Dennis Frohlich is a guest author on "Everyday, ordinary worship" and will be hosting a program called “The Cultural Impact of Video Games” for parents on Wednesday, November 6th, at Trinity United Methodist Church. During this program, he’ll explain what the research says about the harmful effects of video games, explain how the video game ratings system works, and offer suggestions for how parents can stay informed about the games their kids are playing.
Can God be glorified by playing video games?
Can God be glorified by playing video games?
Before I attempt to answer this question, a little introduction is in order. My name is Dennis Frohlich, and I am a doctoral candidate at the University of Florida studying mass communication. Recently I talked with the Trinity United Methodist pastoral team about doing an educational program for parents about video games. Pastor Aaron asked me to write a short reflection about glorifying God through video games. This is a topic I think about a lot, so I appreciate the opportunity to do this.
Video games have been a huge part of my life ever since I was five or six. I’ve been playing for over 20 years and have spent countless hours mastering so many games I can’t keep track of them all.
A few years ago, I was trying to explain to my friend, a fellow Christian, why I enjoyed video games and how I thought they were beneficial to my faith. He dismissed my explanation and thought I was just trying to justify mindless entertainment. Maybe so. After studying mass communication in school for the past decade, it’s natural that I reflect a lot on my media consumption. As a Christian, I am constantly endeavoring (often unsuccessfully) to point my life to God.
I played video games for about 10 years before I found Christ. At first, my Christian faith didn’t have much effect on the kinds of games I played or the way I played games. But slowly, God has been molding me after His image, so I think it’s possible that at least some of the games I play are glorifying to God. If He were beside me on the couch, I think He might even like playing video games with me.
Glorifying God through activities
As a young Christian, I often got mixed up trying to get answers to very specific questions: whether it’s right or wrong to play video games was one such question. After all, the Bible says nothing about video games. When approaching topics like this, wiser Christians than me have always encouraged me to seek out the foundational principles that order the entirety of our lives.
I’ve been taught then, and I think this is true, that activities and behaviors in and of themselves are neither good nor evil—excluding, of course, those things the Bible explicitly lists as sins. Christians are allowed to partake in secular activities, then, as long as they don’t cause us to stumble or we don’t cause others to stumble through those activities (Paul discusses this fully in 1 Corinthians 8, the chapter about food sacrificed to idols).
All secular activities, then, present us with an opportunity to glorify God or to turn away from God. People can glorify God through music, for instance, but they can also rebel against God through music. As I’ve grown in my faith, I’ve learned that many activities can be glorifying to God, even if I don’t understand how.
Take sports, for instance. Growing up, I was never interested in sports, especially team sports. I didn’t understand the appeal of playing them or watching them, and I even thought they were a waste of time. I definitely fit the stereotype of a gamer that’d rather spend hours playing video games than sports. I can’t think of a single athlete that I look up to or admire, though I can think of several game designers, like Shigeru Miyamoto.
Over time, I’ve slowly gained an appreciation for sports as a godly activity, mostly through talking with Christian athletes. Many of my friends have told me how playing sports radically changed their lives. These athletes speak of the many virtues they learned on and off the field, such as the importance of practice, dedication, perseverance, teamwork, cooperation, leadership, and developing a sound mind and body. Christian athletes speak of glorifying God by giving the best performance they can, by trying their hardest to succeed and trusting God with the results.
I take them at their word. Sports can be glorifying to God, but they aren’t inherently so. They can be turned into an idol just like anything else.
In the same way, playing video games can teach people valuable lessons, lessons that God can use in many different ways.
What God has taught me through video games
When I think of glorifying God, I am reminded of Paul’s words to the Corinthians: “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31, ESV). This isn’t to say every time I’ve played video games I’ve glorified God: that one time I killed over 2,000 soldiers in the Facility level of GoldenEye 007 was probably a bit excessive.
Here’s just a sampling of the lessons I’ve been taught through games:
- Super Mario Bros. for the NES taught me the importance of practice and patience. This was the first game we owned, and I cut my teeth on this game.
- The Legend of Zelda series taught me about exploration and gave me a sense of wonder about the world. I learned that discovering the world’s secrets was a joy in itself.
- Tetris taught me the importance of staying organized under pressure.
- The Final Fantasy series has shown me the realities of war and oppression. The characters in these games taught me that through determination, teamwork, and patience, evil can be overcome in the world.
- SimCity taught me how to manage a large-scale operation, an entire city, and how to respond to crises when they arise.
- Warcraft II and StarCraft taught me how to manage my resources, both time and treasure, lessons I continue to apply as I schedule my week and budget my money.
- Pokemon taught me the importance of sharing.
- Donkey Kong Country, Yoshi’s Island, Kirby’s Epic Yarn, and many other games showed me how visuals, audio, and gameplay can create works of art. These games have evoked emotions in me and moved me in ways most other art cannot.
- Minecraft has fostered a deep sense of creativity in me, and provides me the tools to shape and reshape an electronic world, instilling in me just a bit of joy that God must feel when He creates the universe.
- Many games—like Contra, Interstate ‘76, Top Gear Rally, Zombies Ate My Neighbors, Mario Kart 64, and Super Smash Bros. Melee—have deepened relationships with my brother, cousins and close friends.
I could go on and on. Some games were with me during certain points of my life and were crucial to my development. These games—like WWF Attitude, Paperboy 2, and Star Wars: Shadows of the Empire—aren’t always fun in retrospect, and some I haven’t played in years.
Other games stick with me for a long time and continue to influence the person I am today. For example, something resonates with me about the Triforce in the Legend of Zelda series, which is composed of Wisdom, Power, and Courage. While the game isn’t Christian by any stretch (the world of Hyrule was created by three ancient goddesses), I think Christian truths are embodied in the character Link, who possesses the Triforce of Courage and willingly accepts his calling to fight the evil Ganondorf, even though the mission is incredibly challenging and offers him no rewards.
If you have any stories to share about how video games have benefited you, or ways you think video games can glorify God, please reply to this post and share with others!