Adult use of Video Games for Leisure: A Christian Ethic

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Video games are here to stay as an entertainment medium. Are they a curse on our civilization or can we be more positive about them? The way Christians approach this topic reflects what they believe about the character of the God they believe in and acts as a signpost to non-believers. The aim of this paper is to present a biblically informed Christian ethic on the adult use of video games for leisure.


<p>As of 2013, about 316 million people live in the United States according to the US Census Bureau report</p> <p>Adult use of Video Games for Leisure: A Christian Ethic</p> <p>Adult use of Video Games for Leisure: </p> <p>A Christian Ethic</p> <p>by </p> <p>James Arthur Jardin</p> <p>for Christian Ethics ST360, SP14</p> <p>Dr. D. Doriani, Covenant Theological Seminary</p> <p>Contents</p> <p>Introduction.3-5</p> <p>Video Games.5-7</p> <p>Adulthood7-9</p> <p>Play and Leisure 9-11</p> <p>Consequential..11-15</p> <p>Deontological15-17</p> <p>Existential..17-18</p> <p>Conclusion.18-19</p> <p>Bibliography.19-21</p> <p>IntroductionVideo games are violent, addictive, and pointless. This sentiment is often heard when talking about video games. As I researched for this paper, one of my friends commented that because so many over age 18 play video games, we are more stupid, out of shape, and lethargic. On a LinkedIn discussion thread I participated in about the positive aspects of playing video games one person commented: Its better to go do some physical exercise outdoors. [Video games] are just stupid, says a well-known megachurch pastor. Men are increasingly unable to have healthy social lives because of a combination of video games and pornography, asserts a notable figure in the field of psychology. A 24-year-old man used video games to prepare a to go on a murderous rampage in a 2012 theater shooting in Colorado, (in which 12 people were killed and 59 were wounded) according to a criminal profiler on a CNN interview.</p> <p>We encounter these views implicitly on TV shows and movies and explicitly at church and in articles and in their comment feeds on anything video game related on both Christian websites like Focus on the Family and non-Christian websites such as CNN. Meanwhile, releases for major titles continue to be huge events for retail stores and video game production for a major game such as Halo yields millions of dollars on day one of sales. Video games are here to stay as an entertainment medium. Are they a curse on our civilization or can we be more positive about them? The opening statement is a powerful value judgment on what a major portion of the American adult population (about 51% of all Americans over the age of 18 [over 124 million]) uses for leisure time. There is a general negativity toward the adult usage of video games both in and outside of the church. Christians are called to be salt and light to the world. The way Christians approach this topic reflects what they believe about the character of the God they believe in and acts as a signpost to non-believers. The aim of this paper is to present a biblically informed Christian ethic on the adult use of video games for leisure.</p> <p>John Frame provides a working definition of ethics. He wrote that ethics is a means of determining which persons acts and attitudes receive Gods blessing and which do not. I, as the writer of this paper, dont have the authority to declare right and wrong in an ultimate sense and neither does the reader. God does. He is the creator of all things and He rules over everything He has created. Mankind was created in Gods image and made able to make value judgments. The effects of sin however mar the minds of all mankind so the value judgments we make are not reliable in an absolute sense, but mankind is capable of making value judgments nonetheless. The minds believers in Christ have begun healing and so begin to think freely without the bondage of sin. Following Frame again, he remarks: Most people who think about ethics, Christian and non-Christian alike, are impressed by the teleological, deontological, and existential principles. Respectively these are consequential or results based, duty based, and character based principles. With a framework in place to approach the concept of ethics, a few other factors must be addressed in order to answer the main question at hand.</p> <p>Video Games</p> <p>What does this paper refer to when considering video games? The definitions of the following terms will frame this discussion: game, play, and finally video game. The Oxford American Dictionary (OAD) defines them respectively:</p> <p> game: a form of play or sport, especially a competitive one played according to rules and decided by skill, strength, or luck.</p> <p> play: engage in activity for enjoyment and recreation rather than a serious or practical purpose. video game: a game played by electronically manipulating images produced by a computer program on a television screen or other display screen.