In a word, no. But if a word were sufficient, I wouldn’t be writing this article. In attempting to answer this, I think it’s important to look back on the history of gaming. In ancient civilizations, commoners would not have had the time or energy to play very much, and it was the elite who would pass the time with games. One of the most well-known historic games, or set of games, is the Olympic Games. There is debate over when or how they started, but the general consensus is that they were part of a religious tradition and that athletic competition was a form of worship to their gods. While their worship was to a false deity, their use of these events and their preparation for and participation in them indicates that the Games were not meant as a distraction from their lives, but actually as an important part of them.
Gaming as an Agent For Good
In preparation for an event as strenuous as the Olympic Games, participants would undergo intense physical training to prepare their bodies. The Apostle Paul even references this in his first letter to the church at Corinth in 1 Corinthians 9:24-27. Undoubtedly, participants also had to train themselves mentally to prepare for the Games, as sports players today still do. It is generally well-known that physical activity can have a positive effect on mental health– so going outside and playing is a wise thing to do!
Traditional board games were meant to exercise and sharpen the mind more so than the physical body. They were often used as a means of social interaction, occasionally with the conversation that would occur being more valued than the actual game. To this day, board games are still enjoyed among families and friends, and occasionally even strangers such as in a board game cafe. Their popularity dipped with the invention of in-home electronic forms of diversion, but they have been rapidly regaining their lost fame.
In the book of Ecclesiastes, The Preacher talks about his striving after every desirable thing this world has to offer, and that it was all like smoke. [Ecclesiastes 2:10-11] After his many pursuits, he arrives at the conclusion that we should accept our life as it is, not how we want it to be. We should live our lives obeying God’s commands and accepting our lot– but we can enjoy the good things [Ecclesiastes 3:13] as long as it does not interfere with our relationship with God. (For a more detailed look at Ecclesiastes, check out this video by The Bible Project.)
When Idleness Turns to Idol-ness
While we are permitted and encouraged by the Bible to find enjoyment in pastimes such as playing games, we must take care not to let them overwhelm our lives. They themselves are not sinful, but our response to them can be. I myself often feel convicted about the amount of time I spend playing games instead of actively playing with my son, tending to household chores, engaging in meaningful discussions, or investing in my relationship with Christ.
When we think of idolatry, we often think of graven images, of golden calves and of bowing down in a ritualistic fashion. While I don’t bow or pray to my PC or console, I think my focus can shift from Christ and to this form of indulgence. I’m sure the same can be said of you. The Merriam-Webster dictionary does have the oft-thought of definition of idolatry as the worship of a physical object as a god, but it also has a secondary one: immoderate attachment or devotion to something.
Some Thoughts from a SAHGM
I don’t anticipate my new acronym, Stay At Home Gamer Mom will go viral, but I hope it makes a point here. I have chosen not to get a job with a paycheck so that I can focus on my family and manage my chronic illness better. This puts me in control of my time each day, and I must choose daily how to use it. Sometimes I clean the house like a maniac, sometimes I don’t get up from my computer chair except to use the bathroom.
When I find myself constantly getting frustrated with my son for his crying and pulling at my chair to get my attention; when I’m upset that he will not sit in a corner and entertain himself so I do not need to get up; then I know that my priorities have shifted and I need to recalibrate. I am ashamed that this happens to me, but I think it is important to acknowledge. It’s at this point that I will resolve not to turn on any of my game systems for a few days. I will intentionally play on the floor with him, hold him, and laugh with him more than usual. I find that I am able to enjoy my games far more when they are an occasional respite instead of a continual, day-long focus. They’re not meant to be a distraction from the important things in life, but they sure can become one if I lose focus and turn to idolatry.
I stumbled across Proverbs 13:4 recently, and have been mulling it over. I’ll share it here for you to chew on as well.
“The soul of the sluggard craves and gets nothing, while the soul of the diligent is richly supplied.” (ESV)
I have found myself discontent and craving much lately, though that’s probably best explored in another article. I have determined this month to start a year-long Bible reading plan (I use this one) and to read a devotional passage in the morning and the evening of each day. I don’t always follow through with all three, but when I do, I find myself with a lot more joy and contentment throughout the day. I encourage you to do the same, if you haven’t already. And check out Hebrews chapter 4 while you’re at it. It’s a good one.