@lovethynerd
Love Thy Nerd
Love Nerds + Engage Culture + Build Community

More Than Fun: 5 Intrinsic Values of Video Games

You’ve heard the reasoning before from pastors, Christian authors, and maybe even people in your church: “video games aren’t sinful, they’re just stupid.” They grumble about what young men might accomplish if they devoted their gaming time to something productive or compare video game addiction to pornography. Unlike these voices and the many like them, popular Christian blogger, Tim Challies, says that video games are okay—good even—when played with discernment and moderation.

While Challies’ article represents a step forward in the church’s awkward relationship with video games, he makes a significant misstep in the process that needs to be corrected:

Let’s be honest: There is little intrinsic value in gaming. For most of us it is merely entertainment.

It’s possible to play games not merely as an escape from our unjust world, but as a means of longing for a better one.

Most people play video games because they are fun, and this is fine. Good, even. Where Challies falters is in his assertion that there is little value inherent in gaming. Challies himself doesn’t actually believe this. He goes on to encourage Christians to avoid the “bad” (as in “morally suspect”) games in order to “find many that are . . .  beautiful, and at times even brilliant.” Beauty and brilliance are themselves intrinsic values. So what are some other values that belong naturally to gaming? The following list is not comprehensive, nor do these values apply comprehensively to all games—they are simply five values that are prevalent enough to be acknowledged by pastors, church leaders, and church members. Let’s begin with the one that Challies mentioned.

Beauty

Video games are made by people who were fearfully and wonderfully made (Psalm 139:14). All games are made by people made in the image of God—people who, by their very nature, reflect God’s beauty. We should not be surprised, therefore, when digital worlds take our breath away. Nor should we be alarmed when digital spaces appear more interesting than our own.

Skyrim

We should certainly guard against the temptation to become so wrapped up in fantasy worlds that we neglect more pressing duties in the physical world. However, we should also guard against the hyper-rationalistic tendency of failing to long for a better world. Part of the reason that we tend to enjoy game worlds is because, in many ways, they are better than our own.  We live in a world where wicked people often escape the consequences of their unjust actions while the innocent are oppressed. However, videogames are almost always fair. They present players with an absolute set of rules that come with immediate consequences. It’s possible to play games not merely as an escape from our unjust world, but as a means of longing for a better one. Our longing for the new heavens and new earth, a place where righteousness dwells, is crucial to a Christ-like perspective on the here and now.

Education

Video games are inherently educational. Every time we play games we learn something about the world, ourselves, or even just about the game itself. Playing video games helps us develop critical thinking and problem solving skills, which in turn help us be happier, more productive people. They can also give us insight into the experiences of people across the globe. Sometimes, they can even expose us, forcing us to admit unhealthy attitudes or preconceived notions we have about others. Further, when we play games with others, we must learn how to handle losing and how to win graciously—video games can teach us humility.

Real Lives 2010 is a simulation game based on real world statistics and census data that gives players insight into the lives and experiences of people all over the globe.


Truth

Because games are developed by people made in God’s image, we should expect them to reflect His truth. As with everything else in creation, games reflect truth imperfectly. However, if we will play with discernment, they can deepen our perspective, appreciation, and engagement with the real world. Because video games are interactive, they can open our eyes to the experiences and perspectives of others. They have the power to shine light into the darkness of our hearts.

By putting us in the shoes of others and giving us agency, they help us cultivate empathy for the less fortunate and the marginalized. While it often feels like power fantasies are overtaking the industry—those very power fantasies are becoming more honest about the depravity of our world and our inability to bring peace with the sword. There are also a growing number of games that force us to acknowledge our weaknesses in helpful ways. Furthermore, because games are interactive, they often provide us safe spaces in which to grapple with difficult moral decisions. Like any other artistic medium, video games certainly do not always speak the truth and should be called out when they don’t. Nonetheless, we should ask for eyes to see and ears to hear when they do.

Spec Ops: The Line is based on Joseph Conrad’s novel, The Heart of Darkness and deals honestly with the horrors of war and the dangers of American exceptionalism.


Health

While we were created in the image of God, it is also important to recognize that we are physical creatures. Scripture tells us that our physical bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:19-20). Jesus Himself was physically raised from the dead. Our bodies have intrinsic value; we should, therefore, take an interest in caring for them. Video games can help us do this.

