KELSEY REED: Hello, and 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 cultural trends and current events. I’m Kelsey Reed. I’m here with Jonathan Boes.
JONATHAN BOES: Hello!
KELSEY: Together we want to model conversation and apply tools you can use at home or in the classroom. We would love for you to send in your particular questions to address in future episodes. But for today, we’re laying a foundation and sourcing our material from news stories we are reading and writing through our work at God’s WORLD News.
JONATHAN: Today, we want to talk about something that’s always in and out of the headlines. There’s always some new study or some new report. It’s the subject of video games. There are so many questions about video games, and I feel like especially this last year—the loneliness epidemic, a lack of motivation, a lack of friendship—a lot of people point to those things happening in the lives of young men and teenage boys especially, and they draw video games into it. They point to the presence of video games in the lives of these young men and want to make video games the culprit. That seems to be the trend of a lot of different headlines articles we’re seeing. So how can we sort through this issue wisely, instead of simply passively accepting what the headlines are telling us?
KELSEY: I really appreciate that we are looking at a different shade than in our last episode of what I would say is a similar epidemic. We talked a bit about how influencing and social media influence affects our children’s lives. And often we’re seeing that social media influence is mostly pernicious to girls. It’s most destructive in the lives of girls in terms of that influence on them. By contrast, what we’re seeing in the lives of young men is this video gaming: what it looks like for them to spend hours and hours—instead of scrolling on social media—they’re spending hours upon hours in front of the video game. Being a woman, I can really discern the desire for relational connection that comes with social media. But for me, gaming doesn’t have that same attraction. So I want to know, what do you think about that? How does that come close to you, Jonathan?
JONATHAN: When I was a kid, so much of video gaming was on the couch with your friends. Everybody has a controller. You’re playing on the same screen, trying not to peek at what the other person is doing so you’re not cheating. And it was actually a great means of connection for me. Growing up, I was kind of a shy kid. Sometimes I had trouble connecting with other kids. And you know, C.S. Lewis in The Four Loves—you’re going to notice I talk about C.S. Lewis too much on this podcast—
KELSEY: Oh, it’s never too much. It’s never too much.
JONATHAN: I’m three for three. But he writes about the idea that, often, the way men form friendships is not facing each other, not necessarily talking to each other about each other, but focused on a similar goal. Doing a task together. And that definitely proved true in my life, partly through video games. I can point to several friendships where breaking the ice was playing video games together on a couch. But I think it’s a lot different nowadays. So many video games have moved online. I still play video games now and then, and it’s rare to find a video game that has local multiplayer, where you can sit with your friends on the couch. Almost every game is online-focused, where you’re playing with strangers who are disembodied voices.
KELSEY: Even when you get a gaming system, I notice that it comes with one controller. It’s a very different thing than when I was growing up with, ahem, the first generation of Nintendo. But anyway, yes. It’s very interesting. It’s something that I’m observing in your story— games provided a chance for connection, provided a shared project. I love that idea. In the past, we’ve talked about what it means to be shoulder-to-shoulder for something, looking at it together. And so that reminds me, when you’re talking about a shared project, the posture of being next to one another. There was something in that that was very good for you. And yet something has changed. So what else might we say that we’re noticing? Is there anything else that we’re finding is a part of the brokenness? Or what have we also noticed that is still good about this gaming culture?
JONATHAN: Before we even get into video games themselves and what we can affirm or what we can challenge, I think we can back up to talk about the goodness of rest and play—but also how those things can become not good in a certain context. I wonder if you have thoughts on that, specifically as it relates to video games. But even more in general, I think rest and play have a real purpose—but how do they play out in video games? And how can they also turn into something that’s maybe not so good?
KELSEY: That’s such a great question for us to wrestle with. When you ask it, I immediately think about the rhythms that the Lord gave us in the first days of creation. Rest and work were always a part of the design, the very good design we were given. And, obviously, He also gave us this ability to create manifold things. He told us to go out and to shape the world. Well, where we’re at in our current age, part of shaping the world means creating video games. So we’re creating something as we image the Lord. But even it needs to follow that pattern of rest and work. It needs to fit into our pattern of rest and work.
