What Does the Bible Say about Video Games? Part 2

The Virgin as the Woman of the Apocalypse, by Peter Paul Rubens

Michael and his Angels Fight the Seven-Headed Dragon

(I recommend that you read Part 1 of this article first)

A mighty warrior girds on his sword and shield and prepares for the great battle. Today is the day. The evil, multi-headed dragon has been taunting the world long enough, wreaking havoc on everyone in his path. Now comes the day of reckoning. Now comes the defeat of the raging beast.

Am I talking about this scene from the book of Revelation in the Bible?

Then another sign appeared in heaven: an enormous red dragon with seven heads and ten horns and seven crowns on his heads. His tail swept a third of the stars out of the sky and flung them to the earth. . . .

And war broke out in heaven. Michael and his angels fought against the dragon. The dragon and his angels fought back, but they did not prevail, and they lost their place in heaven. The great dragon was hurled down—that ancient serpent called the devil and Satan, who leads the whole world astray. He was hurled to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him. (Revelation 12:3-4, 7-9)

Well . . . I certainly could be talking about that scene from the Apocalypse . . . .

Fighting the King Black Dragon in Runescape

Fighting the King Black Dragon in Runescape

Or . . . I could be talking about a scene that hundreds of thousands of adults, teens, and children enjoy every day: fighting dragons, demons, and other monsters in popular online role-playing games such as Runescape and World of Warcraft.

So . . . then . . . if the content in many video games is so similar to stuff that’s in the Bible, why do so many Christians think the Bible is great and video games are terrible?

I don’t know. As I said in Part 1 of this article, if the Bible were a video game, the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) would have to give it a rating of AO: Adults Only because of all the sex and violence in it.

But as I also said in Part 1, this does not mean that the Bible is a bad book. Rather, it means that the Bible is a complex book written by adults, for adults, covering both the best and the worst of human experience, and putting it all in the context of our relationship with God.

Are video games bad or good?

So . . . then . . . why are video games so bad?

I don’t accept the premise of the question.

In fact, I believe that video games are good.

Yes, as I said in Part 1, some people go overboard and spend way too much time playing video games. And yes, some video games really are awful.

But do we as a society say that books are bad because some people spend way too much time reading, and because some books are really horrible?

Video games and online gaming are one of the ways that we modern, technological humans work out in our minds some of the same big issues that the Bible brings us face-to-face with.

The prime reason that video games are condemned both by conservative Christians and by politically correct liberals is that they are chock full of all the things you’re not supposed to talk about in polite company: weapons, fighting, violence, war; sexuality, scantily clad women, relationships of questionable morality. (Though really, the vast bulk of popular video games are quite prudish when it comes to sexual content.)

There are many different types of video games. And many of them are not violent at all. But the ones that get the most criticism are the ones that are most violent. So let’s take a closer look at violence in video games.

What about violence in video games?

What do you think about:

  • Driving around in a car loaded with missiles, machine guns, and bombs, systematically destroying everything and everyone in your path?
  • Stalking city streets and abandoned buildings armed to the teeth, looking for others to shoot, and getting rewarded every time you kill someone else before they kill you?
  • Getting together with a big team of friends and going out onto a blasted battlefield where the goal is to kill everyone on the opposing team before everyone on your side dies?
  • Going out into forests, fields, or dungeons killing every person and animal you see, both strange and familiar, and racking up more and more rewards the higher your kill count goes?

Millions of adults, teens, and children enjoy doing these things every day in single-player video games and in massively multiplayer online role-playing games (MMORPGs) such as World of Warcraft and Runescape.

Isn’t that wrong?

Isn’t that very wrong, inhuman, disturbing, and disgusting?

If it were taking place in real life, yes.

But it’s not. It’s taking place in a game. Nobody is actually getting hurt. It’s all pixels and lines of computer code.

And that is a critical difference.

Is imaginary violence the same as real violence?

Have you ever murdered someone in your mind? Someone you were ripping mad at? Or have you ever had sex with someone in your imagination? Someone you find very attractive and alluring, but who would never in a million years consent to have sex with you?

