Flashback to 1995: When six-year-old Adam sat down to play a game of Super Mario World on his Super Nintendo, he was given two choices: Run and jump. He never considered the morality of stomping hordes of Goombas or shooting fireballs at Koopa Troopas. He was never given the choice to take a step back and understand the intentions and convictions of his foes as they methodically moved from right to left. They kidnapped the princess, and that would not stand! Good was good, and evil was evil, and that was that.
Not so in 2016. The world of gaming has changed immensely over the past 20 years. With the onset of life-like graphics, strong character development, and epic storylines comes more mature themes and individualized user experiences. Video games have grown matured with gamers, and their creators have given us power to influence the worlds we play in more than ever before. In Fallout 4 you’re asked to align yourself with one of many factions, each with their own morally gray vision of the post-apocalyptic world. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 famously asks “What would you do?” as you take the role of an undercover agent in an airport terrorist attack. Do you shoot innocent civilians to keep your cover in an attempt to save hundreds more, or do you put down your gun and accept the consequences?
Good art should be, at least in part, a reflection of real life that makes us ponder our own beliefs and convictions. In life, the right choice is not always obvious (Truman’s decision to drop the atomic bomb comes to mind), nor do I think it should always be in the movies, books, and games we enjoy. But unlike movies or books, gamers are uniquely responsible for the final outcome of the story they’re watching. However minimal the interaction, the player needs to take action in order to progress. Thus, we as gamers have the responsibility to consider the actions we’re taking and how it reflects on our inner intentions.
As a Christian first and gamer second, I’m ashamed to admit that I didn’t often consider how my actions in a game can be a reflection of my own heart. My gaming friends know that I’m usually very quick to commit to very evil and selfish actions in a game purely for my own amusement. “After all”, I thought, “It’s just a game.” This is something that I look back on with regret. In Matthew 5:19, Christ says “For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander.” As I consider these words, I am convicted that my sinful inner thoughts can manifest themselves even in fantasy, and that even when roleplaying in a fictional world it is my moral responsibility to do what I think is right.
Not every gamer will experience this same conviction, and it’s something that I’m still struggling through myself. But if you are someone who enjoys interactive entertainment I would encourage you to struggle with this just as you would when choosing what music to listen to or what movie to see. The amount of entertainment and art available to us in the modern world is truly astounding, but brings with it a responsibility to choose wisely and with conviction. Paul tells us in Colossians 3:17 that “whatever you do in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus”, and somehow I don’t think he would make an exception for gamers in the 21st century.