If you are a parent, chances are your children play video games. As a thoughtful parent, you probably aren’t sure how you feel about this. While video games are fun, you have legitimate concerns about how much time your kids spend playing them. You fear the games they play are making them more aggressive, rotting their brains, or—at the very least—wasting their time. As a result, there is a good chance that video games are a constant source of contention between you and your children; they are always asking for more game time and you swing from giving in out of exhaustion to categorically banning video games from your home.
Ridding your home of video games altogether, however, is not the right tactic because it makes video games the enemy. And games, like so many things in God’s good world, are wonderful inventions. Like all wonderful inventions, they can be used for good, but they can also be exploited in ways that harm us and those around us. Teaching your children how to navigate wonderful inventions without exploiting themselves or others is one of the most challenging, yet important, jobs God has given you as a parent.
Video games are fun and, contrary to what you might have heard in church, God is not opposed to fun. In fact, God is the author of games, play, and fun. Video games can be deeply imaginative, challenging, and adventurous. They provide us opportunities to improve, solve problems, overcome obstacles, build friendships, share laughs, and even save the world. Unlike other forms of media our children consume, video games give us agency. We read books and watch shows, but we play games. And that interactivity means games are brimming with potential—potential to help us develop perseverance, relieve stress, learn empathy, and cultivate deeper relationships.
It is that potential, however, that makes games ripe for misuse and even abuse. Video games can be really difficult to put down; some of the most popular games are deliberately designed to keep impressionable people playing well beyond what is healthy or beneficial. So while neglecting to set screen time limits might make your children happy for a time, this is an unloving tactic that ultimately harms your children. The impressionable minds of children are not prepared to self-regulate and, as a result, if left to their own devices children will find themselves playing video games in ways that are ultimately harmful.
God is the author of games, play, and fun.
Video games have tremendous potential, but children need help unlocking that potential in order to engage games for their good, the good of the world, and the glory of God. Your children need you to equip them to fight the temptation to cultivate a selfish, unhealthy, or even destructive relationship with all kinds of media, particularly video games. If this sounds like an insurmountable task, remember that no one in all the world is better equipped than you for this task because no one loves your children more than you do.
If you find yourself regularly thinking, "If my child would just stop playing video games, I’d be a better parent," then the biggest problem you need to tackle regarding video games lies with you, not your children. You are called to love the children God has given you, not the children you want them to be. And your children need to know that you want to be around them and that you are interested in the things that they are interested in. This is why I wrote Know Thy Gamer: A Parent’s Guide to Video Games, to help parents understand their gaming children. By understanding what video games are, why their kids love them, and how to engage them Christianly, parents and their children can stop the incessant fighting about video games and instead learn to love one another.
When children see their parents making an honest effort to understand what makes them tick, they will be far more poised to respond positively to their advice, guidance, and rules. Video games aren’t all good or all bad; they're wonderful, broken, and complicated all at the same time. They can be hyper-violent, misogynistic, and addictive. But they can also be awe-inspiring, community-building, and confidence-boosting. They’re also tremendously fun, so in Know Thy Gamer I help readers dig into what video games actually are, what they do, and what they can be. I am also honest about the ways people often misuse them. I even unpack what the Bible has to say about video games (and yes it does say something).
I am convinced that if we make the necessary effort to understand and even play video games in a God-honoring way, we will be more than happier and healthier people. We will also be poised to point our children to Jesus and equip them to point others to him.