I glance at the clock. It’s 8:00 A.M., the time I am supposed to be punching in at work, but I am at home. I look at the coffee mug in front of me, its contents have gone cold. I quickly pack up my laptop grab a tumbler fill it with coffee and I’m out the door. I would like to tell you I was delayed by a minor emergency, or my morning routine was interrupted by an important phone call, but neither is true. I had been playing Minecraft.
I have never really understood the idea of video game addiction. Although there is no medically diagnosed condition to speak of, I understand why people talk about it. There are a lot of people who spend a lot of time playing games. Some of them must be addicts. I have always enjoyed games. They are a hobby. They are talking pieces and tools for social connection. Many of my closest friends are gamers and some of my fondest memories come from playing games with them. I don’t ever remember choosing games over and against relationships.
Its 4:00 A.M. It is the weekend and I know I will be sleeping in, so I put the finishing touches on the roof of the art gallery I have built in my house. While the walls of the gallery are made of sandstone, the floor and the ceiling are made of glass. A glass funnel filled with lava protrudes through the center, naturally lighting the entire room. Pleased with my work, I report to my friend that the gallery is complete, log off, and head to bed. My wife has been asleep since 9:00 P.M. She is pregnant and not a night person; that combination has resulted in early bed times, even on the weekend. I attempt to slip into bed without waking her. She mumbles something that sounds like, “what time is it?” I lightly kiss her on the cheek and she drifts back to sleep.
When people talk about games being addicting and pulling people out of the real world, I just don’t get it. I have nearly always found it easy to turn them off in favor of more pressing pursuits. So maybe some people get addicted to games but not me. I play them because I find them fascinating—the way they involve us in their narratives, the way they confront us with difficult choices, and invite us to explore new worlds.
I have read the stories—how video games are ruining young men and how they can increase aggression in children. However, given how new video games are as a medium I think it’s difficult to measure what kind of impact they are having on the people who play them. For instance how would video game “addiction” compare to something more concrete, like Alcoholism? I won’t deny that video games become a problem for some people but it should also be noted that games have been shown to improve brain functionality. They can enhance critical thinking skills and educate people in exciting new ways. Any analysis that claims video games’ impact is entirely negative is surely lacking nuance.
Its 8:00 A.M. and my wife has brought me breakfast in bed—bacon, eggs, and biscuits. We are cereal people, but not on Saturday. This is our time during the week to enjoy breakfast together and connect. I normally look forward to Saturdays but I really want to go back to bed.
“What were you doing last night?”
“I was playing a game.”
“Yeah. Did you play with your friends?”
I am a pastor. This makes for some interesting conversation when I tell people I play video games. Most people will give you a pass for playing games with your kids or the occasional game on the Wii. But when I admit that video games are my hobby of choice, this is generally met with strange looks by members of the Christian community. These moments fuel my writing about games. The typical American Christian treatment of video games is to fear them. “They are too violent, too addictive, and too time consuming.” Perhaps because of these stereotypes, I find myself striving to articulate their value.
Games have a profound ability to teach us empathy. Due to their interactive nature, developers have been able to produce narrative experiences that are unique to each individual player. Further, unlike other media, the very act of experiencing a game is often social in nature. I have often found conversation about games to be far more interesting than that about other mediums because games foster such diverse experiences. I understand why many people see games as dumb, violent, misogynistic entertainment pieces. However, I think it’s important to note that video games, like any other medium, are cultural products. Games are dumb because we live in a culture that infatuated with juvenility. Even playing the most puerile game can be illuminating.
Its 6:30 P.M. My wonderful wife sautéed salmon for dinner. I don’t know what she puts on it, but she marinates it and it has a slightly sweet flavor, it’s one of my favorite dishes. This is nice–the combination of my wife being pregnant and working a new job and my coaching competitive soccer and working full time at the church has resulted in a lot of eating out. I don’t talk to her much about video games—she has learned to appreciate that they are a meaningful to me, but it’s clear that they will never be as meaningful to her. And yet this doesn’t stop me from constantly searching for that one game that will open her eyes to the beauty and potential of the medium.
“Did you ever play Legos as a kid?”
“Yes we had tons of them. I love Legos!”
“You should try Minecraft.”
“What is that?” (she has already forgotten).
“You know that game I was playing last night with my blogging buddies?”
“It’s a lot like Legos only with monsters that come out at night and try to kill you.” (I am starting to feel stupid for bringing this up).
“It sounds scary.”
“It’s not too scary. You would like it, the real focus is art and imagination, you can make whatever you want in the game and go wherever you want”
“The baby is kicking!”
One of my friends has the privilege of playing with his wife. Despite my envious thoughts of Seth and his wife delightfully playing hours of Minecraft and creating beautiful structures together, I notice that I rarely see his wife on the server. I ask him about it. Seth says, “Oh well she just isn’t addicted to it.” The next thought that goes through my mind is so embarrassingly cliché that I cannot ignore it. I actually said to myself, “I can quit whenever I want to.”
In this moment, I realize that I have abused what makes Minecraft beautiful and it has taken a toll on me. I begin to take stock of strained conversations, my lack of focus at work, and how little sleep I have been getting.
There were too many moments where I wasn’t present at home. I was growing inattentive to the needs of my wife. I felt sluggish save for those moments when I was systematically renovating mines or designing structures.
I couldn’t handle Minecraft. It was too interesting, too compelling, too inviting. But when I look back, I am thankful for the friendships I formed there. Thankful for a place to which I could go and feel a part. Given the many attendant insecurities of life, such places, even if virtual, are a welcome refuge. I am thankful that my experiences helped to reveal some of my addictive tendencies. One day, perhaps when I am more self disciplined, I hope to return to Minecraft. The game did not make me a worse person—at this point in life, I am not a good enough for Minecraft.
About the Author:
Drew Dixon is editor-in-chief of Game Church. He also edits for Christ and Pop Culture and writes about video games for Paste Magazine and Think Christian.
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