Last week I observed Ash Wednesday. On the Christian calendar this marks the beginning of Lent, a 40 day period leading up to Easter in which Christians take a look inward and reflect on their need for Christ. Christians often select something from which to fast during Lent as a way of reminding them of Christ’s sacrifice and walking with Christ as he fasted for 40 days in the wilderness (the exact reasons and origins of Christian fasting during Lent are a little murky). They may fast from sweets, from meat, from alcohol or caffeine, or any number of other luxuries that we indulge in on a daily basis. Some folks even choose to fast from . . . video games. Not me, though. I have to admit I’ve never fasted from anything during Lent, or not that I can remember. I won’t get into the reasons, but I will say when it comes around every year I briefly think about giving up video games, and very quickly dismiss the thought. Still, I have decided to take the opportunity during this Lenten season to be more introspective. To examine myself and to ask God to examine me. In light of that call to examination I do want to turn a critical eye toward my gaming habit. So, here we go!
I want to give credit to this post by Jordan Ekeroth over at gamechurch.com for inspiring my thoughts here. The article had a lot of interesting points, but mainly I’m grateful that he pointed me to an article by Dr. Mark Klein on the Escapist. You can (and should) read that one over here: http://www.escapistmagazine.com/articles/view/columns/ask-dr-mark/10177-Issues-Gamers-Should-Think-About
In the above article Dr. Klein is responding to a question about the seemingly knee jerk reaction of the gaming community to accusations that video games are having a detrimental effect on our culture and are a factor in real world violence. I, like Jordan Ekroth over at game church, believe we should react strongly to these accusations and should reasonably and passionately defend the medium. As both Jordan and Dr. Klein express, however, there are concerns with gaming that we should probably be more honest and thoughtful about. Dr. Klein points out seven concerns, and I’d here like to highlight a couple of them that rang true to me. Understand that these are not research-based concerns, but are concerns he expresses that I feel are validated by my own life experiences.
Gaming and Intimacy — Does gaming influence intimacy with my wife? It sure can – if I let it. I have to admit that I rarely go to bed at the same time as my wife, because a) she goes to bed way too early sometimes (8 or 9 pm), and b) I stay up pretty late playing games some nights. While Dr. Klein also talks about the decrease in sex drive from excessive gaming, I have no intention of getting that personal here with you, dear internet stranger. I will note that going to bed at the same time as my wife provides at least a few minutes to emotionally connect with each other before we fall asleep. We can share anything we haven’t had a chance to during the day, bring up random thoughts or questions, and I suppose there’s probably something to just lying next to someone as you both fall asleep. It seems that can build intimacy. Right? Maybe? Anyway, I’m making a goal to go to bed at the same time as my wife more often, especially on nights when she’s going to bed after 10 pm. I can do that. I should do that. It would be good for us.
Gaming and Pleasure – Dr. Klein asks whether or not the pleasure we derive from games might supersede that found in real world experiences. While I personally have a wonderful family, a job I genuinely enjoy, solid church community, and a comfortable material life (albeit stressful at times), I have at times bought into the lie that what I experience in games is greater than my routine, unexciting daily life. There are moments in games that can transport you and give you an amazing rush of emotion. While I wouldn’t say my experience in games makes my outside life pale in comparison and I don’t honestly think this is a huge struggle for me, I have experienced it enough and spoken to others who have that I am slightly concerned about it. I don’t think it’s healthy when we deeply long to escape reality for more enjoyable virtual worlds. Games might be a meaningful and healthy escape at times, just as a good book can be, but that word escape does make me wonder.
Gaming and Community – It’s really easy to get involved in gaming communities online, and it’s actually quite hard to avoid for serious gamers. But are those online communities a decent substitute for other relationships? Of course not. I hope we can all agree on that. In my case, gaming is not a hobby that is conducive to me reaching out to my neighbors. Being a husband, father, teacher, student, an active church member, and playing video games on a regular basis keeps me pretty busy. If there are any relationships in my life that suffer because of my hobby, it is likely those neighbor relationships. While others are out making sure their lawn is well kept, walking their dogs, and generally getting out around town, I’m playing video games. I mow the lawn, I go to the block party, I walk a lot of places in the neighborhood. Still, were it not for a hobby that keeps me in the house quite a bit, I might be out there more getting to know my neighbors. While I don’t intend to sacrifice my habit to get to know my neighbors better, this is a reminder for me to be more active and intentional in building relationships with my neighbors with the time I do have out on the block.