Why I Stopped Playing Video Games

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Video games were a significant part of my young adult life. But several years ago I made a conscious decision to swear them off completely. In this article, I explain exactly why I don’t play video games anymore.

But please understand this was a personal decision. I’ve been hesitant to write this post because I know it has the potential to be misunderstood as a legalistic, blanket condemnation of video games. It’s not. I do not mean to suggest that I think video games are a sinful form of entertainment. In many ways, video games are a superior form of entertainment to most other media, since they encourage critical thinking. Plenty of folks play games in moderation, and that’s great. Nevertheless, I have some concerns.

If what I’m saying here resonates with you, please know there is nothing legalistic about removing something from your life that you find to be a hindrance to holiness or responsibility. Gaming had become an idol for me, so I had to smash it. For you, it might be sports, politics, social media, or something else. As Christians, we must be willing to lay aside anything that keeps us from full-hearted obedience to our Master, Jesus Christ, even especially if that thing is something we really love. For me, that was video games.

Video Games are Designed to Addict

The primary reason I don’t play video games is because they are designed to be addicting, and that design works all too well on me. Modern game developers have worked hard to perfect the challenge-reward cycle of their games. They know how to make games that keep you putting in more hours and coming back for more sessions. This isn’t some nefarious plot to ruin your life. It’s just good business.

The monetization strategy of video games of the past did not rely so heavily on the attention economy. In the early days, the goal was to sell you a game, and hopefully, it would be good enough that you’d tell your friends to buy a copy. These days, however, many games are monetized not only through an initial purchase but through reselling your attention to third-party advertisers or by luring you into more and more microtransactions. Whether it’s through showing you ads, encouraging you to purchase skins, renew a subscription, or snag a premium upgrade, the economy of modern games has a pecuniary interest in sustaining your attention. And they’ve become very, very good at this.

Call of Duty knows exactly when to give you that next reward or upgrade so that your brain will get a little squirt of dopamine. Other games keep you coming back for more by helping to draw you into what brain scientists call a flow state—a feeling of extreme concentration and focus that is immensely satisfying. These features make video games unique to other forms of entertainment.

The reason I had to give up video games was that I found that I was particularly susceptible to these addicting design features and thus was unable to play in moderation. This was especially true with online competitive games and their inducement of flow state. I discovered that even with a deliberate effort I couldn’t stop once I started, so I stopped starting.

Video Games are Simulated Success

A secondary reason I kicked gaming was the realization that they are quite literally a waste of time.

One of the attractive qualities of video games is that in them, just like in real life, you overcome obstacles and gain a sense of accomplishment as you meet and succeed in each challenge. This feeling of accomplishment makes you feel good about yourself. Seeing the stats on your character rise, or beating that particularly difficult boss then standing up and yelling, “Yes!” is a high that we crave. It feels like winning; it feels like success.

The problem, however, is that this sense of success is simulated. It’s fake. You didn’t do anything of any real consequence. The boss was just a computer program, the stats are just a number in a database, and the results of your success are an illusion. I think this is similar to sports-obsession. When “your team” wins, you get a similar high to when you yourself win at something. But in fact, you did nothing, you just happened to have an imaginary solidarity with the winning team. It too is a simulated success.

Here, you might say “who cares? It’s just harmless fun.” Or “Shut up, you idiot.” Both of which are fair responses. And while I am adamantly not anti-fun, I do see two potential issues with over-indulging in simulated success as entertainment. And I think the general weakness of the men of my generation corroborates these suspicions.

