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What Can We Learn From How Our Kids Play Video Games?

“Kids these days and their darn computer games… That’s the problem with America!” I’ve heard various iterations of this line dozens of times, and if you’ve spent much time in the conservative church world, you probably have too. The broken record of misunderstanding and scapegoat-ery lives on. The evils of Pokémon or roleplaying games have rocked many a conservative Christian home. Some of us grew up fighting the constant stigma, the never-ending connection between the buttons we pressed and the issues plaguing society. Others distanced themselves, believing that their future would be more secure if only they threw a ball instead of mashed a button. I stand today as a dedicated Christ-follower and a father of two, having fought my way through the guilt and shame associated with my love of gaming, and wondering if maybe, just maybe, there’s more to America’s new favorite pastime.

I recently handed my four-year-old son a Nintendo DS loaded with New Super Mario Bros. As a lover of all games, my hope was that he would find some modicum of pleasure in the jumping plumber, but my expectation was that his frustration would win the day and I would find my trusty blue pocket console in pieces within minutes. Minutes turned to hours as the familiar sounds of coins, mushrooms, and pipes filled the house. My son was transfixed, determined in a way I had never seen him.

What if… What if I hadn’t just ruined his life? What if the warnings about electronics and the ignorant fear of video games was all rubbish? What if I was watching my boy develop skills that would carry him far in life and even aid him in his relationship with God?

Quick disclaimer: Some video games are objectively bad—some have exploitative mechanics and some have content that demeans various people or people groups. Video game addiction is bad. Neglecting responsibilities is bad. Doling out personal information via Fortnite is bad. These are obvious. In case you’re wondering, I do not condone Call of Duty for toddlers. 

As I observed my son over the next week, three things leapt out at me. First, I watched my son fail. A lot. I watched as a nonchalant Goomba wrecked his world sixteen seconds into World 1-1 countless times. Same Goomba. Same place. Same result. But something struck me as odd. I had watched my son fail before, but this was different. There wasn’t a tantrum. No tears. The piercing whine that often accompanies his shortcomings was replaced with quiet determination and the ever-familiar music as the level began anew.

It made me think about how often I fail, not just in daily endeavors like burning toast, but in the greater schemes of my heart. As a Christ follower, I often fall short of the standard given by God. I fail. But as I watched my son strengthen his four-year-old resolve and try again because of the sheer joy of victory, I couldn’t help but see myself returning to my God, confessing the same thing I did yesterday and experiencing His grace, forgiveness, and joy. Call me crazy, but my son is learning to fight through failure to experience greater joy.

The second thing I noticed was my son’s celebration of small wins. I was stunned as he experienced more joy in avoiding that dastardly Goomba than I did getting the high score. Each obstacle cleared brought him almost to tears with gratitude, pride, and thankfulness. He may have failed miserably thirty-seven times, but on time thirty-eight he took a step closer to his goal.

How often do I scoff at gradual growth? In this fast-paced culture it is so easy to give up when things take longer than I expect. Call it “child-like wonder” if you’d like, but my son (and Mario) showed me the importance of celebrating the little wins, realizing that God is forming me into who He wants me to be, however slowly. I hang onto the little wins to keep me running toward Him.

What if I was watching my boy develop skills that would carry him far in life and even aid him in his relationship with God?

Finally, and most importantly, my son began to communicate through cooperation. “Dad, can you beat this part?” “Dad, what do I do here?” “Dad, look, I did it!” I have experienced so much joy in the last week. Why? Because my son is finally doing something I enjoy? No, because we’re enjoying something together. I get to serve him, love him, help him by sharing what I know with him. And there is no greater joy than a Father seeing His children follow after Him, asking Him for His help along the way.

Am I looking through rose-colored glasses to only see the good? Am I ensuring my son’s arthritis by introducing him to the poorly-designed DS at the age of four? Or am I being convicted, reminded, humbled, and encouraged by someone I love to fight through failure, celebrate little wins, and communicate through cooperation as I strive to love people and love God? Game on.

Recently deemed "too old to understand what's cool these days," Andrew ministers to teenagers as a local church Youth Director just outside Jacksonville, FL. His great loves, after his wife, Autumn, and kiddos, Nora and Malachi, include the Miami Dolphins (save your jokes), Nintendo Gamecube (the superior console), and helping young people know and pursue Christ.

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