JONATHAN BOES: Hello, welcome to Concurrently: The News Coach Podcast from World Radio and God’s WORLD News. We’re here to come alongside you as you disciple kids and students through culture and current events. I’m Jonathan Boes, and of course, I’m here with Kelsey Reed.
KELSEY REED: Hello.
JONATHAN: Together, we want to model conversations and apply tools you can use at home or in the classroom. And today, we’re doing something a little different.
KELSEY: So this bonus episode we’re calling “Bonus Level,” because we are going to be connecting it back to a very popular topic: our video gaming episode. We had great responses, great questions. We want to go through some of those today, so you can hear what others are saying about this topic. It has been such a delight to read your emails, to think about the way that you think about these topics we’re covering. It expands our thinking, and it encourages us as we go home to engage with our own children, or as we engage with one another.
JONATHAN: So one of the first questions we received is actually a voice message from Andy Traub:
Hey, Kelsey, Jonathan, my name is Andy Traub, I live just south of Nashville in a town called Spring Hill, Tennessee. I think your content is thoughtful in the way it integrates scripture and modern culture, and that you’ve just done a really good job of not looking at culture and just saying “bad, bad, bad” but really being thoughtful and considering, what does God mean for us to do with our current culture? But I do want to also reach out to you because I want to offer a different perspective on video games that I was really surprised didn’t dominate the conversation, because I think this is the part of video games that should dominate the conversation in 2023. Which is that, in 2023, a vast majority of video games are played with other people live. So it has actually become more relational than less relational.
As an example, my son, who plays video games almost every day, never plays them alone. He’s 14. And every time he goes to turn on his gaming system, he’s doing so because he wants to spend time with someone else. Yes, he wants to play a game. But as you mentioned, it’s a vehicle to have relationships with other people. So he’ll either initiate a FaceTime call, or once the game starts, put on a headset. But it’s always talking to someone else, whether it’s an old baseball teammate, or a cousin that lives a thousand miles away.
You know, the thing about the one controller is you only need one controller now, because you have an internet connection. You have millions of people you could play with now that you have an internet connection, and a gaming system or a computer. There are things we battle, in the way that people talk to each other on a game that is not permissible in the way you should talk to people in real life. But we deal with those things. I don’t think games are good or bad. And I think your show tried to make that point. But it’s inaccurate to say that they’re isolating. I just don’t believe they are. I think when used correctly, video games can connect people and become a great way for people to have social interactions, even if they’re not in person. Now listen, my son still goes to the mall, he still goes to school, he still goes to a gym to work out with his friends. But I just don’t think games are nearly as isolating as you mentioned. I think more than anything, they connect people. So keep up the great work, you’ve created a great resource for parents and culture. And I look forward to your show continuing to help parents like me for many years to come.
KELSEY: One of the things so encouraging to me about Andy’s voice memo was this reminder that, the things we make, they’re neutral until we come to it. We make these beautiful works of technology. We make games, we make art, we make music. It’s what we bring to those ideas that’s often the broken part of it, or how we use it. I think of the old adage that “absolute power corrupts absolutely.” A friend of mine challenged me on that, just as Andy challenged us to think—you know, power is not corruption. It’s what we bring to it, and even human temptation. It’s the brokenness that comes from sin, and how we engage. So thanks, Andy, so much for those great thoughts.
JONATHAN: Yes, those are great thoughts. And Kelsey, there’s one thing I would either clarify or push back on in what you said, just to see what you think of this. When we say “neutral”—the idea that, as Andy said, games aren’t necessarily good or bad—I want to point back to something I actually wrote for the News Coach blog, on the idea of the media through which we receive content. I would agree that neutral, meaning neither good or evil—things like a game or a movie or genre of music aren’t inherently good or evil. Some people want to reject entire media, to say “all video games are bad” or “all rock music is bad.” Neutral in that sense, not necessarily good or evil.
But I would argue not neutral in the sense that every medium has different tendencies to form us in certain ways, if we are not attentive to it. So, video games are not necessarily bad or necessarily good. But they might tend more toward an addictive nature than some other habit.
KELSEY: That’s a great point. There’s something about the beauty of that, the all-encompassing stimulating nature of it, that is so compelling. So what a great point to make, that in its nature of being so stimulating, it can become something to which we are addicted. And I think that’s the difference we’re trying to make here.
