I spend a lot of time thinking about screens – my own use of them, my kids’ use, our culture’s use. It’s a concern, certainly, but also kind of a fascination.
Like many parents, I worry a good bit about the best way to foster reasonable screen use in my kids. And like many parents, I find that a high proportion of my arguments with my kids are center around screens. The topic’s both exhausting and confusing. Maybe you can relate. I posted some in 2019 about thoughts on screens (like here and here), and I plan to post a good bit more on the topic in 2020. I think we need frequent, robust, mindful conversations about it – as families and as a culture. This post is focused on video games, something that’s been in our families life for about four years (our oldest is 14). We have a gaming system and our son plays for between 5 and 7 hours a week.
Enter Andrea Racoti
In the fall I came across a Christian blogger in my online writing group, hope*writers, who writes about the positive elements that video games have contributed to her life. She’s a 20-something, engaged believer writing about the value of video games and their contribution to her faith. My interest was so piqued! I want not to be that knee-jerk, reactive mom throwing the baby out with the bath water when it comes to screens and culture. They’re here, en masse, and they’re here to stay. And this is the world that our kids are growing up in. How can we exhibit open minds… even as we hold fast to wisdom and discipline in this tricky arena?
Andrea Racoti is a 27-year-old woman who lives in the midwest, works as a teacher, and blogs at Hope, Play, and Love about finding God’s joy both in media and outside it.
She believes “entertainment can help remind us to slow down in life and really appreciate all that God has blessed us with, how we can live in His grace, and with one another other.” Andrea grew up in a Christian home playing video games with her dad, while her mom watched the timer (an hour or less at a time). Today she still plays, enjoys playing, finds that gaming adds value to her life, and writes about it. All while exhibiting dynamic faith in Jesus.
Her affinity for video games is based in story-telling and how she experiences story as shaping her faith (and her understanding of life). About this, Andrea wrote in her post, Gaming with purpose:
I’ve always had a deep passion for stories – books, films, shows, etc. Nothing is quite as interactive as a video game, however. I get to enter the shoes of so many characters from so many different backgrounds and do many impossible things. I don’t agree with many of their choices a lot of the time, but I don’t need to in order to really appreciate the story that was written for me to experience.
That’s how life works, I think. We make bad choices, but we learn from them and grow. That’s what makes storytelling so powerful and so needed. That’s what makes video games so important to me. I try my best to focus on the good they bring, because so much of the world and social media focuses on the bad. As God instructed us in Philippians 8, we are to focus on thoughts on what is lovely and commendable; when we can do that, we become lovely and commendable for others, and attract them towards God.
What can be good about video games?
I spoke at length with Andrea, who’s a book-reader, blogger, music-lover of music, adult learner of musical instruments. She’s a person with interests and (dare I say) a life; I joked with her that she’s not a gamer sitting all day in the basement staring at a screen. She walked me through her viewpoint, which was helpful. From Andrea’s perspective:
- The creative components of high-quality video games are one way that we see God’s creativity on display today. These can really enlarge understanding and appreciation of God’s creativity. The musical scores of some of Andrea’s favorite games were so beautiful, they prompted her to learn how to play the instruments simply so she could replicate the music!
- Playing video games can be compatible with a robust life of faith, and it can be a spiritually enriching experience… especially if the games are story-based ones. Many games are game-play instead of story-based games; Andrea estimated it’s perhaps 70% game-play (think Fortnite or Call of Duty) and 30% story-based. Experiencing the story inherent in a video game allows Andrea to think and reflect about choices, values, and priorities. It prompts her to examine her beliefs, reinforce truth, and reject falsehood.
- It is possible to get more out of video games than they get out of you. Setting time limits is one major way to ensure this happens. Andrea generally spends an hour or less on video games at a time, sometimes up to two. But she said she “often doesn’t have enough time to play the video games she wants to play.” Last year she finished all the books on her book goal list but didn’t play all the games on her game goal list.
Andrea holds all these views but says they’re possible because of “the spiritual foundation from the Bible. Just like with other types of media, there’s a lot of junk to go with the good. But if you have that foundation, God is able to give you the wisdom to perceive His truth in those stories, because all good things point back to Him.”
