Dear Pastors, Please Quit Picking On Video Games

Hey Fellow Pastors,

It’s pretty trendy these days to bust on video games from the pulpit. Everybody does it. You make a few comments about the lack of true men these days, talk about guys living in their mom’s basement, then tell them to put down the video games and man up. And you usually throw in a few comments about pornography, and how the two are somehow tied together.

I get what you’re trying to do, I really do. I too want to see the young men of my generation rise up and be true men of God. I want to see my generation kick butt and take names for the kingdom of God. I’m tired of young guys putting off adulthood indefinitely. But can I ask a favor? Could you stop busting on video games from the pulpit?

See, here’s the thing: video games aren’t really the problem. I know you know this, but I feel like I should mention it again. Playing a marathon session of Call of Duty is a symptom of the deeper problem, which is laziness and an abdication of responsibility. The problem is a heart problem, not a screen problem. This isn’t a new problem. Men of every generation have given more attention to their hobbies than the things that truly matter. If it’s not video games it’s hunting, or cars, or sports, or fantasy football, or the newspaper, or the bar. If you’re going to call out the video gamers, I would also suggest that you call out the older guys who devote their time to watching sports or tinkering in their garage, rather than engaging with their families.

The problem is, when you attach a moral value to a particular activity not specified in scripture, you place a burden upon people. You’re calling them to give up something that may not necessarily be sin. The Holy Spirit gives power to overcome sin, not hobbies (unless those hobbies are sinful). Video games aren’t inherently sinful. Of course, they can become an idol, but so can Pilates and working out and health food.

So let me encourage you to challenge the young men in a different way. Instead of throwing low blows at video games, challenge the guys to make the kingdom of God the absolute center of their lives. Challenge them to put to death laziness, to read their Bibles, and to serve their butts off in church. Challenge them to pray for a godly wife. Challenge them to punch a hole in their computer if it’s leading them into porn. Challenge them to do great things for the kingdom of God.

When young man’s life revolves around Jesus, video games fall into their rightful place – a gift from God to be enjoyed. If you simply tell them to stop playing video games, they’ll quickly replace that hobby with something else, like movies. So as a fellow pastor and video gamer myself, let’s help the young men in our church rise up to do great things for God.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to finish up my season in MLB 11.

+photo by See El Photo

Comments

  1. Mike says

    Thank you for saying this! There are those of us who enjoy video games a little too much and know the problem is a heart problem. But it sure is hard to fix that problem if instead of finding men willing to come alongside you and encourage you in the right direction, you instead find people who think video games are dumb and just want you throw them all away and do something with your life! (Also to get off their lawn!)

    This sounds pretty in line to your Greener Grass Conspiracy which I'm reading (and loving) right now. I'm planning to lead our men's Bible study in it this semester. Keep up the encouragement for us to put the right things first (as men and women) instead of just trying to throw away an eternal pile of junk we can't overcome on our own.

  2. Laurie says

    While I type this, my son is nagging me for his video game time. I told him no because the PS3 is downloading an update that I need to for my Downton Abby marathon on Netflix. Hee hee.

    But seriously, this whole thing of attaching morals to things that have no innate moral value is epidemic in the mom-blog world too. Maybe I should write my own letter to other mom-bloggers. I cringe when I picture new moms reading about how things "could, should" be.

  3. josh says

    Good article! I used video games in my last sermon. I know what you mean. It can become a crutch for practical application. But I will say two things, one, pastors should keep pointing out relevant symptoms like this. They've got to (one study shows that the average gamer is playing 2.5 hrs a day). Maybe 'epidemic' is too dramatic description, but it's close. And two, most pastors (nearly all) I've heard pick on this symptom have given gospel instruction to those same men. They're just helping them understand how love for Christ should control their minds and time.
    Trendy? Yeah, it is. But it's still a major idol. We shouldn't not talk about it because it's trendy.
    Like I said, good article. I would just say a better word to pastors would be, "keep finding symptoms of sin, and point to the real problem."
    Thanks, josh

  4. Du says

    MLB 11? Really?

    Dude, what time machine did you arrive on to write this article?

    Haven't they already released something like MLB 15? Yikers.

    P.S. It is football season so you should really be playing Madden anyway.

    : )

    • Stephen Altrogge says

      Dude, first of all, MLB 11 is one year old. I bought it for price and because rosters don't change that much. Second, I'm sick of Madden. I've played so many seasons of Madden…you get the point.

  5. says

    Outstanding. Sometimes I find playing a few levels of Transformers Fall of Cybertron is a good way to relax from having spent ALL day at church on a Saturday (I go to a Saturday service, obviously). And let's not forget that games often help with spatial intelligence and map reading skills!

