Nine Reasons to Stop Gaming

It's 9:36 on a Thursday evening, and I've just destroyed my save file for the Kittens game, and uninstalled Pokemon Go.

If there's one addiction that Jonathan has yet to overcome, it's an addiction for video games, especially idle games. Here's how it goes:

  1. Jonathan is interested in how things work. Either through a recommendation from a family/friend, or by stumbling into it online, Jonathan finds a game that doesn't have a well-defined "finish line," but instead always entices you to play another 5% more to the next achievement (like an endless feed on Facebook).
  2. Jonathan rationalizes 5 minutes.
  3. Jonathan rationalizes 15 minutes.
  4. Jonathan comes back to it the next day, and rationalizes another 15 minutes.
  5. Jonathan pours hours into this over the next few weeks.
  6. Jonathan gets convicted that he needs to quit.
  7. A few months later, Jonathan gets curious again about the game, and rationalizes 5 minutes.
  8. Jonathan rationalizes 15 minutes.

and so on.

Sometimes, it takes a wake-up call to help us realize that certain behaviors are not only bad habits, they're straight-up addictions. These last two weeks, I've been away from my usual computer at work, and haven't checked email as frequently as I usually have. At home, I have been running this kittens game on my laptop, and have been playing Pokemon Go whilst commuting. As a result, I've fallen behind on quite a few emails, and missed one particularly important one. That was my first wake-up call.

My second wake-up call was just feeling out-of-it all the time. I think the problem with idle games and games on one's phone is that they provide a bunch of tasks that are very easy, seem like they'll take a small amount of time, yet always pull you into "just five more minutes." They're not like board games where it's a 90-minute commitment (no more, no less). As a result, I feel like it's difficult to concentrate most of the time, whether it's in my morning devotions, or at work, or at home. As a result, little creative thought is produced, and the things that I should be prioritizing fall by the wayside.

My third wake-up call was at Wednesday-night prayer meeting. Our Bible worker read 1 Peter 5:7, which says "casting all your care upon him; for he careth for you." The word used here is μεριμνα, which comes from this idea of being "pulled away" from something, or distracted, or to meditate upon. On Wednesday morning, I had read a devotion on being filled by the Holy Spirit, and half-heartedly asked God to send the Holy Spirit. I asked half-heartedly, because I knew that I couldn't truly be filled with the Holy Spirit, and be addicted to these games at the same time, and I didn't have the desire to quit the games, even though I was sick of playing them all the time.

So when I saw "casting all your [distractions] upon him," I immediately recognized this to an answer to my feeble prayer that morning. God was saying that the thing that I could not do, in throwing away my games, He was asking me to throw [cast] at Him.

While I was in the prayer meeting, I opened up my concordance and looked at other places where that word for distraction was used. It's used in three of the gospels in the parable of the sower:

  1. Matthew 13:22
  2. Mark 4:19
  3. Luke 8:14
  4. John doesn't have any parables, but if it did, then it'd probably be here too.

I felt convicted. God was saying that the reason that I wasn't being fertile ground for the Holy Spirit was 100% because I had cares [distractions, something pulling me away, i.e. Pokemon Go/kittens] of this world.

The next place my eyes fell on convicted me again:

Luke 21:34 "And take heed to yourselves, lest at any time your hearts be overcharged with surfeiting, and drunkenness, and cares of this life, and so that day come upon you unawares."

Here, Luke compares the distractions to being drunk. I've made it a point to be a witness to my colleagues at work on the point of alcohol, but I've not made the same effort when it comes to spending my free time on uplifting and productive efforts. To me, this came as a rebuke for hypocrisy. The ultimate effect of those who are taken up by the cares of this life is that they miss the second coming. Even before I read this, I had been impressed by the thought "would you really be willing to exchange heaven and eternal life for this silly little javascript game?" I'm ashamed to admit it, but at the time, I really felt like I was. How deceitful is the heart! (Jeremiah 17:9)

Finally, I looked at 1 Peter 5:8, which follows the first verse that I saw in the first place:

1 Peter 5:7-8 "Casting all your care upon him; for he careth for you. Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour:"

Here was a call to be sober, to be vigilant (the opposite of distracted), because if we aren't, our adversary is going to devour us. In these games that I was addicted to, I could see traces of the devil's handiwork.

  1. The kittens game, although seemingly adorable in the early-game, grows progressivly less innocent:
    • sacrificing of unicorns
    • sun worship
    • reincarnation through multiple play-throughs, other references to apocrypha and new age thinking
    • references to pagan demons
  2. Pokemon, while similarly innocent-seeming, also has traces of things that in my heart, I know Christians shouldn't be messing around with:
    • Pokemon comes from the phrase "pocket monsters." It's about collecting "monsters"
    • The game is all about battling, and asserting one's dominance over someone else.
    • In the past few months, Pokemon Go has been holding more events during Saturday, which is an ongoing temptation to draw me away from religious activities.
    • Players (myself included) often are tempted to play while driving, or go on long "exercise" walk/runs, but usually end up not getting that much exercise.
    • Promotes the notion of "evolution"

Being vigilant is identifying the devil's handiwork and running the opposite direction. But what I had been doing, was allowing the devil to sneak up on me, to the point where I might be completely devoured.

I think one of the best ways to resist this addiction is to enumerate some reasons why it's so bad, and to actively and publicly take a stance against this addiction. I've thought about doing that in the past, but for some reason I never did it. But here we go now. This is a list to start, and I'm sure that it will grow with time as I continue to, by God's grace, distance myself from it:

  1. There are very few people who became great at what they did because they invested significant amounts of time playing games like this. The exceptions to this rule are mostly ficticious hackers in Hollywood movies who wrote computer programs to play games for them.
  2. None of my friends or people that I'm otherwise close to developed admirable life traits from playing games.
  3. While the case can be made that people learn valuable lessons, skills, or knowledge from games, books do the same thing much more efficiently.
  4. People who create games earn money from doing it. As a general rule, those who play games, pay to play. Even if you never spend a dime, if you invest 40 hours at minimum wage, you're out roughly $400 for a "free" game.
  5. A microcentury is about 52.5 minutes long. If I live to be 100, I only have one million microcenturies. Ever microcentury I spend on a game, is one microcentury I steal from my wife, my job, or my community.
  6. Games destroy my attention span. This is something I desperately need in my spiritual, professional, and marriage life.
  7. Games screw up my sleep schedule. I could link to a study on sleep, but that's done too often.
  8. Playing games sets a poor example to those I wish to positively influence. Why pull others down when you can pull them up instead?
  9. When I play games, I feel like I need to keep them a secret from my wife and my coworkers. Every time they walk by, I try to hide it, in the same way a porn addict tries to hide the browser tab or the phone. If this isn't a red flag, I don't know what is.

Admitting all of this is painful, but not nearly as painful as squandering the one precious and wonderful life that I've been given. Life is not game. There's no respawning, no extra lives. I surrender the control[ler] to God.