Violent Videogames

Micah Murray recently wrote for Convergent Books about how he has stopped playing violent video games. It’s a great piece about how he didn’t feel it made him a violent person or anything like that, but it was weird for him to set aside his convictions for an hour or two for the sake of entertainment. He doesn’t condemn any Christians who still play violent games, but says that he can’t anymore. I think of it like Paul’s teaching on eating meat sacrificed to idols, personally: not a clear right or wrong, but listen to your own conscience and if you do say yes for yourself, also respect those who say no.

Teen Gaming

Arguably the greatest game ever

I played videogames as a kid/teenager, primarily loving the old RPG’s (turn-based strategy-driven). I had both a Playstation 1 (PSX) and a PS2 and played probably at least an hour a day on average. I could really get into the stories and it was so much more engaging than just watching TV.

I remember my stepdad who is a hunter and shoots handguns for recreation trying to convince me I would love it because I loved very similar in the virtual world (for American readers, note there is much more control here – we’re talking about licenses and dedicated gun ranges, not leaving a loaded gun on the table just in case of a thief) . Except that I always hated shooter games and still do. The games I played that had mild violence were usually very different control schemes, strategically selecting between attack options in a menu rather than aim and fire. The first time I shot an air rifle at a camp I worked still felt weird to me, let alone an actual gun that could be used to hurt someone, very different than pressing a button on a controller.

In my last year of high school, I basically got bored of all gaming very quickly. I’m not really sure why. Maybe I felt I needed to grow up and this was the way to do it.

The University Wii

I was gifted a Wii at the beginning of my fourth year of university by my parents primarily for Wii Fit, which I stopped using about 6 months later after our school built a new and much better gym but I did really appreciate so I was less embarrassed when I did go to the gym. Other than that, I used it for relaxed party games (what Wii is great for) as a way to connect with friends and we often had Wii parties on Friday nights. Some had mild violence, but very cartoony, games like Super Mario. I bought a single-player once and played it once before completely losing interest. So for the most part I didn’t really game for about 8 years.

The Xbox One

I bought an Xbox One when it came out last September. The primary reason was for its media capabilities as we wanted to clean up having a PC, a Blu-Ray, and the Wii all hooked up at once (and occasionally one of the BlackBerry phones or tablets). I quickly became obsessed with the only launch game I bought: NBA 2K14. No violence there unless you count intentional fouls. It really does help me relax and I’ve spent a lot of time on it, usually right after work until my wife gets home. The next one I really got into was LEGO Marvel Superheroes, because apparently I am 12 years old, which has cartoon violence where nobody ever even dies. No problem there. Child of Light is an old-school RPG which was a little more realistic graphically, but not by much and till easy to disassociate through strategic menus.

Most recently, I’ve been playing Tomb Raider. To risk playing spoiler, about an hour or two into the story, Lara (controlled by you) is forced to kill for the first time after she is attacked. She breaks down crying for about a minute, then you take control and go on your merry way, probably killing another 300 by the end of the single player mode. I remember reading reviews before buying the game about how weird it was that she became a killer so quickly, which I agreed with when I got there. That said, it is still all framed around the necessity for survival where they attack first and the killing is interspersed between a lot of sneaking around, a compelling storyline by game standards, some puzzle-solving, and some RPG-like elements. It’s also much more realistic, not with copious amounts of blood or anything, but realistic.

I’ve now finished the single-player mode. I have played the multiplayer a few times which is pretty much a standard shooter game, except not as good and probably less graphic than most. It’s 90% “just kill the other team” and the RPG-like elements and the game modes seem irrelevant. I don’t necessarily feel like it is making me a violent person, but I don’t enjoy it nearly as much.

My Guidelines

For me, then, I think I’ve put the line somewhere around this: a game with violence doesn’t bother me but a game where violence is meant to be the entertainment itself does. Violence in games (and movies) is much like sex in movies for me: I can’t do the teenage-targeted sex-driven comedies but I’m generally fine with an artistic sex scene in a movie about something bigger. Violence, like sex, can be a helpful tool for telling a story, especially if the violence is presented negatively.

Am I doing things in a game that I wouldn’t do in real life? Yes. Do I think that’s inherently a problem? No. Trust your conscience and pay atttention to whether your attitudes change. For some, you might want to avoid all violent videogames and that is great. For others, you probably are ok with all violent games and that is great. A bunch of others are probably somewhere in the middle like me.

Ryan Robinson

It is easiest to identify Ryan as both theologian and tech guy. By day, Ryan is a Technical Consultant work with PeaceWorks Technology Solutions. There, he works on websites, CRMs, and SharePoint implementations. Along with blogging here, Ryan is a founding member of the MennoNerds blogging network and a contributor to the book A Living Alternative.