If you did a time-tracking survey of the nearly 30 years of my life, you’d see three activities dominate—sleep, school, and video games.
From a young age, I loved video games. I loved losing myself in the stories, the challenges, and the worlds. I loved spending time with my friends while playing and, quite frankly, I loved that I was good at it. I loved the excitement of a new challenge, the focus of working on it, and the satisfaction of completion. All of this was good.
One of my earliest memories is of explaining to an older kid (he was probably 6 or 7) that I didn’t read the conversations in Pokémon because I hadn’t yet learned to read. Over the next 15 or so years, I’d own nearly every major console and handheld between the Nintendo 64 and the Xbox 360, spending enormous amounts of time on each device.
I have no way to know for sure until I stand before God and give an account, but the amount of time I’ve spent gaming is probably more than 10,000 hours.
From preschool through high school, I never saw my gaming as a problem. School came easily enough that my grades were unaffected, and I was sociable enough to pass as someone who didn’t spend countless hours gaming alone. For me, gaming provided an easy way to escape from my fears, insecurities, and boredom while also giving me a series of goals to focus my attention.
It wasn’t until college that I began noticing a connection between my gaming and my heart.
Enemy of My Soul
My roommate and I were invited to a Bible study with a couple of seniors, Justin and Alex, who had befriended us (and showed us what it truly meant to be good at Mario Kart). During one of those meetings, Justin observed that sinful actions and desires often have definable triggers in our hearts, and he encouraged us to trace our sinful actions to the point of conception and look for patterns in their occurrence.
As I took inventory of my own heart, I found that any period of extended gaming was accompanied by increased sin in my heart and life. When I played for a long time, temptation was more difficult to resist, the fruits of the Spirit were quenched while their sinful counterparts proliferated, and my affection for God and others felt almost nonexistent. I began to realize my love for gaming was an enemy of my soul.
I found that any period of extended gaming was accompanied by increased sin in my heart and life.
My realization did little to affect my behavior, apart from creating resentment in my heart. I still loved video games and wanted to continue enjoying them. I spent the next four years attempting to moderate my gaming, always arguing that video games were an amoral hobby I could still enjoy if I simply controlled my behavior.
This led to cycles of binging and quitting. I’d restrain myself for a week, but then my schedule would lighten or my self-control would weaken, and I’d binge—which could mean anything from 3 hours to 25 hours of gaming over a few days. Later, I’d resent myself. I even started deleting my game progress after binges to remind myself how meaningless my gaming efforts were. That would work pretty well for a specific game, but there’d always be another game to pull me back into the cycle.
My battle came to a head in 2017 after I graduated from college. I wanted to attend Southeastern Seminary in the fall of 2018, but I knew my gaming habits couldn’t continue if I wanted to love God with all my heart and pursue pastoral ministry. I also knew my time in college could have been far more fruitful if this habit never existed, and I regretted the hours spent on it.
After a final failure to control my gaming habits, I concluded that moderation was impossible for me because video games held too much of my heart. I reached out to a friend in frustration to ask if he wanted my Xbox. I didn’t even care to sell it. I wanted it gone and wasn’t sure if my will would last if a sale took too long.
Jesus says that if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away (Matt. 5:30). I felt that nothing less than this would work. I dropped it off with him the next day and haven’t owned a console or a PC powerful enough for gaming since.
It hasn’t all been smooth sailing since then. In 2019, I almost caved and bought myself a new Xbox, but the Lord was gracious and gave my car a need for new tires instead. Mobile games have had some pull over me as well, but they don’t hold the same attraction as the high-quality games on major platforms. The Lord has blessed me with a wonderful wife, a beautiful daughter, and corresponding responsibilities that make sustained gaming impossible.
When I look back, the time I spent on video games is one of the greatest regrets of my life. While I had some great laughs and enjoyed every moment, for me, the cost was too high. I had every opportunity to learn incredible skills and build great relationships that could have given much glory to God then and now. Instead, I chose to spend my time in video games that accomplished little and served no one meaningfully. Gaming only fed my self-centered desire to be perpetually entertained and sapped me of motivation to invest in anything that mattered and required effort.
The time I spent on video games is one of the greatest regrets of my life. . . . [they] accomplished little and served no one meaningfully.
In fact, I suspect gaming is part of the reason I often struggled to form meaningful and lasting friendships in the past. I didn’t handle gaming like Justin and Alex, who were intentional about getting to know my roommate and me, inviting us to Bible studies and church, and sharing the gospel with suitemates after a few races. Without the hard work of intentional connection, my ability to be a good friend atrophied. When it came to walking with others through pain, I knew absolutely nothing. When I finally encountered deep suffering in the context of close relationships as a young seminary student, I was either entirely useless or harmfully avoidant in responding to it. Thankfully, the Lord orchestrated those events to line up with my time in the required biblical counseling course, which equipped me with many of the relational basics needed to be a faithful friend.
The Lord has also redeemed me in other ways. Before, whenever I was obsessing over a game in my heart, I was constantly irritated by any interruptions or other commitments that came up. Now, without video games constantly pulling at my heart and mind, I’m able to serve God and others with more patience and joy. I have time for more difficult but also more fulfilling and sanctifying hobbies, such as reading, spending time with my daughter, skimboarding, or finding a show my wife and I can bond over.
Dying to Idols
Because of my background and circumstances, quitting completely was the only answer. But that’s not true for everyone. Video games are a matter for practical wisdom, not explicit commands.
Parents, I encourage you to cultivate the right priorities in your children as you navigate video games. That may look like setting clear boundaries (and clear reasons for those boundaries). It could look like modeling how a love for God, neighbor, and gaming can coexist as you play games with them (making sure that God and neighbor are the higher priorities). You can also find articles, podcasts, and blogs with wisdom about navigating video games in whatever your life stage.
For anyone with a love of gaming similar to my own, I encourage you to simply press the delete button on your game or save file. Remove the temptation, and make it impossible to access without accountability. When our loves cause us to neglect what we should love, the wisdom God has given us is to deny ourselves (Luke 9:23-25). Putting something that I loved too much in its proper place has been the most difficult kind of dying I’ve ever experienced. As my pastor said in a recent sermon, “Idols die hard.”
When our loves cause us to neglect what we should love, the wisdom God has given us is to deny ourselves.
In the end, the issue isn’t gaming or not gaming, but the gamer’s heart. It’s not ultimately about modifying our behavior, but about attending to our souls and guarding them from idols. I encourage you to heed the words of 1 John 5:21: “Little children, keep yourselves from idols.”
To this day, I still love gaming, but I can’t regard it as a benign hobby. For me, gaming is a weight that entangles and must be laid aside (Heb. 12:1). It isn’t easy, but take it from me—it’s worth it.