These days, gaming doesn’t have a lot of the stigmas in Christian circles it once did, but in the 80s, 90s, and early 2000s, online gaming either didn’t exist or was so new that many problems with online community hadn’t yet reared their heads.
During the nascent years of online gaming, in-game voice chat wasn’t yet a thing. If you wanted to talk to people, you had to gain access to a TeamSpeak or Ventrilo server, usually through someone you knew. This isn’t anything close to being thrown into a public game where total strangers narrate their sexual exploits with your mother because you don’t play Reinhardt in the top 2 percentile.
These days gaming assumes voice chat, and this creates a game culture—and these in-game cultures aren’t always friendly. In fact, it’s common in some games to talk trash, revel in unsportsmanlike conduct, cuss people out, and to blow up if you lose or get teamed with someone who’s unskilled. If you’re a Christian playing games online, engaging with the online community is not optional.
Here are three ways guidelines to help you be a representative of Christ in all circumstances.
#1 Christian Character Isn’t Limited to Certain Spaces
Being a Christian isn’t just about your home life, your church life, or the places you physically go. There are no stipulations on the Golden Rule or the Bible’s teachings on speech, discipleship, and evangelism. We must approach other people with God’s heart—that is, with their ultimate good in mind.
Practically, this could look like any number of things. Consider a couple of these questions:
- Would you say what you say to people online if those same people were sitting across from you?
- Would saying X fall under the purview of James 3:9-12?
- Do you wish for bad things to happen to people you engage in games? Do you retaliate to them when they cuss you out or trash talk (Romans 12:9-21)?
It may not always be the case, but if you’re able to show yourself to be different from the status quo, you may, like I have at times, be approached by people who have reason to ask about the “hope which is in you” (1 Peter 3:15).
#2 Don’t Let Games to Take Over Your Life
Too much of a good thing can easily become a bad thing (1 Corinthians 6:12). This is true with junk food, sex, working out—whatever. Anything can become physically, emotionally, or spiritually unhealthy if it becomes an idol.
Even if you’re not a jerk online, playing video games too much can become problematic and addiction is real. How do you know if games are taking over? There’s no clear-cut answer for this and everyone reacts differently to addiction or overstimulation, but here are a few questions to consider:
- Are games the first thing you want to do when you wake up? Are they the first thing you want to do when you get home? Are they the last thing you want to do before you go to bed? If the answer to some or all of these questions is “yes,” you might have a problem.
- Would you rather play games than any other thing you normally like to do? Are you spending less time doing other things you enjoy or leaving early from time with friends to game? That’s a problem.
- Do you feel that your “experience” in the game trumps others’ experiences? Do you lash out at people online who ruin your experience?
- Are you starting to view your life in the context of the game? Do you imagine that being a pro at your game of choice is a valid career path for you?
These are just a couple of ideas. If you find that the answers to these questions are “yes,” you probably have also found that you care a lot more about your game(s) of choice than you once did. The more you care about being good at that game, devoting time to it, and viewing your personal value in regard to your mastery of the game, the less likely you are to show patience toward other players online or even to your own family and friends when they come knocking or calling.
Some people can make careers out of gaming. It’s not wrong to hone your talents and become part of the gaming community, but it is wrong to let how much you care about being good or how much you care about enjoying your experience trump your walk with Jesus and your relationships with others online and offline. If you enjoy playing so much that you’ll trash talk anyone who ruins your game because they’re not good enough to play, or you’ll yell at your parents because they’re interrupting you in the middle of an important match, you’re not loving your neighbor as yourself.
#3 Have Integrity
“Integrity” is about being the same person everywhere you go. Jesus ate with sinners (Mark 2:13-17) and because of this, some people questioned his integrity. In New Testament times, sharing a meal with someone meant you were associating closely with them. It was a way of saying, “These are my people.” When Jesus shared meals with society’s outcasts like prostitutes, sinners, and tax collectors, the message to the outside world was that Jesus himself was such a person.
Jesus’s perspective was the opposite of this. He associated with sinners because he meant to influence them; not the other way around. Matthew 5:13-16 instructs Christians, in the same vein, to be an influence on their surroundings. There are intrinsic physical, emotional, and spiritual dangers to practically everything in life. What matters is that we have a close enough walk with God to “overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:21).
If you struggle with video game addiction or with falling into the negative patterns that exist in online gaming communities, you must seriously consider if games should be put away until such a time that they are controlled by you, not vice versa. Here are a few more questions to consider in making this decision:
- Are you being the kind of person online you want to be in real life?
- Are you being the kind of person you would want your kids or young kids who look up to you to interact with?
- Are you being influenced or are you being an influencer?
- Do you know what you really want out of gaming? Do you know why this is what you want out of it?
If you are able to enjoy online games without falling prey to addiction or negativity, you can most definitely be a light to the community you game with. You don’t have to be a goody two shoes like Ned Flanders from the Simpsons. You can enjoy online games and be a part of the community while maintaining integrity and having a solid Christian witness. Even Jesus ate with sinners—but he was influencing them, not the other way around.