So a great question to reiterate is: Where does our usage of the screen or our usage of social media—or particular to today, our usage of video gaming—where does that fit into the healthy human pattern of rest, maybe even play and work? The pattern needs to include even joyful abandon sometimes, but it never just stays there. We don’t glut out anything. It’s not good for us to spend 15 hours doing anything,
JONATHAN: You used the word “rhythm.” That’s a great word to bring into this, the idea of the rhythm of work and rest. Like you said, we see that in creation. You have the six days of God making things and then the seventh day of rest. There was a time in my later teenage years when the game Skyrim came out. You would turn it on, and it felt like 15 minutes. Then you’d look at the clock and three hours had gone by. And you’re just like, “Where did that time go?”
KELSEY: That was Final Fantasy X for me. Of course, one of my students introduced that into my life. But Final Fantasy was one of those time suck games. “Where did it go?”
JONATHAN: And I think there is something unique about video games, that they can suck time like that. I don’t think that necessarily makes it wrong, but I think it does call for us being aware of that, and of the rhythm of rest and work—both as individuals but also as parents who are setting rhythms for our kids.
KELSEY: So we’re talking about the rhythm, and how it’s not good for us to spend 15 hours in front of anything. We also talked about the phenomenon of it being different for girls and boys. As a mom of girls, I’ve noticed the phenomenon is different for them. I’ve mentioned before that social media seems to be more of the draw. They like video games, but it doesn’t suck them into that time spend in the same way social media does. But I know that what’s going on at the brain level is that it’s a dopamine hit for them, in the same way that for boys the video game gives them the dopamine hit. There’s a fabulous article and podcast that’s been released recently from The Gospel Coalition by Sarah Zylstra. I think that’s how you pronounce her last name, and her article is “Gaming Alone: Helping the Generation of Young Men Captivated and Isolated by Video Games.”
She does a great job of discussing that it’s a dopamine hit. It is something that rewires our brain, when we have that chemical experience, that immediate response to something we’re doing, and we’re seeing it be productive or at least react to us. So in video gaming, we’re having exposure to something that doesn’t necessarily cultivate those rhythms. It gives us this charge, this feel-good experience, and maybe breaks those wholesome rhythms we’ve been talking about.
JONATHAN: That’s another thing to be aware of. I think that’s different in games today, as opposed to even a generation ago. Not that there wasn’t the “dopamine hit” aspect of them. But it’s the way that is mined by current videogame companies. There’s the rise of the microtransaction, which drives players crazy, but it also sucks them in. It’s a huge industry. A lot of these really popular games nowadays, like Fortnite, you don’t pay anything for them up front. They’re free to play, which looks awesome. It’s like, “Oh, cool. I don’t need to pay anything to play this game.” But it’s full of these little purchases you can make to upgrade your character, to gain skills. And those add up. And the way they make money is by keeping you playing, keeping that dopamine hit coming.
In a weird way, we’ve come full circle. In the past, you would have video games just in the arcade, designed to make you keep putting in quarters. And then we had this nice reprieve for a few generations of at-home console games, where you couldn’t even connect to the internet, you couldn’t pay anything but the upfront cost. And now we’ve come all the way back to video games designed to keep you paying, not just with money, but with attention.
KELSEY: Exactly. I was going to say that I’m cheap. If we play anything online, we won’t make the in-game purchases. But the way you work around that is you watch an ad, and then you watch another ad for it to unlock the things that you would otherwise have to pay money for. So still, you are paying with your attention. Everything that it does, it seeks to have you linger long on the screen. The more attention you give it, the more time you give it, the more successful the game or the manufacturers of the game are.
So there’s a motive behind the gaming we need to be aware of, even at the same time as saying there’s not necessarily anything inherently wrong or broken about the game itself. But who might be behind the game? Let’s think about their motives, and how to help our children discern those motives as we seek to help them with the disciplines of turning the game off. So as somebody who as a young man played games, what were some of the most helpful disciplines you connected to? How did your parents speak to you about gaming? Or what was your experience that caused you to realize you needed a limit?
JONATHAN: Probably the experience that led me to realize I needed to limit was when I played Spider-Man 2 all day and went to bed at night and could still hear the sound effects in my head audibly. But yeah, I had parents who set a limit for me, and the experience of playing certain games where it would feel like no time had passed at all. You would look up and hours had passed. And you would sense, “Man, where did that time go?”
