Why Lent? Why Fast? Part 3: Video Games

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The year after I graduated college my wife was still taking classes.  I had a cushy “associate children’s pastor” job that didn’t require anywhere near the amount of hours that my full time college athlete’s life had demanded of me over the past five years.  So that year I found myself sitting at home, while my new wife did homework, wondering what to do with all this free time I hadn’t had for years.

The answer became read books, run miles and play video games.  I had never been much of a gamer and still don’t consider myself that way but I had this new Nintendo Wii with a couple Zelda and Mario games.  I also had a lot of leftover 90s games still saved to my laptop hard drive or on CD-Roms, most notably Civilization 2 and the original StarCraft.

Thus began a mild obsession with video games that carries through to today.  As I have written elsewhere I absolutely believe that the best video games have much to offer society in general and the arts in particular.  The Zelda games especially stand above the rest as masterpieces of critical thinking, music, the visual arts and story telling.  Some of the best story telling in the world right now is happening in video games.  But don’t get me wrong, the worst video games are right next to pornography in their ability to destroy lives.

With that said, I approach them with great hesitation.  Stories have been used for millennia to shape the ethics of entire cultures.  Stories have a way of capturing our hearts, minds and imaginations like nothing else can.  And when our hearts are captured, our lives are changed and not always for the better.  Moreover, recent studies have shown that the more interactive the story, the more powerful the effect on our habits and attitudes.  Video games, being the ultra interactive stories they are, can deform and misshape us faster than any other medium can.

Take for example “first person shooters.”  The story of every first person shooter is that you have a gun and there are other guys with guns trying to kill you.  It is up to you to have the biggest, baddest gun to kill them first.  When we interact with this story, we begin to see the world through the light of “bad guys with guns” who are only stopped with ever bigger guns.  It is no wonder millions of young men are now lobbying the government to let them have the biggest, baddest guns!

On the flip side, when we interact with a puzzle solving game (like Zelda) we begin to look at the world as puzzles to be solved.  We begin to realize that no problem is too hard if you have the right tools and the right frame of mind and the world becomes a better place.

I might also add that video games increase our stress levels in sometimes dangerous ways.  A lot of them, if not all of them, require intense concentration that is not easily or non violently broken.  These increased stress levels take a great toll on our physical bodies, causing them to age faster than otherwise and make us more irritable to be around.

All that to say, video games have a great power over the player and it is one that needs to be respected.  To borrow from the Corinthians passage I quoted a couple weeks ago, video games have a way of preoccupying us towards the things of this world.

For this reason for the last 5 or so years I have stopped playing them all together during Lent.  It has always been a very meaningful practice and almost painless.  By the second week of Lent I barely miss them at all.  It helps that Lent is my busiest time of year when I have taxes to file, Holy Week services to plan, end of fiscal year recording, vision casting events, conferences and the like.  In fact, if it wasn’t Lent I would probably be forced to not play them anyway just to stay productive!

But the reason I give them up as a Lenten fast is because I am wary of their power.  I don’t want their power to triumph over God’s power in my own life.  I don’t think I am addicted to them and yet one can never be so sure.  The nature of this world’s preoccupations is that they hide under the cover of “innocent fun” until they have a grip on you.

And that is why Lent in particular and fasting in general is so important.

If you want to read my blog series on video games you can follow the links below.

Forgetting to Blink

Prescribing our Described Worlds

Tense Shoulders and Tired Eyes

For the Joy of It

For The Joy of It: Video Games Pt. 4

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I like Batman.  I do.  He is the only superhero without any super powers which makes him more “super” in my book, despite what the nay-sayers say.  Plus Batman is far more 3 dimensional of a character than any other super hero.  He is a protagonist that struggles to find the limits of his own power and morality.  Christopher Nolan brought much of this to light in his brilliant Dark Knight Trilogy, but the Arkham games, which were released during the same time, perfected the character.

The original game, Arkham Asylum, was meant to be a low budget affair with mild sales.  However, brilliant game play along with incredible boss fights, an excellent original story penned by the comic book scribe Paul Dini, and an open map format with gadgets that resemble the Zelda franchise all launched the game to a 92% rating by Metacritic and a Guiness Record for “Most Critically Acclaimed Superhero Game of Modern Times.” (You can read a bit more on the wikipedia page.)

I bought it for a few dollars at Wal-Mart and fell in love with it almost immediately, well.  .  .after I spent an hour dialing down all the graphics so my lousy laptop would run it.  To my (not) surprise, a sequel called Arkham City had all ready been released so I bought it for a few bucks.

