My teammates and I leap from the jet. As we descend it becomes clear—the train yard is going to be busy, and we aren’t going to be the first ones there. I’m going to need two things: body armor will be a luxury while a gun will be a necessity. Luckily, I find both and rush to my teammate’s aid. I spot an enemy and open fire. A hit! That’s all I need. The adrenaline kicks in and 25 minutes, three kills and 57 opponents later I am the Apex Champion.
This might sound like the opening scene in an action movie, but it is actually a rough summary of the goal of the video game Apex Legends and how I choose to spend a fair amount of my free time.
At this point you might be asking yourself, “Who cares? Millions of young people all over the world play video games all the time.”
You would be right. For the most part, I am just like the countless people playing video games right now—with one exception. I am Mennonite Brethren who is a pacifist. Herein lies my conundrum and the question I wish to reflect on with you: Am I betraying my pacifist convictions by playing violent video games?
Why do I play video games?
I have been playing video games for at least 15 years. Mostly, I’ve played sports-related video games. The first game I remember playing is NBA Live 2000. I would on my dad’s lap, and he moved our player while I would pass and shoot. I’ve also owned nine different iterations of the FIFA soccer video game. Part of the reason I have played so many sports games is because I like them; the other factor is my parents didn’t allow me to own video games with violence in them.
For the most part that didn’t bother me. I don’t remember wanting to own many (if any) games with violence. I was quite content to play my soccer or football video games. The issue did arise, however, when I would play video games at my friends’ houses, and their families didn’t have the same rules as mine.
In fact, I frequently played violent video games throughout middle and high school—just never at my own house. Despite knowing I wasn’t supposed to be playing those games, my reason for playing them wasn’t rebellion against my parents. It was to socialize and have fun with my friends.
Socializing has always been an important part of video games for me and still is. I never played violent video games by myself; I was always with at least one other person. Playing violent video games has never been about the violence for me. Video games have been an avenue for spending time with friends.
For example, I generally play Apex Legends with one of my friends from college who lives in Wichita, Kansas. (I live in Denver). Since I moved to Denver last August, making new friends has been quite difficult, in part due to COVID-19 restrictions, and being able to reconnect with an old friend has been a much-needed social outlet.
Does playing video games make me more aggressive?
In addition to thinking about why I play violent video games, I have also considered whether playing violent video games is making me more violent or aggressive. The results of the moderate amount of research I have done on this question is inconclusive. There seems to be little indication that playing violent video games causes long-term violence or criminal behavior. However, some studies have shown a connection between short-term aggressive behavior and violent video games.
When thinking about what causes violent behavior, violent video games should be considered among many different factors, including access to weapons and social circles. Whether a videogame has violence in it is not so much a question of yes or no as it is the spectrum of violence present. Most of the games I have played would be on the low end of the violence spectrum. I don’t particularly enjoy games with lots of blood or graphic violence; that crosses a line for me. However, I know there are games with excessive blood and gore in them where the primary goal of the game seems to be making the violence as realistic as possible.
Another factor in the connection between violent behavior and video games has to do with access to weapons, specifically guns. My parents never owned guns and I have never been interested in owning one myself. That fact, paired with my strong pacifist convictions, has enabled me to engage violent video games critically and to separate the game from the violence.
One reason many studies find it difficult to connect video game violence to real world violence is because despite the worldwide popularity of violent video games, the rest of the world does not exhibit the same issues in regard to firearm violence. I have never been interested in holding a gun in real life, though it has happened once and I hated it, much less shooting a gun. So, I do not imagine transferring the violent actions of video games into real life.
Am I betraying my pacifist convictions?
With all this in mind, let’s circle back to the original question. Am I betraying my pacifist convictions by playing violent video games? Honestly, I’m not 100 percent sure, but I don’t think I am. Modern video games are a relatively new media, so my thoughts could change as technology progresses and video games become more immersive.
To make a limited analogy, I don’t feel I betray my pacifist convictions when I watch movies or read books where the protagonist commits acts of violence. I find that my non-violent convictions allow me to engage that violence critically, separate myself from immersion in that particular medium and acknowledge that violence is wrong.
However, if I were to realize, or my wife or family were to point out, that I was becoming more aggressive verbally or even physically (which would be quite a change compared to my normal personality), one of the first things I would do is take a hard look at how often I’ve been consuming violence, particularly in video games.
I am not a parent, but I hope to be one someday. As I think happens with all parents, I will want to share with my children the things I enjoy, including video games. So, I’ll close with some thoughts on playing video games with my future children.
- I anticipate playing my kids’ video games with them. I remember my dad used to occasionally sit in the basement and watch me play FIFA soccer. I loved that because I was good and got to show off for someone.
- If I wouldn’t play the game myself, for violence reasons, I won’t let my kids play it.
- Despite their flaws, I will pay attention to game ratings. If a game is rated Teen, I won’t let my 10-year-old play it.
- I will spend time playing potentially problematic games before letting my children play them.
- Lastly, I hope I ask questions when my child wants to play a violent game. Questions like, “Why did that character do that?” or “Can you think of different ways to resolve that situation?” Asking questions promotes critical thinking and problem-solving skills and it will show confidence in my kids’ ability to grasp important topics.
Most importantly, asking questions separates reality from virtual-reality and opens the door to conversations on the value of nonviolent resistance and Christlike responses to difficult situations.
Harrison Wiebe Faber is a student at Denver Seminary. He is a member of Ebenfeld MB Church, in Hillsboro, Kansas. In addition to playing video games, he enjoys playing disc golf, reading and dreaming of owning a cat.