I assume that everyone reading this holds fast to the pursuit of that which is good and right and manly (or womanly, as the case may be). So what could possibly be Christian and manly about exploring worlds in your pockets?

Firstly, there is the endless struggle of otium and negotium; that is, your free time and your work. Men today have an unparalleled level of otium in their lives. Has there ever been a civilization where so many people, of every class and kind, have so much time when they get to do whatever they want?

Perhaps all we Americans are lords, and the rest of the world our vassals. Perhaps all the work that we’ve been avoiding up is piling up in the metaphysical realm, and some day it’s going to crash down on all of our heads. Then there will be a whole lot less otium to go around.

Setting aside my own personal guilty feelings about an easy lifestyle: I think that young men interact with video games in a brutish way that cultivates idiocy. They play to please themselves; they play for satisfaction, and they play for the chemicals. This is perfectly understandable for the pagan and the hedonist, but the educated Christian should know better. Pleasure should be replaced with joy, and joy is the fruit not of obsessive late night button clicking but faithfulness and tenderness.

Furthermore, it’s not just young men who should be wary. Now, understand that I write simply based on my lived experience and that, in many cases, I have seen the roles reversed. But nonetheless I believe it is helpful to describe two archetypes which I believe have emerged for each gender on how they relate to games. Men, I have seen, far more commonly become cultists who obsess over games and the experience they can provide. Deep and dangerous. Women, on the other hand, can be inclined to a shallow and quick participation with games. They may not enter into any of the cults, but they do fritter away the marginalia of their life with touch screen games on their phone. Spare moments are not given to thought or reflection but pleasant distraction. I would encourage them to consider games for deeper benefits and find a way to use their otium more wisely. Touch screen games are, of course, not inherently evil and I’m sure they can be very pleasant and relaxing. But I feel they lack many of the great strengths and depths of games, while retaining many of the dangers. My writing is specifically targeted towards men because that is what I have experienced much more personally (being, as it happens, a man with close male friends), but I hope that this exhortation would be beneficial to men and women both:

Exercise temperance. Play with others. Follow the rites.

Exercise temperance, but don’t crush your joy. There is a way to be entertained and enthusiastic without joining into the subconscious pagan cults of amusement. Explore new worlds and be pleased with the glory of man and God; he created us so that we could create. Some of us are called to be those game shapers and world makers; get off your ass and do it. And some of us are called to simply enjoy those fruits. Don’t be a glutton about it, and don’t let it be a cancer that devours your free energies.

Earlier, I compared video games unfavorably to actual life experience. But I think it is also fitting to compare video games as a much better alternative to another common American entertainment tradition: television. Television is a medium that by its design cultivates an ultimate level of complacency. You do not act. You do not think. You simply stare before the screen and receive the meal. And, perhaps, when he was dead tired from a day at work and wished to relax, some television was not inappropriate for the average hard working American. But as a regular pattern of life, it is the most shallow and vapid world in which to dwell. I don’t know how people can breathe with a brain that runs on television. Now, television proper is on its way out with the more vibrant technology of streaming, but the culture surrounding it is for now broadly the same–as far as we can tell.

Video games, on the other hand, for all of their power to induce apathy, consist of far more stimulating elements. Image, sound, narrative, and their own unique element: the decision. Television binds you to its weakness. You never get an adrenaline spike watching television. But games are so immersive that they envelop you into idolatry, if you are not careful. I am not arguing that games are an objectively better medium or anything like that. But I am saying that games are far better specifically as a regular method of relaxation, because they engage and train the mind instead of smother it.

So restrain yourself so that you can truly enjoy it. Don’t let yourself grow turgid with the cheap stimulation that so many games are designed to keep endlessly cycling through your mind.

Play with others. I think it’s disgusting to spend nights playing games alone in the dark. (It is vain for you to stay up late!) You could be spending that time sleeping or bonding with others in fellowship. Thankfully, games have an incredible capacity to bind friends together, to unite them in a common purpose, to train them according to the same system, and bring them through the same narrative (and hall of iconography!). This is true not only of competitive games but even single player games that can be enjoyed in the company of friends, whether one plays and the others watch or the friends proceed on their own unique adventures through the same world, playing their own versions of the game simultaneously.

Follow the rites. By this, I mean that is impossible to divorce your free time from your dedication to Christ. In Christianity, even relaxation is religion. And so it is very important that you know which rites you are following. Have you wandered into some sort of heathen infatuation of a game that you think will make you friends? Or are you participating in true fellowship, united by wonder towards the beautiful? A game, while its own seperate world, does not root itself to this plane simply by your experience of it. Participation in the game brings out a whole host of possible activities and attitudes surrounding it. It’s not bad to have a game night with your friends, or to comb through strategies online, or to meditate on fan theories with other nerds in chat rooms. But acknowledge all of these rites, as minute and casual as they are, as ultimately part of the hierarchy of Christ’s lordship. They may just be small branches and leaves in the great tree of your life, but their continued fruitfulness is dependent on what your root is. You can’t cut off all the branches and leaves and expect to have either a healthy tree or healthy branches.

Also, Christians should participate in electronic sports competitions. And win.

All of this, I think, would contribute to a Christian cult of gaming. Cult and culture are inevitably intertwined, so make yourself certain of the cornerstone.

One comment

  • Matthew Paul Michaelis

    I agree with and admire most of what you say, but I think single player games need to be looked at in a different way. I hate watching people play games. If I’m not playing it, I’m not interested. I recognize the problem being addressed is that of cultivating a self sufficient pleasure, but I don’t think the answer is to tout multiplayer games above single player games or to only play single player games with an audience. For something like The Vanishing of Ethan Carter, the ideal playing situation for me, is one in which I’ve set myself somewhere quiet and free of distractions, so that I can give it my full concentration for the 4 or so hours it takes to complete. I have a hard time emotionally investing in art when others are around; my tendency is to become critical. So perhaps our response to single player games (at least for those of us who can’t watch them) is to approach them with greater maturity and intentionality?

    Liked by 1 person

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