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Should We Fight…Virtually?

April 1, 2009

Though war hasn’t breached the shores of American soil in over a hundred and fifty years, America is no stranger to fighting. The steady stream of war headlines continue to remind us that there are many who fight every day to defend our rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. But despite these reminders, the presence of fighting abroad has left an absence of fighting at home. With very little left to fight for at home, Americans are turning to alternative forms of combat.

Virtual Violence

It’s ironic that the very rights our soldiers die to secure are the rights we fight to sabotage in the gaming world. According to a recent statistic, the online gaming industry will exceed movie rentals in 2009. Virtual fighting is among game favorites. The overnight success of games like The World of Warcraft and Grand Theft Auto demonstrate that our desire for a fight is far from gone. In a new game called Deadspace, the goal is not merely killing but dismemberment. Consider, a website devoted entirely to violent games like Whack Your Boss, The Torture Game 2, and Orchestrated Death. The 666 Games tagline reads: “Welcome to 666 Games, we serve you the most violent, brutal, sadistic and bloody flashgames on the internet. Always keep in mind it’s just digital violence” (emphasis not added). Is this the kind of combat we have stooped to? Killing our digital boss, torturing virtual people, and orchestrating death? Is our fighting pointed in the right direction? Josh Jackson, editor of Paste magazine, cautions our unthinking participation in violent media:

Violence in the media is a terrible thing. Except of course, for those great battle scenes in The Lord of the Rings…I am really repulsed by the idea of torture-porn flicks like Saw and Hostel, and don’t understand how anyone could enjoy watching them. And I’m bothered by games like Grand theft Auto that put you in the shoes of a gangster. Yet I gleefully watch Samuel L. Jackson burst onto the scene like the vengeful hand of God and lay waste to pathetic junkies in Pulp Fiction…From the Bible to the work of Cormac McCarthy, the best stories are filled with conflict, and often that takes the form of violent antagonists and heroes who fight for justice…So where’s the line?

Where is the line? As followers of Jesus in a digital world, we must wrestle with this question. How do we engage the violence in media? Do we passively participate by cheering our favorite fighter in Ultimate Fighting or should we flip the channel to watch a rerun of Friends? Should we actively participate in virtual slaughter and simply shrug it off as entertainment or does the gospel compel us to draw a line in the sand? What does the Bible have to say about violence and fighting?

9 Comments leave one →
  1. April 1, 2009 6:29 pm

    Great Topic. I had a bible study leader once say that God hates violence, so we should too. I don’t know if that’s accurate. God hates injustice, so that means we should also. But as for video games and violent movies, we should definitely make sure that we aren’t loving injustice. Instead, we should fall in love with God’s justice and mercy.

  2. April 1, 2009 10:38 pm

    JF — Great point.

  3. April 2, 2009 5:29 am

    I think there’s such a huge difference between something like Halo or Call of Duty and something like the recently released Mad World, which gets its claim to fame from all the different and varied ways one can destroy their human opponents.

    To me, the two legitimate types of violent games are:

    1. Those that downplay the violence and are really about the tactical nature of the game (i.e. Halo 3)

    2. Those that refuse to downplay violence but also refuse to make it seem overly “fun,” emphasizing instead the reality of violence: that it is entirely unpleasant. Bioshock does this extremely well and while I’m not a fan of Grand Theft Auto, it seems to me that GTA IV has been crafted with this in mind.

  4. April 2, 2009 11:23 pm

    I do think there is a topic not outright addressed here, unrelated to video games and violence.

    Is combativeness a part of the gospel? Is fighting (literally) a hammer in the theological toolbox or is it a vice? It seems like you started to address this and took a different direction (though you probably meant to address video games all along).

    Violence is not sinful (or God himself would not be perfect), but how does that fit in with the gospel? I don’t have any answers here, but maybe somebody could throw an idea out there?

  5. April 2, 2009 11:54 pm

    In response to your inquiry about violence in media…

    I blogged a response, it got too long for a comment…

  6. April 3, 2009 8:06 am

    Andrew: You are correct. The question of fighting as a Christian is raised here but not addressed. I have answered that question in the book I am currently finishing up (of which this post is an excerpt). The answer to that question is too long for a blog, but the book should be epublished within a few weeks. The issue of virtual violence in video games is a subset of the larger theology of fighting.

    To say violence is not sinful because God engages in violence is simplistic. God actually distributes just judgment. Violence in the hands of men is frequently sinful, violating the image of God in others.

  7. April 3, 2009 12:30 pm

    True, but God (in Gen 3) seems to bestow the method of violence to humanity. So, it isn’t just that God is violent, but he instituted violence, so it cannot be inherently evil. Is it fallen? Is it an imperfection meant convey some message to vessels of mercy a la Romans 9:22? Definitely a good post, very thought provoking, I look forward to reading the book!

  8. April 3, 2009 5:43 pm

    I’m no theologian… We are called to strive to be like Jesus he ate and hanged with sinners but, he did not join them in their sin. I think that in violent video games the player is taking on a role of a criminal or what have you it may be fake but, would any of us actually do this in real life? I don’t think we would so, why do we find it acceptable on a screen? My personal opinion(may be a stretch) we are compartmentalizing when we should want to be like Christ. To make it short I think its just another thing to enable us to live in a fantasy world. Its something else to do in place of getting in the word and worshiping God. Another question? What happens to the players mind/heart set while playing these games?

    I must go children are screaming. :)


  1. Should We Fight…Virtually? | Christ and Pop Culture

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