Video Games: The New Rock 'n' Roll?

Why the fastest-growing creators of culture should matter to the Church.

In November of last year, the video game studio Activision released Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3. In 16 days, it proved over $1 billion in sales. One billion dollars.

To put this into perspective, consider that James Cameron’s Avatar, the highest-grossing movie of all time, took 17 days to reach $1 billion in sales.

Today, the video game industry is one of the fastest-growing and largest creators of culture. According to the Entertainment Software Association, the average age of a gamer is 30 years old—with 47 percent of all gamers being women. In fact, there are more women gamers over the age of 18 than there are male gamers under the age of 18. In 2011, consumers bought over $24 billion worth of video games and video game accessories.

We’ve come a long way from putting quarters into an arcade machine at the local pizza parlor.

Today, the video game industry is one of the fastest-growing and largest creators of culture.

Almost overnight, the video game industry has become one of the biggest movers and shakers in our culture. Yet this is largely overlooked by our nation’s media, our educational systems and our local churches. Prominent megachurch pastor Mark Driscoll famously once said, “Video games are not sinful; they’re just stupid.”

I would bet if we were able to talk to Church leaders of past generations, they would say they had similar beliefs that movies were stupid. Or that rock 'n' roll was stupid. Or that television sitcoms were stupid.

Yet, regardless of what the Church thought about these things in the past, we understand today we were dead wrong to ignore their significance.

Video games are the new rock 'n' roll—the cultural wavemakers the Church is inclined to dismiss but shouldn't.

In less than a month, Activision will release its newest blockbuster video game entitled Call of Duty: Black Ops 2. The game has not even been released and it is already breaking records. It has sold more pre-orders than any game in history at the retailer Gamestop. Amazon reports that Black Ops 2 has already sold 10 times more pre-orders than its predecessor, Call of Duty: Black Ops. This game will impact your little brother, your co-workers, the stores you shop at and ultimately our country’s economy.

This game affects you.

We’ve come a long way from putting quarters into an arcade machine at the local pizza parlor.

As Christians, we need to ask ourselves why this video game in particular has such a huge impact on our culture. What needs, desires and dreams does it speak to? What are millions of purchasers hungry for that this game promises to deliver?

First, it makes you the hero.

Like the previous Call of Duty games, in Black Ops 2, you play the star character—a rough-and-tumble soldier who alone can save the world from impending doom. It’s as if you are watching the most recent action movie, except you are not a passive spectator. You control the action. You are the hero. After hours of sitting in your cubicle at work, your life means something.

Second, it makes you feel included.

Sure, some who buy this game are fascinated by its single-player mode. But many others buy the game solely for its multiplayer experience. In Black Ops 2, you can virtually battle with 17 friends and strangers around the world. You're constantly unlocking new weapons and items, and at the end of each game you get to proudly (or shamefully) see how well you did. Even when playing with complete strangers, there is a sense of accomplishment when you assist your team to a victory. With your adrenaline pumping, you find a sense of belonging.

Now is the time to care.

Some have seen the rise of video games as a reason to be alarmed about a growing violent nature in our culture. This concern may not be completely off-base, but I would argue that these games illustrate something even deeper in our culture: the growing need and desire to have purpose, to be courageous and to make a difference.

Today’s generation desires to be heroic. Yet our lives are filled with desk jobs and paperwork. We drink our lattes and eat salads for lunch—but we long for risk and adventure. We long for purpose.

These games illustrate something even deeper in our culture: the growing need and desire to have purpose, to be courageous and to make a difference.

This is a huge opportunity for the Church.

God has given the Church many monumental tasks that we can tackle now more than ever before. We can make a difference about famine and clean water in Third World countries. We can battle sex trafficking in our city streets. We can make a difference. We can be heroic.

As a Church, we need to unleash our congregations to make a difference. We need to expand our faith from being about one hour on Sunday. Christ called us to a radical walk with Him and a meaningful existence. The Church needs to be about getting people off their couches, setting down their controllers and making a real difference in the world.

We can either ignore the video game movement like the Church did in previous generations with rock 'n' roll, or we can explore what this phenomenon says about our culture and speak powerfully into it.

22 Comments

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Mike Su commented…

Amen brother! That's why we started Deep Fried Manna (sorry for the blatant plug - but checkout http://deepfriedmanna.com ;). Beyond the COD franchise, our youth today are raised on iPods and iPads, Angry Birds and Fruit Ninja. Mainstream America forgets that there is a need, and Christians tend to ignore or concede that to the mainstream. But these are the places where we can exert tremendous influence and relevance into culture. Awesome to see this article!!

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SheldonBarrocks commented…

Great article. Personally I've always had a love/hate relationship with video games. But I think you hit the nail when you suggested people want to feel heroic. People want to fantasize on what they could be. But I think once they step out in their life purpose they'll find adventure in what they do. You are right, the church has work to do in this area.

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N. Sherman commented…

Finally, a Christian article on the untapped potential of video games in our generation. While I think that Call Of Duty isn't the best example of realizing this potential(for example, Bioshock, Braid, etc), I'm glad to see the subject brought up.
We're on a precipice of releasing the 'Citizen Kane' of video games, that is, creating artful and meaningful experiences unique as video games, and it would be foolish for us to write it off as 'child's play.'

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Anonymous commented…

Certainlythere are better and more artful games out there, yet as in the movie industry, it isn't the most beautiful works that get gobbled up. It's the ones with giant robots blowing stuff up. Hopefully, acknowledging the power of the industry will spur discussion as to how games can be artistic and speak into our society.

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Cristhian Mejia commented…

I don't think console gaming is the new rock and roll simply because it is a niche of people that do this. I think the new rock and roll is the advent of social media. Social media in its vessels; Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and countless others is the actual rock and roll where opinions (Godly or not) are usually conveyed. Video games as Driscoll says, are a waste of time. But they are fun. I remember a couple of years ago when I played Call of Duty 2 for 2 days straight. Now I've just started number 3 and I've only played 3 levels in the last month. I think it's phase that people go through, just like cheering for the Vancouver Canucks here in Vancouver where I live. It's a phase that occurs when the team looks like they'll win the Stanley Cup. But that's only because social media has made it popular, not because people really care.

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