The Notion of Play and Perceptions on Gaming
We often think of play as childish or something that needs to be given up once we become adults, says Hickey. But that shouldn’t be the case. As he conducted his dissertation research, Hickey found evidence that early church fathers and thinkers interpreted creation through the lens of play.
“That is, for them, God approached creation playfully, as a noble game that balances freedom, responsibility, love, and creativity in equal measure—a pattern that we ought to emulate in our own lives,” he says. “We can see echoes of this in Jerome’s translation of Proverbs 8:30-31 that translates a key word in that passage as a form of playfulness, so that even divine wisdom dances playfully before God, that delight of the divine wisdom contains elements of playfulness.”
Throughout history, gaming and play haven’t just been about entertainment, adds Hickey. Games have been used to diffuse tension between tribes. In the Middle Ages, poets and artists used play to give hope to peasants, whose lives were difficult.
“I approach games with this understanding that we—video gamers, role players, any sort of players—are scions, we’re standing in this rich tradition of how God has used play, not just for entertainment but to create rich soil in society from which work—good work—and cultural activity springs,” he says.
Over 2.6 billion people play video games, according to recent data. There are also professional industries where gamers can make upwards of $40 million as prize money at major events. Brands, companies, and influencers—even the government—are capitalizing on the popularity of video games in ways that would have been unheard of 10 years ago.
Unfortunately, the church has largely ignored gaming. When conducting his Ph.D. dissertation research, Hickey found two Christian books on gaming that were limited in scope, minimal Christian academic research, and very few gaming-related church resources or classes.
“If we say that every square inch is God’s, then we have to include digital pathways and virtual worlds as well,” he says.
Part of the reason Christians and the church have developed a negative response to gaming may be because video games are often seen as violent and addictive—and there is some truth to that. Ethan Haeder recalls a time in high school when there was an imbalance in his life between his desire to play video games and his interest in other activities. At one point, he spent upwards of 10 hours a day playing video games.
“My grades didn’t take a noticeable slip, but if you’d seen me day to day, you would have been able to tell that I wasn’t prioritizing my life very well,” he says. “I wasn’t healthy.”
Eventually Haeder tackled his video game addiction and reprioritized his life. Now, years later, he’s thriving at Dordt and hopes to become a middle school history teacher once he graduates.
“Parents might look at my experience and say, ‘It’s the video game’s fault that he spent so much time playing.’ But, for me, I had some things going on in my life that led me to spend more time gaming,” he says. “What I learned is that it’s important to pay attention to what games you play and why you’re playing them. Also, you should prioritize your life and not make video games 100 percent of your life.”
Haeder has also learned, since joining the Gaming Guild, that God finds joy in what his children find joy in.