  6. hislovenduresforever says

    Thank you for this! My husband loves to play video games to unwind and I just don't get it as that's the last way I'd want to spend my time. I have heard negative things about video games and have wondered if I should be concerned about my husband playing them. After reading this, I see no reason to be concerned. He does not shirk his responsibilities to play, he plays in his free time, when I choose to read during my free time.

  7. J. Frame says

    I agree with the general sentiment of this post. However, most preachers don't bash on gaming because it's juvenile or takes up too much time but rather because of the content. Many of the games that teens I know spend their time playing are absolute rubbish for the Christian mind.

    • Stephen Altrogge says

      Hey thanks for commenting! I think I would disagree with you on this. Most of the "big" pastors (Driscoll, Platt, Piper, etc…) are bashing on them because young men are putting off responsibility, which is a huge problem in our culture.

      And in terms of what constitutes "rubbish" for the Christian mind, that seems to be a pretty subjective idea. I have a hard time figuring out why football is not considered rubbish while video games are considered rubbish. Or why a novel is not considered rubbish but video games are. Anyway, that may be an extended conversation. Thanks!

      Stephen

    • K. Snyder says

      I struggle with the content as well, esp. the violence and scantily clad women. It was a hard battle with my teen son when other teens in his peer group at church were playing the same games. My husband and I just had to tell him that each family has to decide for themselves. Thankfully, God has done some wonderful things in my son's life. He still likes video games, but is understanding the need for discernment.

  8. dtbiowa says

    The days of giving God all our time are long gone, if we have time to play video games. It used to be that a man got converted and his life changed, from darkness to light. Now we get converted and have plenty of time for video games.

    • Elliot says

      I think that even video game playing can (and should be) an act of worship. If God has our heart he will have all of us no matter what we are doing.

      Saying that we are not giving all of our time to God if we play video games is like saying that if we watch T.V. or take a nap or go for a walk or read a novel. The Christian can spend time relaxing and glorify God without spending every second doing something "super spiritual."

  9. benthorp says

    Great post. I agree – we need to focus on the sickness, not the symptoms. However, we do also need to "call out" the symptoms to help people recognise the sickness. It's finding that balance that is key.

    • Stephen Altrogge says

      I think the problem, though, is that pastors now are calling out this one symptom and neglecting tons of other symptoms.

  10. says

    This is a great view that I do think expands into other arenas besides video games. Many pastors, Christian leaders or commentary essetially comes across as if you are doing anything besides reading your bible, you're wrong. Yes, I agree that laziness and prioritization are huge problems these days, but I think that there are realistic ways to enjoy hobbies without abdicating responsibility.

    Thanks for the great perspective

    • Kyle Mullaney says

      That is a very good point. I think we are made to feel guilty, generally by personal expectations that are amplified by community, when bible time and evangelism are not our only tasks. I consider the early church. They had their occupations and spent time with the body in community, not private devotion but communal, but what about their passions and side activities? Dancing, music making, family? I see a difference here. These diversions were communal in nature while this and many of ours are private. Is that good or bad? I don’t know is the categories apply but I think it is largely related to culture. Video games are generally a private or two person activity; they can be communal. I wish scripture shed more light on the peoples past-times. Culturally they would have been communal and all we see is prayer, worship, and breaking of bread. I wonder if their jobs didn’t leave time for diversions. The reformers had their past times. What do we know about those?

  11. Joseph Randall says

    I would simply say it's possible to preach to people's hearts, motivate them by the power of the Gospel, and also give specific lists of things not to do. The Holy Spirit does it:

    1 Timothy 2:9-10: likewise also that women should adorn themselves in respectable apparel, with modesty and self-control, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly attire, but with what is proper for women who profess godliness- with good works.

    Russell Moore did it:
    http://www.desiringgod.org/blog/posts/fake-love-f

    Just a thought . . .

    • Stephen Altrogge says

      Thanks Joseph. I disagree with Russell Moore's post however. Obviously I agree about the pornography part. But to tell guys not to play video games simply isn't biblical. It's adding a command to scripture that isn't there.

      • Elliot says

        I agree. When the Holy Spirit (in scripture) calls something sin, that is the authoritative norm. If I call something sin I must be able to back it up with scripture. There is nothing in scripture that calls interactive story telling mediums (also called video games) inherently immoral. A books, movies and games are all story telling mediums. Games are more interactive but they all have the same basic function, to entertain through story telling.

      • Joseph Randall says

        Pastor Stephen, you probably wouldn't call braided hair, wearing gold, or pearls or costly attire a sin either. But Paul does. He says don't do it.

