I recently repurchased, at a very low rate, a couple of old PC games that I used to play years ago. The games were first person shooters. I used to have hours of fun playing these games, killing my opponents, and going for the headshot. I wanted to see if I would enjoy the games as much as I used to. I rarely play games anymore, as they bore me since with most games it's just the same thing over and over again. I usually prefer reading or some other more constructive activity. The few games that I do play are the nonviolent variety.
I discovered that I didn't like playing those old games anymore, specifically because they were so violent. It reminded me of a question I asked myself long ago about such games.
"Would Jesus go for the headshot?"
It was then that I began to re-evaluate my entertainment choices, asking the question, "Do my entertainment choices please Jesus?"
I'm not interested in a debate over R rated films or TV-MA programs or violent video games. What I'm interested in is what my entertainment choices build into my life. Once you've seen something you can't simply "unsee" it.
Studies have shown that there is no causal connection between entertainment choices and violent or criminal behavior. According to the Entertainment Software Association, "Numerous authorities have examined the scientific record and found that it does not establish any causal link between media content and real-life violence."(1) According to another study, "The research showed that there is no evidence that violent video games are positively correlated to real-world crime rates."(2)
Does watching sin facilitate sin? My best answer would be "sometimes." In 1993 and 1994 I did a research project through crime statistics in Albuquerque, New Mexico. I wanted to find out if sex crimes were more or less prevalent in neighborhoods that have sexually-oriented businesses. What I learned by doing the study twice over a two-year period was that sex crimes were remarkably higher where sexually-oriented businesses operated. One tell tale sign was that the sex crime rate in a specific neighborhood before a sexually oriented business moved in, and afterward. In less than a year sex crimes in that police district rose by more than 350 percent after a strip club opened in the neighborhood. In fact, sex crime rates for all neighborhoods with sexually-oriented businesses were always higher than the surrounding districts.
So, there is some validity to the idea that watching sin facilitates sin, but this doesn't necessarily mean it is happening with violent video games. But the more I think about it the more I realized that it doesn't really matter because the biblical injunctions against certain behaviors are not based upon how it influences us. Biblical injunctions against sin are always based on God's character and the command for Christians to become like Jesus.
So, I ask the question again, "Would Jesus go for the headshot?" Might it surprise you to know that Jesus addressed this issue? In fact, the Bible deals with this in several areas.
Foundationally, we can sin in our minds without ever committing a bodily sin, or act it out. The Bible recognizes this in Exodus 20:17 when it says, "You shall not covet." This speaks to sins of the heart or mind, regardless if they are ever acted out. This is regarded as a sin to no less degree than committing adultery, or murder, or lying, or any other sin. Sin is sin. Elsewhere, God told the Israelites, "You shall not hate your brother in your heart" (Leviticus 19:17).
Jesus expounded on this principle when he famously said, "Everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart" (Matthew 5:28). Jesus regards the lustful intent as serious as the act itself—even if the act is never committed.
A few verses earlier Jesus commented on improper anger. "Everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire" (Matthew 5:22). Here again, the thought and the speech is as much a violation as the act itself. Why? Because all sins are born in the heart. Let's take this to the next step.
If we are forbidden from doing something in the real world and condemned for sinful imaginations, then why is the same act in VR any different? Regardless of the effect or lack thereof, as Christians, the rightness or wrongness of an act isn't based on an act's influence or effects, but on the command to imitate God's character in becoming like Jesus. "Be holy, for I am holy" (Leviticus 11:45). Here is another verse that speaks to this issue: "Whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked" (I John 2:6).
Struggling with your PC entertainment choices? Ask yourself this question, "Was Jesus violently murdered so that you could be free to play games in which you are the violent murderer?"
If we are reproved for committing sin in our imaginations or in real life, then why is it acceptable to commit sin in VR, the area between imagination and real life?
Those games I repurchased? Deleted. And I hope to continue deleting from my life those things which don’t give God any pleasure, because, Jesus wouldn't go for the headshot. He shoots straight for the heart.
(1) Essential Facts About Games And Violence, Entertainment Software Association, 2014.
(2) Violent Video Games and Real-World Violence: Rhetoric Versus Data, "Psychology Of Popular Media Culture," September 2014.
This article was originally posted on June 8, 2015.