Fantasy, Games, and Productivity


In the process of compiling my list of Ellen White superlatives, I came across the following quote.

Novel and storybook reading are the greatest evils in which youth can indulge.
Testimonies for the Church vol. 3, p. 151

When I read this, I thought "Whoah! Calm down, Ellen." I could certainly think of a lot of other evils that kids could indulge in than reading.

But as I thought about it, and read it in its proper context, I began to understand where she was coming from. She continues

Parents, inaction is the greatest curse that ever came upon youth. Your daughters should not be allowed to lie in bed late in the morning, sleeping away the precious hours lent them of God to be used for the best purpose and for which they will have to give an account to Him. The mother does her daughters great injury by bearing the burdens that they should share with her for their own present and future good. The course that many parents pursue in allowing their children to be indolent and to gratify their desire for reading romance is unfitting them for real life. Novel and storybook reading are the greatest evils in which youth can indulge. Novel and love-story readers always fail to make good, practical mothers. They are air-castle builders, living in an unreal, an imaginary world. They become sentimental and have sick fancies. Their artificial life spoils them for anything useful. They are dwarfed in intellect, although they may flatter themselves that they are superior in mind and manners. Exercise in household labor is of the greatest advantage to young girls. Testimonies for the Church vol. 3, p. 151

The modern day equivalent of what she is writing about here is a kid living in his parent's basement playing video games all day. Ellen White says that it is this arrangement which is the greatest evils that a youth can indulge in.

I thought of several other alternative evils that a youth could indulge in: Gang activity, drug dealing, promiscuity etc. But in each of these activities, there is probably some life lesson that is being taught. For gang activity, there is a lot of critical thinking and loyalty to your companions. As awful as drug dealing is, you're at least learning business skills and the value of hustling. With permiscuity, at least one of the people involved has a reason to get out of their house to see the other person involved.

But immersing yourself in fantasy? There is very little value. It sucks away all of your motivation, makes you oblivious to the passage of time, and often makes one forget to eat meals or causes one to eat unhealthy meals. Furthermore, when you're not indulging in the fantasy world (be it a book or a video game), your mind is filled with cravings to indulge in the fantasy again.

Ivor Myers has several messages where he speaks about this effect. He argues that there are many activities that the devil uses to dull our senses and to pull our minds away from Christ. In his sermon on "The Truth About Sorcery" cites Revelation 18:23, which says (speaking of fallen Babylon),

And the light of a candle shall shine no more at all in thee; and the voice of the bridegroom and of the bride shall be heard no more at all in thee: for thy merchants were the great men of the earth; for by thy sorceries were all nations deceived. Revelation 18:23

Ivor explains that the Greek word for sorceries is φαρμακεία (pharmakeia). The Thayer Greek dictionary says that this word has the following meanings

  1. the use or the administering of drugs
  2. poisoning
  3. sorcery, magical arts, often found in connection with idolatry and fostered by it
  4. metaphorically the deceptions and seductions of idolatry

Ivor Myers explains

The Greek word for Sorcery in that same verse, Revelation 18:23, is the Greek word φαρμακεία. The definition of the word "sorcery" is this: anything that medicates the mind so that it will not follow the will of God. That's the definition of that word. If you were to get the Strong's Concordance, it would say there that sorcery is anything that medicates the mind. Anything that medicates the mind. Ivor Myers, The Truth about Sorcery, starting at 16:30

Now, I'll say that Ivor Myers probably takes a little artistic license here, but I think his point is still valid. My Strong's concordance says this:

G5331 pharmakeia (far-mak-i'-ah)
the use of medicine, drugs or spells. From G5332; medication (“pharmacy”), that is, (by extension) magic (literal or figurative): - sorcery, witchcraft.

KJV occurences (3):
1. Galatians 5:20
2. Revelation 9:21
3. Revelation 18:23

Coming back to Revelation 18:23, Ivor Myers highlights that all nations were deceived by the sorceries of Babylon. This text does not seem to describe our modern world if we interpret the word as medicine or magic. Few people in the civilized world today are deceived by medication or by magic. However, if we take this word in the context of a fantasy-world enchantment in which we indulge our mind, such that we no longer are fixed on the will of God, then the text makes a lot of sense. I find myself, after watching Star Trek, or playing a video game like Minecraft, completely numbed to reality. Although I am in a real world, my mind behaves as if it were in that fantasy world, and my mind craves to experience more of it.

When I worked at summer camp, you could always tell which kids got a lot of screen time. I remember a couple kids that I had who all they wanted to do at camp was play Minecraft. And so they would pick up sticks and pretend that they were digging up dirt, and killing imaginary creepers, etc... When we would walk to an activity, they would walk beside me telling me about all of the things that exist in the world of Minecraft and how you avoid them or effectively deal with them. (By the way, anybody who says that it is hard to worship God because you can't see or hear Him in your everyday life has never talked to somebody who watches or reads science fiction or fantasy).

This morning, I read the following text that really convicted me

The law of temperance must control the life of every Christian. God is to be in all our thoughts; his glory is ever to be kept in view. We must break away from every influence that would captivate our thoughts and lead us from God. We are under sacred obligations to God so to govern our bodies and rule our appetites and passions that they will not lead us away from purity and holiness, or take our minds from the work God requires us to do. “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service.” The Review and Herald, December 1, 1896

The primary problem with fairy tails and video games is that it transports our mind so far away from earth that we cannot bring our mind onto the things that we need to do. The spell is so strong, that apart from the power of God, there is nothing in our human power that can bring us back.

I find that when I have games installed, it destroys my ability to have quality devotions, and completely annihilates my ability to focus on work. I stop responding to emails, I don't respond to messages, I'm not present with Mateja, and I do an awful job at journaling. Perhaps games are not a "spell" that has power over your life, but I can definitely say, agreeing with the quote at the top of this article, that the type of fantasies that comprise novel and storybook reading are the greatest evils in which youth (Jonathan included) can indulge.