This month sees a big push among Christian publications around the country towards educating parents and families about the growing influence of video games in our culture. The focus of the push is a lengthy article by Christian journalist Steve Rabey titled "Getting serious about gaming - Impact of video game industry raises concern", and quite frankly it isn't at all what I expected. Instead of being a religious rant about the dangers of video game, Rabey's article offers varied points of view on the subject, especially when discussing video game violence and the effect it has on children.
Some researchers are convinced that repetitive play of violent games instructs kids in violence, making violent acts more likely. But others argue that video violence is a cathartic replacement for real violent crime, which has gone down since the advent of video games.
While the article does spend a great deal of time dealing with the issues of violent video games, calling out the usual suspects - Grand Theft Auto, Manhunt, etc., it also addresses the fact that there are constructive games out there like SimCity, social games that let you play sports like golf and baseball, and even games that are "just plain fun" like Guitar Hero. These are all titles you hardly ever see mention in writings dealing with the negative aspects of gaming, since so many choose to stick with the negative and forgo the positive completely. Of course the article isn't without some more sensationalist speak, such as this tidbit from Pastor Kody Kirchhoff of the LiveWire Youth Ministries at Calvary Lutheran Church:
"Aside from the violence, obscenity and negative themes, the larger and greater problem lies in the fact that video games control many people's hearts and minds, creating a monotonous, zoned-out new reality,"
But even an accusation like this is quickly brought into focus by the follow up.
"God, family and friends do not exist in many games," he says. "Activities like camping, playing catch with Dad, swimming, or just being a kid have vanished."
The man has a point. I seem to remember a lot more children outside playing when I was a kid. After school you couldn't throw a rock without hitting a child, a fact that used to make my after school times truly special. While I don't think video games are to blame for the lack of kids screaming at each other outside my window every afternoon, I do think they make a very convenient babysitter for parents who don't have time to play with their children and are too terrified by the concept of child predators to let their babies go outside unattended. If anything, the mainstream media - who often target video games themselves - are to blame, scaring parents out of their minds with special reports about the dangers their children face crossing the street every day. I digress. This isn't about my opinion. This is about the opinion being distributed to Christian newspapers this month, and the final message from Center for Fathering CEO Carey Casey is one I can really get behind.
"Parents should place limits on children's media use, including when, where, and how much they can participate. And we should be ready to address common myths that are often portrayed in the media: such as the myths that to be worthwhile you have to be beautiful, that money buys happiness, that sex is merely recreation and has no consequences, and that violence solves problems."
Getting serious about gaming [ChristianExaminer Online]