Simulated Success is an Illusion

First, since video games only simulate success, they can cause us to waste vast swaths of time without feeling that we were really wasting it. I remember playing one of those games where you run a little business and you try to raise profits, cut costs, and deal with cute little emergencies. And I felt really good that I was doing well. Sure, I’d put in a lot of hours, but they were finally paying off! I was succeeding. Then I had the sinking realization, “You could have spent all that time doing things that generate actual success, you could have been managing a real business, but instead you were just playing games like a child.“

Mankind was created to dominate and subdue the world around him (Genesis 1:26–28). And I think we all feel the craving still to live out that creation mandate. We want to create order and overcome obstacles because that’s what we were made for. So, there’s something particularly sad about taking that divine drive and redirecting it toward make-believe games or other diversions, while neglecting our real responsibilities.

But this redirection toward fantasy is understandable, because in the real world in order to succeed we have to face the thistles and thorns of the curse. We have to take on risk and potential embarrassment. In a game, however, if I lose I haven’t really lost anything. My concern with this arrangement is that I fear using games to stimulate and substitute success can’t possibly be good for us in the long run. No real risk means no real results. I also fear we might be doing damage to our drive and work-ethic by only tossing it the softballs of imaginary challenges with simple answers.

Simulated Success offers Simulated Satisfaction

Second, since video games only simulate success, they offer an opportunity to satisfy our God-given desire to create and build. As I said, I think herein lies the attraction. But they may be keeping us from actually creating and building in real life as we ought to. Those young men of today who in ages past would have built expansive gardens, erected great cities, or designed astounding inventions, are now hunched over their laptops stacking blocks in Minecraft. Women who would have been managing flourishing homes and bringing up their children in the Lord are now carefully nurturing imaginary animals on their iPhones.

I think the danger in video games offering simulated success is that they are a sterilized version of real work and accomplishment, one which offers all of the highs with none of the lows. And if we aren’t careful we may come to feel that what they offer us is even better than the real thing. But that would be a mistake. Because video games are not real. All that we create and succeed at in video games, in the final analysis, will be burnt up like so much wood, hay, and stubble.

So, if you, like me, find that your use of video games has gone beyond innocent entertainment to becoming a spiritual encumbrance, maybe it’s time to put down the controller, pick up a spade, and plant a garden.

“Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us“

Hebrews 12:1
Join the discussion

  • Thank you very much for sharing this ! This is something I continue to struggle with, even now that I am truly redeemed in Christ . I’m grateful to that the Holy Spirit had enabled you to focus on the things above and not on the things of the world, and I hope and pray that I, too, would be able to do so.

  • I’ve played video games off and on for about 40 of my 46 years (Atari 2600 rocked!) I’ve seen the evolution that you discuss and basically agree with you. The simulated success definitely resonates with me as well.

    I now mostly limit my gaming to either story-based games or to sim racing (though I do find Tetris Effect to be quite relaxing). Where I try to draw the line is when it starts to feel like a job.

    To me, the one valid niche for these games is in the evening when I’m tired. If I can’t bring myself to read or to do something truly productive, I don’t mind spending 90 minutes working on the story of some game (though there are some I just won’t play because I don’t want to expose myself to some themes). I think that it’s a step up over binge-watching The Office, for example. In other words, as much as I might want to dig into that Edwards Biography I’ve had sitting around, when it’s 8:00 on Tuesday and I just finished a 90 minute video call with my small group, I just don’t have the mental capacity for it.

    At least, this is how I justify/rationalize it. I like to think it’s a bit healthier than TV, but maybe only a bit. But what can be insidious is how “just 5 minutes” on a phone game can turn into 30 without even realizing it. I think that those are the real killers because they are so accessible.

    Thanks for writing this article.

  • These are exactly the points that I have been worrying about with my boys. Thank you for explaining them so clearly. I will encourage all my believing children to read this.

  • While I don’t play video games, it was easy for me to remove “video games” and insert “dynasty fantasy football league” and still experience extreme conviction.

    Thanks for this good word. I deeply needed it.

  • As a young Christian man who grew up with video games and still enjoys playing them, I found this article quite nice; it articulates the artificiality of the satisfaction I’ve felt but haven’t really been able to put into words well.