JONATHAN: And I really don’t want to focus on the addictive nature part because, like Andy, I come to this from a mostly positive perspective. I mean, hey, I love video games. I don’t play them that much anymore in my current life schedule, but I enjoy a good video game, especially when I have the opportunity to play with friends. And what I really want to highlight about the non-neutrality of media is that it’s about the right medium for the right thing.
In the blog, I highlighted this game where you actually play as Jesus in VR, which should set off our blasphemy alarm bells most likely. And my point was that, for that sort of story, this was probably not the right medium. But then I tried to draw some other examples of—wow, this is actually a story that is perfect for the video game medium, where it’s perfect to be able to step into someone’s shoes and have their experience.
What I’m sensing from Andy’s question is that, for him and his 14-year-old son, they have found that this is actually a great medium for connecting with people they would otherwise lose connection with. I can speak to that a little bit in my own life. Not through online video games—in my own experience, that is a bit of a blind spot, because I don’t have a son in that age range or a daughter in that age range. I’m not yet dealing with that online gaming. My own experience of online gaming has mostly been with strangers, which has not been as productive. But I do have a group of friends from college that I stay in touch with, partly through an online Dungeons and Dragons campaign, where we’re on a Discord server talking to each other from several different states. And it’s a great way to actually use a technology that can sometimes distance people, to actually use that technology to connect people.
KELSEY: I love that. Thank you. Because it raises in my mind some excellent questions. How do we determine what is fitting? It might even change depending on the child who’s in front of us—what age they are, whether they are connecting with those they’ve known in the past. My 16-year-old daughter, she uses social media to connect to a friend whose dad is in the military. They write stories online. What a wonderful usage of technology. How fitting. So parents, teachers, let’s ask those questions. What is a fitting use for this medium?
JONATHAN: So thanks again, Andy. Your question really expanded our thinking and challenged us. Those are some great thoughts.
Our next question comes from John Burke. He writes:
I appreciated your podcast on video games and youth. It sounded balanced.
Question: Do you have rough recommended list of video games and gaming platforms that are “safe” for raising young Christian boys (ages 6 through 10)?
We’ve responded directly to John via email. But we also wanted to share some of our thoughts here. We thought it may be helpful for more people than just John. And maybe we can even expand our thoughts not just to boys, but to girls in roughly in that age range, or in the general age ranges addressed on this podcast.
KELSEY: So when it comes to thinking about “safe,” we need to define that idea a little bit as we approach an answer. And John even put “safe” in quotation marks. So we understand that the whole qualification of “safe gaming” is something that’s going to vary from parent to parent.
JONATHAN: Again, knowing the child in front of you. Is my child more sensitive to violence than other children? Does my child have a more addictive personality, that maybe gaming time or certain gaming formats should be curtailed? It’s hard to define “safe” as a broad category for all kids.
KELSEY: As always, we really encourage the interpretation based on what you see in front of you. You are equipped to do this work the best.
JONATHAN: So we have some thoughts where we’ve landed for ourselves, but we really hope that our process can help you make your own determinations.
KELSEY: So Jonathan, first off: Your experience in gaming far extends beyond my own experience, at least in terms of current gaming systems. I’m going to launch it to you for a minute.
JONATHAN: I have a seven-year-old daughter. We do some gaming together. And the system I found the best for that age range, at least for her and [me], has been the Nintendo Switch. Just because that system has the broadest amount of—I’ll add the caveat—well made games accessible to pretty much any age. Nintendo Switch really puts a focus on the concept of play, whereas I think a lot of the other game systems like PlayStation or Xbox—they put a lot more focus on the adult gamer demographic, or the late-teen gamer demographic. Nintendo seems to put a lot more effort into the actual child or younger teenager demographic.
KELSEY: That’s so helpful for me. I know that we were reluctant—I mean, technology grew by leaps and bounds in my lifetime. So I’ve mentioned before, we used old generation Nintendo. So in terms of gaming systems we have in our house, it was just the Nintendo Wii that was accessible. It didn’t have internet capability. I felt like I could shepherd my children through the use of that. And the games, they were more child-oriented. So we’ve used games that cross over into the Switch, like the Mario games, like the LEGO games. Each of those have been great games we’ve used in our system, that I know convert over into the Switch. The thing to be wary of, parent, is that the Switch does have internet capability.
JONATHAN: And really, any game system you purchase nowadays will have some sort of internet capability. That’s just the lay of the land with technology. I mean, your fridge connects to the internet nowadays.