If so, then assuming you didn’t go ahead and do it, what’s the difference between you and a murderer? What’s the difference between you and a sex offender?

The critical difference is: You didn’t actually do it. You only thought about doing it. And we are charged only with the things we actually do, not the things we just imagine doing.

Video games are not real life. They are worlds of the imagination. Video games project realms that exist in the human mind onto a screen where we can see, hear, and virtually participate in things that we otherwise could otherwise only fantasize about.

The Fiery Breath of Runescape's King Black Dragon

The Fiery Breath of Runescape’s King Black Dragon

Most gamers who have killed thousands of other players in online games have never actually killed another human being. And no gamers who have slain multi-headed dragons thousands of time in online games have ever actually felt the heat of a dragon’s fiery breath on their skin in real life, mastered their fear, and advanced toward it anyway, sword in hand, to vanquish the evil beast.

But in their minds they have.

And that is where all the action takes place: in the human mind.

What do video games do for the human mind?

Video games and online games are mindscapes. To understand their popularity and power, we must look at what they are doing in the minds and spirits of the people who regularly inhabit these terrains of human imagination and spirit.

Yes, of course: Computer games are fun! That’s why people love to play them.

But there’s more to it than that.

Like the Bible, video games and online games are written by humans, for humans. (I happen to believe that the Bible is also divinely inspired, but that’s a topic for a different article.) Every single scene in every single computer game is a product of the human imagination, and is experienced in the human imagination. And since the digital landscape is a place where anything can happen but nobody actually gets hurt, it is a “place” where we humans are free to engage all of our deepest drives, desires, fears, and aspirations in a relatively safe environment.

And the beauty of it is that even though these scenes are not taking place in the objectively real, physical world, and even though nobody actually gets hurt, in our minds they are real encounters. It is like the difference between imagining killing your boss and actually killing your boss. Imagining it allows you to vent your feelings and work through your issues with the ol’ boss without actually offing the guy or gal and spending the rest of your life in prison.

In a now-famous experiment conducted in 2007 in the labs at Harvard Medical School, researchers discovered that the effects on the human brain were the same whether people actually practiced a five-fingered piano exercise on the piano, or only imagined practicing the exercise in their mind, without actually moving their fingers. The most surprising result of the experiment was the discovery that “mental training has the power to change the physical structure of the brain.”

And if things we only imagine doing can change the physical structure of our brain just as much as things we actually do in real life, can’t the things we imagine doing also change the structure of the human mind and spirit?

So isn’t imaginary killing almost as bad as real killing after all?

Now, I know what you’re thinking:

“Aha! So engaging in sex and violence in video games does psychologically harm video gamers just as much as if they did it in real life!”

No. Despite the freaky claims of fruity hypnosis websites and Internet gurus, the Harvard experiment does not mean that the human brain cannot distinguish between imagination and reality. A few psychotic individuals aside, we humans can easily tell whether we’ve actually killed or had sex with someone or just imagined it!

And the difference in results is huge.

Actually killing people or having non-consensual sex with them has far-reaching consequences on the victims and on everyone who knows, loves, or works with them. Those effects boomerang back onto the perpetrators also, often destroying their lives as well.

But killing someone or having sex with someone only in our imagination has no such wide-ranging ripple effects. And as long as we keep it in our mind and keep it in perspective, it does not damage and destroy our own lives either. We can’t always control the thoughts and desires that enter our minds, and we are not held guilty of things we only think about and never actually act upon. (However, if we nurse those thoughts, and would do them if only we could do them and get away with it, then they do have serious negative consequences in our spiritual and psychological life.)

So . . . what do video games do for us, then?

What the Harvard study does suggest is that we can face, deal with, and work out issues and situations in our minds, using our imagination, it will bring about similar changes in our brain and in our character as if we faced, dealt with, and worked out those issues in our outward physical life and in actual interactions with others.

We all know instinctively that this is true. Have any of us not mulled over a tough issue we’re facing at work, at home, or in school, tried out various solutions in our minds, played each one out to see what the likely outcome would be, and finally come up with something that we were certain would work?

