According to one newspaper I read recently, businesses in the capital were due to take a hit of multiples of millions of pounds on the morning of 17 September 2013. Why? All because of the release of a new video game: Grand Theft Auto V.
Aside from the financial cost of ‘GTA Flu‘ (as an expected 19% of working men take a day’s sick leave to play the game), there is something else about GTA5 which bothers me. As you search through news reports, blog posts and the assorted media hype over the game, people seem to be asking every question about GTA5 apart from one…
Should we be playing it?
At this point, if it were almost any other computer game, I would clarify that my question is really aimed at Christians. But GTA5 is a particular type of game which sets it apart from the overwhelming majority of video games and, because of that, I would ask that question of anyone who picks up a copy, Christian or not. Is GTA5 a game we should be playing at all?
Here are five issues I have with people buying and playing GTA5. The first three are for people in general and the last two are for Christians in particular.
The game is essentially about crime
Whether it is carrying out a robbery to earn some money (which enables you to do more things in the game) or working for a major crime syndicate, the focus of GTA5 is on crime (kinda obvious in the name, really). Most games focus on some variation of the good v bad idea. Even hard-hitting games like those in the Call of Duty franchise are essentially all about the good guys trying to stop bad guys. Some games blur the boundaries a bit more than other, such as Just Cause 2, where the player is tasked with causing chaos in the fictional country of Panau. Even so, it still ultimately falls on the side of good, as the story line is about overthrowing the self-centred megalomaniac dictator in charge of the country.
GTA5 is different. The missions you play involve crime. The things you do to advance the game involve crime. Even the various indidental aspects of the game usually involve crime.
When news headlines are filled with the heart-ache, tragedy and despair caused by crime, why would we want to entertain ourselves by doing this in the virtual realm? If the only answer is ‘you can do things in the game (aka commit crimes and indulge in violence) that you would never do in real life’, what does that say about the state of our hearts?
The game encourages the very things we are trying to discourage in society
Love, kidness, truth, honour, charity, generosity, purity. These are some of the core values that every society longs for and that every parent wants to instill in their children. GTA5 is at the other end of the spectrum. Hate, greed, violence, lies, deceit, betrayal, more violence. These are the values of GTA5.
Is it really that bad? Yes. For instance, consider this comment about the game:
Q. What’s the most controversial thing in the game?
A. It’s hard to say what the tabloids will pick up on as most of the worst things you can do are entirely optional and won’t be realised by most people. There is a torture scene involving Trevor [one of the playable characters] though, which is very uncomfortable to play through – although it doesn’t end the way you expect. Trevor in general kills many people for little or no reason, which the game often plays largely for laughs.
It just doesn’t make sense that on one hand, we are trying to set our children and our society on a better path towards love and caring for one another, and yet we embrace a video game that encourages us to do the very opposite.
The game blurs the boundaries between the game world and the real world
Like every new game released these days, the graphics and physics of GTA5 push the boundaries of video gaming ever close towards total-realistic gameplay causing peoples awareness of what is of the real world and what is of the game world to become ever more blurry.
This isn’t unique to GTA5. Most blockbuster games are very realistic indeed. The problem is when you combine this point with the first two points I have mentioned.
Given that GTA5 is pro-crime and morally upsidedown, the fact that it is so realistic will not help people who play it keep the ethos and action of GTA5 restricted to the game world.
The game does not help you flee from sin and temptation
Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. Because of these, the wrath of God is coming. You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived. But now you must rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips.
Flee the evil desires of youth, and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, along with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart.
2 Timothy 2:22
If you are a Christian, the very things GTA5 gets you to do are the very things you should be putting to death. Can you see the graphic irony? Instead of putting a virtual bullet in someone’s head in-game we should be putting real a bullet in the very sin that GTA5 holds so central.
Similarly, the instruction to flee sin could not be more emphatic. When you read the word ‘flee’, think the kind of fleeing that people running away from a Tsunami have in mind. Flee! Run! Get out of here… now!!
Playing GTA5 not only exposes you to some pretty horrific scenes, situations and plot-lines; it encourages you to engage in them. This is not putting sin to death, it is giving it life. This is not fleeing, this is drawing closer. It is not rejecting sin, it is embracing it. And the fact that it is not ‘real’ does not nullify this. A pornographic video is not ‘real’, yet the sin it lures me into is very real indeed.
The game does not help you to set your mind on Christ
Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.
Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.
If you are a Christian, then playing GTA5 is endulging in a world and a lifestyle that you have been redeemed from. You have been set free from the grip of sin, hate, despair and death. You have a life of peace, joy, love and life hidden waiting for you. As you wait, what are you going to fill your mind with?
Imagine slaves on a ship bound for freedom. What would you say to them if they started roleplaying as slaves: making paper chains around their wrists and ankles and lying in a corner? You would tell them to stop acting how they used to be and focus on being free men instead! So it is with GTA5. GTA5 fills your mind with earthly things, it lures you to set your thoughts and affections on the things of this world (money, power, fornication) instead of setting your heart and mind on Jesus. Playing GTA5 is not thinking about what is true, noble, right, pure and so on. It is the opposite.
Another anti-gamer Christian?
At this point it is worth mentioning that I am not anti-gaming. Indeed, I would consider myself a gamer, albeit a moderate one. I enjoy playing computer games; they are one way I relax and put my feet up.
So this post is not an anti-gaming rant. It is a plee for us to be careful in choosing what games we play and why we play them.
Permisable v beneficial
“Everything is permissible” — but not everything is beneficial.
“Everything is permissible” — but not everything is constructive.
1 Corinthians 10:23
The bottom line is this: in this country, we are free to make, sell, buy and play video games – and this includes games like GTA5. But is it such a good thing for this country that people are playing it? I think not.
Christians, likewise, are free to buy and play GTA5. Or, to put another way, if you are a Christian and you buy/play GTA5, it doesn’t mean you are no longer a Christian! But is it beneficial for you? Is it constructive for you in your faith and life? I think not.
What effect will playing GTA5 have on you now and for eternity?