Push Function Quit

Video games might well make your son ignorant and corrupt, but they won’t make him stupid — although I trust this might require further explanation. I have recently received some requests from parents about how to govern or regulate their sons’ taste for video games, and so here goes. But before rushing to the question of how to govern or regulate, we should begin with the question of how to think about them.Video Games

Concerns about the influence of video games usually reduces to two categories — morals and education. If someone asks if all this gaming is “good for” my little Johnny, these are usually the two categories they would have in mind.

The question about morals can’t really be answered unless we are talking about specific games. It is like asking whether your son will be negatively affected by “books” or by “movies.” What books? What movies? Grand Theft Auto is a cesspool of corruption, and the video game of Pilgrim’s Progress isn’t.

Note that I am not here talking about whether clean games are lame, but am simply noting that clean games are clean. Nothing too controversial there, I trust.

So it should go without saying that wise and godly parents will not let their kids play games where they are picking up hookers and blowing fellow drug dealers away. “My son, if sinners entice thee, Consent thou not” (Prov. 1:10). Entertainment is in fact capable of corrupting a young heart and is not, as so many imagine, an all-purpose moral disinfectant. The fact that it is cool doesn’t mean that it is not putrid.

But what about the life of the mind? What about education? Do video games rot the brain? The answer is no, but we need to make a distinction first.

There is a difference between ignorance and stupidity. One of the characteristic failures of the modern education system has been its inability to keep standardized test scores from sliding ever downward. Periodically the tests are re-normed to hide the decline, and the whole thing is a tragic mess. People have rightly noted that this is an educational failure, but they have too quickly assumed stupidity when what they are looking at is ignorance. When you see an interview with a young person on the street expressing bafflement over who George Washington was, this is a problem of ignorance, not stupidity. That same kid is the one his grandma — who knows who George Washington is — has to ask to help her change the channel.

In other words, what we have seen is a radical alteration in the content of our cultural curriculum, and tests which presuppose the old curriculum really are bringers of bad tidings. Now I have dedicated a good part of my life to the proposition that the old liberal arts curriculum is worth preserving and saving, and hence our efforts in restoring classical Christian education. But I am doing this, not because the kids today are stupid, but rather because they are being robbed. They are very smart, but they are being educated as though they were idiot savants. While test scores that measure our educational system have been going consistently down, IQ tests, which are measuring something else, have been going consistently up. It is called the Flynn effect, indicating something else entirely, and I am convinced that video games are part of it.

While many modern kids are ignorant of that body of knowledge that their great-grandparents would have considered the sine qua non of being educated, they are quite capable of navigating many parts of the modern world that their ancestors would have found utterly bewildering. If you want to read two books that will pull you helpfully in two opposite directions, resulting in what I think would be a place of admirable balance, I would suggest these — Amusing Ourselves to Death and Everything Bad Is Good for You. Make sure you read both of them in the same month.

One time, in the very early years of personal computers, I was messing around with some Texas Instrument contraption. I am not even sure what it was. It was the kind of thing where I would labor at the programming in order to get colored bars to march across the screen. Rachel, who was just a toddler, wanted me to be done one time, and so she came up by my chair and said, “Papa, push function quit.”

At the same time, what video games are capable of doing (destructively) is creating a huge opportunity cost. A son who is holed up in his bedroom playing video games every available hour is not becoming stupid — quite the reverse. But his intellectual RPM is not being applied to certain things that would prove to be a much greater blessing to him in the long run.

Though he is not becoming stupid, there are a number of ways in which he is becoming ignorant — because the time being used on video games is not being used in other productive ways. These productive pursuits have been identified as such over many generations, and they should not be lightly set aside for the sake of extra flashes on a screen. We should not forbid those “extra flashes,” but we should take special care over what they might displace. This is not because video games are malum in se — they are not evil in themselves. But it is indisputable that video games take up time, and that time cannot be spent on one thing here and also on another thing there.

So let me highlight four areas where you should not want video games to take up all the available oxygen. A young teen-aged man should be a diligent student in his formal studies, he should make sure he is current with his extracurricular piano and lacrosse practices, he should have time for the family to read aloud together, and he should have time to visit with his sister. And all this assumes that he gets to bed at a reasonable hour.

That said, that accomplished, I don’t see a problem with video games at all. So if all that is happening, and if the video game/s in question is not some vile bit of nastiness, then I really wouldn’t worry about it. One of the things that parents might do to help keep a regulator on the whole thing is allow an eager adolescent devotee of video games to earn time on the games through time on the piano. An hour of piano practice gets him a hour blasting the space pods. And if his GPA drops below a certain level, he finds that video games at home are just like the basketball squad at school. No think, no play. No games until the next report card, and we will see then. The problem is not what he has been doing, but rather what he has been doing instead of other things that his family values.

