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Non posse non peccare and video games

Submitted by on September 13, 2011 – 10:52 am7 Comments

I’m not a “gamer,” and I have two daughters. So the vocabulary of X-Box, PS2, or whatever video game system is now current has never, not a single time, been a topic of conversation in our home. My only contact with video games is the Wii we got last year which, in our home, has not become the popular family pastime that I thought it would be. But it is a pastime for the three boys who ride in the carpool run to school that I have a couple days a week. I am able to participate in conversations about these game to  the same extent that those guys are able to talk with me about NT textual criticism.

From what I gather, though, many popular games involve a lot of shooting and blowing stuff up. But all this is within limits. I came across a report yesterday about “shooter” and “reality” video games, in which the player tries to accomplish missions in “fictional” worlds that are incredibly realistic (they look alot like Iraq and Afghanistan, apparently) but take pains to avoid certain things. Like not mentioning specific locations. And not giving players the opportunity to shoot and blow up civilians. Apparently, some games omit civilians altogether. Others have civilians but the player cannot shoot them; nothing happens if you pull the trigger. Why is this?

One game developer gave an interesting comment on why this is so:

Battlefield 3’s executive producer Patrick Bach explained that he doesn’t “want to see videos on the Internet where people shoot civilians. That’s something I will sanitize by removing that feature from the game.” Bach believes that video games are serious business but that players’ irreverence is holding back the form. “If you put the player in front of a choice where they can do good things or bad things, they will do bad things, go [to the] dark side—because people think it’s cool to be naughty, they won’t be caught,” he said.

[I find it interesting that this game developer uses Stars Wars language (“dark side”) to describe evil rather than biblical, but whatdid you expect?]

This raises some interesting theological questions. Even game developers recognize that, given the choice between good and evil, pretty much every teenaged male (and apparently middle-aged ones get into these, too) will choose evil (this is the “non posse non peccare” “It is not possible to not sin”). Is this because video games create a situation that is not real, and so people feel no compulsion to hold back? This is the argument of the article that I came across — that more realistic games in which the killing of civilians has consequences (immediate and delayed) would result in people not splattering the screen with blood. But I wonder if this is really so. Given our condition (sin), human nature in every circumstance will choose that which pleases itself most. Even at the expense of others.

But screens of all kinds seem to do this to us more regularly. Comments on blogs, sexual material all too easily available, Facebook posts and tweets (remember that Weiner guy?). It all seems harmless, to have no consequences. Why not give in to a little sin? What does it hurt? I’m not out on a crusade to ban computers and video games. I’m not criticizing parents who let kids play video games (if I had boys, no doubt they would, too). And we all have struggles with screens. Do we not become, ultimately what we do? Perhaps that’s why the Apostolic Word encourages us to think about “whatever” is noble, true, just, pure, lovely, excellent? (Phil 4:8)

7 Comments »

  • Rev. Scott Schaller says:

    It has been said Saul killed thousands, David killed tens of thousands, I killed hundreds of thousand. I am an e-warrior! And for a Eastwood says in the unforgiven “I have killed everything that has walked crawled or flies.” In my virual reality world I have fought in most wars, Aliens and monsters! And I have fought in most of every Wasr the US has virtually. I am & I will continue doing it! Entertainment aside. the fact that in many games you take the side of an army fighting a historic battle or enemy even an alien. Where in you are playing the virual vocation of a solider. I don’t think theres a sin in that – a C.S.Lewis quote might help. C.S.Lewis in his book, The God in the Docks:
    “You are told to love your neighbor as yourself. How do you love yourself? When I look into my own mind, I find that I do not love myself by thinking myself dear a dear old chap or having affectionate feelings. I do not think that I love myself because I am particularly good, but just because I am myself and quite apart from my character. I might detest something which I have done. Nevertheless, I do not cease to love myself. In other words, that definite distinction that Christians make between hating sin and loving the sinner is one that you have been making in your own case since you were born. You dislike what you have done, but you don’t cease to love yourself. You may even think that you ought to be hanged. You may even think you ought to go to the Police and own up and be hanged. Love is not affectionate feeling, but a steady wish for the loved person’s ultimate good as far as it can be obtained. It seems to me, therefore, that when the worst comes to the worst, if you cannot restrain a man by any method except by trying to kill him, then a Christian must do that. That is my answer. But I may be wrong. It is very difficult to answer of course.”

  • videogame victim says:

    My cousin was murdered by 3 teenagers who were in to all the realistic murderous video games. When arrested, they confessed, they “wanted to see what it felt like to kill a real person.”

