Video Games Steal Your Boy’s Courage?
by Stanley Pace
Video games are fun. I’ve played my share. I remember the wonder of my first Atari. And my younger brother’s first Nintendo blew that out of the water. A friend and I would ride our bikes for six miles, including a very long climb up a hill, to play space invaders at the local state park. I once had $15 worth of bagged quarters stolen that I’d left on a console at an arcade. That was devastating. At thirty, I purchased an XBox “for the boys in the church.” And even though I pulled two all-nighters playing through Halo with one of our college students, it really only got used on Sundays when the kids would pile into my sitting room. That lasted for about a year, I guess. Then we made them go outside, which opportunity they took to shoot each other with air soft guns. I’m sure that was much better for their spirits, if less comfortable for their bottoms. The only rule we made for those who begged to play was that they couldn’t cry or get mad when they got shot.
So, I enjoyed playing video games when I was young but I could never stick with it for long. After all, I hated wasting a beautiful day when I could be outside. I don’t fit into what is now the 25-35 year old crowd of video game addicts. But I know some. Of course there are various types of video games that can addict. There are the racing games and the building-things games, but I would argue that the vast majority of the most popular games today involve some sort of destruction. Whether it’s Hulk smashing things or military first person shooters or some other sort of destruction, the ones to which boys seem to be most addicted require them to enter into video violence.
It’s no wonder that violence of some sort is marketable to gamer boys. Boys are ordinarily built with the proclivity to demonstrate strength. They like to smash things early on. Pillow fights and punching dad, jumping in a pile of raked leaves and breaking lego fortresses, digging holes and merrily shooting spiders off their webs on a trek through the woods (my personal favorite as a boy) – all these are a form of destruction. I’m not saying these things are immoral (but perhaps I ought to have had a little more compassion on the spiders), but they are definitely things boys like to do.
Boys also like to build things. And this, too, is an exercise of strength, sometimes more mental, sometimes more bodily. There is a time to build up. And there is a time to destroy. And often, demolition is the necessary prelude to remodeling and renovation. Our boys need to be strong in order to do these manly things. And so we let them test and develop their strength while young. We let them glory in their expanded biceps after eating their butter beans. We let them be boys with the hope that one day they will use their strength to do God’s work. And we delight in their delight of youthful strength and energy.
Not to oversimplify, but let’s just consider these two “uses” for a boy’s/man’s strength – building and destroying. What happens to a boy whose days are filled with exercising nothing but the latter. I.e., what happens to a boy who spends all his time destroying things but never building? Some boys seem to focus only on this, like Sid from Toy Story, who destroyed all his toys and burned things. Like Sid, these boys tend to become bullies. They are frightening. All their desires are bent on using their strength for destruction. And when their attention is turned towards another person, they remain in that mindset.
Now, don’t write my conclusion for me. My thesis is not that video games necessarily tend to make a boy more violent. I’m more concerned with the nature of violence itself, and what happens to a boy who uses his strength only for violence.
On one level, violence is a very lazy use of strength. It doesn’t take the whole man to break something, only his muscles. It often requires very little mental exertion. And boys’ biggest challenge is that of mental laziness, sluggardness. The biggest deficit in the use of strength for breaking things is patience, which is itself self-mastery, an exercise of strength over one’s own nature. It takes an exercise of the heart’s strength to be patient. I would argue that patience is a chief attribute of courage. Patience is the opposite of sluggardness. It takes patience to complete a task. It takes patience to consider others better than yourself. These good things require courage because courage is, at bottom, the willingness to face and try to overcome personal pain and discomfort in order to do what is right. Patience in relationships is nothing other than self-sacrifice, which is the essence of courage. Building things requires the “strength” of the whole man.
Video games subvert patience. They are fast moving – on to the next kill, on to the next scene of destruction, on to the next thoughtless but reflexive breaking. This is the opposite of patience. The raging rampaging that a boy enacts in a shoot-em-up video game may be fun for a time, but when the boy becomes consumed and his whole time is spent in this mentality of destruction, he loses self-mastery. He loses the ability to concentrate on the task at hand. He becomes impatient, as is illustrated every time on of his younger siblings distracts him or crosses the screen while he’s in action. He becomes mentally lazy because his heart muscles have atrophied. He becomes a coward because he forgets to overcome the discomforts that face him down whenever he’s required to do something “constructive.”
But doesn’t it take courage to sneak around those corners and expose yourself to virtual danger in order to advance to the next level? Well, certainly it takes courage to expose yourself to danger in order to accomplish a virtuous end. But, though it may take courage to expose yourself to “real” danger, boys learn pretty quick how to use the restart button. There is no real danger, so there is no real courage being tested. And I would suggest that it takes no courage to kill a man, unless you are considering the violence done to your own conscience. It takes courage to risk your life, to die, certainly, but not to kill.
Video games may be sapping your boy’s courage. While he leaps from kill to kill, wielding his strong weapon of choice, he may actually be losing the thing he most needs in order to use his strength to God’s glory – self-mastery, temperance, patience, even perseverance.
While it’s fine and good to let boys bounce around in their young strength, even if it means picking up the pieces of an occasional broken lamp now, our primary concern should be what’s happening in their hearts and where their feats of strength direct them in the end. Above all, we ought to be sure to teach our boys to love using their strength in the most worthy way. We ought to direct them to build things, not just break them.
And times are such that we need a generation of boys who will become men who build things rather than break them. We’ve already got a whole generation of destroyers which, very soon, our boys will have to clean up after. After all, who is the stronger, the iconoclast or the sculptor? Or rather, who is the most valuable. There is a time for all things under the sun. Violence is here. Let us build the City of God.