I grew up playing video games.
I blame this lifelong passion on my Dad, really. One of my earliest memories was him teaching me to play some cowboy shooting game – you had to click on a bad guy that would appear at random across the screen.
I was hooked from that afternoon.
I’d go on in my childhood to play titles like Commander Keen, Wolfenstein 3D and Doom on our little MS-DOS computer. Dad and I would wait with anticipation for the monthly issues of PC Gamer – the magazine always came with a floppy disc with the latest demos.
Simpler times. Good times.
Later, as a teenager, I devoured series like Red Alert, Diablo 2, Warcraft 3, Counter-Strike, Halo and Guild Wars. Countless afternoons were spent sat in front of various versions of the PlayStation and the X-Box.
And I’m still playing today. (I’ve already preordered Destiny 2.)
So, you know I’m not a “casual”, ‘kay? I’ve enjoyed video games for more than 20 years. Which makes me an older person. Which means that while I know that gaming can be highly addictive, I also know that it can be a powerful tool for fellowship … when managed well.
MORE THAN JUST A GAME
Yet gaming often feels like something too trivial to talk about, almost like its another topic to be filed under the “Boys will be Boys” folder.
But when you consider how much time is sunk into this hobby, and by whom, you’ll find there’s certainly a lot at stake.
The Straits Times reported that a study by DQ Institute and NTU discovered that the typical 12-year-old in Singapore spends up to 46 hours a week – more than 6.5 hours daily – glued to a screen. Even nine-year-olds are spending more than 24 hours a week, or about 3.5 hours daily, doing the same.
When any activity takes up this much time in our lives, we need to know exactly what we’re walking into.
LIVING A HALF-LIFE
Google defines addiction as “the fact or condition of being addicted to a particular substance or activity”. I think that’s a reasonable baseline.
I wouldn’t say I’m addicted, but I’ve certainly been guilty in the past of becoming frustrated at my Mum when she told me to get off the computer. I just didn’t get why the older generation could never understand some games can’t be paused – that 4 or 5 teammates were relying on me.
At that point I didn’t understand that there were other people waiting for me too … at the dinner table.
When I finally noticed that I had been raising my voice to defend my hobby, I realised self-examination was in order. Upon reflection, I became convicted that I was playing a bit too much, and that my priorities needed realignment.
I still believe it’s perfectly fine to play video games regularly. But when do you cross the line where it’s no longer alright?
“I have the right to do anything,” you say — but not everything is beneficial. “I have the right to do anything” — but I will not be mastered by anything.” (1 Corinthians 6:12)
Paul is speaking about sexual immorality here, but the principle is still applicable: Is this game beneficial? For me, before I unwind and hit a dungeon with my friends, I ask myself if my time could be better spent somewhere else in the moment.
And sure, the holy-moly answer to that question is probably always “yes”. But we all have hobbies we love – be it baking or windsurfing – and we just need to enjoy them wisely.
I love gaming as much as the next person, but I think there’s infinitely more to life than mere pixels.
So, I check if I’ve spent time with God before logging in. I check to see if my ministry is in order.
There have been many times when I couldn’t answer “yes” to such checks. But there were also many times when I could game in peace – and these were the sessions where I had the most fun.
Gaming should not be taking up all your time. And it should certainly not be shaping how your life looks. For instance: Skipping church service so you can make it for a raid. Or missing cell group so you can work on your kill streak.
I look at the profiles of some of the people I’ve added on Steam, and it boggles me how some of them play 75 hours a week. What does that all amount to?
“God, this is the exotic weapon I spent two years grinding for.”
“Here, Lord, I finally unlocked all the achievements.”
“Father, here’s my flawless run through Dark Souls 3.”
It sounds harsh, but isn’t a life lived for anything apart from God’s purposes a waste? I love gaming as much as the next person, but I think there’s infinitely more to life than mere pixels.
We are not to be “mastered by anything”.
JOINING A PARTY
A few years ago, some of the guys in my cell group began gaming with each other. We started with a game called Guild Wars 2, and eventually the Telegram group chat was set up, the Discord channel … the works.
But what I got out of the time we spent together, wasn’t what I was used to in gaming. Gaming can be very antisocial, but here I had found a community. Each time we gathered, we could be our nerdy selves and have a hilarious time.
We now game because we are close friends wanting to spend time together — not for the game itself.
But it was more than that. While slaying orcs or exploring a new land, we would also update each other about our day or talk about how school was going. This Christian community of gamers grew to be a place where we edified each other.
Of course, it wasn’t as intentional as a cell group. We gamed together chiefly because it was fun, but also because we increasingly enjoyed each other’s company – becoming close enough to be able to speak into each others’ lives. We now game because we are close friends wanting to spend time together — not for the game itself.
I believe that we need to invite God to direct our passions — that we might enjoy our hobbies in a healthy and holy way.