Arkham City is just good fun.  It has the right amount of everything.  The story is thought provoking and passes all the tests I have spoken about in the other posts.  The game play is delightful and opens the player up in those conscious and subconscious ways to the struggles of good and evil.  The puzzles are complex and intricate and take a good amount of time and creative thinking to solve.  And the ending asks all the right questions without leaving the player with any easy answers (you can tell I am big on that.)

However, the game also introduced me to the online video game marketplace called Steam where you can pick up old and new games for a fraction of what they are worth.  However, Steam also tracks your game play statistics including achievements earned, the percentage of the game you have beaten, special things you have unlocked and how many hours you have spent playing the game.

It is that last statistic that annoys me completely.  It has been around since the Super Nintendo days.  Almost every game tells you on their opening screen how many hours a player has logged on a save file.  I don’t know why the developers included it.  I personally think they are being arrogant and bragging to you about how much time you have wasted.  It is akin to the victory lap you sometimes see after Track races.

But the number always unsettles me, especially for Arkham City.  I won’t tell you what it is but let’s just say when it passed 100, I gave the game up for several months.  100 hours is 4 days.  I have spent more than 4 days of my life being Batman.  And the more I think about that number, the harder it is to justify it.

I have never, nor will ever, add up all the hours on all my save files on all the games I have ever played.  Sometimes I think that God might know that number and will probably share it with me in eternity.  You can blame that on my Evangelical Protestant upbringing, that despite emphasizing grace, seemed to care a lot about silly things like hours logged playing video games.  Still I wonder what my response will be if God ever gives me that number.  Will I try to justify it?  Will I be ashamed?  Will I ask for more time to beat that one final mega boss?  I have no idea.

What benefits and what consequences have come about in those hours?  There was probably a great deal of both but still 4 days is a long time and it reminds me that simple enjoyment of great art can turn into a dark obsession.

So I want to end this blog series by addressing some practical concerns when it comes to video games.

1) Time: To repeat what I said in the first post, there should be a line drawn concerning how much time one spends on a game.  My own rule is that a game needs to tell me to stop playing it, which means the game has to end.  There are a lot of open ended games out there and those seem to be the most dangerous when it comes to addictions.  Despite your policies, every person should have a limit and it should a rule formed in conversation with mentors, family members and friends.

2) Money: Not much needs to be said here except that in all things work with a budget.  When I discover a game I want to play I will regularly look at my finances and say, “I will not buy this game for more than this amount of money” and then watch sales until I can find it.  This means there are some games I haven’t played because they never dropped below my set amount.

3) Quality of Games:  Like every other artistic medium there are video games that are just a waste of time and money.  Although all engagement is risk, if you are going to spend 100 hours on something, it probably shouldn’t be trash, even if it is addicting trash.

4) Video Games At Church:  I have known several church groups that fellowshipped while playing Mario Kart or Halo or Wii Sports.  Those times are just as fun as playing cards or board games.  However, like any movie, song or TV show, I think church leaders should be mindful of both their members (are any of them addicted?) and of the games they choose to play.  This brings me to number 5.  .  .

5) Multi-player Games:  If I wanted to extend this series into next week I would talk about multi-player gaming and the way it both benefits and detracts from true community.  Instead I will limit myself to this paragraph by stating that if you are playing games with a group, care should be taken about the subconscious nudges of the game.  Does this game really add to group identity, increase cooperation and love among its members?  Or does it increase hostility and divisions?  These concerns go for the greater culture of online video gaming.  What cultures are cropping up around these games?  Are these cultures true, noble, right?  Or do they increase hostility?  I know I avoid playing with people I don’t know because I have heard the “F” word used in hostile ways too many times.

6)  Christians in the Video Game Industry: As with any other industry, I think the world and the church can only be helped by Christians being employed by video game manufacturers.  With that said, some companies only seem to make games that are grotesquely violent or focus on paranormal activity to a fault.  As a Christian I would pray long and hard about joining such companies.  However, I think a Godly influence from within would be great for even such companies, so long as the Christian employee is well defended with the armor of God and willing to quit if the Lord so leads.

I want to close on a more devotional thought.  I think God calls us to be a people of enjoyment.  I think ultimately Philippians 4:8, which calls us to dwell on things that are true, noble, right, etc., is ultimately about enjoyment.  As Christ followers we are a people who delight in all good gifts whether those gifts come to us in sunrises or on our televisions.  So before we critique a game’s message or a game’s truthfulness or a game’s aesthetic qualities, we should set out to have some fun while dwelling upon the things in the game that open us up to further enjoyment of the world.

