Driscoll: "Video Games are Stupid" and Other Sins of Communication

Mark Driscoll says, “videogames aren’t sinful, they are just stupid.”  Because I play videogames and have written about their value, I take issue with Driscoll’s assertion but perhaps not for the reason you might think. It doesn’t bother me that Driscoll doesn’t like or understand videogames – I have come to realize that many people share his feelings and such feelings are valid. I have no idealistic vision of bridging that cultural gap. I will spare you a diatribe on the value of videogames and instead point out how Driscoll’s statements are not entirely honest and what the tendency to “amen” such statements reveals about us.

Driscoll commits what is called an inductive fallacy in his sermon. Brief lesson in logic: inductive reasoning consists of inferring from the properties of a sample to the properties of a population as a whole.  In laymens terms it amounts to making assertions about a group of people based on research conducted on only part ( a sample) of those people.  Researchers do this all the time and its a perfectly valid and useful way to do research.  What is needed for such studies to be valid is an accurate and broad sample (for example, the percentage of people who regularly go to the movies in a small town in Iowa isn’t a good sample to help determine how the percentage of people who go to the movies nation-wide–for such research you need a broader sample). When a a broad claim is based on a narrow sample it is likely an inductive fallacy has occured.

The problem with Driscoll is that he hasn’t done any research and yet he calls all videogames stupid based on a hypothetical group of people who play video games to “win victories that don’t count.”  This is an inductive fallacy because he makes assumptions both about all videogames and all players based on a segment of both categories that encourages escape from the real world.

I actually love his main point: follow Jesus and seek to do something that counts. But Driscoll makes that point by categorically condemning a group of people that he doesn’t have the information to categorically condemn.  Are there gamers out there who “want to get on a team, be part of a kingdom, conquer a foe, and win a great, epic battle”? Yes there certainly are, I have met some of these people are many of them are decent folks. Does that mean that all gamers are wasting their lives on things that don’t count? Could it be that some gamers are disciplined?  Could it be that there are people out there who play games but are not addicted to them in ways that pull them away from community? Are there some games that engender community?

People make similar inductive fallacies about Christians all the time–”all Christians are hypocrites,” “all baptists are legalistic,” or “all Calvinists are mean.” We make similar mistakes in our personal relationships when we make categorical statements about people–we say to our children, “you never clean your room” or to our spouse “you are always late.”  If your child has ever cleaned her room or your spouse has ever been on time, our hyperbolic statements are false.  These statements are dishonest. They are lies.

Inductive fallacies are used commonly in public discourse because they tend to engender a strong reaction in the hearer. These statements get people’s attention, they will produce lots of retweets and hits on your blog but they are not honest and they discourage discussion. For his fallacy, Driscoll gets a hearty round of applause and cries of “yeah!” But let’s not forget what a fallacy is–”a deceptive, misleading, or false notion.” I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to amen that.

Current research suggests that roughly 183 million people in the U.S. play online games for at least an hour a day.  Roughly 5 million people in the United States spend over 40 hours a week playing video games – if we could prove that all gamers were spending that kind of time playing games, I might “amen” Driscoll here.  But these stats at the very least tip us to the possibility of people who are maintaining a balanced life in which games play a part but do not dominate their time.

Jane McGonigal, in her book, Reality is Broken documents some other interesting statistics:

  • 97% of boys under 18 and 94% of girls under 18 report playing videogames regularly.
  • The average age of the gamer is 35 and she/he has been playing for 12 years.
  • 69% of all heads of households in the U.S. play games.
  • 1 in 4 gamers is over the age of 50.
  • Most gamers expect to be playing games the rest of their lives.

Again, I am sparing you a rant on the value of games. What is of particular note in these statistic is that video games are more widely celebrated than ever before and that isn’t likely to change in the near future.  So what does that mean for the Christian?  It doesn’t mean that you need to play them, but it does mean that you need to be aware that most people do.  If you are a missional Christian on any level, perhaps the worst thing you could do is tell all these people their hobby is stupid and that they are spending too much time doing it – that is disingenuous, rude, and dishonest.  It is dishonest because you can’t back that claim up.  It is rude because you are making value judgment on a massive swath of people. When we make these sort of inductive fallacies we invite them in return and make an unfortunate contribution to the world of unhealthy communication.

I’m not upset at Driscoll and I really don’t care that he doesn’t like video games. I appreciate many things about his ministry in Seattle, not the least of which is his emphasis on missions. I just want to lovingly say to him: being missional requires honest communication with those you want to reach and perhaps a little understanding as well.

Many people are currently researching the long-term effects of video games.  I encourage you to read those studies and think about whether its healthy or not for you in your particular context to play games and how much you will let your children play them.  Those are worthwhile questions to explore, but don’t spread the lies.  We live in a world full of people who play games. Let’s reach out to them in love before we make tacit assumptions about them. Our commitment to honesty and consequently to Christ requires it.

