I have been a fan of videogames from the time Mario first stomped on a goomba. I remember fondly the first videogame that was mine, truly mine – Bomberman (1990) for the TurboGrafx-16, unwrapped on a Southern California Christmas day. Decades later, my deep-seated appreciation of the art form remains. A well-made videogame can be an experience of pure pleasure, like a continuous dopamine explosion inside your brain with very few negative side-effects. And although videogames are truly meaningless in the grand scheme of things, they offer the closest analogue of God’s creative power compared to just about anything else on Earth.
More so than any other medium, a videogame allows people to “go inside” a unique world created by an intelligent mind, to interact with that environment and often with other people, to express one’s self individually inside that artificial reality, and to live and die according to the rules and boundaries established by the creator. The creator himself can choose to bend or suspend the rules of his created world at will, and he establishes the parameters by which good performance and accomplishment of goals is measured.
I personally enjoy obscure Japanese videogames. The more obscure and “hardcore” the better. That is why I own ‘Dynasty Warriors 8: Empires’ for Xbox One… not because it is that good but because it is pretty much your only option for a semi-obscure Japanese videogame on Xbox One (I am kicking myself for not getting a PS4… there have been more awesome games released for FREE on that system than are currently available for Xbox One. Alas…) Japan is the country that has been most influential in the history of gaming, from Donkey Kong to Pac Man to Mega Man to Street Fighter to Pokémon to the Legend of Zelda and beyond.
But all is not well in paradise. Christians must face the fact that videogames are rife with occultism. Many professing Christians would likely avoid videogames that had explicit sexual or pornographic content. And, in real life, many Christians would choose not to engage in obvious forms of occult activity: engaging in seances, fortune telling and divination, transcendental meditation, praying to false gods, idol worship, human sacrifices on pagan altars, Satan worship… or any other such magical or occult rituals clearly forbidden in the Bible. But when it comes to videogames… many Christians hardly bat an eye when confronted with occult content.
Some Christians reading this will argue for “Christian freedom” and “matters of conscience,” and I quite agree with them. But I have to recognize 2 Corinthians 7:1: “Therefore, since we have these promises, dear friends, let us purify ourselves from everything that contaminates body and spirit, perfecting holiness out of reverence for God” (NIV). What can contaminate the human spirit more than the occult?
Like the country of Japan, which I deeply love, the world of gaming is neck-deep in spiritual darkness. The CIA World Factbook gives the following statistics on religion in Japan: Shintoism 83.9%, Buddhism 71.4%, Christianity 2%, other 7.8% note: total adherents exceeds 100% because many people belong to both Shintoism and Buddhism (2005). As shrines and superstition permeate Japanese culture, occultism or “magic” fills the shelves of videogame retailers.
This can seem at times benign: the paranormal ghost, psychic, fairy, and dark type Pokemon, the sprites and Harvest goddess in Harvest Moon, the mystical tri-force in Zelda, the fiery netherworld of Minecraft, even the frigging Magikoopa character in Mario games. Other times the occultism can be striking: demonic background art in Mortal Kombat stages, summoning undead minions as a necromancer in Diablo II, learning words of power to create magical shouts as the prophesied Dragonborn in Skyrim (which is admittedly a masterpiece of videogame design).
Drew Koehler at ‘Geeks Under Grace’ writes: “There certainly are things that we, as Christians, just should not partake in. Some of the more obvious ones are hyper-sexual situations or clearly occult, demonic things. There are also things that some of us have deep convictions about, and we could easily slip into sin by allowing only a little bit of it in at a time. We must guard our hearts and minds at all times so we don’t fall into these traps.”
Ultimately, every Christian gamer will have to prayerfully determine where they draw the line in their own entertainment choices, and should never be a stumbling block to others. And yes, there are some awesome games out there that avoid occultism… but not nearly enough of the obscure Japanese variety.