</p> <p>Practically stated, this paper is composed with games within the mainstream in mind, ranging from a smart phone game like Flappy Bird to an PC game like World of Warcraft (and all variations of video games in between), which are played by adults but not for profit or vocation.</p> <p>Video games have matured as a narrative medium and share some of the same characteristics of cinematic blockbusters. One can play a game with a relatively simple narrative and linear game such as an old Super Mario Brothers for the original Nintendo system. Here, the game is cartoon-ish and light hearted with very little in the way of a substantive message to take away from it. Here the player can only kill the bad guys. One can also play a game such as The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, with an expansive virtual world with interweaving character stories, adult choices about justice and mercy, the clash between goodness and wickedness, and spiritual overtones. Or they could play Bioshock: Infinite, and be confronted with both issues of religion and race in a similar vein to a political science fiction/fantasy novel. In these latter two, the violence is graphic and in Skyrim, the player has the option to kill bad guys and good guys alike. Video game narratives may also link in well with the Biblical framework: Creation, Rebellion, Redemption, and Restoration. Games like LittleBigPlanet, Minecraft and Sim City encourage mimicking Gods own creative acts through building. Games such as Fallout, Borderlands, and Grand Theft Auto exist in worlds that are dystopian and deeply broken, crying out for redemption and restoration but only give you fleeting tastes of relief. Other games like Halo, Legend of Zelda, kami, and to some extent Call of Duty games allow the player to take on the role of a messiah-like character (or characters) who restores the world. Every time a game comes to a satisfying conclusion where wrongs are righted and a hopeful future is established, players connect with a taste of the promise we are longing for of a world with no suffering or death, which Scripture tells us comes about at the restoration of all things. On the knowledge of religion, John Calvin said: Since the perfection of blessedness consists in the knowledge of God, he has been pleased, in order that none might be excluded from the means of obtaining felicity, not only to deposit in our minds that seed of religion of which we have already spoken, but so to manifest his perfections in the whole structure of the universe, and daily place himself in our view, that we cannot open our eyes without being compelled to behold him. In the same vein, Jerram Barrs writes: It seems that among every people on the face of this earth there is recollection of the original good creation; there is awareness that the world we now live in is broken and fallen, and there is recall of the promise and hope of the restoration of what is good. This true knowledge exists sometimes in stronger form, sometimes in weaker, but is always present. Christian and many a non-Christian alike share this awareness, as Barrs calls it. Video games are a venue for these observations and recollections to happen.</p> <p>Kevin Schut points out: Video games absolutely do not need to be solitary activities. Rather they are social spaces. Some games such as World of Warcraft or League of Legends have fostered community amongst friends who commit to playing with each other regularly to enjoy adventures together in these virtual worlds. In fact, 27% of all Americans play games with friends at least an hour a week. This diverse video game world is what should be remembered as this discussion progresses. Video games in general are as much of a valid form of leisure as watching a Hollywood movies or reading fictional stories because they often share much common ground both in terms of narrative and content. Adulthood</p> <p>What makes this problem unique when considering adults? Scripture makes it plain that there is a way of living like a child, which is different from living like an adult. The Apostle Paul keyed in on this reality when considering our continual development in life in light of Gods unchanging truth. God created all things in history and mankind carries this sense of development over the passing of time. We must admit that there is ambiguity in Scripture on what exactly constitutes an adult while still acknowledging that there is a clear distinction between child and adult. Generally considered, children are physically weaker, think simply, and are dependent upon others for their well being. Conversely, adults are physically more capable, think more complexly, and are more capable of fending for themselves. Experientially, we feel it when we see things that are appropriate for children versus adults. We react differently if we see a small child or an adult reading Hamlet (complex thinking) and if we see an adult or a child eating with toddler sized eating utensils (physical capability and dependency). The OAD defines adult as: a person who is fully grown or developed. Consider the words: fully grown or developed. When referring to physical development, there will likely be much consensus on what constitutes a fully physically grown or developed person. However, there is growing complexity in other areas of development. </p> <p>When specialists speak of developmental stages, a somewhat new stage as been identified: emerging adulthood (as opposed to full adulthood, which is culturally defined as by the end of schooling, a stable career, financial independence, and new family formation). Christian Smith says this age group is made up mainly of 18- to 23-year olds. He points to six major changes in the broader social scheme in America which all contributed to the rise of this distinctive group. </p> <p>1. Emerging adults live in a world where higher education opportunities have ballooned and some remain in school into their 30s before beginning a career.