Talking with younger folks, and some not so younger folks I notice a growing issue in my life as a Christian leader. I am encountering more and more violence against women, as well as a general increase in violence and degrading hate speech. Something caught my attention during a recent television advertisement for a video game and I can;t help but write about it.
Video games are a big business these days. Thousands are employed in the industry (including some family members of mine) and I have read that 4 out of 5 households in America have a video gaming device, 42% of americans play video games more than 3 hours a week, the average player is 35 years old. This last stat may be why 14% of games that come out today get rated as mature. The number one video game of 2014 was Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare, it is one of 4 M rated games in the top 10 for the 2014 year and 8 of the top 20 sellers are rated mature. If only 14% of the games are rated mature it seems incredible that 40% of the bestsellers are carry that rating. In 2014 this represented a 22.41 billion dollar industry in America. I am willing to assume that the numbers in Canada are similar, though clearly scaled down on account of our smaller population.
Call me old (though I am younger than the average video gamer, apparently), call me curmudgeonly, grumpy, ignorant, out-of-date, or anything else, but when I see advertisements for video games rated “mature” I can’t help but wonder what definition of mature is at play here? I played video games in my parents basement (for endless hours and sometimes days, I skipped classes to play race car games and refused to get dressed since I was at home anyways) when I was a frustrated teen with limited funds and means of transportation. Playing video games isn’t something I think of as mature. Even though I can imagine adults enjoying the occasional throw back to their youth by playing an old game with old friends, I can’t particularly imagine playing alone (or online with others) with any regularity.
So I thought I would look into this a bit and think out loud about it a bit.
First off, it’s important to note that I realize video games are just one aspect of our culture that objectifies women and promotes a sort of caveman warrior mentality in men. It may seem like I am picking on one area of life, but such are the limits of blogs rather than books. Secondly, I don’t watch a ton of movies or television but have played more than enough video games to feel confident discussing them, dated as that experience is.
I might be called mature these days, by the old standards, I have a wife and children to provide for. I understand myself as having a duty to raise my children as best I can, to teach them how to be decent respectful people, productive in a way, and find happiness and contentment with life, this includes actions like making their breakfast before I sit down to eat and being home and present with them as much as possible. I have a mortgage and a minivan, I coach little league, people call me to help them in various ways, I volunteer in the community and try to encourage and cheer up my neighbours when the going gets tough. I am the man with the beaver looking to sell you popcorn and who will buy your chocolate covered almonds when you fundraise.
Paul exhorts Christians to be mature in their thinking. By this I take him to mean that we are to rely on the atoning death of Christ and to live out of that posture. It involves the ability to admit when we are wrong, to love our neighbours, to exhibit self-control for both our sakes and the sake of the community we call home. Paul would, I think, agree that a mature person values human life highly and rejects senseless violence, holds women as sacred and combats any belittling of them and certainly condemns any violence against them. Paul would also say that it is the role of the mature to mentor the younger to bring them up in the ways of wisdom, to teach them maturity. The powerful aren’t to see this gift as something to be used to their advantage but put to use for the weaker, the vulnerable, the people in need. Maturity involves sacrificial love towards others.
How can we be doing this (or expect our children to be) if we are spending our time playing videos that receive the rating of mature because they contain “intense violence, blood and gore, sexual content and/or strong language”? It’s been a long time since I last played such a game but I recall bonus points for hitting a nun with a car and watching her blood splatter the wall of the building she was walking by. This is no small issue, a cottage industry is rising up of women who are fed up with the sexualized violence of these games. “In current gaming culture, the connection between sexuality and violence in games supports a misogynistic version of reality, in which the majority of heroes are males displaying their masculinity through violence, and women are serving as background characters to be objectified. As a result, gaming culture is mirroring, and perpetuating, rape culture.” (citation) That may sound harsh, but if you put down the remote control long enough to take a good hard stare at many of the storylines and images involving women in the games, you won’t be alone in feeling something like shame because we all have mothers.
“Mature” games earn the title by objectifying all human life, by representing it as cheap, by fanning the flames of some testosterone driven warped view of manhood and making someone feel big and strong, and in a position to call others terrible things.
In the video game world “Mature” means violence, and lots of it. It means objectifying people, especially women, and making them playthings to be abused. The question isn’t whether there is a direct link between video games and violence or the treatment of women but what sort of culture we find promoted there, because no matter how you slice it virtual reality bleeds into and affects our real world (gamers always argue for the interactions and relationships being built within a game as a redeeming value and proof that men sitting in basements aren’t as isolated as they look, so let’s take them up on that and look at how they interact).
There are studies of interactive games that show that the language the players use with each other matches the violence in the game, and women playing are more subject to violent taunts, and sexually based verbal abuse than are men. I won’t link to them you can go look them up for yourself, they are plentiful and thus easy to find.
The culture within most of these games trivializes violence, human life, and women. Women are damsels in distress to be saved by virile powerful men who will be “owed” something for their willingness to help the lady, women are toys to be played with, they are rewards for jobs well done, they are subservient, and they are always sexy whether slaves, fighting partners or villains you can be sure there will be sexy.
Anita Sarkeesian noticed all this and who sought to raise 6000$ for talk about the issue. She touched on a sore spot or “felt need” and raised 160 000$. In a predictable blurring of reality and virtual reality many women who have dared to speak out against this have become the target of violent language. Sarkeesian being a perfect example as she received death threats, rape threats, and her wikipedia page was showered with pornographic images. When she spoke up in real life she was screamed at like she was a character in the game, and threatened as such. Would anyone follow through on these threats? Is that really the question? Isn’t fooling with her wikipedia page enough? Wouldn’t she have felt small, threatened and scared by the vehemence of the reaction? I would.
God calls us to be loving. I believe the conservations that need to happen around this topic can’t happen online, or from the pulpit with any great impact. The dialogues must happen at kitchen tables as we raise our children (no matter how old they are) and we take an interest in how they spend their time. Women and the sanctity of life need to be argued for whenever they are threatened. These won’t be easy conversations, they will require humility, patience, and courage. Perhaps this is a very uncomfortable conversation to have quietly this thanksgiving.
The truth is that we are meant for more than the life video games offer us. My brother was seriously addicted to these games and it took a courageous effort for him to back away from them. I honour that, I also know that he is stronger for having overcome the addiction. If you need support and help you can find it, there is someone you know who loves you enough to help. If someone you know needs this conversation trust that they are meant for more and that if we can speak in love they will hear and receive the message that there are bigger, better, healthier things in store for them.
Go ahead, Christian, and talk to someone you love about this issue if you see it in their lives. It’s the mature thing to do. You’ll be thankful you did, and if you are lucky the person you talk to will be as well.