Non posse non peccare and video games
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:
[I find it interesting that this game developer uses Stars Wars language (“dark side”) to describe evil rather than biblical, but whatdid you expect?]
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.
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)