About Drew Dixon

Drew is an editor at Christ and Pop Culture and editor-in-chief of Gamechurch.com. He is also a pastor, soccer coach, and writer. Drew also regularly writes for Think Christian, Bit Creature, and Paste Magazine. He has also written for Relevant Magazine. Follow him on Twitter @drewdixon82

  • matt

    I was wondering when this was coming. :)

    I was shocked to see such a tact-less comment from Mark (Especially considering how he goes on about UFC!). His intended audience probably checked out after that ill-chosen sentence.

  • http://electexiles.wordpress.com/ Drew Dixon

    I was shocked too. Not shocked that Driscoll said something controversial but that he said this particularly controversial thing because he probably has a lot of gamers in his audience and because he seems like a culturally savy guy.

  • http://www.davidhoos.com David

    I think he probably understands his audience perfectly well. Yes, he made a generalization. Yes, there are exceptions. But by and large, I think the audience he is speaking to probably enjoys video games not in the same way one would read an adventure novel, but as a lifestyle. In addition, I think his comment makes plenty of sense in the context of many other things he has said regarding our culture producing extended adolescence in males.

  • http://electexiles.wordpress.com/ Drew Dixon

    @David, thanks for dropping by.

    That is exactly the point–don’t make generalizations–that ends discussion and generalizations are not truths. Doing so compromises the goal of preaching. If we have to be dishonest to make a point, I would rather not make that point.

    Further, I have read a good bit of research about gaming and actually there are lots of what we would call “casual gamers” in the world–that actually has little to do with my main point in this article, but just for the record.

  • http://www.davidhoos.com David

    Generalizations are part of human language and I think we should be meek enough to try and understand the point behind the generalizations and not be bothered. If “Stuff White People Like” says something that isn’t true of me and it bothers me, does that mean it’s being dishonest, rude, or disingenuous? No, it probably just means I need to learn to laugh a little more.

  • Riley

    I would hate to see what he says about that Settlers of Catan business. Good article Drew.

  • http://spoonfulofhahne.com Seth T. Hahne

    @Alan – While I’ll agree that Driscoll’s conclusion regarding the value of games is untenable (you’ll note here that I wanted to say stupid), there was one single nit in your article I’d like to pick: the relationship between hyperbole and lying.

    I can see how it can be palatable to overstate and, yes, hyperbolize the connection between hyperbole, untruth, dishonesty, and lies. Especially when trying to drive home a point. But we probably shouldn’t do this. The fallout is that we make exaggeration sin. And that doesn’t seem right.

    When we look at the sin of lying, it seems to have a malicious or harmful component to it. That is to say, not every untruth is a sinful lie. Fiction is not lying even though it is not true. It may not even be that every obfuscation of truth (for instance, saying you are hiding no Jews) is a sinful lie. Hyperbole, especially, is a generally understood form of exaggeration. When I say that This is the best pizza ever, nobody actually believes that I’m making a testable statement. Nobody even thinks that I’m necessarily saying that the pizza is better than the one I had last week (of which I said the same thing). Saying your wife is the most beautiful girl in the room is not a sinful lie, even if she isn’t. To say that it is would be a misunderstanding of language and how meaning is conveyed.

    When someone says Baptists are legalists, that may be true even if there are outliers. The speaker may be speaking in generalities or demographically. It would be pretty rare for a speaker to say Baptists are legalistic or You never clean your room and actually mean that every last Baptist is a legalist and that you have never ever in your whole life cleaned your room. For that reason, I don’t think the hyperbole thing really relates to the problems in Driscoll’s statements.
    ____________________

    @David H. – “By and large, I think the audience he is speaking to probably enjoys video games not in the same way one would read an adventure novel, but as a lifestyle.”

    Speaking of gross overstatement based on insufficient data…

    And how do we know that the audience he is speaking to doesn’t probably enjoy adventure novels not in the same way one would play a video game, but as a lifestyle?

  • http://electexiles.wordpress.com/ Drew Dixon

    Stuff White People Like or Jon Acuff’s Stuff Christians Like are upfront about being about generalizations–that is totally different. You go into them knowing they are going to make generalizations.

    This was different in a number of ways that I outlined in the article above. Namely in that “generalization” probably isn’t the right word–in fact if you read my article I never used it. I used “tacit” assumption and “inductive fallacy” which are better fits.

    Additionally note that I said, “I actually love Driscoll’s main point.” I absolutely do–I hope people will not waste their lives on things that don’t count. I just don’t think video games fit that bill in their entirety nor do I think all gamers are wasting their lives–two assumptions Driscoll applies to all who play games.

    I am really not saying much about video games at all in this post–I am arguing for communication that is honest and doesn’t slam people we hope to reach. I hope that we can all agree that we want to communicate honestly.

    Inductive fallacies are pretty common in preaching and I just want to call for a moratorium on them for the very reasons I lay out above.

  • http://spoonfulofhahne.com Seth T. Hahne

    Ahahahaha. Drew, I thought you were Alan.

  • http://electexiles.wordpress.com/ Drew Dixon

    @Seth, I don’t know why you were addressing that to Alan but perhaps he needs to hear it.

