The Harm of Video Games: When Entertainment becomes Obsession
The purpose of this article is to explain how a passion for video games can become an obsession. Based on my own experience as a former video game addict, I intend to explore the underlying cause of gaming obsession among the youth and how this obsession can turn some to violence. I will also identify the pros and cons of video games and explore how the fantasy realm can have a negative, even spiritual influence on young minds. Finally, I will share my thoughts on what Christian parents can do to protect their children from these negative influences.
I should begin by saying that trying to draw a direct connection between obsessive gaming and real life violence isn't entirely conclusive. The circumstances which may lead someone to commit a violent act is complex and other variables such as underlying psychological problems should not be overlooked. With that said, there are cases out there to consider.
Perhaps the most famous case we have in Britain would be the Manhunt case back in 2004. Fourteen year old Stefan Pakeerah was battered and stabbed to death in a sustained attack by his acquaintance, Warren LeBlanc. At just seventeen years of age, LeBlanc was forced to plead guilty in a crown court before being sentenced to life in prison.
The most fascinating revelation that emerged from the LeBlanc case was that his merciless attack on his friend closely resembled a scene from the PlayStation 2 game, Manhunt. I remember the game well. It was released shortly after my 15th birthday in November 2003. I was an avid gamer and I played it myself (when I was far too young I might add). According to Wikipedia, "the game's story follows a supposedly executed death row inmate who is forced to participate in a series of snuff films for a former film producer and now underground snuff director, Lionel Starkweather."
It basically involves you going around with various weapons, brutally murdering your enemies in a very graphic and realistic fashion. At the time, I wasn't particularly impressed by it. The story-line was pretty mediocre and the violence became quite repetitive after a while. Overall, I would say the game was pretty average. So you can imagine my surprise when I found out about Leblanc's case.
In 2013, Auburn University lacrosse player, Zachary Burgess also went on a real-life crime spree, stealing a car with the passenger still in the vehicle. He drove wildly, colliding with nine other vehicles before being apprehended by police. According to their report, Burgess said, "I wanted to see what it was really like to play the video game Grand Theft Auto."
And it's not just violence on others that may be attributed to video games, but violence on oneself. Such was the tragic case of Wu Tai in 2015, who reportedly coughed up blood and dropped dead in a Shanghai internet café after playing World Of Warcraft for 19 hours straight.
These cases raise some important questions. Is there something inherently evil about video games or are these simply isolated incidents? Are there other dark influences at work behind the scenes?
The Pro's and Cons
It might surprise some to discover that most of the research has shown that playing video games in moderation can actually be quite beneficial. They can be a good stress relief for many young people. There is also the added benefit that they keep young people off of the street and some games can stimulate different parts of the brain as demonstrated in this piece from the Huffington Post.
Some of the more obvious cons of video games is that they can be incredibly addictive which leads to endless hours away from your friends and your family. It can also be quite a strain on your eyes if you play for extended periods of time. And like film, these days it's not uncommon to see graphic violence, sexual references and drugs in video games.
If I was put on the spot though, I would say video games in and of themselves aren't bad. They certainly don't turn people into murderers. But what I do want to demonstrate is that video games can be very harmful when a passion becomes an obsession. This is especially true when it comes to young people.
When a Passion becomes an Obsession
Speaking from my own experience, the youth culture today is incredibly isolated. By that, I don't mean that young people don't interact with each other, they do. But rather, there is not much effort and commitment involved. This is why social media and the video game industry have become so powerful. They provide young people with the community (especially since the inception of online games like COD) without the commitment. And all this from the comfort of their own bedrooms. This means that no-one has to see each other face to face and this leads to great struggle when it comes to real life, social situations.
Another issue that really adds to the problem is the culture's identity crisis. Young people simply have no idea who they are anymore. In fact, things have become so extreme, that what you now see is young people trying to become someone else. There is horrendous pressure today from society for people to fit a certain mold. This begins at school and I would argue is the source of most of the bullying that we see. Someone is different because they don't look the same as us or they don't like the same things etc, so they become a target and then an outcast. This creates resentment in a person and they become disillusioned with life because of rejection and end up hating who they are. Everyone longs to belong, and so it's understandable when a young person retreats towards something else when society doesn't provide them with the acceptance they long for.
