Why do Video Games Get a Bum Rap?

June 22, 2012 — 10 Comments


Video games get the shaft.

Of all the ways one can spend their free time, video games seem to rank the lowest of social acceptance. Think about it.

For the record, this episode of South Park was hilarious.

During football season, it’s common knowledge that many husbands will spend their entire Sunday watching their favorite NFL teams, not to mention that they spent Saturday watching their favorite college teams. March Madness occupies millions’ thoughts and time while they watch their bracket get dismembered.  We all can relate when somebody comes in the office, bleary eyed because they stayed up all night long finishing a gripping novel. Nobody has any qualms about asserting their unavailability on a particular night of the week when their must-see show airs. Even playing board games is considered a great, wholesome family activity.

So why do I feel like an embarrassed 12 year old when it comes out that I spent my Friday night playing video games?

Just last night at youth group, a student shared that he had too much free time on his hands and he was playing video games too much. He said that he sometimes felt like a day was wasted if he played video games.

I can relate with this student. I feel bad if I stay up until 3am playing Deus Ex, but I feel invigorated if I stay up until 3am writing. In my head, I make various comparisons to justify how I feel. I’d like to offer a few common arguments I hear or that I’ve made about why video games are bad, and offer some counterpoints.

1. Video games are passive. I’ve often heard that video games aren’t worthwhile because you don’t create anything. You only consume media and thereby waste your time in an escape, of sorts. To this I would ask, “How is that any different than watching TV, movies, listening to music, or reading a novel?” All four of these forms of media are consumed and don’t inspire much interaction from the consumer just like video games. In fact, I would go one step further, and argue that video games actually call for more interaction. The experience doesn’t progress unless there is user interaction.

2. Video games don’t inspire creativity. In rebuttal, I often hear that even though music, movies, TV, and novels aren’t interactive, they still inspire creativity. Frequently when reading an inspiring novel, it calls us to consider our own lives in new ways. Or the most moving music gives us spiritual, emotional experiences that other media can’t provide.

I would say that this is all completely true. Even though the consumer isn’t actively doing anything, they are still interacting with the medium as they consume it, and their life is enriched. I would argue that video games are the same way. Similar to a book asking its reader to consider the negative consequences of violence (The Hunger Games), good video games can force players to wrestle with equally difficult concepts.

The original Mass Effect game comes to mind. I recall a scene where the player is placed in a situation where they are forced to decide which companion to sacrifice for the common good. It’s an impossible scenario and one of the most memorable within recent gaming history. It’s a powerful demonstration that sometimes, no matter how much we prepare ourselves, life throws us into impossible situations. Moments like that help me to think creatively just like many over forms of media.

3. Video games aren’t reality. I hear people bash on World of Warcraft and how so many kids spend their days in a virtual world. Yet at the same time, when millions of kids spent their time immersed in the world of Hogwarts and Hermione in J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter novels, the media celebrated at the resurrection of young adult literacy. Likewise, I celebrate that so many young readers have been captivated by fiction lately. I’ve written about the powerful effect of good stories here.

The point I’m making is this: Virtual, or fictional worlds can impact us dramatically. We eliminate the efficacy of multiple types of art when we say that since video games aren’t based in reality, they are a waste. By that standard, fiction, television, and movies don’t have the ability to impact us.


Wow. I’m going to have to split this post up. There’s much more I want to say about this in order to flesh out my argument, but I don’t really have space here. I didn’t think I would have this much to say. To quote C3PO in Return of the Jedi, “Why, I never knew I had it in me!”

Let’s dive into some discussion about this. What do you think sets video games apart from other forms of art? Can video games even be considered art, or are they merely ‘entertainment?” Have you ever played a video game that has enriched your life? What stood out about it?



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I'm a pastor, writer, speaker, husband, father, and follower of Christ, to name a few titles. You can find my contact information in my About page.
  • thedavro

    Bro. Extra Credits. Here, I will even cherry pick a couple for you:

    And for the quick and dirty version: I believe gaming is every bit as legitimate a pastime and medium as everything else you mentioned. It get a bum rap because it’s younger, still developing (sometimes in awkward and ungainly ways), and still carries a cultural connotation of being “for the kids.” Even while well over 50% of the most popular games out there are sporting M ratings, indicating they are designed for adults. Video games as a medium are every bit as capable of delivering compelling fictional worlds, and even better adapted at getting us to interact with them and explore our own psyches in the process. Online and socially integrated games are doing some utterly unique things in terms of how absolute strangers shape experiences (positive and negative) for each other. But the people who don’t play games don’t know that, and a lot of the old money that still produces popular culture doesn’t play and doesn’t know what to do with this foreign market.

    • Thanks for the episode recommendations. I have started watching the show since your last referral. I love it. They just have so many episodes that I haven’t caught up yet.
      Here’s a follow up question: Do you think the guilt we feel from playing a lot is because the training we’ve received from society? Or is it more from the idea that doing anything for hours and hours isn’t probably healthy?

      • thedavro

        Pretty sure it’s societal pressure. It isn’t healthy to do anything all the time, but how bad do you feel when you spend a day writing your novel? Or when you spend 12 hours in the office? Or when you drive 400 miles to go on vacation? These things are ok because you feel productive when you do them (which is an internalized social value judgment). Playing video games all day is not socially reinforced, and I’m not really saying it should be, but that’s why you feel guilty.

        • “It isn’t healthy to do anything all the time.” I think you hit the nail on the head with that one. Our culture celebrates people who live their lives out of balance. It’s unfortunate that only some types of unbalance are questioned. When somebody works all the time and accomplishes great things through living an unbalanced life, we celebrate it, even when they have sacrificed other significant things in their life like their family.
          Living an intentional, healthy, and balanced life is incredibly difficult, but also something we are called to do.

    • thedavro

      One more, even more to the point with your Mass Effect reference…

  • You make some great points, Austin! I guess my problem with games – all media for that matter – is that we aren’t being very responsible with it all. Too many young people are having access to visual content, language and concepts they can’t properly process and I think that is creating a LOT of problems as kids are growing up in this media saturated society. They even target young children with toys that are charcters from M-rated games. When I hear my young students have been playing M-rated video games or going to PG-13 movies I just cringe inside – you know how young my students are. What do you think?

    • Michelle, you bring up a significant issue. Due to the unparallelled level of access we have in this digital age, kids are able to experience mature content at a much younger age than previous generations.
      It’s unfortunate that many parents don’t talk about this sort of stuff with their kids at all. They assume that their kids will know how to thoughtfully engage media as Christians, even though nobody has taught them how.
      I think every parent needs to have a game plan for their kids, and they need to help their kids understand why their family has the plan they’ve made. Way to go for asking these sorts of difficult questions when so many don’t even think twice!

  • scrhill

    I am guilty of giving video games the bum rap. Thank you for your series!

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