        Now obviously, Paul is speaking into a context. And it that context, the Holy Spirit forbids wearing certain things. I think, in the context Moore was writing, it may be a sin to play video games. So, it can be a sin to play video games in certain contexts. If you should grow up and do something more productive and Piperescly not waste your life, then maybe you are sinning by playing.

  12. says

    While I agree with the underlying issues completely, what is a bit disturbing is your use of the line "Playing a marathon session of Call of Duty is a symptom of the deeper problem". Your statement is true but at the surface just playing a 'game' that is about warfare and involves killing as a prime objective AT ALL is somewhere that NO Christian should be. I say this as a person who is in need of cleaning up some of my TV / movie habits (I am not a gamer) so I have my own personal concerns here as well. In other words, I recognize the three fingers pointing back at me in this situation. That said, playing sports video games is a lot less troubling than something that debases humans to targets. There are different levels of the impact of gaming, in my opinion.

    I understand that this may come across a little heavy handed but the whole idea of a true believer even mentioning a game like that even in passing struck me as odd. What are your thoughts?

    • Stephen Altrogge says

      Hey Frank,

      Great question. I guess my question to you would be, do you think warfare is wrong? Do you think that good triumphing over evil is wrong? Because that's the usually the theme of games like Call of Duty. It is warfare, but it's warfare against terrorists. I have trouble saying that is wrong.

      • K. Snyder says

        But warfare at any cost, and with any method? What about the use of profanity? What about torture? What about God being the only one to exact vengeance? These were some of our struggles.

  13. Josh says

    I agree with the premise that video games in and of themselves aren't bad, BUT I do think they are called out because that is the modern-day symptom. Back in the day, maybe men abdicated responsibility by going out to the shed and spending time carving wood, but today it is zoning out in front of the screen. This coming from someone who enjoys video games (sparingly), but yes they are one of the big addictions and symptoms of modern-day male passivity so I think the call-out is fairly justified.

    • Stephen Altrogge says

      Good thoughts. My problem though, is that video games are one of many hobbies that men pursue to the neglect of their true responsibilities. Sports are another one. So is hunting and fishing. So is restoring old cars and watching the news. When you continually highlight something that is not sinful, you give the impression that it IS sinful. And you don't really help the guys who are playing video games.

  14. Thomas says

    The only thing I disagree with is the call out to pastors to stop calling out video games.

    The average age of a gamer is 30-something. That is a problem. Yes, a symptom but since when are we to be idle with symptoms…especially colossal wastes of time symptoms?

  15. jareddavis says

    goof thoughts on addiction to games being about the heart. in congruent though with punching a hole in a computer to fight porn. Porn comes from same root idols as addiction to video games.

    • says

      Exactly! All addiction comes from a woundedness that comes from sin in the world or a general fallenness. But that's kind of an obvious thing, isn't it? Sin leads to addictions and brokennes. I still believe that one can be free from porn and over-playing videogames.

  16. Sebas says

    I want to add a point of view from somebody froma different continent altogether. I'm from Uruguay, South América, but human beings are the same everywhere. I am a gamer, I love playing videogames, but i seldom have the time todo so, work and study (both biblical and in college) keeps me from spending too much time in anything else. It wasn't like that before, there was a time when my priorities were messed up and videogames, lazyness and porn took over, but when I came back to God and His Word, He put everything back in it's proper place. The answer, like in everything else, is go back to God, do Bible study, write your testimony after every service to fetch the truth that's in there for your life. Work, for heaven's sake, Work!! if you don't need to do it for a living do volunteer work, there are so many good organizations out there. Listening to God puts us in a higher perspective and puts everything back into it's proper place

  17. Mark says

    It really is amazing to see allegedly grown men gripe about pastors (shepherds) telling them to put away TOYS and begin acting like they're not re-living (or simply living an extension of) their teen years.

    I'm in my 40's and when my father and grandfather, who labored long and hard all week with their hands, got a minute to spare, the… rested. Or spent time with the family. Or – in the case of my grandfather – worked a second job.

    The "evangelical" college where I worked would regularly have 90-100 students on academic probation (out of 2500) and 90% of that number were MALE students. Why? Lack of self-control/discipline? For sure. Lack of love for the Lord? Yep. No substantial vision for themselves in the Kingdom? Absolutely. But they also played video games into the wee hours of the morning and couldn't get up.

    Are video games inherently sinful? Nope. But stupid? Yep. Might as well stand on your head on the sidewalk in the middle of the day. Not sinful, but without a single positive purpose other than mindless (and not the re-creative type) entertainment. You just get fatter and dumber.

