When TRG first started in 2015, there were articles aplenty stating that Christians should not play video games. You’d typically here 1 Corinthians 13:11 brought up which states,
'When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways.'
Given the context of the chapter that verse 11 sits in, it doesn’t make sense for it to be talking about recreational hobbies when it’s really about not being selfish.
Fast forward to the year of our Lord 2021 and you don’t see too many of them anymore. They’ve transformed into short tweets and snippets in sermons in churches from pastors who have only played Pong maybe once or twice growing up. Sure, video games may have been a childish thing in the 80s and 90s (despite Mortal Kombat single handedly bringing the ESRB to fruition because of it’s mature violence). But video games have grown up. And they’re doing some unique things.
When Super Mario Bros first landed, the story was pretty straight forward: the princess has been kidnapped by a giant turtle who loves Hot Topic so go through all these levels and save her. It really doesn’t get more complex than that. And that was kind of the same level of complexity of most games for that time.
Just in the last decade alone, we’ve seen games handle some heavy subject matter. Take 2018’s God of War for example. The game starts out with Kratos and his son, Atreus, mourning the death of their wife/mother. Now Kratos has to learn what it means to be more gentle and nurturing while Atreus, at the same time, has to learn what it means to step up and be a man. The dynamic between the two is fascinating to watch play out throughout the game. It even garnered some controversy about allegedly putting forth “toxic masculinity”. We discussed the game, at length, for the podcast and found that the game’s worldview of masculinity is similar to what the Bible teaches.
Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice is not nearly as accessible as the aforementioned God of War, I’ll admit. However, the level of care that developer Ninja Theory went to to depict mental illness in an authentic and respectful way is incredible. The game follows Senua who is dealing with the loss of her lover as she embarks on a journey to free him from Hel’s grasp. Throughout the game, you’ll encounter the darkness that seeks to cripple and destroy Senua as she battles her own grief and psychosis that manifests in different forms throughout the game. Make no mistake: Hellblade is a dark adventure and one that is not so easily recommended to gamers. However, it brought mental health to the forefront and sparked conversations around the topic.
A common, and inaccurate, stereotype of people who play video games are anti-social. That may be true of some but gaming is largely a social activity. Many games require communication and team work in order to accomplish a goal. There’s a reason games like Rainbow Six: Seige, Final Fantasy 14, Rocket League and Overwatch are so popular; some even being mainstays within the professional esports arena. (That’s a topic for another day)
In Reality is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World, Jane McGonigal gets into the science of how games give us opportunities to succeed which translates into optimism. This optimism then flows into wanting to share these experiences with others. On page 76, she states:
When we feel a strong sense of agency and motivation, we draw other people closer into our lives. And that’s why so much of the fun failure we experience in games is increasingly taking place in a social context. More and more, we are inviting our friends and family to play with us, whether it’s in person or online.p. 76, Reality is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World, Jane McGonigal
This is why you see large communities made up of people who have a common interest of a specific video game. When you think about it, churches could learn a thing or two by observing how these communities function and implement some of those same community events to reach people.
There are other avenues we could explore but these three will suffice for now. To reiterate: No. Video games are not childish. At least, not anymore. There are some games designed for children, sure. But video games have grown and are doing some incredible things. It’s time to shift the perspective to seeing just how video games are shaping the culture. What are some ways you’ve seen video games be a force for positivity or change culture? Let us know in the comments below and let’s continue the discussion there.