Sin within Video Games: Is it sinful to break the ten commandments in a game?

I’ve been pondering my relationship with video games since the infamous Mark Driscoll incident. I also happened to be playing my way through the morally open world of Red Dead Redemption – where one is constantly faced with the option to choose right or wrong. To be villain or hero.

While disagreeing passionately with Driscoll’s “games are stupid because people want to rescue a princess” caricature – I’ve been pondering the deeper question about my approach to ethical decision making within the games I play. Games are different to other types of culture because there’s a sense of agency. We choose the path the entertainment takes. We place ourselves in the centre of the narrative. So the immoral actions of a protaganist come down to our choice. So if I choose to do wrong in a game – is this a wrong in the great game of life? I don’t think so. But I think it can be. And it’s certainly a reflection of the wrong in my life. Games, like anything, can be harnessed and abused by our sinful natures. That doesn’t make them wrong inherently. Wrong use does not negate right use.

Christ and Pop Culture raise for me, what is a much more nuanced approach to video gaming as a Christian than Mark Driscoll’s… is it sinful to choose a sinful action in a game, or does it simply express our sinful nature… the article also touches on John Marston of Red Dead Redemption, which I’ve just finished. And I chose to be good.

“Artistic mediums that ignore the reality of sin are sentimental at best. Thomas Kinkaid may paint a lovely cottage, but there is very little richness and resonance to his work because it lacks an acknowledgement of this key truth. Videogames, on the other hand, tend to acknowledge our inherent sinful nature without even trying. In fact, videogames’ biggest strength is that they illuminate our nature and force us to come to terms with it. In a videogame we are, simply put, selfish jerks.

When I am given a blatant moral choice, I may make the outwardly righteous choice, but my inward tendency still remains. I do what it takes to progress, not because it’s right, but because it alleviates my boredom and allows me to feel good about myself. “

I like the quote below. But I disagree a little. Because I think, at some point, the decisions I make – be it through bloodlust or seeking some sort of thrill that would be sinful were I to actualise the desire rather than virtualising it – I’m not acting out of faith, but rather out of the desires of the flesh, and I reckon that might be an expression of the brokenness of my fleshly side, I’d be comfortable calling it sin. But I’m much more confident that Christ’s blood is sufficient to cover all the brokenness of my flesh.

“As a sober exploration of my sinful state, many of these experiences are incredibly valuable, not harmful, as many have charged. It’s just a videogame. These worlds, these people, and these choices are not real. I’m not truly sinning in these games, as much as I’m exploring the concept of sin. But I know one thing: I am not a good man.”

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.

One thought on “Sin within Video Games: Is it sinful to break the ten commandments in a game?”

  1. I reckon it’s helpful to consider video games in terms of art –much as we think about things like novels or music videos.

    And I’d say that great art isn’t about doing good, but about telling us who we are, what world we live in, and so on.

    Often, great art is ugly art.

    As a theatre audience watching Macbeth, for example, we participate in expressions of extreme anxiety, pride, and trauma.

    There may be something quite similar going on when we play ugly moments in video games. I noticed one discussion about this sort of thing over at Christ and Pop Culture with Assassin’s Creed 2.

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