This opens the door to the fantasy realm and video games provide the perfect platform to stimulate that desire. Personally, I'd describe this as 'the fantasy drug' and it has a deep effect on emotionally vulnerable young people, especially males. Solitude and counterfeit reality is what provokes a marring of values and opens the door for violence to be seen as quite an attractive thing. As someone who was heavily affected by this myself, I want to relay my own experience with video games before delving into the spiritual question surrounding it.
The Fantasy Drug
The lure of gaming for me was very strong. I would describe myself as having a very unhealthy obsession in my early teens. I had a small group of friends and we would literally play fighting games for hours. Most males have a competitive drive, so this was all good fun at first, but when I was on my own, it became dangerous. The most disturbing effect it had was on my emotions. I remember getting into one RPG (Role Playing Game) in particular which I won't name. It was incredibly addictive and the characters and story-line were engaging enough that I became emotionally involved. There was one point in the game where you have to defeat an ice monster in a remote location, and I became stuck. I must have been playing for hours before I started to realize that I couldn't win. I became so agitated that I literally bit my controller out of anger and frustration. I was only 13 or 14 at the time but even I was shocked at what had just happened when I came to my senses.
On another occasion, I played an absolutely classic story-based game called Soul Reaver 2 for 12 hours straight before coming downstairs for dinner. I was so disorientated after the experience that I could barely respond when my mother asked me a question.
So the lure of escapism and fantasy is very powerful; but what would the Bible have to say about this? Is there another influence at work behind the scenes? Could Satan be playing a part in gamer's eventually becoming murderers?
Many Christians know that Satan is a murderer. This is made clear by the Lord Jesus Christ in John Chapter 8. All murder can be traced back to the devil, but some of us might not be aware that the Bible also describes him as a master entertainer. Originally, Lucifer was God’s anointed cherub in heaven before's his insurrection which led to his banishment to the earth. He now reigns here as the prince of the power of the air (Ephesians 2:2); the ruler of this present worlds system. Far from the stereotypical devil with horns and a pitchfork, Ezekiel describes him as an incredibly beautiful angelic being. Specifically, he is covered with jewels and precious stones and musical instruments are prepared in him. When the devil speaks, he literally speaks music and I believe he is a master of the arts and fantasy realm:
“Thou hast been in Eden the garden of God; every precious stone was thy covering, the sardius, topaz, and the diamond, the beryl, the onyx, and the jasper, the sapphire, the emerald, and the carbuncle, and gold: the workmanship of thy tabrets and of thy pipes was prepared in thee in the day that thou wast created.
Thou art the anointed cherub that covereth; and I have set thee so: thou wast upon the holy mountain of God; thou hast walked up and down in the midst of the stones of fire.
Thou wast perfect in thy ways from the day that thou wast created, till iniquity was found in thee.”
So it would be naive to assume that Satan has no influence over the video game industry, especially when this keeps young people entertained and distracted from God and His Word. As mentioned earlier, one of the most powerful attractions of video games is that they enable the player to assume a completely different identity and essentially suspend reality. You can become the most powerful person you want to be for little cost and very little effort. This gain in control over their environment will be detrimental when individuals are forced to enter reality again and live by a different code where they are no longer as powerful.
The Bible says, "Be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind" (Romans 12:2a). But what happens on the flip side? If people don't feed on the Word of God they will only feed their flesh and open themselves up to the dark realm. We're told those who do this will reap corruption (Galatians 6:7-8)
It seems to me to be the perfect trick. I was heavily into video games growing up, so I can attest to their power and influence. The problem many young people have today is a crisis of identity because the culture has completely turned its back on Jesus Christ. Everyone has a longing in their souls which is meant to be filled entirely by God. So when that doesn't happen, the devil will bring in his counterfeit and temporarily satisfy that longing for escapism that many young and impressionable people have by keeping them on this rabbit trail.
Of course, this isn't just isolated to the video game culture and I'm not saying it's wrong for Christians to play video games. As mentioned, there are many benefits to them. But considering this is now a multi-billion pound industry, it can certainly be, and has been used as a powerful stronghold for the devil.
So what should we conclude?
If we're talking about young Christians, parents need to set some boundaries without trying to isolate their children from the culture. There is a time and a place for entertainment and recreational activities. That's a very healthy thing and can improve the child's quality of life and give them stability when dealing with their peers. But equally, there must be an emphasis on parents teaching their kids the Bible and getting their minds focused on the right thing. There's nothing wrong with children and young people enjoying video games, but when that passion becomes an obsession, it becomes very dangerous.
Adam Brennan is a digital producer at Premier