Of course, we still have to actually apply the solution in real life. The point is that our mind went through a whole evolution and arrived at a constructive solution without our body having done a thing. Through imagination alone we changed the “structure of our brain.” And that can and does lead to positive change in our “real” outward physical and social life.

Why are we humans so fascinated by sex and violence?

How does this relate to sex and violence in video games and online gaming?

As I said in Part 1, the reason we humans are drawn to sex and violence in our entertainments is that sex and violence touch on two of our most fundamental drives:

  1. Our drive to reproduce ourselves and perpetuate our species, which trumps even our survival instinct.
  2. Our survival instinct, which drives us to do whatever it takes to stay alive when faced with possible death.

Obviously, sex relates to our powerful biological reproductive drive—and to our even more powerful spiritual drive for deep, creative union with another human being.

And violence relates to our survival instinct. In violent and potentially deadly encounters, our will to survive is pitted against the urgent threat of death breathing down our necks if we don’t make full use of our intelligence, experience, and raw, focused physical force in order to snatch our own life out of the jaws of death.

It is no accident that in the human experience, our most intense feelings of aliveness often come either when we are engaged in intense lovemaking or we are engaged in life-and-death combat.

Soldiers returning from deployment in a hot war zone often find that nothing in their ordinary day-to-day life at home can quite compare to the intensity of all-out combat in which somebody’s going home in a body bag, and they’ve got to make damned sure it isn’t themselves or their buddies. Ordinary domestic life seems flat and lifeless by comparison.

And as for the sense of intense aliveness in lovemaking, if you’ve ever experienced it, there is no need for me to explain it to you. And if you haven’t experienced it, I’m still not gonna explain it to you!

Why is there so much violence and sex in our entertainments? Because sex and violence touch the beating heart of our deepest drives, desires, fears, and aspirations.

Okay, then what does all of this have to do with the Bible?

Leaving aside sexuality—since it really isn’t a major factor in most of the hugely popular video and online games—let’s look at the deeper meaning of violence, both in computer games and in the Bible.

The Bible is full of wars, battles, murder, and mayhem, stretching from the fourth chapter of Genesis at the beginning to the third-to-last chapter of Revelation at the end.

Some crazy “Christians” have concluded that this means that God approves of war, and that our job as good Christians is to wipe out our non-Christian enemies. Fringe Christians don’t have a corner on that market. Islam, Judaism, and just about every other major religion have their warlike radical fundamentalist elements who believe that God is on their side, and their God-given mission is to kill the infidel.

However, that is not the real meaning behind the extensive war and violence in the Bible.

What the Bible is really talking about in chapter after chapter of Cain murdering Abel, Israelites slaughtering their enemies and forcibly conquering the Holy Land, and angel armies battling satanic seven-headed dragons is the eternal, archetypal battle of good against evil.

What does it have to do with real life?

We live in a human world filled with real evil. Some of the evil is physical: wars, murders, muggings, rapes, malnutrition, starvation—the list goes on and on. Some of the evil is emotional: verbal abuse, child and elder neglect, racist and sexist language, and so on. Some of the evil is intellectual: corporate deceit, political propaganda, intellectual snobbery, false advertising, and on and on. And some of the evil is spiritual, such as when corrupt clergy use their position to take sexual or financial advantage of their parishioners, often destroying their victims’ relationship with God and the church in the process.

We also live in a world filled with real, human goodness. Every day people engage in small and large acts of love, kindness, and service for their fellow human beings that are far too many and varied to list.

We face issues of good and evil every day. Some of those issues are trivial. Some are more serious. Some have massive effects that ripple through the entire culture.

Ignoring the conflict of good and evil will not make it go away. And wishing that video games weren’t so violent won’t change the powerful forces that cause gaming companies to produce content full of conflict and violence for the millions of gamers out there who demand it.

The conflict and violence in video and online games is simply a reflection in the imaginary computer mindscape of the real conflict and violence that goes on all around us. It is also a reflection of the deeper conflict between good and evil that goes on in the mind and heart of every one of us as long as we live on this earth. This is the spiritual conflict that is represented by the wars and battles of the Bible.

