen this type of person many times. They are not just going to put this obsession behind them and buckle down and focus on their career. They need to be allowed to pursue their obsession and get it out of their system one way or another. Yes, they may start college at a later age, but they will be more focused and care more about their education than if they went before they were ready and had the desire to focus on their future career.
This situation is not all that different from the so-called “student-athlete” who really just wants to try to make a professional league and doesn’t give a rip about their education. Such people are also better off being allowed to pursue their dream and then coming back later to complete their education.
Now, moving on to teenagers. This is an interesting and complicated situation because it involves people who are in a critical developmental period of their life and video games can have a significant impact one way or the other on their development. There are many things to consider when it comes to the development of a teenager and I cannot discuss them all here. So instead, I will focus specifically on the role video games can play in their lives.
I think the primary area video games can influence teenagers is regarding socialization where it can have either a positive, negative, or benign effect.
Positively, if a teenager is shy, timid, has social anxiety, or some other condition that makes socializing and interacting with others difficult then, believe it or not, video games can actually have a positive effect. While removing the physical presence of a person isn’t ideal in most cases, for someone who has issues communicating face-to-face removing that physical presence can ease their anxieties and help them learn how to interact with others.
I know LAN parties are a thing of the past, but there is no reason why they still can’t be held. These also provide an opportunity for socialization and fun. I have some very good memories from LAN parties.
Negatively, video games can be a source of escapism that are turned to when problems arise. Instead of dealing with whatever these problems might be the use of video games serves to help mask or ignore whatever the issue(s) might be. Ideally, I think, teenagers (and many adults for that matter) need to learn how to deal with problems, difficulties, and disappointments instead of learning how to mask or numb whatever feelings they are having as a result of such things.
Finally, video games might just be benign entertainment. Teenagers like having fun. Video games are fun. Therefore, teenagers play video games. As long as they are not adversely impacted by them (e.g. their grades suffer) then video games are just benign entertainment.
Now with the practical matters out of the way let’s take a look at the spiritual considerations in relation to video games. These are going to be mostly the same regardless of age or life circumstances, so I won’t be making any distinctions here.
One thing to be considered is what effect the content is having on your thoughts. I think ideally a Christian is able to play through and experience a fictional story without it having a negative impact on their faith or causing doubts or whatnot. Whether this is possible or not depends a great deal, I think, on the strength of the faith and theology of the Christian. If an element of the story challenges your belief in some form you need to be able to answer that challenge and keep your faith. If playing video games causes you to doubt your faith then it is time to stop playing video games and work on strengthening and solidifying your faith.
Another thing to be considered is the type of attitude playing video games gives you. Most video games are competitive, at least to a certain extent. Whenever those competitive juices get flowing they can bring out some detrimental behaviors and attitudes. What I mean here is that you don’t want to get so engrossed in the game that you snap at whoever or whatever might interrupt you or require your attention instead of the game. Sometimes your spouse, kids, friends, whoever need your attention. They might have an important matter to discuss. They might have some feelings they need to talk about or express. They might just want to spend time with you. You also don’t want to be ditching your friends or avoiding social outings with them just to play video games. If interruptions to your playtime or potential playtime get you annoyed and upset then it’s time to stop playing. As Christians we have a duty to love one another and serve one another and you can’t do that if you are always avoiding others or have your attention divided between them and video game.
Also, if you find yourself becoming irritated at fulfilling these responsibilities or start to find them unusually taxing then it might also be time to take a look at your gaming habits and evaluate whether or not you should keep them. You could be devoting too much time to them, or you might be valuing them more highly than you should.
Finally, and most importantly, what does God want you to do? I know people who have heard very clearly from God to stop playing video games. I also know people who have either not heard clearly or even heard the opposite: keep playing. Obeying what God has called you to do trumps whatever else I have discussed in this article. The points I have discussed here are really a guide to help inform or direct those who don’t know how to go about forming an opinion on or evaluating the issue. If God calls for you to do something, you do it.
So, should a Christian play video games? Well, if said Christian enjoys playing video games, if they are not having an adverse impact on their life or faith, and they have not heard a clear: “No!” from God then yes, they should play video games. The reason is because they are likely deriving some sort of benefit from them and depriving them of whatever that benefit might be will probably bring more harm than good. They might just find them a fun and enjoyable way to relieve stress. They might find inspiration or motivation in them. They might find community in them that they wouldn’t find otherwise (e.g. homebound/disabled).
Whatever benefit a Christian may get out of video games they are likely better off if they keep receiving that benefit rather than being deprived of it. The road to holiness is hard and fraught with difficulties and struggles. We need times of rest, relaxation, and refreshment. It is possible for video games to provide these things to some, and if they provide these things then it would be wrong to deprive them of their benefit.