The Christian and the Dreaded M – Some thoughts on mature video games

ImageWhile the Bible was written for us, it was definitely not written to us as a culture. This means that there are some things, especially in our entertainment-obsessed culture, that seem to be grey areas. One of the most well-known and disputed grey areas is the subject of video games, namely the more violent or mature ones. Since the Bible doesn’t have a commandment that says “Thou shalt not play M rated video games,” this requires some thought and study to decide what is acceptable to play and what is not in the life of a Christian.

First of all, when we decide what games are and aren’t acceptable, we have to realize that the ESRB was not sanctioned by God to be the standard for what we should and shouldn’t play. It isn’t perfect. When a game has the dreaded “M” in the lower right corner of the box, it should raise a red flag. However, that red flag should give pause for thought and deeper understanding of why the game is rated that way, rather than instantly forcing you to place the game back on the shelf (or more accurately, click the back button on Amazon). Rather than going by only what is on the back of the box, it’s best to do some research on the positive AND negative aspects of the game. (A great site for this is Plugged In, run by Focus On the Family, which gives bible-based, family-oriented reviews of all sorts of media.) Many M rated video games, much like R rated movies, have positive aspects to them that aren’t covered on that black and white rectangle. There have been plenty of games that most people will believe were mis-rated, whether the rating was too high or too low.

By contrast, we also need to understand that the media we take in can have an effect on the way we live and how we think. This isn’t necessarily always true, which is the reason why some mature video games can be found acceptable. But if you’re blatantly doing evil in “choice” style games such as Mass Effect, you may find yourself drifting towards those choices in real life; or if you’re endlessly mowing down civilians in an open world game like Grand Theft Auto, you may find yourself with violent tendencies, or more disturbingly, viewing the people around you only as targets. Yet, as I said, playing a violent video game will not necessarily make you a more violent person or decrease your value of human life. This is because of the biggest aspect of choosing appropriate media:

Know thine enemy. And in the case of any human, our biggest enemy is the sin that is with us from day one of our lives. It’s our master unless we trust Jesus for salvation, and it’s still a huge temptation afterwards. But, as Luke 16:13 tells us, we can’t serve two masters, because “…either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other.” If our goal in choosing “appropriate” media is focused on seeing how close we can get to the line of “this is sin, and this isn’t,” we’re probably not truly devoted to Jesus, and we’re really just desiring sin.

When you’re choosing your next game, think about the sins that you specifically struggle with. If you have a tendency towards anger or hatred, you should avoid games centered around violence. If you struggle with lust, don’t play games marked with sexual content. If you’re a former or current drug addict or alcoholic, avoid stirring up those desires with a game marked by “drug use” or “alcohol.” If you are susceptible to making video games your idol, you may not want to purchase any at all (or if you really must, buy ones that aren’t deep and immersive or addictive).

Philippians 4:8 says, “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” When deciding whether to buy a game, you have to compare both the content of the game and your own maturity. If you think a game will cause you to have intelligent and wise thoughts, such as “Is it ever okay to use violence for a good cause? Was XYZ a good choice? Are lies acceptable in any situations?” then it may be a good choice to play that game. If it may not cause you to have thoughts as deep as those, but the thoughts it does cause are mostly innocent, a la “Whoa! That was awesome! What a cool explosion!” then you may want to consider getting another game, but it’s not necessarily a bad idea to get this one. However, depending on your maturity level, these thoughts can be a slippery slope to cruel-spirited ones like: “Hahahaha! Killing civilians is hilarious!”

However, there are some games that I believe Christians shouldn’t play, period. One of these types of games is the game that blatantly glorifies sin. Games like Grand Theft Auto fall into this category: namely, games that glorify violence, generally in the form of murder, against the likes of innocent civilians, cops, and rival gangs. …Which, of course, you commit in bulk. Desensitization to violence or death is real, and should and can be avoided at all costs. We’re made in the image of God, and life is precious. (It is worth noting, though, that this is very different from a game that has military or justified violence.) Games that depict grotesque, horrid or demonic-looking creatures or claim to show actual demons should also be avoided not only on the amount of scariness, which may or may not apply to you, but because of the dark, false spiritual content that is frequently attached. While there may be some Christians that are probably solid enough in their faith that they can easily pick apart the false religions in these kinds of games, they sure don’t live up to the standards of Philippians 4:8, because dark and disturbing images have a way of sticking in your head, and the twisted spirituality will likely come along for the ride.
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So, all in all, it would be unwise to say something along the lines of “I’m never ever going to play or buy any M rated games.” We have to remember the inherent imperfection in ratings, the effect a game’s content can have on our spirit, and our own maturity and susceptibilities. If you follow these guidelines and select games appropriate for yourself (or your children), these games can become useful for entertainment, stress relief or fellowship with others.