In Arkham City, after a confrontation with one of the villains, Batman looks at the villain and says, “You seem stressed.  What is really going?”  That line is incredibly impacting.  Here is one of Batman’s arch nemesis’, a villain who had moments ago tried to kill him (and had succeeded in giving me a “game over” message about twenty times). And yet Batman looks the villain in the face and with compassion engages him as a friend, “You seem stressed.”

That is a true, noble, right, loving moment and it is one of many in that great game.  To not enjoy that gift would be shameful.

Until Jesus returns, thanks for reading these unnecessarily long posts.  I hope they inspired you to love and see you all next week.

Tense Shoulders and Tired Eyes: Video Games Pt. 3

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Last summer I got a little bit bored.  I know, that is hard to believe but it does happen.  I had read somewhere that there was a game called “Bioshock” released a few years ago.  It was hailed as “ground breaking” and won a few game of the year awards.

However, it was also labeled with the letters of doom, “F-P-S” which stand for “First Person Shooter.”  This means all you see on screen is a gun and you advance by using the gun to shoot your way through a map.

I really don’t like those games but Bioshock was hailed as also having a compelling story, an RPG like quality and a moral choice component.  On top of that the Wikipedia page for the game mentioned the game presented a strong critique against Ayn Rand Objectivism.

I waited until the game went on sale and picked it up for a few dollars.  The game consists of a lone character wandering through an underwater city that has been ravaged by war.  As you wander around, you find out that the city was created by a “Free Market Economist” who thought all government regulation was evil, which is the chief concept in Ayn Rand Objectivism.

Apparently what happened before the protagonist arrived was someone invented a steroid that made people incredibly powerful and gave them the ability to do things like throw fire out of their hands and move objects with their minds.  Unfortunately, the steroid also made people go crazy over time.  But who cares about losing your mind when you can throw fire out of your hands?

The city government refused to regulate the steroid because government regulation of drugs is evil according to Objectivism.  So the city completely lost its order and descended into a bunch of zombie like wizards who were killing each other.

Rapture is the name of the underwater city, now a dystopian ruin.

BioShock asked all the right questions about government regulation, the drug industry, Ayn Rand Objectivism, atheism and modern day economics.  While asking these questions, the character was given a choice throughout the game to save the children affected by the drug or kill them and thus harvest their magic powers.  This choice represents a larger issue in our lives, that is whether to give into the pull for power or whether to choose love, even in the midst of war.  The ending of the game depended upon on how many children you saved.

In my last two posts I introduced video games as pieces of art and I talked to the broader concerns about how we critique and judge artwork.  Yesterday I argued that despite our conscious concerns about truthfulness and agreeableness, we have to be ever mindful of the subconscious virtues and vices that are formed within us as we interact with art.

You see, the greatest thing about video games also presents to us their greatest threat.  They are the most interactive form of art.  Paintings engage the eyes.  Music engages the ears.  Movies and stage plays engage both but video games trump them all.  They also engage our touch and allow to us to participate in the story.

This kind of art participation is unparalleled.  Video games, more than anything else, open up a door to our subconscious, allowing all kinds of habits and worldviews to be formed within us.  Therefore, when it comes to video games, we must think long and hard about our subconscious interactions and be careful about what is happening to us as we play through a game.

Put more simply, we must ask the questions about how a game makes us feel and what physical expressions does the game produce.  Do we sweat?  Do we forget to blink?  Do we sit rigidly in our chair with our shoulders crunched against our necks? Does our heart beat quicker for a longer period of time?  Do we laugh?  Do we cry?  Do we get angry and punch the table, or throw the computer? (I have come close a few times.)

More than that, what do we do or want to do upon turning the game off?  Do we want to punch something?  Do we want to hug a tree?  Do we want to yell at our families?  Do we feel victorious and want to solve more problems in the world or do we just want to hide in our dark basement and think negative thoughts?

These indicators might reveal something to us about whether we call a video game good or bad.

This conversation is most relevant when it comes to FPS’s.  Don’t get me wrong, I am trying today to not dismiss the genre as a whole, though at times I want to.  I can’t because BioShock works incredibly well on many levels.

