Mark Driscoll on Video Games: Not sinful, but stupid

Mark Driscoll doesn’t like nerds or geeks (neither do Westboro Baptist). He regularly bags out bloggers, now he’s having a dig at people who play video games. Watch from about 1:47 in this video… or just read this post on the Mars Hill blog.

“Video games are not sinful, they’re just stupid. And they’re stupid in this way: Young, particularly men, and now women are joining it, they want to get on a team, be part of a kingdom, conquer a foe, and win a great, epic battle. So they do it with their thumbs and it doesn’t even count. Nobody’s really liberated. The Taliban is not really conquered. Women are not really freed from oppression. Generations are not really changed. It’s all fake. It doesn’t count.”

No. It doesn’t count. Only the particularly deluded think games = real life. But games are entertainment, and like all culture and art, they are an avenue to connect with other people. You know. The type of thing you often encourage your followers to do when they’re engaging with culture.

In the first video, and the text in that first blog entry, Driscoll strawmans anybody who plays games – because we’re all motivated by wanting to fight a battle. That isn’t real. And doesn’t count. It’s just an odd little rant coming from a guy who at this point seems to be letting his prejudices against the nerdy types of people who sit in their mum’s basements and bag him out on their blogs cloud his judgment. It seems a little bit like he’s missing the whole fiction/non-fiction divide again a little (as he did with Twilight and Avatar).

Here’s what he said in an earlier post on the Resurgence blog about his approach to culture:

“What I’ve found over the years is that whenever I speak about something culturally related from a Christian perspective, a debate rages. This has been the case since the earliest days of my ministry. This is because I consider myself a missionary in culture. When we started our church we did so in what was among the least churched cities in the nation, seeking to reach the least churched demographic—young, educated, single, urban men. The truth is, these kinds of young men are generally missing from the American church. One thing these men of all races are doing is listening to rap music.”

Now, I want to know what the difference is, in his mind, between games and music – so far as looking to engage in the subculture in a missional way. I don’t get it. If it’s about escapism – then why is he ok with watching movies and television. And he is ok with watching movies and television. I assume he’s also ok with reading novels.

Games are interactive stories. They are movies that the gamer takes part in, novels that the gamer helps write, entertainment that is active rather than passive, and increasingly they are art (though Roger Ebert doesn’t think so) and social commentary. Like music. Like movies. They’re culture. They’re not stupid, or sinful. But, like anything, the way people use them can be. And like anything, there are always a bunch of Christians looking to Christianise (or, to use one of Driscoll’s Rs, Redeem) this stream of culture. Though this one is satire:

Here’s a post linking to a good essay on the subject of games as art that I put up a while ago, here’s the one that Call of Duty image was originally featured in, here’s a couple of posts about Christian games: post 1, post 2

Now, excuse me while I go to shoot some Mexican bandits on Red Dead Redemption.

The author

Nathan runs St Eutychus. He loves Jesus. His wife. His daughter. His son. His other daughter. His dog. Coffee. And the Internet. He is the campus pastor at Creek Road South Bank, a graduate of Queensland Theological College (M. Div) and the Queensland University of Technology (B. Journ). He spent a significant portion of his pre-ministry-as-a-full-time-job life working in Public Relations, and now loves promoting Jesus in Brisbane and online. He can't believe how great it is that people pay him to talk and think about Jesus.

26 thoughts on “Mark Driscoll on Video Games: Not sinful, but stupid”

  1. Good call. Video games are becoming more and more sophisticated as a storytelling medium. Increasingly, they’re not a means of whiling away the hours but art forms that capture our emotions at a very deep level — the idea of Sehnsucht that CS Lewis referred to.

    As a high school English teacher, I think it’s time we began studying video games in our English classrooms alongside music videos and graphic novels. They deserve our thoughtful attention, not our disdain.

    Writing off gaming culture as stupid is just a bit daft.

    How will Leonard and Sheldon ever hear about Jesus?

