The Church And Video Games (Part 2: The Negative Side)

We are continuing our discussion on the intersection between the Church and the world of video games.  Part one, our introduction and the popularity of video games, can be FOUND HERE.  Part Three: The Positive Side can be found HERE.

I believe video games as an uncharted mission field.  It’s that simple.  And with any mission field, we have to walk carefully, expect resistance, and be patient to earn people’s trust (from the Church and gamers).  So this multi-part series will go into the many aspects of this new mission field.  Before we talk about how video games could even be a mission field we have to be open to both the dangers and benefits of video games.

Video Games in Ministry: A Balancing Act of Benefits and Dangers

In today’s digital landscape, video games have become an integral part of our culture. They’re not just about entertainment anymore; they’re also about communication, community, and even education. As such, it’s no surprise that a few churches are considering the use of video games as a ministry or outreach opportunity. But like any tool, video gaming comes with its own set of benefits and dangers. Let’s explore both sides of the coin.

The Biggest Question: Do Video Games Increase Violence?

This has been a running question since I was in high school.  I grew up in the late 1990s and was in high school when the Columbine School shootings occurred.  I remember most of the news agencies started to blame rock music and the shooters playing violent video games as a major factor in why they committed that horrible act.  But that was over 25 years ago and over time it was discovered things like school bullying and lack of parental involvement had a much bigger impact.

Video games, particularly those of a violent nature, have long been at the center of debates about aggression and violence. The question of whether these games lead to real-life violence has generated numerous studies with mixed results.

Studies Indicating an Increase in Aggression

Some research suggests that playing violent video games can increase aggression. According to the American Psychological Association, even brief exposure to violent video games can temporarily increase aggressive behavior in all types of participants.  One study found a small increase in real-world physical aggression among adolescents and pre-teens who play violent video games.

Studies Disputing a Direct Link to Violence

Despite some studies suggesting otherwise, many researchers argue there’s no firm, irrefutable evidence linking violent video games to real-life violence or even aggressive behavior (HERE).  A study involving more than 21,000 young people around the world found that video games do not lead to violence or aggression (HERE).

While studies have shown violent video games may cause aggression, it’s important to note that aggression does not equate to violence. Aggression can be triggered by any competitive activity, not just video games.  But you know what else studies found?  When a person plays or even watches a football game and a call/play doesn’t go their way it’s a similar kind of physical aggression (in frustration) that happens.  It’s because humans are impressionable and emotional beings and things like experiences or technology can impact our moods.  But there is no clear evidence that people who do not play video games are generally nicer, less violent, or things of that nature.  Personally, I have gotten upset and “rage quit” a game because I was angry, but that didn’t lead to anything else but frustration.

The Need for Nuance

The debate surrounding video games and violence isn’t black and white. As noted by a contributor on Quora, while violent video games might not make normal people violent, there needs to be nuance in the discussion. Factors such as individual personality traits, environmental influences, and the context of gameplay can also play crucial roles in determining whether violent games lead to violent behavior.

In conclusion, while some research suggests a correlation between violent video games and increased aggression, there’s no definitive evidence linking these games to real-life violence. The relationship between video gaming and violent behavior is complex and likely influenced by a multitude of factors.

But there are other negative aspects to video games…

Other Negative Side of Video Games

This isn’t an exhaustive list but covers the the main aspects of both.  Feel free to leave a comment if you would like to add more.

1. Excessive Screen Time

Excessive screen time can lead to various health issues, including eye strain, sleep disturbances, and physical inactivity. It’s essential to ensure that gaming activities are balanced with physical activities and traditional social interactions.

2. Content Inappropriateness

Not all video games are created equal. Some may contain violent, explicit, or otherwise inappropriate content. Churches and parents must meticulously select the games they use, ensuring they align with the congregation’s age group and values.  Just like the Internet or any other technology that connects a person to the world, that person will be exposed to a wide variety of positive or negative content.  Playing certain video games can lead directly to sin (like viewing pornography) and must be discerned in every aspect.

3. Risk of Addiction

Video games can be highly addictive, leading to social isolation or neglect of responsibilities. Churches and parents must be vigilant about the amount of time members spend gaming and provide guidance on healthy gaming habits.

4. Warped View of Reality

If gamers play video games and do not have the ability to separate fantasy from reality this becomes dangerous behavior when interacting in the real world.  It sets up unrealistic expectations for the treatment of women, authority, morals, and more.  This also can be contributed by movies, graphic novels, pornography, or other “escapes” that a person can get lost in.  Video games are designed to make you feel you are leaving your world and entering the world of the character you are playing.  So the danger of not unplugging is a factor.  Social media has taken over video games as the main escape for teenagers and young adults but the results are eerily similar.

5. Dualistic Effect of Video Games and Mental Health

Research has shown that video games can have both positive and negative impacts on players’ mental health. On one hand, they can serve as a form of escapism, helping to alleviate stress, anxiety, and even symptoms of depression. However, not everyone experiences these benefits. For some, excessive gaming can lead to or exacerbate mental health problems.

According to research, a significant number of gamers report experiencing mental health issues. Up to 92% of problem gamers have reported anxiety, 89% depression, and 75% social anxiety. A survey (HERE) found that a third of U.S. gamers have experienced anxiety and other stress-induced disorders multiple times in the past year.  This has to do with the escapism that video games provide.  Gamers feel they can control their world better in video games than in the real world.  This becomes a dangerous coping mechanism rather than other healthy mechanisms.  The term ‘gaming disorder’ has been coined to describe problematic gaming behavior that significantly impacts a person’s life. Research on the association between gaming disorder and mental health issues like depression and anxiety has yielded mixed results with much of the evidence being unclear.  There is a link but there is no clear evidence on precisely why.

Gaming is Complex

In conclusion, the relationship between gaming and its dangers is complex. While video games can offer benefits such as stress relief and mental stimulation, excessive or problematic gaming can potentially lead to or exacerbate mental health issues.  Navigating the world of video games requires balance. The potential dangers must be managed thoughtfully while maximizing the benefits. This could mean setting time limits for gaming, carefully selecting appropriate games, and incorporating discussions about Christian values within the gaming experience.

Part 3: Positive Side of Video Games

With careful planning and responsible implementation, they can be a powerful tool for engaging and connecting with today’s digitally-inclined generation.  Check out part three for the positive side of video games as we continue this discussion of the intersection of the Church and video games.

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