Should Christians play violent video games? Depending who you ask you’ll get a different answer, ranging from ‘never’ to ‘sure, whatever’. It’s not an easy question to answer, since the Bible condemns men of violence in many places, such as Proverbs 3:31. On the other hand, God commanded the deaths of the Canaanites. The Bible also portrays some pretty violent stuff, from murder to assassination. Furthermore God promised the Israelites victory over their enemies, and God himself fights the enemies of His people.
So which is it? Is violence bad or is it good? It depends who is doing it and why. The Israelites war against the Canaanites was commanded by God, and the Canaanites were really, really awful. David, the man after God’s own heart, killed Goliath without a direct command from God, as part of Israel’s war with the Philistines. Violence in self defence is also perfectly acceptable. Violence is justified in certain real-world scenarios such as war or self-defence, but what makes videogames different is that they’re not real; they’re fiction for entertainment.
So how do we evaluate violence in video games, since they’re not real? Phillipians 4:8 tells us to think on things that are pure, noble, true, right, excellent and praiseworthy. That’ll eliminate some stuff right there, to be certain, but does it eliminate all violence in video games, or are some games still okay?
First, let me distinguish between violence and gore. Violence is a generalized term for hurting and damaging people and things; it can range from a non-lethal punch, all the way up to blowing someone up with a bazooka. Gore, on the other hand, is the blood and guts that go flying when an in-game character is killed. Thus, it is possible to have violence without gore, although gore without violence is a more difficult proposition. For brevity’s sake I will deal solely with the category of violence in games, leaving discussion of gore for another time.
Furthermore, there are two broad categories of violence; cartoon violence (think Looney Tunes) and quasi-realistic violence. Cartoon violence doesn’t cause nearly the stir of quasi-realistic violence, because cartoon violence is not intended in any way to mirror reality. After all, nobody walks away from getting an anvil dropped on their noggin in the real world.
Quasi-realistic violence, on the other hand, is intended to look real, or at least believable, hence the name. It is this intended believability that causes some to balk at the notion of Christians participating in such games. It’s not an incomprehensible position. Video games, proponents of this position will argue, are participatory, and Christians shouldn’t participate in violence for entertainment. Both of the premises are true, but they miss two crucial facts. First, videogames are not real, and second, players know that they aren’t real. A gamer isn’t actually killing anyone when he lands a headshot in Fortnite, nor does he intend to actually kill anyone, because he knows it’s a game. He hasn’t killed anyone, so he’s not guilty of murder. He hasn’t planned to kill anyone, so he’s not guilty of plotting murder. The important thing is that he knows it’s just a game as he sprays virtual bullets at his virtual enemies.
Now we come to the question of whether violence in videogames is pure, noble, true, or right. If it’s not, we can’t play them, but if it is then it’s okay to play. To answer these questions, we have to consider the context in which in-game violence occurs. What is the point of the game? Are you saving the world from space aliens and murderbots or robbing banks and killing random folks? This is especially important in story-driven games, where the story determines whether the player’s character is good or bad. For example, in the Medal of Honor series, the player takes the role of an American G.I. in World War II, fighting the Nazis. In this instance, you play as the hero, while in other franchises the player has to play as a hitman or other villain. In the first instance, the G.I.’s violence is justified, because he is a soldier fighting in a war. A hitman, on the other hand, is not justified in using violence, because murder. Defending the innocent, even with force, is an excellent and praiseworthy thing to do, killing them is not.
That said, don’t violate your conscience. If a game feels wrong, if playing it makes you feel yucky, don’t play it. If you’re unsure, even, it’s better to avoid it. As Paul says in Romans 14:5-6, each person should be fully convinced in their own mind. It is better to keep your conscience clean, even if that means you miss out on a game that other Christians have no problem with. As Paul says, it’s an act of devotion to God to abstain for conscience sake. Likewise, it glorifies God to thank him before you fire up Call of Duty, if you do it with a clean conscience.
So, should a Christian play violent video games? Sure, so long as you’re the good guy. Keep in mind I’m considering only violence, not how gruesome the violence is. That’s a different discussion for another day. Violence, in general, does not disqualify a game, so long as the character is doing it for the right reasons, and the player can play the game with a clean conscience.