The Roll of Youth Ministry in a Video Gaming World

By Theo Spillman and youthESource

In the beginning I was a player in a simple tennis game. Then, I was one of two Italian plumbers in a constant and never ending journey to save the love of my life. Then, before I knew it, I was winning the gold at the Olympics, saving the world from terrorists, building my own empire and controlling the world!

When I was growing up, video games were only just emerging as an awesome form of entertainment.  The first time I touched the joystick on an Atari 1600 I was hooked. However, video games have changed a lot over the years. What was once two-dimensional is now three-dimensional. Thanks to the Internet, players from New York to Singapore are locked in combat online. The technology on gaming systems grows more advanced all the time. Even cell phones and basic school supplies (calculators) are getting into the gaming action. How does the youth worker address the growing issues surrounding this ever-growing world?

In order to address this issue we will first need to look at what video games really are.  Simply said, video games are a way to escape the world and become any type of person or thing imaginable. Video games accomplish this in two key ways: First, they are available in multiple forms with a never-ending array of possible heroes. This creates a basis of appeal for anyone. Second, the environments of the games immerse players into a self-contained world with its own culture, time, history, and future.  This creates the ultimate in escapes because a person can completely leave his world and go to another.

Because the world of video games is changing and becoming even more in-depth, youth workers are presented with the problem of combating virtual morality: people are able to escape this world and enter another and become whatever they desire to be. This isn’t always bad; becoming a basketball star isn’t such a big deal. But many of the widely popular titles of an extremely mature nature allow a person to become a mass murderer, a drug dealer, a pimp, a mercenary, even a serial killer.

So where does this leave youth workers? One person could take this information and ban video games from the church, but this may be extreme. Another person could allow everything and say that it is all ok, “Hey it’s not real anyway”.  Or, as a youth worker, you could play the games yourself.  I know what many of you are thinking,” Play Grand Theft Auto Vice City? Are you crazy?” Maybe, but playing the game does allow youth workers to be really informed by it. You don’t have to condone what is occurring within a game but you should know what is occurring.

As I finish, let it be said that the entire world of gaming is not as bleak as Grand Theft Auto. There are thousands of great (even fun!) titles out there that in no way violate moral codes. Seek those out and suggest them to your teens. There are even a few Christian game titles out there (however you should exercise caution with these, too). As I said earlier, the world of gaming holds something for everyone, even you. Entering this world appropriately can give you a natural “in” with your youth, and it can be a whole lot of fun!