But he doesn’t earn any video game time by talking with his sister. That would be mercenary — but he still needs to talk with her.

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Fighting_Falcon
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Fighting_Falcon

As a video game playing teenage boy, I would for the most part agree with this. I agree with the general concept of everything in moderation, but I doubt if this policy actually works on some specimens of adolescence. The instructions here assume that the young man’s priorities are basically correct and he just needs a bit of steering. But I know a myriad of young Christian men who are so invested in gaming that it has rearranged their priories for them. It seems that something a bit bigger than nudging is required for their type.

Conserbatives_conserve_little
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Conserbatives_conserve_little

Two othee issues are involved with games. For a lot of young men, under 30, they have been so emasculated by paternal abdication and feminization of our society, their masculine impulses have to go somewhere. Violent video games is one place they turn and role playing games. Go into any comic book store on a Saturday and you will find groups of young men who should be starting families playing Magic or D&D or some such game with teenaged boys. They do it for hours at a time. It isn’t the game that is the problem. That is the release… Read more »

Ben
Guest
Ben

Why do you assume that all of these men should be starting families? Not everyone is cut out to be married and have children. As long as they’re productive citizens and not leeching off the system, I don’t see why it’s assumed that they’re not making good use of their time.

duellsquimby
Member

I would agree. They need to be having their attention directed else where, where they have a reason to figure out how to get themselves a wife and start a family. I myself would spend literally weekends doing just playing those games, and shutting the world out. It puts your life out of balance, and you end up burning daylight out of your twenties that you can never get back. Mind you I’m not saying don’t have fun, or don’t enjoy. However you have to start moderating yourself and learn and/or extend the skills you’re going to need to lead… Read more »

Andy Hall
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Andy Hall

Hahaha. How about you focus on your own boring family instead of feeling the obligation to attack that “evil and moral plague” known as games and hobbies. Not everyone wants to live like you and our families turn out just fine.

Rob Steele
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Rob Steele

Wonder whether there’s some kind of law of conservation of mental horsepower. It’s pretty obvious that wisdom and intelligence tend to be inversely correlated across individuals. Maybe something similar happens to whole populations over time.

Ben
Guest
Ben

That seems like a rather absurd assertion. Do you have any evidence for it?

Rob Steele
Guest
Rob Steele

Which?

AJ
Guest
AJ

I would like support for this one:
“It’s pretty obvious that wisdom and intelligence tend to be inversely
correlated across individuals.”
I for one do not see how it is obvious.

Rob Steele
Guest
Rob Steele

Maybe it depends on how you define wisdom.

Ben
Guest
Ben

“It’s pretty obvious that wisdom and intelligence tend to be inversely correlated across individuals.”

Rob Steele
Guest
Rob Steele

Does it not seem that way to you? I have no data apart from anecdote and 1 Cor 1:26. How would you test the idea? Administer a survey and ask people to rate themselves?
Suppose we use SAT scores as a proxy for intelligence and tendency to vote Democrat as a proxy for foolishness. The mere existence of the ivy league pretty much proves my point.

Jane Dunsworth
Guest
Jane Dunsworth

FWIW, though I well understand the difference between wisdom and intelligence, it isn’t obvious to me that it’s the case. It’s not obvious to me that it isn’t, but it’s far from clearcut in my experience. I know some very intelligent, very wise people, and some intelligent fools, and some wise but not very intelligent people, and some just plain dumb fools.

Arwen B
Guest
Arwen B

Go ahead and define wisdom and define intelligence for us, so that we can actually test your assertion.

Andy Hall
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Andy Hall

I think they were saying that you shouldn’t just throw out meaningless statements that have no basis in reality if you aren’t willing to defend them.