If you’re still a child, the odds are you are simply not able to accurately judge whether you’re mature enough to play certain games. This is why, even if your parents don’t force you to, you ought to continue to rely on them to make the final call on whether you should be allowed to buy the latest shoot-em-up. (After all, you may be just a tad bit biased.) If you’re a parent, don’t instantly drop the ball when you see that M on the box of the game your child is asking for. But, after you compare the game’s content with your child’s level of maturity, don’t be afraid to give either response to their request, even if it means they’ll be disappointed.

Like Wreck-It Ralph, we’ve gotta take it “one game at a time.”

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Into The Arcade – “Wreck-It Ralph” Review

ImageWhen I started seeing trailers and movie posters for Disney’s newest animated family film, Wreck-It Ralph, my expectations were not too high. I wasn’t expecting the film to be much more than a money grab for the parents of video game-addicted children. When my family rented it for movie night, I was admittedly even less excited. (I secretly thought we should have rented The Dark Knight Rises, though that probably wouldn’t have been for family movie night.) However, when we popped in the disc and started the movie, I quickly was sucked into the universe of the arcade.

The premise of the movie is that Ralph is the beefy-handed “bad guy” of the popular arcade game, “Fix-It Felix Jr.” He’s unhappy with his life because while Felix and the denizens of Niceville reside in the skyscraper where the game takes place, he lives alone in the nearby dump. Shortly into the film, he becomes enamored with the idea of getting a medal, convinced that he’ll be accepted. He eventually ends up in the kart racer, Sugar Rush, where he meets Vannelope Von Schweetz, a young girl who wants to become a racer in her game.I can’t say much more without spoiling much of the plot, which is rather complicated for a family film.

The premise of the movie actually turns out to be very good. Anyone who has played a few video games before will be grinning when the arcade closes and the characters start coming to life. The way in which the transition from real world to game world happens is very clever, and the transition from pixelated characters to three-dimensional ones is equally so. Inclusion of both old school and new school characters is also very cool.

The two best things Wreck-It… has going for it are its plot and its high level of cleverness. The plot, as said above, is pretty complex for a Disney film, but flows well and isn’t hard to follow at all. Anyone who is prone to crying may want to keep a few tissues nearby, because if you connect with the characters well, there will be a few tear-jerking scenes. There are multiple twists in the plot near the end, which are for the most part completely unexpected and turn your assumptions about some of the characters on their head. There are a few minor plot holes (which I’ll refrain from saying), but they don’t ruin the film and are easy to overlook.

The best thing about this film, though, is its sheer wit. Most of the jokes in the film are actually worth laughing at, which is more than could be said for most children’s films today. The way characters move and interact with each other correspond to how their games work, some of which are hilarious simply to watch. (Most of) the characters also work together well, and are pretty likeable. Fix-It Felix is actually incredibly funny because of just how good of a “good guy” he is.

You don’t even have to like video games to enjoy the movie, because despite the numerous game references and cameos, the plot isn’t centered around them and is therefore easy to follow even for those who know little to nothing about video games. Even my mother, who has never liked video games, enjoyed the film and laughed with the rest of us.

However, Wreck-It Ralph isn’t without its flaws. While it’s not terribly prominent, there is some unneeded potty humor in places. While most jokes are tasteful, these seem completely unnecessary. (However, the inevitable comparison between the words “duty” and “doody” admittedly made me giggle just because of how it was presented.) While the film is essentially free of any language, there are also some poorly veiled references to cuss words (“move your molasses,” etc.).

What’s really unfortunate is that the biggest flaw in the film is one of its main characters. Vanellope, the girl in Sugar Rush who wants to be a racer, is simply unlikable. Her backstory is actually interesting, and the dilemmas she faces are as well, but her personality can best be described as “really annoying.” Her voice is unpleasant and raspy, and she seems to remain hyper and insulting the entire film. Much of what comes out of her mouth is a taunt of some sort, and these taunts make up most of the potty humor in the film. She’s a main character, so the viewer is treated to her raspy insults throughout much of the film.

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Overall Opinion:

While having some flaws,Wreck-It Ralph is definitely a good movie. While it’ll never live up to the greats such as Toy Story or Finding Nemo, it’s definitely worth renting and enjoying with the family. I wouldn’t recommend purchasing it unless you really enjoy it, but I would definitely endorse seeing it.

7.5 out of 10 stars. sure you’ll enjoy it.