If I were critiquing its “message” I would give it five stars.  I am all about government regulation when it comes to drugs and steroids.  Without it we will descend into chaos.  And if I were critiquing BioShock’s “truthfulness” I would give it 4.  All kinds of studies show that people make their decisions based off of short term benefits over long term consequences.  This means if people were told, “This drug will make you super powerful today but kill you tomorrow,” most would take the drug without thinking and find a way to dismiss the study that proved it killed you tomorrow.  “TIME Magazine says the drug only kills you tomorrow if you eat a banana tomorrow.”  Yeah right.

More than that I love Bioshocks’ setting.  The unsettling music and graphics drive the message home.  The city’s former glory and beauty hide behind every wrecked sign, car, torn up vending machine and exploded wall.  This was a city whose great idea made it beautiful and then destroyed it.  (I think I see parallels between it and America!)

This image really works. It was a gorgeous atrium. Now the stones are torn up and water runs through its center.

However, whatever the back story to BioShock, the game still consists of a lone person wandering around shooting people and zombies.  In my mind, there is a fine line between a game that lets you have a gun while you solve problems and a game that gives you a gun to solve all your problems.  BioShock falls in that latter category.  There are almost no clever puzzles in the game and nothing to engage the character beyond a trigger finger (or button).  The story is entirely back story, discovered through cassette tape recordings and what little story exists in the forefront is shallow.

More than that, as I played through the game, I became antsy, unsettled, a bit angry and hostile.  The graphic violence in the game disgusted me but what disgusted me more was how quickly I was able to get over it.

When I beat the game, I found I was grateful to be done with it.  As much as I vehemently disagree with Ayn Rand Objectivism and, in turn, agree with the central premises of the game, this was not an artwork I needed to spend any more time with.

This does not mean I would necessarily not recommend BioShock or call it a “bad” game.  It does mean that as a Christ-follower, as someone who is trying to be more at peace and harmony with the world, I found this game worked against me, more than it worked for me.

With that said, tomorrow I will discuss the more practical issues concerning video games, like how much time and money we should spend playing them, how multi-player games figure into the mix and where they might fit into a church’s life.  I will also briefly address issues relating to Christians who work in the video game industry.

Until then, relax your shoulders, take a deep breath and maybe take a walk.  That villain will be waiting for you to destroy when you get back.

Prescribing our Described Worlds: Video Games Pt. 2

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The year was 1997 (or was it 1998?).  I was hanging out at my friend Ben’s house.  The Nintendo 64 had been released and his parents bought him one.  I would never think about asking my parents to pay $200 for a video game system, let alone the additional $30-$50 for games.

But I had $100 of my own money and because of the N64, the Super Nintendo’s price was reduced to my range.  I bought one and played the 2 games that came with it.  But Ben had had a Super Nintendo for a decade and 30 games to go with it, 30 games he would soon just give to me because they were worthless now that he had the next best thing.

That particular afternoon in 1998 (or 1997) I snatched one of his games called “Final Fantasy 3.”  I asked him if we could play it and he immediately dismissed it as “too complicated” and “single player.”

I insisted, being offended by the “too complicated” part and so we put it in and watched the credits roll.

It was the 3rd Final Fantasy to be released in the USA but there were 5 Japanese games before it so the numbering was later changed to reflect the Japanese games.

What followed has been a decades long infatuation with quite possibly the greatest video game ever made.  The graphics were gorgeous.  The music was overwhelmingly beautiful.  The plot was intriguing.  The characters were fully formed and moving.  And the game play did not consist of bouncing on enemies or punching or shooting them.  For awhile I played through the game once a year.  Now I go back to it every other year or so and I am always moved by its brilliance.

Yesterday I presupposed that video games are artistic expressions.  I know a few who disagree with me but, mostly because of Final Fantasy 3 (or 6 as it would later be correctly numbered), I hold to the claim.  With that claim I argue that video games should be subjected to the same critique and engagement as the other arts.  That is why I dismissed some of the more ridiculous claims that Christians have made against art.

Today I want to talk about two wider criticisms and apply those to video games.

The first is what I called “prescriptive criticism.”  These are the critics who judge art based off of the world that is supposedly prescribed.  I would include most “Christian” critics in this category.  These critics are always focusing on “what’s the message?”  And if the critic agrees with the message then they deem the artwork “good.”  If the critic disagrees they label it “bad.”

In the case of Christian music, critics don’t pay attention to the melody, the beat, the vocals, or the instruments.  They narrow in on the lyrics and ask, “Does this song mention Jesus enough times?”  “Does this song portray God as able to fix all our problems?”  “Does this song’s God like 6 day creationism?”  “Do these lyrics quote the Bible?”