    • says

      Mark, what medium do you believe isn't stupid? Books? Music? Athletics? Work? I'm sure we can find plenty of wasteful examples of any of them.

      It seems like you're really upset about the guys at the college you use to work at. I get that. I'm really upset that my spiritual mentor spent all his time at the gym and ultimately left the Lord and his family. But I don't hate the gym. I hate that I don't have a relationship with him anymore. And I hate that all his relationships are ruined. But the issue wasn't the gym or his workaholism. It's in his relationship with the Lord. And hating on anything won't fix that. Though loving and forgiving might. Not sure yet.

    • ndefalco says

      They like to rest? That's it? What did they do when they rested? Nothing? Stare at a wall? What does "spend time with family mean?" Are they doing stuff that could be considered pointless? Flying kites maybe? That's not productive and comes as close as possible to standing on your head on the sidewalk in the middle of the day. What a terrible existence but to do nothing but work and sleep all the time.

      And calling video games stupid is pointless. Anything can be stupid. Reading theology books all day long is stupid. And the fact that you think video games can't be creative (never mind the people that actually CREATE video games) shows your ignorance when it comes to most video games today.

    • ndefalco says

      Here's quick test to see if you know anything about video games or if you are just talking from ignorance: Can you name any video game that was created in the last 10 years that doesn't have these words in the title:

      1. Call of Duty
      2. World of Warcraft
      3. Mortal Kombat
      4. Grand Theft Auto

      Or in other words, the four games that constantly make the news…

      So, can you?

      Let's flip this around on you. Do you have any hobbies whatsoever? Let's put them under a microscope like you are so willing to do with video game playing.

  18. David says

    Mark, your comment shows a personal preference brother. When you make your personal preference an absolute you're living in the land of legalism. Many people who work more than one job are trying to support a lifestyle that is unrealistic or indulgent and they sacrifice the same things that videogame addicts do… read the article… it's a heart issue. Be careful of the noble sins, and don't make a false dichotomy between them and "obnoxious" sins. YOU may think videogames are stupid, but that doesn't mean they are.

  19. Mrs. P says

    How is spending two hours watching a movie okay, but spending two hours playing a video game is not? How is reading a novel any different? All of these activities produce nothing, but are merely for entertainment or relaxation. What's wrong with spending a couple of hours entertaining yourself with your preferred activity?

  20. says

    Thanks so much for writing this article, Stephen. As people stop demonizing the medium and start engaging with the heart of what is being done, we'll start seeing Christians engaging in this medium instead of criticizing it.

    It's already happening. There's a ton of really solid Christian folks inside of the game industry who are shaping it like leaven in a loaf of bread. And there's even those who aren't believers who are still affecting the medium for seriously positive growth. I've started chronicling some of my findings to that effect. And I know other folks like Steven Sukkaku (already commented here) are already doing the same.

  21. Andy says

    So if I have a church of meth users, then I shouldn't tell them to stop using meth? It's just a symptom of the problem and its not really clearly forbidden in scripture. So even though it has terrible results, it's just a symptom and I shouldn't tell them to stop because that would be legalistic? Come on Steve. It's also a tremendous leap of fantasy to assume that the video games people are playing aren't themselves sinful. Do you see some of the comments that you've got here? Worship through video games, it's okay if my husband plays video games instead of spending time in relationship with me. You encourage those things at your own risk.

  22. donaldsullivan says

    I like video games. I'm a pastor. I get what's being said by both camps. It's just like anything else. Stop needing someone to screw common sense into your head. When you play video games for 8 hours a day, it's time to grow up. If you play for an hour or so once in a while, I see no difficulties there. And really, as a Christ follower, you should have the mentality to NOT grab a new version of Grand Theft Auto or some other morally questionable game. We are stupid enough as a species that we can turn anything into a dangerous item. Gaming is no different from many other mindless pleasures people indulge in (sports, movies, blogging, etc.)… morally neutral until we figure out a way to slog it all up.

  23. says

    My father was murdered in 2009. I bought an Xbox and spent hours every day numbing the pain. I should have spent more time in the word, but it was a good way to get through days. It helped. For the first time in my life I understood why people watch soap operas.
    I snapped my Achilles a few weeks ago, and again, along with reading and writing, the iPad games helps to keep me occupied.
    There's a place for everything, I think. Whether Jesus would sit, grab a remote and challenge anyone in UFC 2010 I can't tell, but yeah, to say that playing games is wrong, is wrong.

  24. says

    Stephen, great post and filled with so much honesty.