  • I do believe this is something that needs a deeper dig and would encourage you to take a stab at book on this, from both the spiritual aspect as well as the physiological aspect. We have many books that deal with the aspects of pornography and the affects on the brain and the heart of a man, but as one who has the same susceptibility to video gaming as you describe it has been a challenge. Swinging between taking all games off my phone to slowly letting some back on. I use to help myself with screen time right now. The hard part is it counts Sudoko’s the same as any other game, so while a game of chess or some other mental game might be challenging I do believe that we miss the social aspect of gaming and thus we encourage our three boys with many table top games and board games. They still game but we use screen time to help limit it and hold to limits and teaching them about desire, for when they get upset that they can’t play more, we know they do need to understand the impact on their hearts. But I am serious and would challenge you to take up the opportunity to dig deeper into gaming and the various aspects of it even as I stated some of the ways we deceive ourselves by stating it’s education (aka. the chess or sudoko or words with friends) but is it really taking away our ability to get together with our friends and play a real game of Scrabble or 7 Wonders.

  • I have played video games since Super Mario Bros. on NES and today I love violent video games because they are plain fun. Yet in actuality I’m one of the most peaceful people around. It all comes down to parenting.

  • Thank you for this article. As I was reading I was finding myself hoping you would touch on different comparisons and was excited when you did.

    I almost completely agree with your assessment and suggestion but feel there are a couple of scenarios/comparisons you did not touch on.

    I grew up as an athlete. I played quite a few sports and performed on a high level in most of them. My dedication to becoming physically fit in order to succeed was often unrivaled by my teammates. As I read your article, instead of viewing your comparisons to video games I was instantly comparing them to when I played sports. I suppose it was because I am aware of all the things you pointed out about video games. But by the end I was questioning whether Christians would as willingly discourage an Olympic athlete as much as they would a video game player. In my personal experience, the time dedication and the false sensations of success are similar in my experience.

    Over the years from when I was an athlete I developed health issues that have now caused me to be permanently disabled. Since I have been disabled I have found it hard to feel the same sense of accomplishment I felt when working or competing in sports. To an extent video games have helped with this.

    Collectively, I have been playing video games off and on for 35 years. There was a time in my mid 20’s that I felt God calling me to put them down for a season. At the time I didn’t know it was a season and offered them to God for forever. I believe he allowed me to return to them and perhaps will do the same with you eventually.

    I greatly appreciated your “legalistic” disclaimer at the beginning of your post for the following reason. As a family we don’t celebrate Christmas because of the origin of Christmas and what it has become. We also don’t listen to secular music. This is not something I expect from other people or push on other people. My close family still celebrates Christmas and I explain to my children that it was a conviction God gave to me for my wife and children. The same is true with secular music. We don’t feel listening to it is a sin. But we feel that thoughts that continuously run through our heads should be thoughts on Him so we promote Christian music.

    Through exposure to video games I have been able to have extensive conversations with my children. I have been able to show them manipulative marketing tools used by the game developers, much the way I show my wife manipulative marketing tools by companies like Kohl’s :). I want my children to be able to navigate life without me. It’s much easier to point out pitfalls when I can see them clearly. It doesn’t stop my 7-year-old from begging for robux (virtual currency) but we have good constructive conversations about it. In regard to my teenage son, I know there are teens out there having premarital sex, drinking/drugging, and discovering other ways to dishonor God. There are also teens out searching for people to serve and ministries to be a part of. When my teens aren’t doing the latter I would prefer them to be playing video games than to be doing the prior.

    Lastly, and I do apologize for the length, I just have to state that my house is a mess! My wife works a full-time job and my disability allows me to be home caring for my children (youngest 4-years-old). I don’t get as much accomplished as I want and I do play more video games than I should. But I also know that even when I wasn’t playing video games I was never getting as much done as I wanted to!

    • David, thank you so much for sharing your thoughts and your story. You’ve given me a lot to think about.

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