In a few years most public figures, from politicians to doctors, teachers to clergy, will have had their early years shaped by the phenomenon of gaming. And many will still be playing: in America the average age for gamers is already 35 and rising.
Many people adopt a defensive position over gaming: they are either strongly in favour or vehemently against. The impact of gaming on human welfare is probably somewhere in between these two poles, but assessing quite where has become a pressing matter. The image of the addicted loner at a console is largely untrue. Many people play together at home and online games often involve large numbers of people working together to solve problems as part of their entertainment. Much social commentary concerns the impact of violent images on young minds, hence the outcry when Grand Theft Auto IV was released earlier this summer. Moving images always make an impression on people – why else would companies advertise on TV – but there would usually be other unsettling factors in someone’s background (for instance an abusive home) for it to contribute to criminal behaviour.
Games teach skills and teamwork which educate people without them realising it. There is some speculation that the future of formal education may adopt some of its tenets. Yet the more we relate to each other through media rather than face to face, the likelier it is that the subtle relational skills that comprise a life well lived before God will be impaired. Nothing beats being able to look at someone else’s face as a way of discerning what they are feeling and the more experience we have of doing this the better practised we are at interpreting mood and intention. The internet is a marvellous tool for reaching others, but the trend is largely one of connecting with more people anonymously and at a shallower level. Online gaming is a good example of this
Christians, being people of the Book, have usually encouraged reading in general without realising that reading may be more self-absorbed as a pursuit than gaming itself (a thought that often nags away at the soul of this contented reader!). One difference could be that while reading functions as a springboard for the imagination, gaming acts like a quicksand of the mind, where participation leads downwards into a virtual world of non-existence rather than outwards into a world we might perceive differently.
Then again I’m probably biased.
One thing is apparent: in the long term the virtual world should enrich the real world in relational ways if it is to be a lasting blessing to a human race to which God has gifted the joy of play.