Masculinity at the Video Game Store

philOn a recent trip to the UPS store, I sat in our vehicle while our three boys whined about starvation in the back seat and my wife faxed a document inside. As we waited, I watched the front door of the adjacent outlet, a video game store. I was eying the customers as they came and went, making mental notes about the whole scene.

From the backseat my five-year-old chimed in, apparently doing the same thing. “Daddy, why is that man wearing pajamas?”

It was, after all, noon. We’re weren’t in the ghetto near a liquor store or at the Dollar General, so you don’t normally expect to see that at midday. There he was, though, a 20-something male, scruffy faced with a ball cap covering his eyes, adorned with checkered pajamas and fuzzy flip-flops. He rolled out of his late 90’s two-door Honda, which was apparently so fast it needed a racing spoiler on the rear.

“He’s probably a physically grown male who hasn’t learned about masculine responsibility yet,” I told him, thinking back to the few years in college I spent entranced by Madden and Halo for Xbox. Yeah, it made me feel kind of old and like Phil Robertson from Duck Dynasty, but that’s not a bad thing.

And there were more like him. Smug looking teens glued to cell phone screens, their thumbs a blur, while their Lexus-driving mothers escorted them in, paid, and left. The kids never looked up.

There was one guy, about 50, with coke bottle glasses, a 5 o’clock shadow from last week, and a button up shirt that died years ago. Another 30-something entered with a hoodie and a backwards cap, drawers drooping, and let the door slam in the face of the female who trailed behind him.

One final anecdote before I get to the point. When I sold my Xbox years ago after realizing that adult responsibility and many wasted hours in fantasy land didn’t jive, it was to a lady on Craigslist who was buying it for her son. He was five. She told me that his older brother, age 8, had his own TV and Xbox in his room, and now the younger brother was getting his own. I felt like slamming it on the ground instead of selling it, but didn’t.

Having once been enmeshed in that culture, I can say that it is a great example of why we have a culture without men. Boys are fascinated with playing life but not actually living it—wanting the privileges of manhood without the responsibilities and adult cares that rightly come along with it.

Having just read No Easy Day, the story of the Navy SEALs who took out Bin Laden, it’s a shame to me that gaming stores are lined with titles like Call of Duty: Black Ops II. You see what has happened here—people want the thrill of something without ever really having to sacrifice or be responsible for anything. They want some oddly distorted and fantasized kernel of the experience without the personal sacrifice, self-discipline, or pain involved in the real thing.

To me, it’s a slap in the face for the SEALs who gave decades of their lives to protect others and live for a cause bigger than themselves. They weren’t playing games. But here we are as a culture, turning their stories into games played by pajama-wearing 30-year-olds who live in their mom’s basement and have never even remotely come close to genuine masculinity. You think the guys who can’t make it out of mom’s basement could make it through BUD/S training as a SEAL?

It’s really not any different than pornography, cohabitation or promiscuity. It’s about a bunch of spineless, feeble boys who don’t want to be fully responsible for a woman, a family, and the attachments of a life down that path. There are legions of boys who know how to play at life but don’t know a thing about being men.

Mark Driscoll was right: masculinity is essentially about taking responsibility. So when my sons ask me if they can have video games, I’m going to explain why not. Because it doesn’t teach you to embrace responsibility, but your own neglect. I respect the fact that parents will make different choices about that. But those three boys in my backseat are my responsibility, and I want them to know how to be men. Responsible, hard working, family-raising, sacrificial men.

In the end, I want my boys to learn how to hunt, play football, wrestle, fish, treat a woman, hold a job, and more—not by playing a fantasized game about them, but by doing them in the context of life. Why play a hunting game when you can hunt? Why play Madden when you get a backyard game going, or go to a Friday night high school game? And when we as fathers do those things with our boys, we can place them in the greater context of a life of sacrificial servanthood and responsibility, which is where they belong. Learning how to do life with men standing by.

Even from three feet, they are watching.


11 thoughts on “Masculinity at the Video Game Store

  1. While you are correct that we are not raising men in this culture video games are not issue. I am a school teacher and spend the last two hours of my evening playing video games once my children are in bed and wife has retired for the evening. If your point is that we as Americans waste too much time, that is valid. But this insistence of those in the ministry that video games are why men aren’t men is rediculous. Teach your children about moderation and responsibility and let them do as they please I their free time.

    • Thanks for stopping by the blog and taking the time to comment. I appreciate you sharing your perspective. Just to be clear, I don’t think the video game culture is necessarily the cause of the lack of masculinity in our culture, but as I said in the post, I think it is an example of it. Again, that doesn’t address every single person individually, nor is it meant to. Thanks!

  2. Thank you for this. I have now seen the light. I shall no longer bake cookies (don’t want to slap Martha Stewart in the face).

    Henceforth when the devilish impulses urge me to relax or perhaps sit down and watch a television program I shall say nay and go outside and chop down a tree or sharpen my knives.

    I’ve also seen the light and must cut this comment short because sometimes people look down at their phones and that is evil too.

  3. This article is very saddening because it only furthers this stereotypical mindset in the Christian community.

    Can video games be a waste of time? Certainly. Hunting, sports, television (you clearly watch Duck Dynasty), knitting, tinkering with cars, reading, and blogging can also be gigantic wastes of time. How you handle your hobbies determines whether or not they take over your life or are just a relaxing way to end the day.

    The blatant judgemental attitude throughout this article does nothing but take away respect from the author as well. You insult a guy because he has a spoiler on his car? Someone with a certain hobby automatically means they live in their mom’s basement and don’t contribute to society? Even worse, playing a video game means you aren’t a real man? This sort of blindness ruins the outreach of many in the Church.