The problem with such a view is that not all art is prescriptive.  Some art just wants to describe the world as it is and let us figure out where to go from there.  Christians seldom know what to do with that art so they tell the art what its prescriptive message was and then dismiss it as being erroneous.  This is why all the “Christian” art, especially that which is loved by Christian radio and Christian publishers tends to be prescriptive.  They are all sermons in the form of a novel, song, movie or video game.  This has led to some horrible artworks produced and made popular by otherwise well meaning Christians.  In turn many cultural critics have written off the entirety of Christianity as being “close minded.”

So a counter movement has sprung up that I roughly identify with Christian Hipsters.  These are the descriptive critics.  They don’t ask, “Do I agree?” but instead “is this true?”  By this they mean, “Does this movie, song, video game accurately represent reality as it is?”  With that question some justify watching all manner of profanity, arguing, “The world is a profane place and we shouldn’t ignore it.”  I would agree but it is still hard for me to believe that watching pornography is a way to acknowledge pornography exists.  The same goes for graphic violence.

The real problem with descriptive critics is that they seem to deny that good art can be prescriptive.  Some of the best novels and paintings and even video games have prescribed a better world for us and asked us to strive towards it.  Others have shown us a worse world and begged us not to go there.  Here I think of utopias (like Star Trek) and dystopias (like the Walking Dead).

So I think a better way to critique art is to dig past the conscious questions of “do I consciously agree?” or “do I consciously verify that this is true?” to our subconscious participation in the piece.

On a deep level, what is happening to us as we engage the art?  Are we opened up or closed off to our neighbors and their realities?  Are we filled with hope or despair?  Do we become better at problem solving and critical thinking or do we suddenly start thinking a gun is the answer to all of life’s solutions? Are we made angry and is that anger justified and focused on the evils of the world or is it just that type of abstract anger that is angry for no reason?  And in the case of Zuma Blitz, why am I forgetting to blink?

Tomorrow I will talk about games that fail the above test but let’s go back to Final Fantasy 6.  At first glance FF6 fails the prescriptive test because it doesn’t mention Jesus and it seems to suggest that magic and brute strength are the way to solve the world’s problems.  To add to its “evils” it never quotes Scripture *cough* shameful *cough*.

The greatest moment of the game was when the world was decimated into a wasteland by the antagonist. Walking through this village after the disaster was chilling.

It also fails the descriptive test because we do not live in a world where magicians are running around setting things on fire.  There was never (nor will ever be) a great war of the Magi that decimated the planet.  And every time we get into a confrontation we can’t mystically summon magical Espers to appear and help us out.  More than that, there are not three statues somewhere out there that need to be perfectly aligned or else the world will go bonanzas.

However, there is a prevailing belief that the world all ready has gone bonanzas because our harmony has been misaligned.  There are many who believe we are all ready living in a post apocalyptic world.  And as you go through the game, you find that it is not the brute strength or the magic powers that end the ruin and save the day and bring about harmony.  It is the characters (14 of them!) learning how to love.

With a full 14 characters this was the best cast any of the Final Fantasies would have.

The protagonist, a woman named Terra (top left corner), regains her powers when she falls in love with a group of orphans.  Locke, the thief, comes into his own when he finally grieves and moves on from the death of his fiance.  Edgar, the Prince, fights for the love of his people.  Celes repents of being an Empire General and learns to love her adopted grandfather who works himself to death building a raft for her salvation.  Throughout the game all 14 characters learn to love and in so doing find the power to realign the world and defeat evil.

Beyond that surface, dare I say “conscious” message, the music, the visual art, the dialog, even the game play, all come together to fill the player with a subconscious peace, harmony, hope, encouragement and love that help us survive our dystopias.  This subconscious nudge towards all the virtues is out of this world but, at the same time, firmly grounds us in the realities in which we live.

That and the game is just too much fun.

See you all tomorrow where we visit the opposite end of the spectrum.

Forgetting to Blink: Video Games Pt. 1

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Over the last few weeks I have rediscovered a Facebook game called Zuma Blitz.  It involves a frog shooting balls at a chain of balls that endlessly come out of two holes in the map.  If you match three or more balls they disappear.  You are given a minute to clear as many balls and score as many points as possible.  After a minute the game ends, unless of course you get the balls with hourglasses on them which adds 5 seconds to the clock.

