I learned this week that 92 percent of two-year-olds play video games. Not surprisingly, 99 percent of boys and 94 percent of girls under the age of 18 play them. When typical Americans reach 21 years of age, they have spent 10,000 hours “gaming.” By comparison, a person with perfect attendance in middle school and high school would have attended class for 10,084 hours. What does the gaming phenomenon mean for our culture and our future?
Last Tuesday evening I heard Jane McGonigal at SMU’s Tate Lecture series. Dr. McGonigal has been named by The New York Times as one of 10 scientists with the best vision for the future; Fast Company calls her one of the 100 most creative people in business. She earned a Ph.D. from the University of California at Berkeley and is author of the best-seller, Reality Is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World.
Her biography describes her as “a game designer and futurist who is harnessing the power of Internet games in new ways to address global challenges.” Most people my age view video games as a distraction at best; her research shows them to be remarkably beneficial to society. She states, for instance, that ADHD symptoms disappear when the patient is gaming. Gamers with autism increase their social intelligence significantly.
In clinical trials, 30 minutes of online gaming is better than pharmaceuticals in treating anxiety and depression, especially with women. Online gaming is more effective than morphine in helping burn victims manage pain, and has been shown to reduce the effects of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder by replacing violent memories with gaming experiences.
However, I am concerned about the worldview that gaming may be promoting across an entire generation. While I have absolutely no expertise with video games, those I have seen tend to reward self-sufficiency and initiatory aggression. By reflecting our larger self-dependent culture, they are teaching gamers that the way to solve problems is to try harder to do better. All the while, the omnipotent, omniscient King of the universe is waiting for them to bring their problems to him.
Whether you’re a gamer or not, you’re tempted this morning by our culture’s self-reliant spirit. Scripture promises that “the eyes of the Lord range throughout the earth to strengthen those whose hearts are fully his” (2 Chronicles 16:9). Now his eyes have found you. Where do you need his strength today?