As many of you have no doubt picked up on I am a Christian, saved by grace not by works least any man should boast. What will be less well known is that I am also a gamer; in fact, I’ve been a gamer longer than I’ve been a Christian. The latter being nine years and the former only about four or five. As gamers go I’m quite a keen one, I’ve registered 300 hours on just one game (over a course of three years), I’ve topped my fair share of scoreboards on multiplayer games and I follow the latest news in the gaming industry with interest. As hobbies go it’s quite a main one.
It is to my shame then that it was only last Christmas that a question suddenly occurred to me: how should I game as a Christian?
The question arose when I was talking to one of my other gaming friends and he asked me: is it wrong to kill someone in a video game? The basis of his question was the Biblical principle that thought sin is as bad as action sin (see Matthew 5 v 22). It was an interesting question and it took me a few days to come up with an answer. In my opinion killing someone in a video game is fine due to the distinction between real life and the entirely fictional gaming environment. When I’m playing a game and I shoot someone in the head I know I’m only doing so because it isn’t real and if we’re going to be facetious in the majority of cases its technically self defence. Another way to look at it is that in the sport of Rugby it’s perfectly fine to hurt people within the rules of the game yet no one suggests that Christians shouldn’t play Rugby. Or it is also acceptable to read a book in which a murder happens.
Anyway, ethical issues aside my thoughts turned to my own gaming habits and I asked myself the question: does my status as a Christian affect my gaming? If I was to be honest with myself the answer would be no, it didn’t. That struck me as wrong – surely the fact that I’ve been saved from my sins, surely the commands to live a holy and upright life apply just as much to my hobby of gaming than every other area of my life. Upon thinking about it further I came up with the following guidelines:
A Christian Gamer should watch what he (or even she!) buys:
First I’m not saying that gaming is wrong or that all games are wrong. But as Paul writes:
“"Everything is permissible"—but not everything is beneficial. "Everything is permissible"—but not everything is constructive.”
1 Corinthians 10 v 23
In the same way not every game created is beneficial to a Christian. I’m not very good at identifying which games are not good for me, or rather I am but only after I’ve played the game. Broadly speaking I don’t think that Christians should be buying game with sexual content. This is based on:
“But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God's holy people.”
Ephesians 5 v 3
Such games are currently relatively few in number but unfortunately with the advent of better graphics and older customer bases the number of games that fall into this category is likely to increase. It should be said that in a lot of games with sexual content it can be avoided but better to avoid the temptation altogether. The level of sexual content you allow yourself to watch is between you and your conscience but it would be best to bear in mind that ‘not even a hint’ does actually mean not even a hint of sexual immorality.
For me, sexual content is the main reason to reject a game but there are others. Personally, I would try and avoid games that would take up too much of my time. As such I’ve never bought a MMORPG (Massive Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game), think World of Warcraft, because I know I’d be too likely to get a bit obsessed with it and waste too much time on it. Other Christians will be able to play these games without it being a problem. Above all Christians should have wisdom in how they decide what game to buy and which to avoid.
In saying this: my game collection stretches over 30+ games and there’s only about five I feel regret over playing or buying. There are many games which are well worth spending money and time on for the story they tell, the humour or the inventiveness of the gameplay.
Christians should not make an idol out of gaming:
Looking back to a few years ago I would say that gaming became an idol for me. It was in direct rebellion against the first and second commandments:
“"You shall have no other gods before me.
"You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below”
Exodus 20 v 3 - 4
Gaming became an idol because I placed it before God on my list of priorities. Rather than fitting in gaming around my life I was more inclined to fit in my life around gaming. I would spend more hours per day gaming than I would doing spiritual things. I struggled to remember to pray everyday, I didn’t struggle to remember to game. What was worse was that I didn’t even realise I was making gaming my idol!
Thankfully, by God’s grace I no longer place gaming before God although that’s not to say I don’t have the occasional slip up. Now, I game when I have the time rather than making the time for gaming.
So far I’ve dealt with the way I can worship God through gaming on an individual level between myself and God. But considering the popularity and appeal of multiplayer gaming I think it would also be useful to look further at how a Christian should game in a multiplayer environment.
Christians should be salt and light in the gaming community
“"You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled by men.
"You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.”
Matthew 5 v 13 - 16
When I look back over the last few years and ask myself: have I been salt and light to a dark world? I would have to answer that I haven’t. My approach to gaming with other people has been consistently worldly.
How do worldly people game?
Well, in their gaming will be extremely self centered. I speak from experience when I say I’m never having as much fun as when I heading a scoreboard online. And I’m having fun because I know everyone else sees my name at the top and so everyone knows I’m better than they are. Pride and ego are hardly two attitudes I should be encouraging!
Secondly, all too often people follow John Gabriel’s Internet ****Wit Theory which states that Normal Person + Anonymity + Audience = Total ****Wit. I can’t say that I’ve ever been rude to anyone on online but it is easily done. People assume that anonymity is an excuse to be as rude and as obnoxious as they want.
Christian Gamers should be team centered rather than self centered
Bearing everything I’ve said in mind this is the end point. In order to be light and salt to the gaming community then Christians need to take a step back and say “I’m not in it for my personally glory, I’m doing this for God’s glory and I can best do this by serving others, in other words, playing for the team.”
This is a complete rejection of the egocentric worldly approach to gaming. It is also extremely difficult. My natural reaction is the complete opposite. But in the same way that Christians in team sports are expected to play for the team; Christians in multiplayer games should play for the team.
How do I play for the team?
I can’t answer that question. There are too many games out there with too great a variety in gameplay. What I can say is that it involves putting other’s first and yourself second. Even better, out God first, others second and yourself last. If you’re playing in a team; play for the team!
Should I not do my best then?
No! There is nothing wrong with doing your best. There is nothing wrong with a Christian in sports trying to be first in a race for example. But at the same time you should at all time consider other people. Don’t let your anonymity become an excuse to be rude, lose your temper or gloat over others.
Christian gamers should always be polite, friendly and loving
This may sound like an obvious point but whoever said this was complicated? Hard to put into practice, yes but difficult to understand, no. Christian gamers should put in special effort to ‘love your neighbor as yourself’. Don’t shout at noobs, try not to rage quit, keep in mind that you should at all time be a representative of Christ.
The worst thing a Christian can do is to not let their faith affect how they game. Trust me, I speak as one who didn’t and who now regrets all the time wasted and the nothing gained.
It is also of vital importance to be light and salt to a dark community. The gaming community is 90% male and is 90% males between the ages of 14 and 30. What group of people is fewest in the Western church? Males, 14 – 30. Add onto this the fact that the gaming community is strongly anti-god and we see a social group that badly needs the salvation the gospel offers. And as a Christian, my testimony to the glorious truth that Jesus saves begins with the life I live and the way I game.
I would love to say that writing this means that I’ll now have a 100% perfect record with the advice I give. But it isn’t going to happen. I’m a sinner and I’m going to fail. But I’m determined to work hard and try and game for Christ and by the grace of God I may be able to live up to that standard.