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  • Writer's pictureJonathan King

Fake Love, False Premise: A Response to Russell Moore on Shame & Video Games

A friend of mine shared an article with me recently called “Fake Love, Fake War.” It was written by Russell Moore for the Desiring God website, and it talks about addiction to pornography and video games. I know it’s an old article—it was posted in 2012—but it’s new to me. And boy, do I have thoughts.

First, what I agree with: I’m pretty much entirely behind what Moore says on porn. It’s a destructive industry, feeding addictions that afflict millions of men and women, not to mention its relationship to human trafficking. It’s something we need to be talking more about, using connection and vulnerability to replace the continual need for new and arousing images.

There are a couple of things I take issue with, though, and the first one shows up in the very first paragraph. Moore starts his article by introducing us to a guy who’s addicted to games and to porn. “He fears he’s a loser,” says Moore. “And he has no idea just how much of a loser he is.”

Okay, I get what you’re going for. Addiction has all kinds of negative effects on people. But calling addicts “losers” is a great way to alienate the people you’re trying to help. That kind of language is shaming, and when people feel ashamed, they run and hide. Every time. They’ve been doing it since Genesis 3, and they’ll be doing it until shame is no more. Yes, sin and destructive behavior are problems that need to be confronted, but with love and empathy. Never shame.

Second, the whole picture of the porn and video game addict as described in this article feels stereotypical and lacking in nuance, like the 30-year-old guy who lives in his mom’s basement. Yes, some people fit this mold. Some men use video games to seek out more new outlets for aggression. But that’s only one type of person, and only one type of game.

The article asserts that men are created by God to fight for their values and the people they love—physically, if need be. But lots of men aren’t physical warriors (I happen to be one of them); even if they love a good fight scene in a movie, they’d be pretty useless in a fight, and that’s got nothing to do with video games. I’d wager it has more to do with large hearts and empathy for others. And as for standing up for your values, that’s something men and women should both do. In fact, women can often be fiercer than men defending their families and the cause of justice. How many mothers would die for their kids? How many social activists are women? We’re dealing with a false binary here; both men and women can be fighters. It’s got more to do with personality than gender.

Also, video games aren’t just shoot-‘em-up violence fests anymore. Well, some are. But there’s a whole realm of other games out there with different things to offer. What about puzzle games, like Tetris or Portal? What about calm, relaxing games like Animal Crossing or Stardew Valley? Minecraft lets you build your own world, while The Elder Scrolls series and The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild offer vast worlds to explore. Even games with combat can offer something more—Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice uses the combat to enhance a story that explores mental illness, and God of War tells a moving story of a father connecting with his son, mourning loss, and dealing with his past. Each game offers something different that appeals to different people. To me, combat gets repetitive and boring, but story draws me into a game. Others might find a sense of connection or achievement or adventure in games, not just an outlet for aggression or fighting. (I’d also point out that Moore’s look at gamers and their masculine need for aggression totally overlooks the women of the gaming community—I’d recommend Felicia Day’s You’re Never Weird on the Internet (Almost) for a female perspective on gaming addiction.)

I love video games; I rarely get to play them, but the medium has potential to provide so many unique experiences. I guess it bugs me when people can’t see that, when they look at games through the lens of “slacker guys” playing Grand Theft Auto and nothing more. Yes, addiction—to games, porn, work, religion, whatever—is bad and needs to be dealt with. But the people who have these addictions won’t be helped by people with no understanding of who they are, what they love, and what they’re going through. And they certainly won’t be helped by people who see them as “losers.”

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