Andrea also told me about the community of Christian gamers, who she knows to be real-deal lovers of Jesus who approach their gaming with living for God’s glory in mind. Through her I learned about the blog Gaming and God, where I found these thoughts:
“Breaking down biblical lessons, stories or personal supernatural experiences with God and comparing them to gaming is so enjoyable. I hope that gamers can see that their Heavenly Father will speak to them even while they are deep in multiplayer with Call of Duty, Minecraft, Fortnite or whatever is the popular game of the moment…. If you are a gamer, think about how your life relates to the games. What meaning or lessons can you discover when your mashing those buttons, or listening to that character’s conversation?” I also learned about Christian gaming organizations with an evangelical arm, like Mighty Grace Positive Gaming, the world’s “first gamer care,” and Geeks Under Grace, one of whose missions is to “educate Christians on how to safely consume pop culture from a Christian worldview.” There’s a lot out there, and all of these are about interacting with video games with an eye toward redemption.
How might parents seek to foster positives through video games?
I asked Andrea for suggestions for parents, based on her experience as a life long gamer. Here were her thoughts:
- Provide limits in both time and specific games types. Andrea suggests a cap of an hour a day for older kids and half an hour a day for younger kids. (As a teacher she sees the damage to the majority of kids who play games many, many more hours than this, and some of whom exhibit ADD type symptoms partly as a result.) In terms of game types, she recommends parents assess players’ maturity to see what they can safely handle. She personally feels that story-based video games have more potential for spiritual growth than game-based ones.
- Don’t shame kids for wanting to play video games. Video games are fun and popular, and it’s normal that kids want to play them.
- Look for positive elements in video games and connect with them about it. Andrea suggested that I watch my son play his favorite game, for example, and talk with him about it. She also suggested I consider finding a game I’d also like and playing it with him.
- Use video games as a chance to analyze components of life, and to practice self control. Andrea’s sense is that entering and modulating the world of video game play while kids are still under parents’ influence is a wise route, and she commends it over a “hardline” approach of no videos games (setting it up as a forbidden fruit that kids than may come to crave).
Several story-based video games that Andrea enjoys and recommends
1) Age of Empires II, which she credits for fostering a love of learning and history in her
2) Final Fantasy series, which have engaging stories with incredible settings and personable characters
3) Eastshade or Journey, games that encourage the player to relax and rewards her for exploring; a contemplative and peaceful game.
So what do I take from all of this?
I’m grateful to have my mind enlarged in this important realm. I’m encouraged to know that people like Andrea are out there in the world – people who play video games and find them to be edifying in life, faith, and interacting with the world. I’m heartened by ministries that seek so direct gamers to play in faith-compatible ways, and who are looking to infuse light into the world of gaming.
None of those things take away from the fact that gaming’s a tricky thing to incorporate well into a household. This is mainly because playing games is so fun and engaging that it can make other fun facets of life feel less fun or rewarding, which becomes a motivation-killer.
Shooting hoops in the driveway or playing checkers with a sibling seem boring in comparison. Also because gaming is so fun and engaging, kids naturally desire to do more and more of it, and this will always create a wrestle that needs to be managed (in the kid, or in the parent-child relationship). We have strict time limits, for example, but they’re hard to maintain. And bottom line, I’d rather have my kid thrive and excel in most any other area of life over gaming, and the while I can see that playing video games can have redemptive elements, I don’t see it being primarily a redemptive component of our family life today.
Still, we do have gaming in our corporate family life, and as I reflect on what I’ve learned, I think I’ll do three things:
- Seek to enter into my son’s gaming a little bit more – generate a little curiosity about what he’s doing, watch little, learn a little terminology. And in this, seek to foster more productive conversations about the content and relevance of what’s happening in the games.
- Refrain from annoyance and judgment in my tome and language when he’s gaming – while still maintaining limits and firmness with boundaries
- Consider finding a game I might like and playing it with him. This would be a huge stretch for me, as it’s something I literally never would have considered before talking with Andrea.
Imagine this. What if my son ended up like Andrea, interacting with his gaming (at the same involvement level as he has now) as a means to reflect on – and grow in – faith, self-knowledge, and self-control? And what if he asked critical questions about it, wrote and interacted about it, in a way that called others in his generation into similar questions? I’d be grateful and proud.
That’s worth praying about.
This piece originally appeared at susanbarico.com, published with permission.