    1. Yeah Arthur, that’s my question too. I think, as Dave points out below, there’s a potential for life to be wasted playing games that can’t be ignored. But it’s a whole sub-culture that Driscoll is just rejecting, and I’ve found (though Dave’s experience might be different) that men, in general, need to be completing some sort of mindless task while talking or the talking can just be a little too intense, so playing games is a great way to have some time together and to chat with some of the younger generation…

  2. i’m traditionally in dricoll’s camp regarding video games.
    i think i arrived there independent of driscoll, maybe more influenced by piper and ‘don’t waste your life’ mantra??
    but i appreciate your perspective and counter-argument.

    i’ve heard driscoll speak about tv, movies and cultural engagement. i htink you have a valid point.

    but i think there’s more to it.
    i don’t think driscoll is arguing that christians ought to waste all their time watching movies and tivo.
    the vibe i get from video gaming cultural is that most people spend a disproportionate amount of time playing.
    i know Christians who struggle with addiction to video games.
    that seems to be more of the norm – hence preaching against it.
    we know driscoll uses rhetoric as he preaches… (understatement!!)

    but as i read the rest of the driscoll quote over on the mh blog – it made me think of piper and his line of not wasting your life. hey – play your video games for 2-3 hours a week – but then get on and do something useful with your time!!

    war-time living stuff.

    this is a ramble ramble comment. sorry. i refuse to re-read and edit! haha

    1. Hey Dave,

      Thanks for the ramble. Appreciate it. And agree. Though see my response to Arthur – I think we need to consider games outside of the way a forty year old thinks about games. Games these days are social, relational, and have the capacity to be used for good. There’s a whole sub culture who get excited about locking themselves in a room with 30 other guys for a bunch of time, and some pizza. These events are called LAN parties… and youth group aged guys love them. And console gaming in a loungeroom (especially sports games) is a great way to relax with a few mates and chat. In my experience, as I said above, it’s heaps easier to talk to guys while completing some sort of other task.

      But yeah. People have died in WoW marathons where they’ve forgotten to eat…

      1. i know of a fella who owned a computer gaming shop thingy (LAN shop thing). he was a christian. he ran one night a week where he let guys come and play for free – IF they came and did a bible study for an hour first. as far as i could tell – it was successful in engaging a whole bunch of guys in that sub-culture with the gospel.
        i knew some of the young guys – i’d taught them when i was a primary teacher. they struggled to fit in. some had even come and visited our youth group – but we struggled to look after them and they didn’t stick around.
        i love that this guy used their thing to reach them. very cool.

        —–

        one more thing.

        my observation is that sometimes the video gaming becomes the most inmportant thing – so the christian forgets they are part of a bigger mission in the world.

        ie – just like in lots of areas of life – people spend so much time building bridges, that they never actually cross over them!

        good discussion, thansk

      2. I should mention – I was trying to describe the LAN parties David Attenborough style, rather than suggesting you had no idea what they were…

          1. Phew. I was worried for a moment when I read it, because I couldn’t, and it sounded a little patronising (but let’s face it, Attenborough’s British accent makes everything he says sound patronising).

  3. Said from the heart of a gamer…

    From a non-gamer….
    I am not a gamer and my sentiment is much the same as Dave’s I see too many kids waste too much time playing games. It drives me nuts. And not just kids..

    Now I think that this is a general problem with youth. They waste their time on meaningless things. I agree entirely people can do this mean different forms of media / entertainment but gaming is a stand out to me in terms of the time consumed.

    I am not sure that you can even single out one media / entertainment form it is bigger then to game or not to game – it is about lifestyle about whether you are making your life count.

    1. “They waste their time on meaningless things”

      But everything under the sun is meaningless…

      I agree that games can become addictive, but then, so can exercise. Or cooking/eating. Or study. There are plenty of non-meaningless things that can be abused.

      For me it’s a question of balance, and utility – can games be used for God’s glory? Yes. Are they? Often, no. Can games prompt sinful thoughts? Yes. Do they have to? No. Though some games probably are inherently sinful and need to be rejected… but this gets into a question of how Christians engage with culture, and I think Driscoll’s model is generally good. But I think he’s guilty of rejecting something he doesn’t understand on the basis of people he is naturally inclined to dislike because they don’t conform to his model of manliness. Games are a legitimate form of entertainment, and entertainment is a legitimate use of time – rest and play are important.

      I’ve written some posts here previously where I’ve suggested that rest and play are best when they have some kingdom utility – which is where I see playing games as a vehicle for conversation and relationship, or playing games evangelistically (see Dave’s comments above) fitting.

      But not all rest or play needs utility value to be justifiable. Which is where I think the “Don’t waste your life” movement goes wrong if it’s not held in balance. Part of not wasting your life is taking time out from the work of the gospel to enjoy life. And gaming is a legitimate avenue for doing that, even if some people don’t understand it.

      1. Sounds like we agree.

        I think that the 2 additions you added in there are
        1. Can they be sinful..
        2. Rest, Gaming and “Don’t waste you life”

        On these
        1. Agree
        2. I think that if people take “Don’t waste you life” out of context they could get to that position. The “Don’t waste you life” position would be rest for the Glory of God and play games for the Glory of God.

