Why We Play

Greatness is about more than action and adrenaline. Fortunately, so are videogames.

Written by Drew Dixon / Published on November 25, 2013

Recently I read an article by a well-meaning Christian blogger calling out Sony’s “Greatness Awaits” commercials and making the case that true greatness cannot be found virtually and can only be found in self sacrificial service of God and neighbor. This claim is, in my opinion, true enough, but the article itself also illustrated why I think sites like GameChurch.com are incredibly important.

At Gamechurch, we assume from the outset that games have value–that they can be a positive force in the lives of human beings. Like other art forms, they can bring us together, give us a common vernacular, and even give us insight in our lives and the lives of those around us. We believe that games have something to say and they are worth exploring and criticizing and questioning to try to get to the bottom of what that is.

But Tim Challies offers up an entirely different set of assumptions:

Video games offer the action and adrenaline missing from our lives. But even more significantly, video games offer the allure of accomplishment, the allure of greatness. We don’t play games to lose, but to win. We don’t play to be the vanquished but the vanquisher. We play to triumph, to conquer, to overthrow and overcome, to do the things that are so far outside our experience of life.

I do think this is one appeal of videogames and that this appeal is potentially problematic. The problem is that most of the people I know who play videogames would reject this appeal. They are not so childish as to think that our on screen accomplishments have lasting value. The reasons my friends play games are incredibly diverse. They play them because games produce interesting conversations, bring us together, make us think, and challenge our assumptions. Sure, sometimes we play because we need a break from the real world, but given the world we live in, I can’t envision taking such a break being categorically unwise.

Many tend to speak of playing videogames and loving one’s family as mutually exclusive activities. The people I know who play games, however, are aware that the list of things that are more important than games is long and that their real life marriages, families, and relationships are more important than their gaming time.

But Challies’ concern is that:

There is no reward, no medal or badge or accolade, in serving the people of your church by putting out the chairs or cleaning up the post-potluck mess. There is no hero’s parade at the end of it. But this is the essence of true greatness. And this is the greatness our games can never deliver. To the contrary, this is the very greatness our games may cause us to miss altogether.

I am not sure I am comfortable comparing the value of the friendships I have formed and the conversations I have had because of playing videogames with the value of cleaning up after church potluck. Like any other piece of art or social experience we might enjoy, games have value–they can bring joy to our lives, give us something important to talk about, and even help us empathize with the experiences of others. Games have done all these things and more for me and many of my friends that enjoy them. Games don’t cause us to miss these things. They enrich them.

My guess is that Challies has never played a game like Sweatshop, the iOS game that raises awareness about real life sweatshops in the world. He has probably never played Papers, Please the incredibly ambitious indie game that gives players a glimpse into the harsh realities of life for many during the cold war. He has probably never had the experience of working on communication with friends while playing Spaceteam or learning teamwork while playing Bari Bari Ball or Hokra.These are just a handful of meaningful game experiences I have personally had recently but the list could go on and on.

I suppose there are people who play games because of the allure of greatness. Like anything else in the world, videogames certainly can be and often are used in an unhealthy manner by those that play them. That reality doesn’t change their inherent value or the myriad of worthwhile reasons people might play them.

While some continue talking to each other about how reading the Bible and praying are more valuable than gaming, we will continue inviting anyone who is interested to talk about why games matter, why we love and hate them, and what that says about us as human beings.

photo credit: jDevaun via photopin cc

About the Author:

Drew Dixon is editor-in-chief of Game Church. He also edits for Christ and Pop Culture and writes about videogames for Paste Magazine, Relevant Magazine, Bit Creature, and Think Christian.

  • Jonathan

    Very nice. I like gaming for many reasons. sometimes I use to escape rresponsibilityslike homework (unwise) but other times I enjoy the competition, thinking aspect of competitive multiplayer, but also the storys. What the storys mean and what they are saying about human beings. And video games allow me to be a part of that story; a deeper sense of involvement. I love gaming because it brings me together with my friends and because it has taught me also about ccommunities of people and also about business. Gaming is a huge part of my life.

  • Drew Dixon

    Thanks for sharing Jonathan. I am glad to hear it!

  • AlphaBovine

    After working with games professionally as well as from a hobby, I am more and more convinced that games, both indie and AAA, are a great avenue for social commentary, reflection and even ministry.

    However it can not be denied that for some people games can become a sort of idol. Power and control over a fantasy world can be addicting to the extent that you sacrifice money, relationships and other things for it. This is seen in extremes when people die from playing League of Legends for 23 hours straight.

    Some people like Driscoll and Challies I think speak to the latter where people will become so addicted or sacrifice so much for a hobby. However the Gospel is available here in the Gamer’s Bible and it is important to remember that and always remind yourself of the good news so that gaming stays a hobby and a way to engage with others rather than a hobby that becomes your identity.