    Though I think you missed one important piece of the problem. While laziness and abdication of responsibility play a part, there's a much greater force at work. It's the fact that men rarely are shown how to live the grand adventures of years gone by. Instead, we're told to sit at home, go to work at a 9-5 job, pay down the mortgage, etc… When instead we long for, and where created for, a grand adventure.

    That's where the video games come into play. They give us the sensation that we're doing something on a much larger scale. It's a trick but it works.

    Until we realize that men weren't created to simply sit behind a desk and be safe this problem will never end.

  25. says

    I loved this post. I'm not a huge gamer. I used to play a lot of sports games, but now that I'm married and have a kid, I just rarely have time. With that said, to disparage video games altogether because some men abuse them irresponsibly is just silly. This was my first visit to your blog. It won't be my last. Subscribed! :)

  26. Mark L says

    Good thoughts however it might be important to conisder this one commment a bit "when you attach a moral value to a particular activity not specified in scripture you place a burden upon people. You’re calling them to give up something that may not necessarily be sin."

    Overall a good thought. But while video gaming is not specified in Scripture the 6th commandment related to "not murdering" and "honoring the sanctity of human life" does impell us to consider the content of the game being played and whether or not that game or actiivity within the video game is strengthening our view of the sacredness of life or lowering it… simply by the nature of the game.

    So perhaps Biblical discipleship should not create new legalisms (Here I agree with the author) but it SHOULD place burdens upon us to align our hearts and minds with worshiping Christ in all aspects of our life and activity (Col. 3:!7). If the video game in question challenges our ethics and biblical world view then by all means we must pcik on THAT game.

    I wonder if the Call of Duty type games really honor the 6th commandment and help us understand that while there may be times Christians participate in a just war, killing is always a regrettable option even for the guilty. How many first person shooter games help us remember the tragedy that even a just war is?

  27. Kevin says

    My son has a knack for playing video games, getting pretty good quickly at whatever he plays. I figure there's got to be some transferable skills involved. And while he may never be a "video game tester" (wouldn't THAT be a great job?!) he is able to connect with younger guys, eg. at a youth drop-in center, through video games. These are some positive sides to gaming …

  28. vIOLA says

    A M E N!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  29. Emily says

    What about 1 Corinthians 13:11? I am surprised no one has touched on this. "When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things."
    If I came home from work, kicked off my heels, ran to the bedroom and played in the floor with my Barbies, Strawberry Shortcake dolls, and My Little Ponies, I suspect that my man would stand there scratching his head. He would wonder why on earth have I reverted to acting like a child instead of being interested in grown-up woman things? This is exactly the way I feel about grown men playing video games. It is almost disgusting and shameful to watch, for the simple reason that it is juvenile. Sure, the industry has dressed up the games to appeal to adult males, but we could argue that they were just supplying the demand. But in the end, let's just call it what it is. IT IS A TOY. Grown men sitting around for hours playing with TOYS is disturbing…in the same way that grown women sitting around playing with toys would be disturbing too.

  30. Bob says

    Emily, you are ripping 1 Corinthians 13:11 out of its context. It’s point is certainly not to make a value judgement on a particular leisure activity. It is an exceedingly critical and judgmental spirit to say that “it is almost disgusting and shameful to watch” men play video games. That sort of uncharitable attitude is exactly the sort of thing the Christian is called to mortify as a work of the flesh. Thankfully, my conscience is not bound to your opinion.

    This was an excellent blog post. The real issue is not about what our hobbies happen to be (unless condemned by Scripture of course) but are we putting the Kingdom first in our lives. When we rail on a legitimate hobby as the problem, we establish a legal standard that the Scriptures do not impose. We sit back on our moral high horse patting our own backs. We are like Job’s friends, wisdom shall die with us (Job 12:2). We don’t dance, drink nor hang out with those who do…and we also don’t play video games…cause we’re holy. This prohibitions are, for too many, what it means to live for the Kingdom. This is sad because this has nothing to do one way or the other with living for Christ.

Trackbacks

  1. […] Dear Pastors, Please Quit Picking on Video Games: So let me encourage you to challenge the young men in a different way. Instead of throwing low blows at video games, challenge the guys to make the kingdom of God the absolute center of their lives. Challenge them to put to death laziness, to read their Bibles, and to serve their butts off in church. Challenge them to pray for a godly wife. Challenge them to punch a hole in their computer if it’s leading them into porn. Challenge them to do great things for the kingdom of God. […]

  2. […] This article is not a justification for myself, especially since I have not turned on our Wii in months.  In this post, Stephen Altrogge rightly identifies that the real problem behind an obsession with video games, or any overindulgence for that matter, is really not a video game problem, but a heart problem. […]

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