  4. “they want to … conquer a foe, and win a great, epic battle … and it doesn’t even count. Nobody’s really liberated. The Taliban is not really conquered. Women are not really freed from oppression. Generations are not really changed. It’s all fake. It doesn’t count.”

    I actually think you could apply the same argument to UFC myself. Personally I couldn’t care less for either (video games or cage fighting), but I find it hard to understand the point of difference.

    1. Yeah. Exactly. Or any sport. Driscoll’s mode of approaching culture, the three Rs is good. But he overreads everything, and reads his own preferences and prejudices into these judgments. Like Twilight and Avatar, and now games… Sure. Twilight has vampires in it, and it could be demonic, but The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe has a witch in it… Sure, Avatar’s earth goddess could be promoting some sort of pantheistic spiritualism, but it may also just be a metaphor for being connected to the environment. While all most every piece of cultural expression is an avenue to be abused, wrong use does not negate right use.

      I don’t play games to fight wars or rescue princesses. I play games to be entertained, to pass time, and to have something to talk to my non-Christian friends about. Games often have plot lines similar to movies with a little more interactivity – good opportunities to talk through ethics and decision making, and often concepts that transition nicely into the gospel.

  5. Yes, well I have little experience of video games and personally I’d have more objections to UFC, on other grounds – and I think there remains a difference between the benefits of playing a sport and those of spectating on it – but those were steep criteria to be applying, which let few things through! And I’m with you that it seems like little more than Driscoll’s preferences (and now I have just read your comment above and agree with your point about Driscoll’s model of manliness (though what’s truly “manly” about spectating on sport either I don’t know) and all the other points to the effect that it’s the amount of time spent and the way such things are used that “counts”).

  6. I disagree with Mark. I believe gaming can be sinful, if it is causing you to neglect fulfilling your Christian responsibility – loving your spouse/family/Christian family and loving others. e.g. if you are up all night playing games and you go to work cranky, and you can’t work properly and you are a poor witness. Or if you pour all your time and money into games that you can’t be generous with your resources, or you fail to provide for your family, or your preoccupation/addiction handicaps your relationships, or if your affections are turned away from God because your mind is preoccupied with the gaming experience.

    To address another aspect of Mark’s comments, being that people play games to be part of a battle – I agree – it’s the same way that movies work – transference – in gaming you get to play and participate in the role rather than just see the story through that character’s eyes. Instead of watching them conquer the bad guys, you get to conquer the bad guys. That’s part of the fun. He’s spot on with this. I don’t think his point though is that people don’t *realize* that it doesn’t count… I take him to mean the activity of twiddling your thumbs and pushing buttons doesn’t count in terms of achieving anything valuable, lasting or tangible.

    As you point out though, with a bit of wisdom and self-control gaming can sit happily within the Christian life. But how often are we deliberate about leveraging those community aspects of multiplayer to build relationships? And secondly do we see things like bible study or reading a good Christian book as a chore rather than a relaxing enjoyable exercise?

    An aspect of video gaming which is stupid to me is not just the excessive violence of spine ripping (AVP) or sawing people in half (Mortal Kombat fatalities) – these kinds of things to me really are pointless and stupid and not funny and not cool – but the inevitable *outrage* when such things are banned.

    Read on the Whirlpool forum for example where people let forth a torrent of abuse at those who refuse to classify these games, or the government that disallows an R18+ classification. Some people get so upset like it’s the end of the world, they mourn, they lament, they are angry over this so badly, they will even pick up their keyboard and write a letter to the government over what amounts to pixels switching on a screen but like one article you referenced – people won’t give 10 seconds thought about what happens when they die.

    Anyway, I don’t want to turn this into a discussion on the pros and cons of an R18+ classification, but as Christians I think we need to be careful as to where our affections and energies are directed.

    1. Hi Matthew,

      Thanks for your comments. Just a couple I’d like to follow up on:

      “But how often are we deliberate about leveraging those community aspects of multiplayer to build relationships?”

      I’m actually fairly deliberate about that, because I think guys talk more when they’re talking over a task, rather than just talking. And I think games can be a mindless task that allow for conversation. Sure, the conversation may not always be spiritually heavy while you’re trying to bang in a couple of goals in FIFA. But the relationship building aspect is there. And if you look in the facebook comments above you’ll see Myf’s account of one of her close friends initially being a gaming contact, who has since been converted.