    Of course not everyone who plays these games will become a murderer. But there’s a reason the book “The Secret” is a big money maker… because there’s truth to it: WE BECOME WHAT WE THINK ABOUT. If you play these heinous games all the time… you’re in danger of these heinous, realistic games to become more and more a part of your reality.

    You know, Jesus said, “You have heard that it was said,‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you, everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”

    It’s not a far leap to imagine Jesus visiting us today to say, “everyone who takes pleasure in committing murder virtually, has already committed murder in his heart.”

    If Jesus was standing over your shoulder as you hunt down your pretend victim on your computer and shoot him point blank, do you think he’d give you a thumbs up or a thumbs down?

    This life is short. But the next life is eternity. Think about what would be pleasing to God.

    • Rev. Scott Schaller says:

      It is interesting you don’t use your name! And sorry for you cousin if that is true. of the millions who play these games only one or two blame their actions on them
      They use to do that with D & D role playing games. I think if Jesus was looking over my shoulder I may let him play. I drink beer and I think Jesus would not mind that. He drank wine! He might drink with me! I think you are colored by the fact that your cousin got killed. People do that concerning gun, or fast cars. I think there are other reasons people do other actions. That aside I think the first post of video games being sin is wrong.

    • Jeff Kloha says:

      Hello Scott — Just to clarify, the original post did not argue that video games are “sin.” It pointed out that even video game designers recognize that, given the option, people will do the worst (“shoot” innocent people, for example). If you read the linked article, the one game designer’s concern was that because people seem to post videos of game action online, it would not be wise to have people posting video of American soldiers shooting up Arab civilians. Especially when these games are so “realistic.” What I’m asking us to think about is what this says about human nature, not necessarily about an individual game player (although such reflection can be a good thing).

      And, a follow-on point in the post was that, if we are willing to “virtually” blast civilians–or anyone, for that matter–what does that do to us? Is it really harmless? David killing his tens of thousands is not parallel. That was for God’s purpose of establishing his people from whom would come the ultimate King. I wouldn’t put our playing of video games in the same category.

  • RevKevJones says:

    Nice job, Jeff. I play in spurts, as time allows. I choose WWII first person shooters. They are historical and, thus far, have no civilians. My son is very interested, and as a 6th grader, I closely monitor his play and we talk about the mission, the solution, the weaponry, the graphics, etc. We’ve never equated it with “killing people” as much as solving challenges and using “cool stuff.” We also hunt together (with firearms) in “real world” but none of the game mentality comes out there. I will continue to monitor and balance.

  • Chap Tim Oswald says:

    Fascinating observation about something (gaming) that has emerged in our culture in an enormous way!
    There are a lot of concerns that I have about how this phenomenon is shaping our society, but on your point about its insight on our inclinations, I want to add an insight from LTCOL Dave Grossman’s book “On Killing.” He is a retired Army Psychologist that has examined things such as the role of games on school shooters, etc. His argument is that we have a natural aversion to taking another life, but the habitual practice of it combines with the “rewards” of an electronic game by which we get points, rise in levels, etc to lower those inhibitions. In my experiences talking to young men, I think pornography works the same way – frequent exposure to something erodes any natural shame or resistance to it. From a theological perspective, I agree with what I think you are getting at when you ask “Why not give in to a little sin?” – that we are not only inclined to the “dark side;” but that we may move deeper into the dark side incrementally and gradually.

  • I’d imagine those who want to kill people will do so, eventually.

    In my frame of mind, a video game experience is participation in another world. Quite literally, you are engaging on the terms of the developers and the world they have created, as well as whatever metaphysical structure is actually attached to that. If a game is realistic, say, not giving the player the option to kill civillians seems, actually, wrong-headed.

    The suspension of disbelief is automatically destroyed. If I’m in a real-world environment, I have the choice on whether or not to kill or converse with a person in front of me. Sure, there are many factors to do either/or that influence us, but that doesn’t mean the choice isn’t there. In most cases, I’ve rationalized that it simply isn’t Christian to do such a thing.

    However, in a video game, you are ALWAYS playing a role, whether of yourself or the hero/villain/psychopath the developer wants you to be. In Manhunt, for example, you must kill or be killed, and that killing must be visceral and violent if you wish to survive and stay in the Director’s good graces. Certainly, it’s not something I would play or enjoy, but those who play it for the visceral feeling of the thrill kill are importing their own views into the game.

    I’d say most games have intentions, but they are a blank slate until we project our morality onto the game itself.

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