Gary
Guest
Gary

As someone who played way too many games growing up, and still has the tendency to play more than I should, I’ve given this a lot of thought. So, a few points. First, there are different types of games and different reasons for playing — one critical distinction for me is engagement. There are games I play that actively engage my mind — the entertainment here is problem solving or dexterity or timing or strategic or even creative. I’m trying and thinking and figuring things out. More often however, I’m drawn to games where my mind is NOT well engaged.… Read more »

Willis
Guest

You mentioned the book ‘Everything Bad is Good for You’ which was an excellent book. An excerpt from that book is below in which the author hypothetically examines the concern we would have if books were a recent invention: “Reading books chronically under stimulates the senses. Unlike the longstanding tradition of gameplaying – which engages the child in a vivid, three-dimensional world filled with moving images and musical soundscapes, navigated and controlled with complex muscular movements – books are simply a barren string of words on the page. Only a small portion of the brain devoted to processing written language… Read more »

Ian Miller
Member

Interesting. I strongly disagree – but then, I also strongly disagree with Postman’s “TV is passive” as well. So I think Pastor Wilson has made a great suggestion for readers (hah) to be pulled in two opposite directions.

Willis
Guest

Ian, yeah, he is obviously joking to an extent. His purpose was simply to note how we tend to be suspicious of new technologies and see the bad while ignoring the good.

David Golubski
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David Golubski

Let’s not forget that games, like writing and film, etc… are also a powerful medium for sub-creation. Please don’t merely think of games as entertainment for it’s own sake. If God has given a young man the desire to get into the games industry, please please please do not hinder him. This is a unique area of art I can see Christians using to gain a foothold in culture, but that’s not gonna happen if the adults still see gaming as a mindless, time-eating scramble for meaningless cyber-points. Most game developers these days are aiming far beyond that. They’re aiming… Read more »

JohnGalt
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JohnGalt

Very nice, Doug. I appreciate the lack of a knee-jerk response here, which I am quite prone to in these discussions. One additional point that may be worth making is that video games are (by design) more difficult to use in moderation than many of the competing activities or entertainments that are available. Game design is informed by a whole body of research on the stimuli that draw us in. That’s why so many of the popular mobile games (Angry Birds, Candy Crush, etc) feature short levels, frequent “rewards”, and so forth. These features are designed grab our attention and… Read more »

Mike
Guest
Mike

It might be worthwhile to read up on PENS – “The Player Experience
of Needs Satisfaction” in regards to gaming.
I regard to PENS it also might be worthwhile to ask if players are
playing to get their needs met – and if they are, and if the needs are genuine,
then they are not being met by God, from whom they originate in the first
place.

Gabriel Rench
Guest
Gabriel Rench

Another helpful approach is to actually sit down with your kids and play video games with them. I appreciated it when I was younger my dad did this with me. It made me think a little more critically about the games I played and the time I spent playing them. Dad did not have to say much, just his presence made me want to engage more critically. It also was a big win for dad that he was willing to this, when I knew it was not his most favorite thing to do.

Mike
Guest
Mike

I remember sitting down with my dad playing a FPS that a friend of my little brother left over the weekend. We could not beat him for anything. If nothing else it is a good memory. You make a good point in that if what is important to a kid is important to Dad, the kid knows he is important to Dad.

Arwen B
Guest
Arwen B

My siblings and I used to sit around and watch each other play video games. We’d critique the dialog – only printed in those days, no voiceovers! – and speculate on the story and invent harmonies for the background music.

Kind of a two-fer, play and talk to your sister at the same time ^_^.

Johnny Simmons
Guest
Johnny Simmons

I played Halo once. Once. After three hours I put it down and said, “I can never do this again.” Too much awesome. It’s all I’d do.

Katecho
Member

Video games (like books or TV) obviously serve very broad interests. The original pong game, Atari Space Invaders, Breakout, Asteroids, and PacMan, seem to serve our desire to compete using basic dexterity. They were very objective and highly structured and repetitive. The goal was usually just a high score, or a low time. Tetris and other games get into the puzzle solving side that engages the brain beyond just dexterity. There were a whole bunch of platform style games, like Mario, etc. You could jump in and out of all of these games without too much commitment. There were also… Read more »

Ryan Loyd
Guest
Ryan Loyd

One large group of games are the role playing games. Probably originally based off a D&D sort of model, and begun as a text based system, they are now beautifully graphic and allow a player to develop a character. The character learns skills, accomplishes tasks, develops relationships, forms groups, and has continuity over hours, days, and even years of play. After spending countless hours on one of these, as well as on the world/empire building games like Civilization, I came to realize that what the games were actually providing for me was a sense of the accomplishment, adventure, and dominion… Read more »

tpbaehr
Guest
tpbaehr

Agreed. For some of us, alcohol is the better parallel to the power of video games than say books or movies: they’re *highly* addictive, in this case b/c of the counterfeit dominion thing, and moderation is extremely difficult. For kids (and adults) in this camp, rather than promising an hour of play for an hour of work, the better principle would be trade the counterfeit for the real — develop a love for something that takes true dominion — and ditch the counterfeit, not b/c it’s evil for everyone, but b/c some of us are unmade by it (“if your… Read more »

mikebull1
Member

Excellent.