      I just think dismissing an element of culture you don’t like as stupid just because you’d rather watch guys knee other guys in the head is a bit silly. And I actually don’t hate UFC. I just think most forms of entertainment can be easily trivialised and dismissed. Or easily be abused to the point they become sinful.

      “And secondly do we see things like bible study or reading a good Christian book as a chore rather than a relaxing enjoyable exercise?”

      Yes. Because for many people those things are a chore. They’re work. They’re valuable work. But after a couple of hours reading a good Christian book sometimes one needs an outlet. I love reading good Christian books. I’m not sure if you’re a Matthew I know in real life, you could be. But I’m studying at Bible College where I fill my time wandering the library and reading far too many good Christian books. Reading good Christian books can also be a problem if your quest to read them becomes all consuming or is motivated by pride (which is something I need to be careful of when it comes to my essays). I think your opening paragraph demonstrates a good grasp of when things become sinful.

      I actually think the Whirlpool outrage you mention highlights a pretty ludicrous hole in our classifications system. I’m sold on the need for an R18 rating for games, because I think there are plenty of games that get through the Australian classification process that should be R rated, and aren’t.

      But thanks for your thoughts.

      I am really enjoying this discussion.

      1. Yes I am a Matthew you know in real life!

        I absolutely agree with your points and that’s great that we can use games in a positive way for the gospel. I haven’t seen the full video/blog yet but presumably Mark hasn’t considered this or has chosen not to address this redeeeming aspect of gaming in more detail.

        I suppose I was being a bit rhetorical in my questions…just trying to explore how we see things. Reading the bible or a good book is often hard work (and valuable) as you say, but in my (sinful?) way, only occasionally do I approach my bible reading and book reading with a similar level of joy and anticipation as the thought of having a bash on my favourite game. It seems far too easy too often for me to pick up the game which doesn’t matter in the long run than put some hard yards into studying God’s Word.

        “I’m sold on the need for an R18 rating for games, because I think there are plenty of games that get through the Australian classification process that should be R rated, and aren’t. ”

        I agree. There are certainly good grounds for an additional classification, but it seems to me in general that the reasons for R18+ as presented on the forums is not to protect the kids from exposure to violent content, but rather the other side of the argument which is ‘adults should be able to see and play what they want’ – they seem to feel their lives might be somehow incomplete if they were to miss out on playing this game, which leads them to express their disappointment in surprising ways.

    2. Hi Matthew,

      Thanks for your comments. Just a couple I’d like to follow up on:

      “But how often are we deliberate about leveraging those community aspects of multiplayer to build relationships?”

      I’m actually fairly deliberate about that, because I think guys talk more when they’re talking over a task, rather than just talking. And I think games can be a mindless task that allow for conversation. Sure, the conversation may not always be spiritually heavy while you’re trying to bang in a couple of goals in FIFA. But the relationship building aspect is there. And if you look in the facebook comments above you’ll see Myf’s account of one of her close friends initially being a gaming contact, who has since been converted.

      I just think dismissing an element of culture you don’t like as stupid just because you’d rather watch guys knee other guys in the head is a bit silly. And I actually don’t hate UFC. I just think most forms of entertainment can be easily trivialised and dismissed. Or easily be abused to the point they become sinful.

      “And secondly do we see things like bible study or reading a good Christian book as a chore rather than a relaxing enjoyable exercise?”

      Yes. Because for many people those things are a chore. They’re work. They’re valuable work. But after a couple of hours reading a good Christian book sometimes one needs an outlet. I love reading good Christian books. I’m not sure if you’re a Matthew I know in real life, you could be. But I’m studying at Bible College where I fill my time wandering the library and reading far too many good Christian books. Reading good Christian books can also be a problem if your quest to read them becomes all consuming or is motivated by pride (which is something I need to be careful of when it comes to my essays). I think your opening paragraph demonstrates a good grasp of when things become sinful.

      I actually think the Whirlpool outrage you mention highlights a pretty ludicrous hole in our classifications system. I’m sold on the need for an R18 rating for games, because I think there are plenty of games that get through the Australian classification process that should be R rated, and aren’t.

      Also. I think you’re actually agreeing with Mark. I think he’d agree completely that games can be sinful, I think he’s saying they’re sometimes sinful but always stupid. That was my read anyway. Happy to be corrected.

      But thanks for your thoughts.

      I am really enjoying this discussion.

  7. I love the way this discussion is starting to open up the question of how to think Christianly about culture. This isn’t just about video games but about the very ideas of art, play, and creativity. That’s the hard work we need to do — to be theologically constructive instead of resorting to easy, simplistic dichotomies. I tried out a few ideas after MD talked about Twilight.

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