We are grateful for your heart for your child that prompts you to ask about video games.
John has written that it was crucial for him as a father to engage his sons in the things that they loved, not just invite them into the things he loved. And that included video games.
A love of video games isn’t a failing for a young person, addiction is. As a culture we condone addiction to things like sports, work, and fitness, even if they are just as isolating and damaging to a person as something like video games.
One of our team members has a son who loved video games and wanted to make it his career. Rather than shame him, his parents strived to understand what was fueling their son’s passion (in this case, a tough social season of life, a love of being skilled, and a mind that can hyper-focus). The parents didn’t make his passion taboo, but also stayed engaged and limited how much he could play (something they would do had it been a passion for basketball). Fast forward a few years and the son grew out of his fixation with video games on his own.
All this to say...thank you for pursuing your child's heart in this.
John's son Sam touched on some of the implications in an article that can help shape the way you relate to your child in this. It's important to shepherd them in the time factor, there is no "right or wrong" about how much time is too much; you know your child best, and will need to walk with God in that while paying attention to the effect on their soul.
As well, John addressed this specifically in a couple of places:
Fathered by God (page 77):
I have nothing against computers or video games per se (with the added warning that some games are very wicked in their content and ought to be sent to the Abyss). In general they are benign, and boys love them because they work in the same way a boy’s brain works, with spatial relationships and all that, but I am very concerned when they take the substitute of a real adventure.
And also as a conversation in Killing Lions, by John and Sam (pages 102-106):
JOHN: But let’s come at this from another angle—why did God make you and every single man who came before you a warrior? It is a fascinating question, and one that deserves a thoughtful answer. Why do little boys understand without even being told that they must take up arms? Swords and spears, lightsabers, superhero powers are a natural part of a boy’s imaginary arsenal. Why are the favorite video games of young men games of battle, war, epic conflict? The warrior is so deep in the soul of man you cannot understand yourself as a man without it. Why? God gave us the faculty of love because we are meant to love; he gave us curiosity because we are meant to explore and discover; he gave us the capacity of laughter because we are created for joy. So why the warrior, in every boy and man, from the dawn of time?
It really is not a stretch to suggest that perhaps the reason is because we were born into an epic war, and in his kindness God pre- pared us beforehand to engage it.
SAM: Time for a confession: I love Halo, always have, and probably always will in some respect. I don’t play anymore, largely out of a choice to get up off the couch and engage in real life, but when I was younger, it was the bonding force of many a friendship and many a rivalry.
Recently I was thinking back on the success and the love so many young men felt for the franchise (the original grossed around $6.43 million2). There are plenty of other “first-person shooter” games, yes; the graphics and physics of the game were great but not earth-shattering for the time. So what was it? What about that particular game drew so many of us in? These days, I’m putting my money on the story. Take out most of the details and here’s what you are left with: you are an elite warrior, battling what feels like an endless horde, while exploring the monoliths of the Forerunners, a vanished race that you are somehow connected to, and all of mankind depends on you.
If you told me that this life we are living, the reality that
surrounds us, was so epic, so urgent, so mythic, I don’t know what could make me happier. There was something to the story that struck a chord in so many of us. We want to be needed, powerful, and central even. Add another layer, to walk where some great ancestor, unknown and mythic, laid stone and story ... oh man. Count me in. I long for such a story to exist and for such a role to be mine.
JOHN: Consider happiness yours and count yourself in, my son, because that is exactly what is true. You are an elite warrior and all mankind depends on you.
The epic urgency you have just described—the world depicted mythically in Halo and a thousand other legends—is precisely our situation. (Again—why does your heart long for that? Why would God put such deep ache in the heart of men if there were no corresponding reality which that heart is needed to rise to?) All you need to do is look at the devastation of the world, and you get some inkling of just how vast, brutal, and urgent this battle really is.
Your dreams are opposed; your love is opposed; your life is opposed. Finding your place is opposed; breaking through the barriers is opposed; things as simple as a date and momentous as a friendship are opposed. Let the warrior arise! Learn to fight this stuff, not only for yourself but on behalf of others. The world is a little short on courageous warriors right now.
And let me quickly add, it is not enough that you acknowledge the war. I recently met with a pastor, a good man, who had done much to fight for his life and his calling. He told me he has a sword on his office wall, “To remind me of the battle.” But as we spoke of the reality of warfare, it became clear he wasn’t actually, really, truly dealing with it. He acknowledged its existence but didn’t take it any further. A bit like saying, “I know my house is being broken into on a regular basis—sometimes even when I’m home—but I’m not going to do anything about it; I’ll just take my chances.” It made me think of that brilliant scene in the movie The Two Towers, where even though Rohan has been invaded by marauding hoards, the king still will not go out to fight. Gandalf urges him, “You must fight,” to which Théoden replies, “I will not risk open war.” Aragorn steps in bluntly: “Open war is upon you, whether you would risk it or not.”
Open war is upon us, whether we would risk it, or believe it, or adjust our worldview to accommodate it or not. If you had ignored what was causing Susie’s nightmares, they would not have gone away on their own. She would still be having them.
A man faces many forks in the road as he journeys through his life—each choice determining what kind of life he is going to live. Will he sell out for money? Will he pursue the girl—and having won her, will he continue to fight for their relationship? Will he risk for his dreams or succumb to fear and resignation? Will he let his health go? Will he fight for friendships? But this one—Will he face evil? Will he become the warrior?—this one will have dramatic repercussions for the rest of his life, because everything else he wants in life he will have to fight for.
This is the fork in the road that divides the men from the boys, whatever their ages might be.
In fact, I have hope that your generation will be the one to finally deal with this on a global scale. Yours is the generation raised on Halo and Call of Duty—all those video games that so clearly portray a world at war, great evil powers that must be fought. While a number of church leaders with tight underwear wrote essays denouncing those games, I found myself wondering—perhaps this was God’s way of preparing you to understand and accept the reality all around you.
But let me ask: How would you live differently if life was as epic, mythic, and urgent as Halo?