To understand fully where I am coming from, this article should be read alongside its companion article, 4 Reasons Video Games Are Not Worth Playing. I am not being intentionally wishy-washy on my stance on videogames, I really think there are sound arguments for why Christians should be wary of video games as well as sound arguments for why video games are a worthwhile activity for Christians to engage in.
Let me say at the outset, that despite what you have heard, video games are not evil. This is a common fundamentalist misunderstanding of art. Simply put, video games do not have souls and therefore are neither good nor evil. Human beings as the creators of video games are the ones that infuse them with either positive or negative qualities. Thus to label all video games as evil, connotes a misunderstanding of art–video games just like any other art form can communicate many different messages. I think that video games, therefore, can sometimes possess worthwhile messages. Certainly many video games are not worth playing because of the message they convey but that doesn’t mean that there are not worthwhile games out there. However, the video game industry does tend to make games which lend themselves to abuse (or more pointedly to addiction)–I discuss this in the companion article.
4 Reasons Why Video Games are Worth Playing:
1. Video games can foster community – I experienced this recently playing Beatles Rock Band with 6 students from my church–all at once! It was a lot of fun–we laughed at each other at how terrible each of us sing and we helped those who had never played before learn how to play the drums and the guitar. It was a lot of fun and I think some community was built. Certainly there are more worthy ways to build community, but that doesn’t rule out video games altogether. Having fun laughing and working together can help to build community. Games like Little Big Planet and Super Mario Brothers Wii encourage team work and are just plain fun to play in group settings. If you have never played it, I recommend next time you have several people over to your house (if you have a Wii), trying WarioWare: Smooth Moves and tell me if its not fun! Furthermore, many sports games are fun to play with friends and having fun with friends is generally a good thing.
2. Video games are fun. I basically made this argument already so I won’t say much here. Simply put, video games are fun to play. Entertainment is not evil in and of itself. If we elevate entertainment to “god” status, we have certainly erred and made video games an idol. But again the error lies in us and not the medium itself. It is possible to play video games for fun in healthy doses and in such a way that we are not making an idol out of it. Everyone does things for entertainment and everything we do for entertainment can be engaged in healthy and unhealthy ways. A basic rule of thumb is to check yourself before blaming the medium itself. Sin comes out of the heart of man not from outside (Mark 7:18-22).
Furthermore, video games are an art form. We don’t often think of them that way, but nonetheless they are art and people created in the image of God are capable of creating beautiful art worth experiencing–sometimes this actually happens in video games (i.e. Shadow of the Colossus). I would even say that the way in which FIFA 10 displays “the beautiful game” is well, beautiful.
3. Video games make people think. Video games can help people develop critical thinking skills and challenge us in moral decision making. I discussed this briefly in a previous post. Video games have changed dramatically over the years and some of them are now very complex in the world they present. Many video games today offer the player a great deal of freedom in the choices they make and the way in which they accomplish their quest (think Fallout 3, Infamous, or Fable). Many video game developers are working to make games more like real life–such that the player decides what kind of person he or she will be in the game. This, can be a healthy exercise. Certainly, some will posit that gamers will choose to be hedonists in such games (and perhaps less like real life because video games aren’t real), and certainly that temptation is present. I would say, however, that that temptation is present everywhere in and everything we do.
4. Many games still operate on the traditional good vs. evil scheme. This is changing as postmodern ethics begin to make their way into the medium of video games, but nonetheless, I would say a great number of video games are still made with a traditional understanding of good vs. evil (think Mario games, many role playing games like Final Fantasy, and most superhero games).
So there you have it, though not a comprehensive list, I hope this gives you some perspective on why the medium of video games is not inherently evil and in fact can be engaged in such a way that positive results follow. As with any form of entertainment or any art form, it can be abused. That possibility should not discourage Christians from thinking about ways to engage video games redemptively.