dainks
Guest
dainks

The suggestions for moderation in video game use seem reasonable and appropriate if the only thing we need to concern ourselves with is balance in a neutral world. My greatest concern in this discussion and others like it is the complete silence regarding the urgency of the Gospel in a dark and dying world. 1 Corinthians 7:26-35 indicates even the most fundamental relationship of marriage is to be subjected to the needs and demands of the Kingdom. Those who remain under the wrath might be less concerned about young Christian men having an appropriate amount of game time if only… Read more »

mintap
Guest
mintap

“it is indisputable that video games take up time”

Here is a great resource for deciding which games to play:
http://howlongtobeat.com

Gary
Guest
Gary

That, of course, assumes that the primary purse is actually to beat the game. A lot of games now have no “end game” and will take all the hours you’re willing to commit.

mintap
Guest
mintap

And we can take that into consideration.

I personally prefer the story based games that do have endings.

Similarly, my family prefers to not watch currently running TV shows because if we get into them and then they keep getting renewed (and sometimes start going down hill) we may have too much of a time commitment on our hands. If we see how long a show ran for (and know the ending was satisfying to fans), then we can gauge more accurately if it is worth it.

(Now internet comment boards, they have no “end game” in sight.)

Michael Duryea
Guest

I was thinking the other day: boys have a desire to take charge of something, be a leader, build something of their own, take responsibility for something visible and substantive, etc. However, as they grow up and learn to do this they often fail: broken windows, bend lawnmower blades, totaled cars, broken legs: they often get in trouble. I think parents often try to mitigate these messy failures by either denying their boys those opportunities to take responsibility of something, or by micromanaging them as they do it, both of which are rightly very frustrating for a boy who is… Read more »

Mike
Guest
Mike

Agreed. That is what I was getting at above. Games are designed to allow the user to feel competent (have mastery) and to have a challenge. They are really designed to meet those particular needs – and so it is worth asking “are my kids playing to meet needs or just for recreation.” Depending on the type of game (as mentioned at various places above) they are also designed to meet social needs. To what end then are the needs being met (sales of games, online subscriptions etc…) and where do the need originate from the first place are good… Read more »

Occidoxy
Guest

Did your Flynn Effect comment have a double meaning (James Flynn on IQ & Kevin Flynn from Tron [film])? Whether or not, speaking for my generation, allow me to say, “cool!”

Also, great book recommendations–truly.

Moor_the_Merrier
Guest
Moor_the_Merrier

It’s interesting to note how the word “moderation” has come to be used as a short-hand way of talking about Doug’s point here. I say “interesting” because that isn’t what Doug said. He said that as long as the person is fulfilling ALL their other necessary responsibilities first, then video games become a reasonable means of recreation alongside other options. That is not moderation. It is putting the thing in its proper place, which for some might mean cutting it out entirely.

QED
Guest
QED

Wow, that was a great article. I think it provides a more reasonable approach to video-games than many of the articles I’ve seen from other Christian leaders. Wilsdon touches on this point but I think it’s worth making more explicit: video-games encompass such a wide variety of media that it’s really impossible to make sweeping judgements on them. Both Candy Crush and The Talos Principle are classified as video-games… but they couldn’t be more different than each other. One is a simple form of amusement, the other is an interactive philosophical dialogue. And if you think kids are only playing… Read more »

holmegm
Guest
holmegm

And that would be why we only allow video games like Mario in our home.

(Since this is the Internet, someone will now tell me why that makes me a terrible parent.)

QED
Guest
QED

That’s not necessarily a bad idea. But on the other hand isn’t it like saying “And that’s why we only allow Barney to be watched on our TV”? Or “And that’s why we only allow Dr. Seuss to be read in our house.” If the idea is to only let your kids play games that you are knowledgeable of, that’s great. But just as one wouldn’t want to use that as an excuse to limit a kids experience to a simple, single kind of TV show or book, one shouldn’t use that as an excuse for only one kind of… Read more »

Jeremiah Fyffe
Guest

Interpersonal Interaction … One key thing that our own video game rationing method includes is to highly encourage games that are interpersonal with people that my children actually know. We give our kids a set number of “credits” to use during the course of the week. Each credit is worth 10 minutes of screen time if they do it alone. Each credit is worth 15 minutes if they play or watch with a family member or friend. We have done this for years with four different children. It has worked very well across the board for each one. One more… Read more »