    I work a full time job to provide for my family. I contribute at home to take care of the house. My wife and I regularly shoot our guns for sport as well as self defense training. I am involved in my local church and enjoy volunteering there. At night, when my wife goes to bed, I fire up a video game and play with my buddies. Many of them live out of state and this is a great way for us to connect, talk about life, and enjoy playing a game together. Am I a real man? Have I failed to grow up? Does all of this take place in my mom’s basement?

    I encourage the author to take a HARD look at his prejudiced views concerning hobbies that he chooses not to engage in.

    • Thanks for taking the time to comment. There is something more popular than video games, and that is throwing around the “judgmental card” in Christian circles, which I would prefer we didn’t do. If you disagree, do so and say why. But it is not necessarily “judgmental” to make judgments, or to make general statements about general things with truth claims attached. Again, if you think my judgment is wrong, then tell me why. But it is kind of a “christian” cheap shot nowadays to label someone as having a “blatant judgmental attitude” and having “prejudiced views” without ever really defending your own position. That’s just your way of saying you don’t like my view, but it’s not an argument against it. What’s sad is that we can’t have a discussion without throwing around those kind of incendiary remarks.

      It would, for instance, be a poor judgment if I said that every person who has ever played a video game is a lazy good-for-nothing. But I didn’t say that. I said that this is very common in that community. That’s a claim about what is true. Calling me judgmental or prejudiced doesn’t do anything to refute that claim.

      Finally, as I stated in my post, I came from the video gaming community. Prejudice means that I came to my opinions without first understanding that community, which simply isn’t true. A vast majority of what I said, the conclusions that I drew, the observations that I made, are a result of having been within that community. It’s not as if I’m looking down my nose at the gaming crowd without a clue as to what the normative behavioral patterns within the community are. I was once that dad, too, who played video games for hours after everybody went to bed.

      Is that habit of life sinful? Not necessarily. But in my estimation it is extremely unwise and often leads to sin. I make that judgment not with prejudice, but after personal experience and observation, reflection on the Scriptures, and counsel from others.

      I respect your opinions otherwise, and I’m not going to call you “judgmental” simply because we share different views. Let’s allow others to have opinions contrary to our own without feeling the need to blacklist them with words like “judgmental.”

      Thank you, again, for posting.


  4. Eric,
    I appreciate your perspective on this and as a fairly new dad (20 month old son) I share your concerns about raising a God-honoring son. That said, the broad generalizations in your post weaken the overall point you make.

    I’m a husband, father, pastor, Army Chaplain, and one of my hobbies is gaming. The stereotype you used to describe gamers is just that, a stereotype. Is there some truth in stereotypes? Yes, but it also means there are many who don’t fit the stereotype.

    Why would a guy like me play video games? Is it because I’m compensating for something? Is it because I want to have those thrilling experiences without any risk? Nope. I’ve spent over a decade in the Army and certainly don’t play video games for some cheap thrill that can’t be replicated in real life because I’m a coward.

    No, there are three main reasons I (and probably most of the friends I play online with) play:

    1. The social aspect. Gaming is a way for my friends and I to stay in touch and have some fun together even while being separated by many hundreds of miles. We can link up on a Friday night and enjoy some friendly competition all while keeping in touch.

    2. The story aspect. There are many games I play because the story is incredibly engaging. Within many of these stories are themes of sacrifice, loyalty, and redemption. In some cases, video games are a more effective story telling media than even movies because of the actual engagement with the story. Video games are not just mindless pixels and mind numbing button mashing.

    3. The hobby aspect. Along with a couple of other activities, video games are one of my hobbies. I don’t play a lot because I have many other responsibilities but sometimes when I have a day off or a free hour in the evening I enjoy a bit gaming.

    Now, can video games be abused and lead to laziness and an unwillingness to engage with the real world? Yup. But that is a danger with any hobby/recreational activity. In ministry it is a regular frustration to see people spend far more time and energy on hobbies than they ever would on discipleship and evangelism. In many cases, Christians display far more passion for hunting, sports, or gaming than for the Gospel. That, in my opinion, is where the real problem lies.

    So don’t just target the gamers and the gamer stereotypes. There are many who play games who in no way fit the box you’ve tried to put us in. There are also many who would hunt and play sports who display the same types of behavior that you disdain in gamers. The real problem is not games. It is a heart issue and an issue of priorities. So don’t be so quick to jump on the popular video game bashing bandwagon. Instead take aim at the real root of the problem: hearts with misplaced priorities

    • Caleb, thanks for taking the time to post your comments here. I sincerely appreciate the perspective on the subject, as well as the way you handled your response. As I said in my post, “I respect the fact that parents will make different choices about [video games],” and I certainly respect your position. I don’t think gaming is, at least at face value, a sin issue. I think it’s a wisdom issue that each person has got to work through.

      Of course my conviction is that video games are more detrimental than helpful—particularly when kids are involved—but I read your blog posts and appreciate the points you made. I honestly don’t care about a bandwagon of video game bashers, if there is one, but most of what I wrote about the subject comes from personal involvement in the gaming community. That’s not to say everyone was or is like that.

      Finally, thank you for your service to our country. I appreciate that very much.


      • Thanks for the thoughtful response Eric. I appreciate you taking the time to engage with the comments on this post. Wherever one falls on the issue of video games it is helpful to listen to both sides of the argument and hearing from someone like you can be a helpful reminder to us gaming types to keep our priorities in order. Plus, I always appreciate a thoughtful discussion on the internet since so many comment sections quickly devolve into name calling and fanboyism.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s