As you can tell, the game is completely realistic and carefully follows the laws of physics, if you can get over that whole frog shooting balls out of its mouth part.  But the reason I like Zuma Blitz is you are given five lives every hour.  This means I only end up playing the game for 5-10 minutes at a time before going back to regular life.

During those 5-10 minutes, my mind works things out.  While my finger moves and clicks the mouse, I don’t think about scoring points.  I think about church and sermons and Cross Country and my marriage and my children and the mysteries of grace.

At the same time, I forget to blink.

My eyes get dry and my contacts fall out.  I never forget to blink at any other time except when I am playing a game like Zuma Blitz.  When I work tirelessly on sermons I still blink.  When I watch movies, I blink.  When I read books, I blink.  When I run really hard and am focusing all my attention on moving my legs faster, I still blink.

But when I shoot balls out of a frog’s mouth I forget to blink.

I play Zuma so that I can think about anything but Zuma but I am still concentrating so hard on matching those balls that I forget to blink.  This paradox lies at the heart of a discussion on video games and art.  Whether our cognitive facilities are engaged or unengaged, the cultural mediums we interact with have a subconscious pull on us.  It seems we should be just as mindful of the subconscious pull then the conscious one.

Video games did not arrive on the scene until 1980 and even now they are nowhere near as popular as other mediums like movies, novels, TV shows or even those old fashioned canvas paintings (okay, I know that video games are more popular than canvas paintings.  Leave me alone all ready :P).

With that said almost every pastor I know under the age of 40 plays video games while not every pastor I know spends hours looking at paintings.  And most pastors don’t just click balls out of frogs but play the time consuming RPGs (role playing games) and violent FPSs (first person shooters) and a few of us still love the old school RTS’s (real time strategy).

This blog is the first in a series of posts that will seek to speak truth into the video gaming medium.  The question isn’t whether we are to accept or reject the medium as a whole.  Instead I hope to provide an analysis of the medium from my perspective as a Christian pastor.  Such an analysis will certainly hope to meditate on whatever is true, lovely and right about video games while encouraging disciples to be thoughtful and careful about which games they play and how much time and money they spend playing them.

In order to begin such a conversation, it might be helpful to briefly visit the reasons that Christians have often chosen to reject artistic and cultural expressions.

The first is summed up in the old Sunday School song, “Be careful little eyes what you see.”  Under this thinking just seeing the wrong thing could cause you to contaminate the purity God intends for you.  There is a lot of violence in video games and much of it offends me (we will talk about that in a future post), but to avoid a longer theological discussion let’s just quote Jesus in Mark and move on.  Mark 7:15 reads, “Nothing outside a person can defile them by going into them. Rather, it is what comes out of a person that defiles them.”  It is what you say and do that makes one impure, not what one sees and hears.

The next reason has to do with wasting time.  Why spend a half hour watching TV when you can spend a half hour praying?  Why spend 2 hours watching a movie, when you can spend 2 hours listening to a sermon?  Why spend 100 hours beating that video game when you can spend 100 hours solving the problems of the world?  It is a good question and we should be good stewards of our time.  Yet I have always struggled to articulate just what is a waste of time and what isn’t.  Is running 100 miles in one week a waste of time or a huge accomplishment?  You only need to run about 30 miles a week to stay fit and healthy and 100 miles could work against you.  Why spend a day rafting down a river?  Why spend an evening skiing on a mountain?  Why spend an entire day planning a romantic twilight dinner for your significant other?  I have no idea where to draw the line and that applies to video games as well.  With that said, I still do think there should be a line.

Next we have said:  Don’t waste your money.  And we should be good stewards of our money.  However, if you stick to a budget, video games are fairly cheap for the amount of entertainment you get.  Most $50 games go on sale no less than six months after their release, which means if you are patient you can pick them up for $5-$10.  Most movies cost $5-$10 and give you 2-3 hours of entertainment.   Video games give you far more bang for your buck.  So once again, you have to go through the messy and complicated work of defining what “wasting” looks like.

The last reason people reject artistic mediums is that they are a waste of good emotion.  Why cry at an oil canvas painting when your neighbor’s life is much, much worse?  Why sit through hours of an emotionally exhausting TV drama when your sibling needs those emotions to make their pain less great?  Why waste compassion on fictional characters in bizarre, fabricated circumstances?

Here we have something that causes us to stop and think.  Does our art (whether it is a movie, a TV show, a painting, or a video game) open us up to understanding and compassion or close us off to the world?

That question is at the heart of how we should critique art and so I want to leave it dangling for today.

See you tomorrow.  Until then don’t forget to blink.