Why I stopped playing video games

Hi, my name is Mike, and it has been eight years since I last purchased a video game.

If that reminds you of something you’d hear at a recovery meeting, that’s exactly what I meant by it. Because I am in recovery from my daily habit of video gaming.

I grew up in the classic age of games. From Frogger on my brother’s Atari to Tecmo Bowl on our first Nintendo, from GoldenEye on the N64 to Oblivion on the Xbox, from Mario Kart on the Wii to Guitar Hero II on the 360, most of my existence has passed with a controller in my hand.

And I loved it. 

Part of me still does. When I walk past the GameStop in the mall, I feel that magnetic pull to buy a new system, go home with a plastic bag full of games, and trade in a good night’s sleep for hours of digital binging.

But here I am, nearly a decade divorced from regular gaming. Why?

I would love to say that I felt guilty for the increased violence in mainstream gaming, but I didn’t. Putting a chainsaw through a horde of zombie heads never bothered my conscience that much. 

And it would be inspiring to tell you the story of the day when my toddler daughter, just learning to walk, unplugged my controller in the middle of an epic guitar solo (true story) and I snapped at her (also true story) and I finally realized that Guitar Hero was just a game and she was real life . . . but that wouldn’t be a true story.

The truth is I stopped playing video games because . . .

Video games were good things that got in the way of the best things.

As I grew older and life got busier, I realized that I couldn’t do everything I wanted. I couldn’t spend quantity time in God’s Word, date my bride, be present with my children, serve our church, and take care of my body with sufficient sleep and frequent workouts all while conquering Guitar Hero in “expert mode.”

Although some of those riffs were indeed a workout!

My days were numbered. My time ticking away. My life limited to this one shot. So, Paul’s words to the Ephesians came to mind—“Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise” (5:15). 

Giving up gaming was not a morally black/white issue but rather a wisdom issue. If I wanted to succeed at what mattered most, I had to be careful not to spend hours each day on what mattered so little.

Please note that I am not condemning every kid (or grown-up) who spends his or her nights playing Fortnite. There is no direct command from God to “flee from Mario Kart” or “put your Call of Duty to death.” A Christian can play games with a clean conscience.

But I would encourage every gamer to wrestle with the questions that cross my mind when I stand in front of the latest games in the electronics section at Target: What will I say no to if I say yes to this? What will I give up for this game? What good thing will stop so this can start? Given what matters most to God, is this wise?

At my funeral, I have a feeling that few people will mention my video game achievements (although my brother may mention the time we conquered Guitar Hero World Tour with our band, Frozen Grover . . . ).

However, I pray that people will thank God for the hours I spent reading and then teaching, planning and then dating, praying and then encouraging.

The 18-year-old Mike would have dismissed this blog and defended his Christian right to his gaming habits. Maybe you (or the friend you share this with) are tempted to dismiss my story for the same reason.

But the 38-year-old me knows this is not about rights.

It’s about wisdom.

So, be very careful how you live. Be the wisest you can be.

Pastor Mike Novotny has served God’s people in full-time ministry since 2007 as a pastor in Madison and now Appleton, Wisconsin. He also serves as a host and speaker for the Time of Grace television program and contributes to the written resources of Time of Grace Ministry. Pastor Mike is married to Kim and has two daughters.


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