What do video games do for the human spirit?

Facing our Inner Dragons

Facing our Inner Dragons

When video gamers are battling dragons and demons, they may not be thinking about the ultimate spiritual struggle between good and evil. But whether they are conscious of it or not, when they gird on their virtual sword, shield, and armor and go to battle against the evil three-headed dragon, their brain, mind, and spirit are being subtly but actively rewired.

That rewiring is all part of the process of training our minds and spirits to be strong in the face of evil; to stand up against the forces of darkness in our world and in our mind; to become a hero in conquering evil and injustice and championing what is good and right.

True, not all computer games have a highly developed moral sense. But most of them do present issues of good vs. evil in the battles they offer their players. And whether or not it is explicitly present, our mind itself fills in the blanks, and perceives the virtual battles we fight as battles of heroes against villains, of good against evil.

Perhaps in some halcyon future when, through the strength and power of God, we humans have vanquished all evil and banished all injustice from this world, we will have no more need to stage epic battles in our video games in order to excite and entertain ourselves. Perhaps then the spiritual stages represented by the battles of the Bible will all be behind us, and the resplendent new Jerusalem pictured in the final two chapters of the Bible will have fully descended. Perhaps then violence will disappear from our computer screens.

But we are far from that day.

I do believe that the new Jerusalem is already on its way. But we still have many evils to fight and overcome in this world—and in our own spirits—before evil itself will be banished, and the entire world will be filled with love and light.

Video games: part of the upward struggle of humankind

When adults, teens, and children engage in virtual battles in video and online games, it is all part of the exercise of the human spirit, rewiring our brains and strengthening our minds to engage in the battles of good and evil in real life.

As we confront and vanquish virtual dragons and demons on our large and small screens, we are gradually building up strength and confidence within ourselves that we can then use to battle against all the evil and injustice in the world around us.

It is the same strength and confidence that we need to prevail against the emotional demons and mental dragons that taunt our minds and breathe destructive fire within our hearts, continually threatening us with psychological and spiritual death.

It is good for us to go forth boldly and enjoy all the exciting virtual battles that video games and the online gaming universe have to offer!

Then, refreshed and invigorated by success in our virtual battles, our brains re-wired for victory, we will be better prepared to go forth into the world—and into our own souls—as conquering heroes whose mission is to replace evil with goodness and darkness with light wherever the adventure of life may take us.

For further reading:

About

Lee Woofenden is an ordained minister, writer, editor, translator, and teacher. He enjoys taking spiritual insights from the Bible and the writings of Emanuel Swedenborg and putting them into plain English as guides for everyday life.

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Posted in Sports and Recreation, The Bible Re-Viewed
15 comments on “What Does the Bible Say about Video Games? Part 2
  1. Doug Webber says:

    I would say that the intent of the video game is what matters. I had noticed, that long hours of children playing first person shooters had an effect on their immediate psychological behavior afterwards: they were more negative, and easily frustrated, with other tasks they needed to do. It removed them from human to human interaction. So for children, I try to steer them away from violence, as it does have an effect on their behavior. But, if you are a military trainer trying to train cadets for a military exercise, these first person shooters are an excellent training tool.

    So for children, I recommend games that are educational, or ones that are multi-player. The Wii can make them very active. For one boy I could not extract him from first person shooter games. I found what I regard as an excellent alternative…Minecraft. Basically some fighting involved, but the main object is to gather objects and build things. Sort of like building legos, but 10 times better. If you are clever enough you can even build a Turing computer inside of its virtual world, of all things. For others, I try to find logical puzzle games. But still, for children, one does need to limit the hours they spend each day on this.

    • Lee says:

      Hi Doug,

      I agree that the intent of video games is important. Some of them really are quite putrid. One of the things I look for in a video game is some sort of moral compass, even if it does involve violence.