But I didn’t stop playing those games, because I still really loved some of those games. To this day, games like Skyrim—that’s an incredibly designed game—and every now and then I still enjoy playing that game. But I’m aware of how easy it is for time to get sucked into this. So you need to have limits for yourself, or some kind of limits for your kids if they can’t set them for themselves, to help establish healthier rhythms. Because it’s really easy not to be aware of how much time is passing.
KELSEY: We talked last episode about what it means to glut out on sugar. Some kids recognize that was horrible for them. There are indicators we can even help them be aware of, you know, “Did you notice how that gave you a headache?” Or in this video game story, we can help highlight, “Did you notice how it kept you up all night, because you just were hearing the sounds in your head?” That’s what it was for me. I dreamed about the music on some of the fabulous computer games we got to play. They were designed for one of the old computers, the Amiga—Myst and Riven and a bunch of the longer puzzle games. That’s what drew me in, those puzzles, and the music was fabulous. The graphics were fabulous. But for me, I didn’t recognize I was paying for it until I got off and I had my headache or I had cramps from sitting in one place too long.
As parents, we have these children, particularly teens, who are starting to trust their own discernment more and more. They’re leaning on their own understanding. And sometimes we have to help them observe those consequences they’re feeling, gently asking them a question in order to help point that out.
JONATHAN: I can imagine somebody listening to this and thinking, “Wow, this video game stuff just sounds really addictive and bad. Why even mess with it?” So what do you see as something good about video games? Is there a goodness in that desire to play video games? Is there something we can affirm in this?
KELSEY: I do think there is. I mean, even as we talked, I thought of some of the beauty I’ve experienced in the design, and some of the ways it really helped my intellectual development to play these puzzle games where you’re looking and you’re hunting. I played them with my dad, so I had somebody who was a little bit older than me. It was our moment to share in fellowship and even mentoring. There were things that were so great about that, and that I think we can seek to emulate again. The fellowship aspects.
But one of the things also mentioned by this article is just the goodness of play. We’ve talked about rhythms, maybe emphasizing those rhythms of rest and work. But I want to go back to the fact that play is something we were designed for, and that we were designed for joy. There is the opportunity to experience that—again, within healthy limits—offered to us in these great designs. So how can we engage it to reap the best benefit of play and of joy and of beautiful design and of creativity?
Parents, you need to ask those of yourself and of the child who’s in front of you. Because it’s not going to be the same for every child, just like it’s not the same as we have illustrated between girls and boys. We’re wired differently. We seek different things to create those dopamine hits. Our children are also so diverse from one another. Even between my girls, I have one child who would probably be more addictive in nature towards those things on the screen. And then I have another child who could not care less about what’s on the screen or the video game. She can join her sisters in play and then easily unplug and go to work her craft, work her art, work her music. You know the children in front of you. This is one of those reasons why we keep emphasizing that we’re coming alongside instead of telling you, “This is what wisdom looks like.” Because only you have that relationship where you see how your child is gifted, how they are wrestling with the curses that come from the fall, what is the particular limitation or struggle they have in their own flesh.
JONATHAN: And another thing: We can engage with video games, many video games, the same way we engage with films or books. Because especially nowadays—not as much the online games like Fortnite and Call of Duty—a lot of video games, especially things coming out of indie developers, smaller games, are really telling interesting stories and actually using the form of video game to do things you couldn’t really do the same way in another format.
And the same way you would walk a kid through the process of engaging intentionally with what they’re reading, it’s actually something that could be engaged with beneficially. Patrick Miller wrote an article for Christ and Pop Culture, called “The Case for Taking Video Games Seriously.” And he talks about that too. He actually brought it back to one of the Final Fantasy games. There is storytelling power in this medium.
I know for me, an experience I loved was this game called The Stanley Parable, which asks questions about free will. There’s a narrator in the game who describes everything you’re doing. You come to a place where there are two doors in front of you, and the narrator says, “Stanley took the door on the left.” But you can choose to take the left or the right. And your experience changes depending on what you do. It’s just a fun experience, again, back to the idea of play. But you can also take a game like that and the places it goes and actually engage with what it’s saying. It’s not just a throwaway experience of play. I think there’s a whole world of stories there that parents sometimes overlook.