KELSEY: Internet safety, for any connected device, needs to come into the equation as you seek to shepherd your children in this area. On top of that, not only does the Switch connect to the internet. There’s also a hidden browser. It’s vital that you understand some of the capabilities of the system that’s in front of you, so that you can navigate it well. One of the things the Switch does offer, which I really appreciate, is an app for parental controls. You actually have to go and download it, is my understanding. You have to be intentional to get those tools in place, and then get the settings put into place.
JONATHAN: I think most gaming systems nowadays will come with some sort of parental control you can implement. But the biggest thing is that, any time you’re on the internet, there is no way to moderate everything. So it’s just, again, whatever that looks like for you, being intentional with the way your kids access the internet. That can be hard with so much at your fingertips nowadays. It ultimately comes down to your discernment as a parent. But in my experience, like we’ve said, Nintendo Switch is a great way to access a lot of family friendly games.
And again, PC, just your regular computer, is another great way to access a lot of family friendly games, because of the simple fact that through PC you can access any game. So it’s really what you make of it. It’s such a broad swath of different things that you could go any direction. It’s not tailored to kids, but there are plenty of games for kids on PC as well.
KELSEY: Now, John’s question caused me to do some good self-examination. I’ve already confessed that technology, because of how quickly it changed in my lifetime, there are things I would have loved to have clung to—old practices, those wonderful games I mentioned in our first episode. But the other thing that happens is that I realized I’m on a learning curve that’s different than my children. And there are so many precocious, tech-intuitive children out there who can find things like a hidden browser. Parents, an internet connected device is not a good substitute for shepherding, or for a babysitter. If we can urge anything, remember: Engage with intentionality.
JONATHAN: To get into the other part of the question about specific games, some of the things where I’ve landed as a parent:
The Mario titles from Nintendo are always a hit. Usually a safe bet for kids. They might have occasional references to ghosts and magic—some Christian parents are more sensitive to that than others. But they’re just well made games. Almost always, if you see “Mario” in the title, you know it’s a well made game that will be fun for kids.
Another super popular game nowadays: Minecraft. That’s one my daughter and I have messed around with a bit. I know a lot of people use it to connect with friends online—again, an ability to use an internet connection to actually foster friendships, whether that’s with teammates or cousins. That’s one you can also play on Nintendo Switch.
LEGO makes great games for this age range. They came out with LEGO Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga last year, which my daughter and I played a bit. That game is a blast, especially if you’re an old school Star Wars nerd like me. I think I enjoyed it a little more than she did.
And maybe for the higher end of this age range, the Zelda games, like Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. Incredible scope for imagination, such an incredibly crafted game with a world to explore, a story to tell. Mild fantasy violence, fighting monsters, things like that—depending on where you fall on those things as a parent, you will want to be aware.
But there are so many games to explore. If I could draw one conclusion from this, it’s to approach the world not with a sense of fear, but with a sense of opportunity. As parents, we want to be vetting the things we let our children partake in. But I think something we’ve tried to say a few times on this podcast is that God created a good world, and He made people to create. I think we can come even to video games and say, “Look at all these incredible things people have created, there is so much good opportunity here.” Yes, we need to be intentional. Yes, there are things we want to avoid or say, “No, you’re not ready for that yet.” Or maybe “You should never be ready for that; maybe that’s glorifying violence.” But our default mode, I think, can be one of seeking whatever is good and true and beautiful.
KELSEY: Engaging with curiosity. Engaging with a sense of play. The Lord gave us a world that we have the privilege to run all over. And some of that, in this era, is technology. And the games that you mentioned, just some of the merits I see in them: They’re story oriented. The LEGO ones have a hilarious sense of humor. Whenever I’ve seen them, I see the humor coming through. They have to do with craft, with building, with making brains think in another way. They’re so encouraging of a curiosity and a joy, that playfulness, the recognition that we have been given these abilities to affect the world and to engage it, to shape it. What a delight, and look at how it encourages the delight in your children.
JONATHAN: We hope this has been helpful. Thank you so much again for your questions and responses to our video game episode. We are always listening. You can message us at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can even send us a voice message like Andy did. We love that. And we hope to do more episodes like this in the future, where we can respond to your questions in our podcast. Parents, teachers, mentors of children—
KELSEY: Remember, He has equipped you for the work.
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