Here’s an excerpt from a thought-provoking article by Christine Rosen on the relationship between identity and video gaming. Thoughtful Christians need to consider the personal, social, and culture influence of moving away from a word-based to an image-saturated virtual culture.
In previous eras, games were supposed to provide more than mere play; they were supposed to improve us morally or physically. The conceit of contemporary times is that games improve our intelligence, and that they do this so well that we ought to integrate them into more spheres — the classroom, the boardroom, the playground—as replacements for less advanced ways of learning. Our embrace of video games is yet another chapter in the ongoing story of technology-as-liberation.
But this story isn’t as simple as it first appears, and we are failing to ask some important questions. With video games, we focus so much on how we can make the virtual world more like the physical world that we forget to ask about movement in the opposite direction. In an age when people are spending much of their work time and most of their leisure time in front of computers, televisions, and video-game screens, how is the virtual world affecting the physical one? Are we becoming so immersed in virtual reality that we end up devoting more time to the care and tending of our multiple, virtual identities than to the things in the real world that contribute to the formation of healthy identity? After all, there are a great many things you can’t do in virtual reality: you cannot satisfy material needs for food, water, or genuine physical affection; you cannot build character or develop true interpersonal skills; and although some people might be able to satisfy certain emotional needs, such satisfactions are rarely permanent.
Today’s video games are works of creativity, technical skill, and imagination. They are, in appropriate doses, healthy and satisfying playgrounds for experimentation with different identities and exploration of different worlds. But video games carry the risk—as all amusements do—of becoming the objects on which we lavish so much time and attention that we neglect the true and lasting things around us, such as our family, our friends, and our communities. Societies get the games they deserve. But when a society claims for its games the insights, sophistication, and deeply humane wisdom that other forms of culture and community have long offered—when it places Dickens alongside Doom and replaces the family hearth with an Xbox—it is well on its way to finding something more alarming than its identity stolen. It risks becoming a society without true loves or longings, filled with individuals who find solace only in make believe worlds where the persons they really are do not really exist.