KELSEY: Yes. When you’re talking about those decisions and watching those unfold in a game, of course I immediately think of chess. But the other connection point to me is just story in general, as you said, with film, with books. We live in a world and are created in an embodied sense to respond to story. We live within the story. And so every other story in some way or another reflects on that story. It shows us something of brokenness or of man’s need, or something of beauty and of the beauty of redemption, of the hope of Somebody coming to save and to make all things right. So justice. All of the important themes are worked out in story.
Another thing we can affirm in video games is that they are a chance to live within story and to experience the things that are important—the themes that are important—in this world. Even just listening to good story wires us for discernment of our world. Story is not a throwaway thing. It is vital to the way it shapes our thinking, and even our engagement of the world around us. The capital S Story in which we live. I love that point.
So to start pivoting towards that self-awareness we try to do, where we’re thinking about the way we’ve talked, the tools we’ve employed to further our conversation, I’m going to let you make a stab at it. First, what are some of the tools we’ve already been operating with today?
JONATHAN: We’ve definitely been looking at what we can affirm and what we can challenge. And we’ve also operated a little bit in emotional intelligence, talking about the way especially boys connect with each other.
KELSEY: Yes. We’ve talked about some developmental understanding, the diversity between development for boys and development for girls. So we’re asking questions that help to highlight what we’re observing in terms of the differences between the children in front of us, even the differences between the sexes. We’re using that very, very important tool of asking questions, and making observations. That is something we use from a tool we like to call SOAR, where we get a sense of, “What is this overarching thing we’re thinking about? And what observations can we make about it?” Before we start to jump into that analysis or decide whether or not we like video games, we’re trying to slow down and observe the fine threads we can pull apart and name carefully, so that we can then also determine what is worthy, and what might need to be critiqued.
Other things we’ve been using today: We really want to ensure you hear the biblical narrative every single time we talk about what we’re affirming or what we’re challenging. So we’re looking at it through a redemptive lens, or the lens of the redemptive narrative. Things were created as good. The Lord set good patterns for us. And so we want to see: How do these fit into those original good intentions of the Lord, and the good ways we reflect Him? Again, before we jump into what we might critique or see as a part of the fallen nature of the world around us.
JONATHAN: Also just those theological foundations. Having a theology of rest, having a theology of work, having a theology of play. Those things come to bear on a topic like this.
KELSEY: I want to give some of that biblical provision for thinking. We love to point towards those things, those themes in scripture we have been operating with, at least in the background of our thought, and bring it a little bit more to the forefront.
We see that the Lord gave a mandate to those that He created, to create like He created, underneath Him and with all of the materials that He had made. So we look in Genesis 1, starting in verse 26, when He says: “‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.’ So God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.”
And He blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion. Behold, I’ve given you every good thing.” And He saw everything that He had made—this is dropping down to verse 31—“And God saw everything that He had made, and behold, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day . . . And on the seventh day God finished His work that He had done, and He rested on the seventh day from all His work that He had done. So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all His work that He had done in creation.”
You can hear that some of this was paraphrasing, highlighting some of the words we have used and touched on. If you want to do a deeper study with your kids, go to Genesis 1-2 and see those rhythms, and recognize maybe in them the goodness of what it means to engage in the work of creation alongside the Lord and under His authority. But also, just as He sat down, just as He rested, to seek those rhythms of rest and to put them in their proper places. We’re learning how to do this alongside you. We are excited to be able to be co-learners and co-laborers with you. And we welcome you to ask your questions. Send them to firstname.lastname@example.org.
JONATHAN: That’s email@example.com. We would love to hear your questions, or even if there’s a current event or a culture-related issue you’ve been working through with your kids, we would love to hear about that. Even if you don’t have a specific question about it, we would love to hear about it so we can talk about it too and walk alongside you as you work through it.
KELSEY: Parents, teachers, mentors of students: You are uniquely positioned to have the greatest impact on the kids and students in your lives. In Christ, and by the power of His Spirit, we have abundant provision. He has equipped you for the work.
WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.