</p> <p>2. This age group is in no hurry to marry, waiting to be 26 to 28 years old before marrying for the first time.</p> <p>3. They have grown up in a world where the economy has undermined stable and lifelong careers and has replaced them with careers with less stability and require ongoing new training and skills.</p> <p>4. Parents of this age group, aware of the previous realities, are financially supporting their children into their 20s and 30s.</p> <p>5. There is less pressure to settle down after having a child. With the dawn of birth control, casual sex has become a common part of relationships and there is no pressure to become a parent while remaining sexually active.</p> <p>6. The diffusion of postcultural and postmodern thought has fostered a celebrated sense of uncertainty, difference, fluidity, ambiguity, multi-vocality, self-construction, changing identities, particularity, historical finitude, localism, audience reception, perspectivalism, and more amongst this age group.</p> <p>The American experience has changed a good bit for adults between 18 and 30. Some are unaware just how much the cultural landscape has changed in the generational gap. These changes foster a greater space for play and leisure in the lives of many emerging adults than previous generations experienced at that same age of life. Emerging adults are likely to treat their experience, which includes greater space for play and leisure, as normal and therefore good or better than previous generations. This will naturally lead to conflict with their elders from earlier generations who saw their alternate experience, which allowed for less space for play and leisure, as normal and therefore good or better than younger generations. They may be less understanding of the present realities that their generation contributed to and dont understand why some young adults wont just act like adults in their day. This means that in forming ethical expectations of adulthood, it is all the more important to consider data from outside our personal experience, both young and old, and seek to critically consider what adulthood is and isnt about. C.S. Lewis gave a helpful word of caution on this issue as he wrote: </p> <p>Critics who treat 'adult' as a term of approval, instead of as a merely descriptive term, cannot be adult themselves. To be concerned about being grown up, to admire the grown up because it is grown up, to blush at the suspicion of being childish; these things are the marks of childhood and adolescence. And in childhood and adolescence they are, in moderation, healthy symptoms. Young things ought to want to grow. But to carry on into middle life or even into early manhood this concern about being adult is a mark of really arrested development. When I was ten, I read fairy tales in secret and would have been ashamed if I had been found doing so. Now that I am fifty I read them openly. When I became a man I put away childish things, including the fear of childishness and the desire to be very grown up.</p> <p>Play and Leisure</p> <p>What does the Bible have to say about play or leisure? Scripture offers some guidance regarding these ideas. When using an English word search in the English Standard Version bible translation, play turns up 56 times. Five Hebrew verbs and three Greek verbs are used to produce the English word play in the ESV. When we read it in the ESV it usually refers to unfaithfulness (29 times hnz), use of a musical instrument (22 times !gn, , , ), entertainment or amusement (4 times qxf, [[v, qxc), and honoring oneself as one with great wealth when actually being poor (1 time dbk). When counting the occurrences of all the variations of both the Hebrew and Greek root verbs where the ESV translated play, the number rises to 135 times, with the New Testament accounting for only six instances out of the whole, exclusively referring to using musical instruments. The verbs that refer to the kind of play relevant to this discussion show God describing how He will treat his people as a mother bouncing a child upon her knees, they describe delight in the Law of the Lord, both positive and negative laughter, as well as celebration and mirth.</p> <p>The redemptive historical arc of Scripture makes little sense without the positive elements of celebration and play. The establishment of feasts and celebrations throughout Scripture reveals God cares not only about the work we do but has an appreciation for having fun. Dan Doriani makes the following obse...</p>