      With young children, who are still quite malleable, it’s not so hard for parents to moderate and redirect their activities. In my experience, the most effective way of doing this is to spend significant quality time with your children. As engrossing as video games are, most young boys and girls will drop them to engage in some enjoyable activity with their parents, such as playing ball, doing arts and crafts, or whatever other types of activities the child likes to do. I spent many happy hours romping and playing games with my daughter and my sons when they were young–though not always as many as they or I would have liked–and I think it made a huge difference in their lives.

      By the time they become teenagers–especially older teenagers–they tend to be more self-directed and less likely to want to do things with their parents. At that point, you just have to hope that a good pattern was set earlier on. Attempting to get them to stop playing video games will most likely just make them even more determined to do it in order to assert their independence. If they do get overly engrossed in video games, eventually real life will force them to put their focus on other things–that is, if their parents don’t do them the great disservice of letting them live at home and not support themselves after they reach adulthood.

  2. Justin says:

    As a life-long gamer and now a devout christian, I struggle with dropping video games completely. It’s difficult to leave something you have enjoyed immensely for 20+ years on a dime because a book tells you to. But, the thing is, it’s right. And this article, is very wrong. Primarily in the critical difference of “not actually doing it”. However, understanding this concept does take a bit of reading and explanation, but I’ll try to bring it into a quick summary:

    The bible states, very clearly – by quoting Jesus – that even by thinking of sinning, you are sinning in your heart. To explain this, there is a concept you need to understand that the bible talks about: God speaks to your heart, to get to your head. He’s that small little voice that tells you “no, that’s not right, you should not do that.” He’s the ‘gut instinct’, the inner voice. He’s the heart, that’s why the bible states you should accept Jesus into your heart to be saved. The devil speaks to the head to get to the heart. He does this through your senses. Primarily the eyes. By showing you things that get’s your fleshly desires stirring, he is causing you to sin. Now, as a gamer, I know full well that most games have some form of sin involved in it. The exception is maybe puzzle games. That’s about it. Horror’s off the map, RPGs are too. Even the go-to game for christian gamers, minecraft breeds sin – magical potions, traveling to hell, summoning the dead, magical enchantments.

    So, no, in the eyes of God, there are no differences in what you think and what you do.

    I’ll end this with the bible’s instructions on what to do with sinful thoughts:

    2 Corinthians 10:5 (KJV)
    Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ;

    • Lee says:

      Hi Justin,

      Thanks for stopping by, and for your comments. Congratulations on becoming a Christian! I wish you Godspeed as you grow in Christ.

      I agree that God speaks to our heart, from within. And if God is telling you to cease your gaming, it is a matter of conscience and faithfulness to the Lord for you to do so.

      The principles for this are laid out in Romans 14:1-15:13, which I commend to your reading. In particular, Romans 14:14 says:

      I know and am persuaded in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself; but it is unclean for anyone who thinks it unclean.

      If you think that computer gaming is unclean and sinful, then for you, it is unclean and sinful.

      As you can tell from reading this two-part article, I interpret the Bible differently than you do on this issue. Many Christians enjoy playing video games as entertainment after their daily work is done, and it does no harm to their walk with Christ. But for those whose walk with Christ is harmed by playing video games, the relationship with Christ must take precedence over the video games.

      • Kevin Maxwell says:

        I agree that some things make different people stumble, what god is after is our hearts, and If you follow the greatest commandment, to love god with everything because he is worthy, than no part of you will enjoy the things of this world.

        Proverbs it says any partiality is not good. You gather or you scatter, make every effort, make the most of every opportunity, the wise in heart think about death. to live is christ to die is gain, be love for people dont be afraid of people.

        • Lee says:

          Hi Kevin,

          Thanks for stopping by, and for your comment. If something (such as video games) makes you stumble, it’s best not to tempt yourself in that way. But if they are part of a healthy and well-rounded life, I don’t believe there is anything wrong with them. God wants us to love God above all, and our neighbor as ourselves. That means taking care of ourselves as well as loving our neighbor. And things that give us harmless enjoyment are good for the soul if we keep them balanced with a life of love and service to others, honoring God’s commandments.

