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  • July 11, 2014 - Reflections

    By Jean S. Horner
    The other day while walking down a corridor in a public building, I saw what appeared to be someone walking toward me. On coming closer, I found it was my own reflection in a huge mirror. For a moment it frightened me. Somehow a full-length reflection of one’s self is a startling thing. ...

Virtual Morality

Video game fantasies have real-life implications

By Christina Quick
April 11, 2010

Gene Crawford, of Nixa, Mo., works in an office cubicle by day. But most evenings, he retreats to a fantasy world. There he fights ogres, plans raids and interacts with elves, gnomes and armored warriors.

Crawford, 31, participates in an online gaming community. By his own estimate, he logs three to four hours of screen time during a typical session.

Crawford even met his wife, Kaitlyn, online while participating in the game. Now the two play alongside each other on separate computers.

The Crawfords, who attend Nixa First Assembly of God, are not alone in their passion for pixilated entertainment. Whether played on a computer, game console or portable device, video games are growing in popularity. Between 2008 and 2009, the number of gamers in the United States increased by 4.3 million, according to the NPD Group, a market research firm based in Port Washington, N.Y.

About 53 percent of Americans play video games in one form or another, NPD reports. More than 17 million are heavy gamers, playing at least 23 hours a week.

Ryan Moore, young adult ministries coordinator for the Assemblies of God, says the trend extends into the church as well. He says Christians need to be discerning about the kinds of games they play.

“There are a lot of Christian young adults who are going online and playing these games,” says Moore, 30. “I would caution them to be careful what they put in their minds. Whether it’s virtual or not, whether it’s perceived as real or fake, it has the capacity to trickle down into your heart and affect how you live.”

While some video games may be harmless, Moore says Christians should be uncomfortable with themes prevalent in many of today’s most popular games, such as graphic violence, occultism and sensuality. In the online role-playing game Second Life, for example, players can visit strip clubs, pick up prostitutes and engage in virtual sex with other online screen characters.

As the line between reality and fantasy blurs, some wonder at what point virtual sin becomes real sin. Moore says the best policy is to stay far away from such a line of distinction, avoiding sin in all its forms.

“The Bible says to flee immorality,” Moore says. “We can’t excuse it by saying it’s not real. Spiritually, every thought we choose to entertain is in the realm of the real world and can have real consequences.”

Some troubled marriages have ended in real divorce after one spouse has been caught up in virtual programs such as Second Life. An online message board discusses Second Life addiction.

“It’s almost 2 a.m. now and she’s still at it,” wrote one husband, who identified himself only as Sad Guy. “I can’t sleep. She’s been doing this for a week straight while working full time. All her time at home is spent on SL while ignoring me and the kids. She claims it’s just fantasy and innocent fun. It’s tearing me apart.”

A woman wrote that three months after her 51-year-old husband discovered Second Life, their marriage was in shambles.

“He told me it was not real, and then proceeded to fall in love with a 20-year-old who also plays,” she wrote.

Bob Randleman, an Assemblies of God chaplain and professional counselor in St. Joseph, Mo., says video game addiction, as with all addictive behaviors, can take a heavy toll on relationships and lead to other problems.

“I had a client whose wife was ready to divorce him over his gaming habits,” Randleman says. “He had to make the decision to unplug the Internet to save his marriage. It can become an obsession that your partner cannot compete with.”

While Crawford agrees that Christians need to exercise caution, he says there can be positive aspects to gaming. The interactive, social features of some online games allow participants to communicate and develop friendships. He says he has evangelized many fellow gamers and mailed more than a dozen Bibles to people he met while playing.

“I got to witness to one guy over a two-year period who was actively practicing Santeria, and I got to be an important part of his path to Jesus,” Crawford says. “He is now a Christian, married to a Christian girl and is active in his church.”

Crawford, who has been a fan of video games since his childhood days of playing Atari, says he is careful to monitor his own gaming habits. He recently took time off from playing because he sensed it was becoming too much of a fixation. He says today’s game formats are more habit-forming than earlier games.

“When I started gaming, I could sit and play Frogger for 10 minutes and be satisfied because the game was fairly simple,” Crawford says. “Today, games have become insanely complex and involved. They require much greater amounts of time to accomplish things, as well as having interesting stories and features that draw you in.”

Children are especially vulnerable to video game overexposure. Nearly 90 percent of U.S. children and teens are gamers, and as many as 15 percent exhibit signs of addiction, according to a report by the American Medical Association.

Most kids interact with more than two types of gaming devices, and more than half play games online, according to the NPD Group’s Kids and Gaming 2009 report.

“Many parents drop the ball in taking responsibility to ensure that their children are not spending too much time with video games,” Randleman says. “Video game time needs to be balanced with activities involving real people doing real things in a real world where there are real, lasting benefits.”

Because many games contain inappropriate elements, experts advise parents to check ratings and carefully preview any games they allow their children to play.

“Video games are powerful teaching tools,” says Dave Grossman, author of On Killing, a book that explores the effects of media violence on society. “Operant conditioning, classical conditioning and social learning are all powerfully and intentionally present in the games. The question is: What are they teaching?”

Grossman cites games such as Manhunter 2, in which players score points by beating police officers with clubs and strangling people with plastic bags, as evidence that the video game industry is growing increasingly depraved.

“This is a sick, sick industry, making sicker and sicker violent games, and then fighting to sell these games to kids,” Grossman says.

Randleman says such games are unhealthy for adults as well.

“The Bible teaches us to think on things that are of good report and godly,” Randleman says, referencing Philippians 4:8. “When we think on the things that these video games are promoting, it opens a door into a world of godlessness.”

CHRISTINA QUICK is a freelance writer and former Pentecostal Evangel staff writer. She lives in Springfield, Mo., and attends Central Assembly of God.

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