Of God & Gaming

My dear mother, who watched her son pour hours into Super Nintendo and Playstation games on the living room floor, could only laugh and shake her head while watching her now-adult son create a YouTube series devoted to exploring the crossroads of video game culture and the Catholic Church. “God wastes nothing!” she affirmed to me.  This labor of love, God & Gaming, is the YouTube series my dear priest friend Fr. Blake Britton and I began under the Word on Fire Institute’s mission to utilize the new media (in this case, video games) to evangelize the culture for Jesus Christ.

In our series, we discuss our generation’s major draws to video games and interview some amazing Catholics in the field of game design, music composition, streaming, and more. The good, the true, and the beautiful are all over video games and that’s why we flock to them.  In video games, good and evil are as plain as day; you have a mission and a clear purpose (“I am needed! Only I can vanquish the villain or save the world!”)  There is adventure,  brotherhood, and community, especially in online MMOs.  An older Playstation campaign ran with the tagline “Greatness awaits,” and I remember thinking at the end of that commercial, “Wow, they get it.” The gaming industry understands our desire to rise above mediocrity and our destiny for greatness. We crave these aspects of life, and we will seek them out virtually if the physical world around us has been stripped of mystery, meaning, and, ultimately, God. 

Video games are the largest entertainment industry on the planet (the value of the gaming market in the US is $85 billion) —there are over one billion registered gamers globally, each of whom spends thousands of hours gaming every year. The majority of these gamers are under the age of forty-five, and 75% of American households have at least one video game player in their household (not counting everyone else who’s playing Candy Crush or Poker on their phones).  There must be an anthropological reason gaming speaks to people’s hearts beyond sheer entertainment, and we explore those themes in our YouTube series. 

While  Fr. Blake and I take an affirmative stance towards gaming as a whole, we know that, just like with movies and books, not every game is a morally good game to play. The medium, just like film, is not the enemy, but it doesn’t mean we Christians should not be discerning in what we play and the time spent gaming.  Some of the biggest concerns people have regarding video games are (1) the potential links between gaming and violence, (2) the quantity of time spent playing video games, and (3) the inability to distinguish reality from virtual reality. To address all these concerns lies beyond the scope of this article, but I can say that there’s plenty of research to indicate that there is no significant link between video gameplay and real-world violence.  Video game addiction, however, is indeed a growing phenomenon, especially because neurologists and gambling machine designs continue to be employed by new game companies to intentionally make their “free to play” games (but requires real-world money to advance) as addictive as possible.  If we don’t control our gaming and our gaming controls us, we have a problem. We are all called to grow in self-control, being attentive to where our priorities lie (our jobs, marriages, children, etc.), and remember that God is to be worshipped at the center of our lives before all else. 

Blessed Carlo Acutis, the 15-year old young Italian who died of Leukemia and could be the first millennial saint, was our patron for this project. In his short life, he displayed a love of friendship and family, an enjoyment of video games and web design, and utter devotion to Our Lord in the Eucharist. He demonstrated the self-discipline to not let gaming become an idol, but as one component of leisure, and allowed his love of God to direct all other activities. The website he created that documented Eucharistic miracles around the world is still online today! 

Gaming isn’t going anywhere, and if we want to seriously evangelize the culture we must take seriously the video game world and be Christ-bearers in that space. We must be not afraid to, as Pope Benedict XVI  said, “evangelize the digital continent!” I hope the series can continue to be enjoyed by both gamers and non-gamers, and this is but a spark in our generation’s efforts to continue bringing the Good News to the ends of the earth.  

Watch the God & Gaming series here on the YouTube channel for the Word on Fire Institute!

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Bobby Angel is a campus minister and theology teacher at an all-boy Catholic high school in California. He and his wife, Jackie, travel often to share the gospel and the call to a life of chastity. Bobby and Jackie also have recently begun a video ministry through Ascension Press’s YouTube channel. They have three beautiful children who won’t let them sleep. Connect with Bobby at jackieandbobby.com.

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