A friend of mine got a (predictably) hostile reaction on Facebook when he recently posted this status:
If you are a young man wishing he had a young woman with whom to spend Valentine’s Day, the single biggest thing you can do to improve your prospects is to stop playing video games. I am not suggesting video games are inherently wrong, I’m just stating a fact. To the *vast* majority of women, they scream “feckless man-child.” They are the single biggest turnoff.
Now, the post, taken literally, is probably untrue. Anyone, man or woman, who claims to know what the “vast majority of women” feel on a topic should be treated with suspicion. Further, most men who are stuck in unwanted singleness are probably not stuck in it primarily because of their video games. Even if my friend is correct that many women find gaming unattractive, it doesn’t take 40 years of life experience to know that few things are unattractive enough to keep a man in perpetual bachelorhood if he has a job and at least passable hygiene. Hobbies can be annoying, but people live with annoying hobbies in their significant others all the time.
So I’ll chalk my friend’s advice up to a moment of hyperbole. But does he have a point? The reason this question matters to me is that last year, I wrote a piece for First Things called “America’s Lost Boys.” The blog was a reflection on data from sociologist Erik Hurst, who told an interviewer that single men without a college degree were spending an enormous amount of time and capital on video games. In my article, I wondered whether this phenomenon could be related to the socioeconomic struggles of American males, many of whom seem to be behind their female peers in terms of education, career, and relational connections. While I explicitly refused to wholesale condemn gaming, I did draw a contrast between young men who live emotionally connected lives with others, and those who seem trapped in their own fantasy worlds.
While most of the response to the piece was positive, I did note that the critical reactions were virtually identical. They went something like this: “This is an unfair caricature of gaming; I am a married man with two kids and I regularly play video games. You don’t know what you’re talking about. Any hobby can be addictive if a person has no self-control.”
I completely agree. As a husband and father who owns an Xbox One, I would only be condemning myself if I argued that video gaming is categorically immature or beneath “real” manhood. But as I saw with my friend’s Facebook status, and with the response to my own article, it sure seems to me that most people who respond thusly are assuming a moral equivalency between video games and, say, reading, that I don’t think holds up. What I mean to say is this: It can simultaneously be true that there is nothing wrong or harmful about playing video games, and that video gaming as a hobby is intellectually inferior and psychologically more risky than other kinds of hobbies. In order for gaming to be “OK” to do, it doesn’t need to be more or less the same as reading novels, or playing chess, or hiking–because it’s not. There are unique aspects to gaming that do make it a more insular, less personally enriching activity. That would be bad news for gamers if Christianity categorically condemned any and all activities that were more insular and less enriching than others. But it doesn’t. And that’s OK.
It seems to me that this kind of argument always exposes a human tendency to mix pleasure with pride. It’s not enough to enjoy our activities and be thankful that we get to experience them. We want others to assume that our activity is just as good as theirs. When we hear someone argue to the contrary, we reach for moral equivalency, out of pride. If you’re trying to lose weight, it may be a good idea to have an apple with your lunch instead of some Cheetos. Otherwise, there’s nothing wrong with enjoying a few Cheetos. But a Cheeto isn’t an apple, and trying to say that it is the same is far, far worse than eating it.
So yes, my friend is guilty of exaggeration. But, if you’re a single guy who would love to marry a good woman, but seem to spend far more hours per week answering the Call of Duty than trying to know and be known, maybe consider shaking your lifestyle up. You may be surprised at how much fun you can have without batteries.