Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Follow-Up on Video Games

Previously, I put up a post linking to T. Joseph Marier's article on video games. Peter at With a Grain of Salt has written his own comments on the article. Peter doesn't think Marier is quite generous enough with MMORPG* games.

In the original article, a commenter says this:

The problem with Video Games is more their addictive quality than their story line. World of Warcraft has some great themes running throughout yet it is highly addictive. WoW (World of Warcraft) steals much from "The Lord of the Rings" trilogy yet if you see a teenager blankly staring at his computer while trying to "level up" you would hardly say that this video game is innocuous. This look is VERY similar to someone on a gambling binge and it triggers the same part of the brain. Gambling isn't addicted to everyone but I know it does ruin some people lives. That is not say playing to much WoW will cause you to lose your house, but I wonder how many hours some of these people are putting in.
Marier responds as follows:

...I limited my commentary to non-MMPORG games for the reasons you brought up. I've never played 'em myself, being too stingy with my time, and with my money. I think you're right that MMPORGs tend to tap into the gambling portions of the brain, but I also think the problem is lessened with self-contained games because you're not competing for resources against real people (in other words, you're not gambling). When it comes to your larger point about addiction: I can't say that it's not a problem for others (and if anyone reading this is consistently neglecting family/work duties for ANY reason, then seek help). I don't think that videogames are by their nature destructive forces, though. I've done some other writing on that subject, so stay tuned. [more...]
Peter then responds on his blog:

It seems that Christians are determined to tread the "Oh dear it's something new we don't understand so lets shun it because it MIGHT be evil" path. Closely followed by the "See? Some nut case plays that game and so it is necessarily evil!" and concluding with "OK we can't actually prove that this game directly causes Satan worship or violent crime, even though we've tried VERY hard to do so, so at this point we will have to reluctantly refrain from publicly denouncing it. [more...]
I think Peter may be a little over-excited about Marier's comments, which appear to me to be cautious and reasonable. He admits little experience with MMORPGs, agrees that addiction (to anything) is something to avoid, insists video games are not "destructive forces," and implies that gamers should be appropriately abstemious with their favorite pastime. Incidentally, I think if Marier played some MMORPG games, he would find them similar to the Final Fantasy games he praises.

I have no idea whether video games (MMORPG or otherwise) tap into "gambling portions of the brain," but it is certainly possible for people to fritter away too much of their time with video games, comic books, sf novels, or blogging, and to take them too seriously. Anyone engaging in such activities ought to recognize this. Even if MMORPG-playing is a lot like gambling, that doesn't mean the games are forbidden; it merely means players should limit their playing to what is healthy. Here's what the Catholic Catechism says about gambling:

Games of chance (card games, etc.) or wagers are not in themselves contrary to justice. They become morally unacceptable when they deprive someone of what is necessary to provide for his needs and those of others. The passion for gambling risks becomes an enslavement. Unfair wagers and cheating at games constitute grave matter, unless the damage inflicted is so slight that the one who suffers it cannot reasonably consider it significant. [par. 2413, emphasis in original]
In other words, gambling is acceptable if it is moderate enough that it does not harm people or carry serious risk, and if it is not indulged in to the point of becoming an addiction. This can be reasonably extended to any number of other things, including MMORPGs.

*Another of those hated acronyms, but I think I can decipher this one. I already know an RPG is an acronym for the Russian name of a rocket launcher, but does not, as is commonly believed, stand for "rocket-propelled grenade." MMORPG in all likelihood stands for "My Mother Of a [Russian rocket launcher]." In other words, MMORPG represents a really, really big Russian rocket launcher. Games featuring MMORPG are undoubtedly quite violent, so Marier's hesitation regarding them is understandable. [Yes, I know it actually stands for Massive Multiplayer On-line Role-Playing Game, but you have to let me have my little jokes.]
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