It is hardly a secret that I am not a fan of video games. It’s not that I never played them; on the contrary, we grew up together. My family’s first console was the Magnavox Odyssey 330. It played three games (tennis, handball, and pong) in stunning black and white graphics. It was cutting edge because it kept score on-screen by using actual numbers.
Then we graduated to an Atari 400, not technically a game system, but a home computer. It ran at a blistering 1.77 MHz. (No, that is not an error.)
There were two reasons we only played games on it. First, it had some killer games—most notably Star Raiders, though Centipede and Crossfire were also family favorites. Second, that membrane keyboard was miserable to type on.
One of my friends had the ubiquitous Atari 2600 gaming console. I remember playing Pitfall, Missile Command, and Breakout. I was never much of an arcade enthusiast though I did play Galaga and Centipede at the local Pizza Hut occasionally. Advancing through married life, we’ve owned a Super Nintendo, PlayStation 2, and Wii. The last two were bought for or by the kids and are still functioning in our house.
Now, as I sit smugly looking down my nose at “gamers” while I read my books, I ask myself, am I any less selfish in my tastes and preferred pastime? Is it just a question of temperament or interest?
On a broad, cultural level, there may not be much difference. Does it matter if you’re reading Fifty Shades of Gray or playing Grand Theft Auto? How about Harry Potter vs. Super Mario Kart?
But I’m not concerned with the broader culture. I’m concerned with how we are disciples of Christ, how we pursue Christ-likeness. I’m concerned with what is beneficial rather than just what is permissible.
I am willing to concede that time spent reading a novel may not do anything to further my sanctification. Time spent reading good writing by trusted teachers of the church, on the other hand, might. It’s a balance I often think about. Is there a place for a book purely for entertainment? I know it’s not a question most people even ask and that may be the real problem in all this.
From my lifelong experience with video games, if I ask myself, “Has playing a video game ever advanced me in Christ-likeness?” the answer is no. The only way I can get close to an affirmative answer is by considering that times when I have played video games with other people, that interaction may have been an opportunity to “build relationships.” Video games have usually been solitary endeavors, though, and even when playing with someone, the game play experience is not significantly different than playing alone.
I’m not totally anti-game. Gathering around the table to play cards or a board game with family or friends can be fun. Even this can eat away our time, though it’s probably been decades since any number of people have devoted weekends to table-top gaming.
I think the bottom line issue I have with video games is that the best they can aspire to is “not bad.” That’s a pretty low bar. Books, while there are millions that are “not bad” or below, do have some good and even great titles. Many are making their way onto my re-reading list. Also, books can be educational. I’m not sure I’ve ever learned anything from a video game that I can use in real life.