“Video games are not sinful, they’re just stupid. They’re stupid in this way. Young, particularly men—and women are joining it—they want to get on a team, be part of a kingdom, conquer a foe, win a great, epic battle, and they do it with their thumbs, AND IT DOESN’T EVEN COUNT! You want to do something? Get off the couch, unplug the electronics, give your life to Jesus, find some other guys, and do something that actually matters. Leave a legacy for women, children, generations, not just the high score on some stupid game.”
-Mark Driscoll (Pastor and Founder of Mars Hill Church)
I love playing video games.
And yet I refuse to update my obsolete Wii console or buy any new games. Call me masochistic, but the truth is I’m terrified of what would happen to my life if I actually played all the games I want to play.
I was reminded of this semi-monastic vow last week when I read a coworker’s article in the campus paper discussing (ironically enough) how to find time to play video games in the adult world of tasks and responsibilities. He discussed tips and strategies to help monopolize time for gaming by cutting down on other leisure activities and ‘scheduling’ gaming sessions.
I couldn’t help myself, halfway through the article I started laughing. I simply couldn’t believe that someone, weaned off gaming by the responsibilities of living, would fight to incorporate gaming back into their schedule. “What would you sacrifice?” I wondered. What is lower than video games in the hierarchy of contemporary time-wasters?
As I said, I love playing video games and I continue to play socially, but I pray to God I never throw myself in their embrace they way some of my acquaintances have. Ultimately they are addicting, trite, somewhat useless,one of the lowest common denominators of entertainment in our culture.*
The apologists (my coworker included) will argue for the artistic value, creative accomplishments and so forth, and I concede that in the last 10 years gaming has developed into a deeply interesting medium (visually and from a coding perspective).
But the consumers, those of us spending dozens of hours playing the game, are not the ones utilizing creative skills to produce the artistry.
I have a theory about this actually, about the dichotomy between producers and consumers, and a lot of it comes from my perception of video games. It’s a little harsh, and perhaps too either-or to work on a realistic level, but here goes:
As a writer, as an artist, my goal is get published. To get published I have to write something worth publishing, in essence I have to produce.
As a gamer, my goal is to be entertained. To be entertained I have to spend a bit of money and put in some time, I have to consume.
Producing takes effort, endurance, wisdom, skill, and maturity. Consuming (in this sense) simply requires the ability to transport fork to mouth, to sit before the screen and interact with a completely scripted, egocentric mechanism.
Almost anyone can consume. Most video games require only basic commitments from gamers because they are made primarily as a commodity both entertaining and addictive. And, unless one happens to be involved in the creation or professional study of video games, they are generally useless from an educational perspective.
What they do provide, as Driscoll pointed out above, is a sense of achievement or satisfaction. Unfortunately, the hard work put into a game to achieve an end is almost completely wasted time. I can point to the 200+ hours I put into Monster Hunter a few years back as evidence.
What did I learn from Monster Hunter?
Nothing I couldn’t have learned in 10 hours somewhere else.
We have the choice, as individuals, to balance our lives between consuming and producing. To consume is fundamentally easy, and a great many people choose to spend their free moments consuming for that reason. Producing is fundamentally hard, but it is in the study, practice, and joy of production that people find the most meaning in their lives.
The Tolkien fanatic in me wants to call it ‘sub-creation’, but I’ll refrain to appease the larger audience.
So what is the ultimate distillation of my theory? Well…
Video games are a honey-trap that turn individuals into consumers of someone else’s productivity. On a more nefarious level, they create the perfect escapist fantasy for disillusioned adolescents (especially males), but I’ll get into that another time. They are, as Driscoll states, the destroyers of “legacy”.
If you want to be good at something that matters, if you want to live a life that is satisfying even after you put down the controller, if you want to create, then you can’t afford to be a true gamer.
Gaming is simply an acceptance of mediocrity. A tantalizing but vacuous escape from a harsh (but necessary) truth.
*Admittedly, I’ve grown up with almost no exposure to cable TV.