The Christian community can be unjustly prejudiced against things like living at home, alcohol, and video games. But is there a sense in which God honoring, Christ exalting Christianity can utilize and even encourage such things? Is it possible that more of God’s glory is revealed in the creation and propagation of video games?
There’s a word group in theological and philosophical circles based upon ‘telos’… it forms words like “teleological” and indicates the end—purpose, goal, perfect-completion, et cetera. And I propose that a teleological perspective (that is a ‘purpose-focused’ perspective) can help open up avenues of enjoying the creative glory of God. Put more simply: let’s ask, “What are video games used for?”
The answers to this question are messy, inconsistent, and likely reveal a bias which is possibly based on ignorance. Here’s why: video games have developed immensely from the first game of Pong. Today there are countless types of games, and exponentially more particular games themselves. They range from brain-teaser games and puzzles, to math based or science based games, language games, narrative games, racing and combat games, and those were simply the ones at the front of my head.
One thing a teleological perspective on games does, is to recognize its type (genre) and to be aware of that type’s tendencies. For example racing games tempt you to ‘go again’ and see if you can beat your previous time. But racing games are also more enjoyable when you are racing against a friend. Therefore, they can tend toward compulsory perfectionism, but they can also tend toward camaraderie, friendship, and connection. Notice though, that even the habit of pursuing perfection, of pulling out all the stops and striving on toward the goal is a good life maxim… even a biblical one!
There are certainly mindless games… the ones that often find their way onto your phone. Games like Angry Birds, or one of the myriad zombie ones. But a teleological perspective doesn’t drown them before consideration: what if your mind processes while doing mindless things like grocery shopping or doodling? Perhaps a mindless game can be used, to a certain extent to encourage the same thing.
Some of the most redeemable (and redemptive) video games are the ones that get the most flack: at least the men who play them do. (They get the most flack because they take the most time.) It’s those narrative games. A broad category certainly, but it’s the games that are built upon a story. The fighting, shooting, puzzles, racing against the clock are typically additives. The reason men are drawn to these games isn’t because you can climb up a wall and kill a guy—the reason they’re drawn is because it’s a story of a man who coincidentally climbs up a wall and kills a guy. Let me explain further.
Narrative-based games incorporate an in-depth, complex storyline that develop the personhood of a character in a world not-quite-like our own. They create worlds to inhabit. They create people to influence. They create skillsets to develop. In other words: they are parallel realities that invite you to vicariously experience what might be. Sure your name may be Altair or Master Chief or Prince or Link or “Enter Name Here,” but as that character lives and moves and breathes, you travel with them to experience something like what they do. But before you get up in arms and exclaim that this is precisely what is wrong, that it encourages escapism or fictional reality, I ask you to consider movies and novels. Movies and novels are enticing precisely because they invite you into another world to experience things through the lens of another. Is that ungodly? Far from it. In the creation of fictional worlds we can see with new eyes truths God has intricately woven into the fabric of our own.
C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien are particularly adamant about the creative efforts of narrative; of the great honor they do to a creative God; of the ways in which looking to something other enables us to look at this more appropriately; of the ways in which timeless principles find legs and feet in an alternate universe and encourage us to live more like Christ here and now. “Oh, but Lewis and Tolkien were talking about books, hardly as time-consuming as a video game.” That’s not true: they were talking about story, not books. Have you ever enjoyed a novel so much that at its bookend, you felt a little sad; as the characters you grew so fond of became entombed on a wooden shelf? That was a good story. And even if playing a video game takes more time… have you considered that they become more involved in the world, see and experience its realities for longer, and as a result are more influenced by its creative ploys?
Which is a good thing if it enjoins a partial biblical worldview. And a bad thing if it does not. You will not likely come across a well-developed game that is thoroughly biblical. But you can come across games that have a sacrificial hero, a warrior nature (requiring you to equip armor), a pursuit of justice, a defeat of evil, a desire for community. These games shed light on biblical truth in ways nothing else could. A teleological perspective examines video games with a view to their end: will this enable me to know and love God more? And sometimes, by the way, that can happen simply by enjoying the creative talents of a person made in the image of God. Or else… why museums? Sometimes simply recognizing the loving hand of our joyous God in preparing the minds of humans to create programming languages, digital-visual technology, sound effects, plotlines, etc. can be a Christ-exalting way of spending a few hours of your week. There’s something amazing about creation creating after the likeness of the Creator.
Related, by others:
“Why I Don’t Have a Television and Rarely Go to Movies” by John Piper
“Why John Piper Doesn’t Own a T.V.” by Andy Naselli
“How to Respond to the Video Game Crisis” by Rich Clark