      • Ice Cube says:

        Lusting after a woman (which is adultery) isn’t a virtual sin, it’s a real sin. What makes it a sin is taking a real human being and desiring her, sexually (remembering that sex is a wedding gift from God), when she isn’t even your wife. That is terrible because it makes one love his wife less, plain and simple! Video games are different. In video games you’re not desiring in your heart a real human being be DEAD. You’re not acting out the killing of another real human being with hate in your heart. Yes, you want those virtualized pixels, that manifestation of a human, to be “taken out” by your virtual gun, but you know that there is no real soul inside those pixels, just like you would know this in target practice with an outline of a human torso. You know that when you turn off the game everyone was just having fun and high-fiving each other. In lust, if you found out the woman you desired was there in your bedroom you would be tempted to rip your own clothes off; in a multiplayer video game, if the real person you virtually “murdered” in the game was there in front of you you would BOTH laugh it off and celebrate the friendship.

        • Ice Cube says:

          I was saying that because he was likely thinking of the verse where Jesus said If you look into a woman’s eyes lustfully you have commited adultery

        • Lee says:

          Hi Ice Cube,

          Thanks for stopping by, and for your thoughts. I happen to agree with you. As long as we keep video games and reality distinct in our minds, and we use them as recreation without going overboard and neglecting the rest of our life, there’s no sin involved.

          However, as I said in the comments a little earlier, for those who do find video games to be a problem and a stumbling block to their faith and their life, it’s probably better not to play them.

  3. Mark says:

    Yeah, I agree that video games aren’t a sin. When I asked God if I was OK for playing, he said yes. And no, it wasn’t Satan, I know the difference by now. This article is %100 correct in my opinion. And let’s be logical. Do you think God cares that much about a virtual reality? Don’t you think he would care a little more about what we do in the real world? Thanks Lee.

    • Lee says:

      Hi Mark,

      You’re welcome. Thanks for stopping by, and for your good thoughts. I entirely agree that it’s what we do in the real world that really matters.

  4. Daniel lara says:

    So what your saying we are allowed to play games like gta 5 and doom which have massive amounts of blood gore and sex and nudity

    • Lee says:

      Hi Daniel,

      Thanks for stopping by, and for your comment.

      As I said in the article, “And yes, some video games really are awful.”

    • Mike says:

      do you not realize the bible has genocide, rape, nudity, and gore also? Guess we shouldn’t read that either? Its the same

      • Lee says:

        Well . . . not exactly the same. In the Bible, people who do these things at least sometimes get punished, and there is a general trend over the course of the whole Bible away from such things, toward better morals and ethics. In the “really awful” video games, there is no comeuppance; instead, the more horrendously you act in the game, the more you get rewarded, without any real sense of good and evil at all.

        There is a difference between a video game in which you get rewarded for killing bad guys and a video game in which you get rewarded for killing, raping, and stealing cars from just any ol’ person on the street. I realize it’s sometimes a fine line, but even in video games there are differences in the overall morality or lack thereof in the game.

        Of course, the main thing is the attitude of the player. Even really horrible games aren’t so harmful if the player doesn’t take them seriously, and recognizes that the game is just a fantasy—and that if s/he did these things in real life, they would be horrible actions and criminal offenses.

        I don’t advocate banning any of the games that are on the shelf. But it’s still worth considering whether you really want to fill your head with some of the terribly brutal, gory, and immoral imagery and action that goes on in some of them.

        Yes, the Bible has it too. But it’s in words, not images. And it’s part of an overall narrative in which actions have consequences—even if those consequences are sometimes delayed by years or generations—and in which there is a direction and purpose to the story.

        Not all genocide, rape, nudity, and gore are created equal. Though three out of the four are always evil (nudity isn’t necessarily evil), it all depends on the wider context in which they happen, and whether the greater message is that these things are evil. Even when it comes to the genocide in the Bible, the later books, such as the prophets and the Gospels, begin turning against the idea that it’s good for one race to kill another, and start talking about loving one’s enemies, and about God loving people of all nations and races.

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