Current research tells us that video games can relieve stress, improve brain function, stimulate our minds, and boost creativity. Game designer, author, and researcher Jane McGonigal says that gaming is the neurological opposite of depression. When people play video games, brain scans show the most active parts of the brain are the rewards pathway system, which is associated with motivation and goal orientation, and the hippocampus, which is associated with learning and memory. These are the two main parts of the brain that don’t activate when people are suffering from depression. It is important to note that these benefits dip significantly when we play for three or more hours a day. To truly tap into the health benefits of gaming, we must play responsibly.

Jane McGonigal giving a talk at SXSW called “A Crash Course in Becoming SuperBetter”


Community

Video games bring people together. They provide us with meaningful shared experiences in a world that often seems to be growing more isolated. The many intrinsic values of gaming are often deepened in the context of community. Video games train us to work together—to lean on one another’s strengths in order to solve problems we could not solve on our own. They also often help us understand each other. If you want to know what people are really like, try playing a game with them—you will soon see how they act under pressure, what they will do to win, and how they respond to unexpected challenges. And yes, as Challies rightly notes, they are a lot of fun. Some of my fondest memories growing up revolve around playing games with my brother and I’ve only just begun forging such memories playing games with my daughters.

Penny Arcade Expo East 2017

I agree with Challies when he says, “So I say go ahead and play your games. Enjoy your games. Play them for the fun of exploring, conquering, experiencing, winning. Just play them like a Christian and you’ll be fine.” To play video games as a Christian, however, requires being honest and discerning not just about their content, but about their value. The entertainment games provide is just one of the many values intrinsic to interactive media. Let’s play games responsibly, with discernment and moderation, but let’s dig deeper. Let’s tap into the many values of games, and ask the Lord to open our eyes to values we’ve failed to see. In playing games Christianly, we may just become more self aware, more mindful of our neighbor, and more in love with our God.





Founder
Executive Editor at Penguin Random House. Author of Know Thy Gamer: A Parent's Guide to Video Games and founder of Love Thy Nerd.

Reader Comments

Related Content

Church Nerds 94 | Nerd Culture Etymology

The Church Nerds wrap up season 7 with a look at the way nerd culture words and church culture terms have become common vernacular.

Free Play 186 | Game Over (The Series Finale)

This podcast has been going for 6 and 1/2 years and today is the final episode. So what are our hosts doings? Basically flying by the seat of their pants like the good ‘ol days. They talk about nonsense, have some laughs, and play 2 games that Radio Matt put together. Thank you so much for giving this show a great run these past several years. Everyone involved had a blast with all of you and can’t believe you actually listen to and enjoy this hot mess of a show that brings chaos on the regular.

Reflections: Video Games | The Complete LTN Resource List

This resource list compiles insightful articles from Love Thy Nerd, delving into various themes and narratives within popular video games. Each entry explores profound topics such as redemption, joy, obsession, family, faith, and the human condition through the lens of gaming.

Church Nerds 93 | Celebrity Conversions

In this episode, the Church Nerds take a look at recent celebrities who've announced their conversion to Christianity, and examine how Church Culture responds to these events.

Free Play 185 | Most Iconic Video Game Characters of All Time

In the penultimate episode of Free Play, Bubba, Matt & Kate go through the BAFTA list of the Most Iconic Video Game Characters of All Time and see if the list lines up with their opinions. Who's in the number 1 spot? It's not who you think.

Church Nerds 92 | How to Make a Superhero

Look, up in the sky! It's a bird! It's a plane! It's a new episode of Church Nerds, where Bubba & Anna discuss what makes up a hero - both as we understand them in comics and in real life - as well as why we are obsessed with superheroes and how they resonate with us.

Church Nerds 91 | Arcades and Consumerism Christianity

Nothing quite like a fist full of tickets when you're a child at an arcade, spending $40 in quarters so you can trade your tickets for something from Dollar Tree that won't last the drive home. But as we grow up, are we still chasing prizes? In ministry or simply living as a Christian, are we constantly expecting something back? The Church Nerds are here to tackle that topic and share some arcade stories too.

Church Nerds 90 | The Super-Peer

The Church Nerds take a look at how media is influencing adolescents today compared to when they were children. Parenting, screen time, content limits, and more are on the table today on the show.