When I first began to play video games in the 1980’s they were relatively harmless. We had games such as Pac Man and Super Mario Brothers, but in the brink of the 1990’s the gaming culture evolved with titles such as Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat. More consoles started to emerge in the home and the games became increasingly more violent.
In 1994 the ESRB, Entertainment Software Rating Board, was founded to assist in determining which game content fit within a specific age group, wherein they established a rating system: E (everybody) is a game rated for all ages, T (teen) is a game rated for ages 13 and older, and M (mature) is a game rated for ages 18 and older.
Should Catholics and other Christians play (violent) video games?
To answer this question we have to look at several factors such as age appropriateness, maturity level, and possible addictive personality.
Games are rated based on age appropriate audiences. For instance, games that are rated Mature are for ages 18 and up. There is a reason why mature games are rated M for Mature. Typically due to violence, blood, language, sexual content, drug use, etc. While it’s true some parents allow their children to watch rated R movies, a mature-rated game is no different. Should a child, say ten years old, be allowed to watch rated R movies and play mature-rated games. That question of appropriateness is something the parents have to answer.
Today many parents that buy their children mature-rated video games are oblivious to what their children are playing. Just because a child asks a parent for a mature-rated game does not mean the parents have to oblige. I encourage parents to research the game content before purchasing a specific game for their child. It takes very little effort for a parent to research a game on the Internet to find out if the game is appropriate. The ESRB rating system is accurate. If need be you can always leave it up to the ESRB rating on the game box to determine whether the game is age appropriate. If a game is rated Mature there’s a good reason for it. Games that are rated for “Everybody” and “Teens” are less likely to contain offensive content for younger viewers. An E-rated game is the equivalent of a G-rated movie, while a T-rated game is like to a PG or PG-13 movie.
After discerning whether the game is appropriate for your child, or for yourself, based on the rating, the next position is recreational gaming versus gaming addiction. Anything, and I mean anything, can become an addiction. That includes gaming. It’s not uncommon to see people spend hours playing video games. This also goes for playing computer games or games on a smartphone or tablet.
Gaming addiction like any other addiction can be sinful. On the other hand if gaming is recreational and done in moderation then there is no harm in gaming. “Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” (Matthew 26:41)
I have heard people say that playing violent video games can cause a person to become violent. A person’s maturity level must be factored in to what games you or your child play. If a game contains sexual content that resembles pornography and that person playing said game has a porn addiction it is probably not a good idea to play that game. Or if someone has a violent temper it might not be a good idea for that person to play violent games containing blood and gore. Discernment in which games can and should be played must be considered.
Games in themselves do not make people violent or do harm to others. Just like other forms of entertainment, such as watching a movie, it depends on the person’s maturity level and if they have an addictive personality.
Many times I’ve used the opportunity to evangelize while playing multiplayer games, such as Call of Duty. I’ve shared my faith on many occasions with newly formed friendships. Gaming has a positive note and can be an evangelization tool.
When Catholics and other Christians embark into the gaming world, remember to play smart, literally speaking. It’s very easy for parents to do their homework on whether a certain game is appropriate for a child based on its rating level: Everyone, Teen, and Mature. Gaming is fun and should be done in moderation. Don’t let gaming interfere with the Rosary, your prayer life, or attending Mass. Avoid the near occasion of sin if a game contains content you really shouldn’t view that could lead to further sin.
“Teach me good discernment and knowledge, For I believe in Your commandments.” –Psalm 119:66
Game smart my friends.
by John Connor