    My short response is that your distinction is a helpful one–not all hyperbole is sin. To say to your wife, “you are always late” probably is though–you are making a claim against her that is not true, and your wife will know that and will rightly say, “that isn’t true” and she will have a point (this is all hypothetical).

    I didn’t mean to categorically condemn hyperbole which can certainly be helpful at times.

    I think Driscoll’s comments here fit that bill. You don’t have to agree with me, but I think they do. To say “video games aren’t sinful, they are stupid” is a round about way of saying, they are kinda sinful. So this would seems to be hyperbole that is intended to harm and its based on a tacit assumption that all gamers are doing stupid things regularly or that they all get to into their “epic wins” and “kingdom conquering.”

    The intent was to make gamers look foolish–which harmed an otherwise excellent point.

    I am all for efficient use of time and focus on kingdom living, I just want to encourage Pastors to make that point in the right way.

  • Michele Harvey

    Argumentation and logic aside, Driscoll’s statement is exactly the type that shuts down communication and causes people to feel judged, rather than convicted.

  • http://www.davidhoos.com David

    Out of curiosity, how many of you have watched the whole sermon?

  • http://www.christandpopculture.com/ Richard Clark

    I watched all of what @PastorMark felt was fit to share with his Twitter followers. Does that count?

  • http://www.davidhoos.com David

    Well, I guess if a sound-byte is all the mainstream media needs to vilify someone, then why not us as well.

  • http://spoonfulofhahne.com Seth T. Hahne

    I could listen to one of Mark Driscoll’s whole sermons. Or I could could go outside, living a victorious, conquering, warrior’s life for Jesus—doing things that matter and have lasting value. It was, I’ll grant, a tough decision.

  • http://spoonfulofhahne.com Seth T. Hahne

    Wait. Was there villifying going on? And I missed it? Danggit Rich! You have to keep me apprised of these things!

  • http://www.christandpopculture.com/ Richard Clark

    Yeah, I mean we definitely aren’t vilifying anyone here. I’m not sure what you’re referring to, David.

  • http://st-eutychus.com Nathan

    I think Driscoll is just reading his preferences into this rant – he has a particular view of manhood that doesn’t accommodate “playing games”… which I think underpins this whole rant. And it’s a shame – because his 3 Rs model of engaging with culture – reject, receive, redeem – is great. And his thinking on the power of ideas in shaping a culture is normally pretty good too. But I think this is a little bit like his response to Twilight, and Avatar, he reads too much of his thinking about the power of ideas into pop culture. Some consumers are just after entertainment, and aren’t looking for the subtext that he’s finding.

  • http://electexiles.wordpress.com/ Drew Dixon

    @David don’t mind Seth … he has a way with words sometimes!

    I respect your opinion and you have been around CAPC long enough to know that we try really hard not to vilify anyone. So given your statement, I reread my article here to make sure that wasn’t the case.

    For the record, I greatly appreciate Mark Driscoll, as I do any preacher of the gospel. This post was not in any way meant to call his ministry into question. It was meant to call his comments on video games into question because I think they are rude and misguided. As I laid out–Driscoll commits an inductive fallacy but I should say that I don’t think he is purposefully lying. I think he was trying to make a very good point but in the process he made some assumptions that he couldn’t back up. Such assumptions do not engender discussion–they get a lot of traffic and a strong response but because they are not firmly grounded in truth, I find them unhelpful.

    I wasn’t at all trying to vilify him. I was trying to help him, I think my call for more careful communication and greater cultural awareness will help him and others if they will hear it.

    I for one have said things like this before–not about video games but definitely about other things or groups of people (like people who play Farmville) and when I did, people called me out on it and I am glad they did.

  • Andy

    The Driscoll video seems to be a case of “the things that other people enjoy in their leisure time are stupid!” Well, I think ultimate fighting is stupid, so sorry, Mark.

    Unless Driscoll is making the case that all leisure time is bad, which he almost certainly isn’t.

    It really comes down to being a Romans 14 issue.

    I play video games occasionally. It’s a leisure activity, similar to other leisure activities I enjoy (reading, landscaping, gardening, exercise, sports, etc). Obviously, any of these can become sinful if they become idolatrous or addictive (and I avoid some games that seem more likely to lead in that direction – like World of Warcraft).

    Now, some games that glorify vice and violence may be a different story. But in and of themselves, video games are not innately sinful, any more than soccer games.

  • http://electexiles.wordpress.com/ Drew Dixon

    @Andy–well put, I agree. I would also say that I know people who play World of Warcraft responsibly but yeah I get where you are coming from and I think you hit the nail on the head. Idolatry can be a very personal thing–so we should preach against it as such.

  • http://spoonfulofhahne.com Seth T. Hahne

    Yeah, I’d say WoW isn’t any more necessarily addictive than any ridiculously well-made game. For about three years, I played WoW for about ten hours a week. But, that was the only game I played in that time. I didn’t find it particularly addictive. Just more enjoyable than other games or television or several other midnight activities (largely when I’d play).

  • http://www.davidhoos.com David

    Just got caught up on the discussion. I’ll just summarize my perspective and leave things to run their course from there.

    1. In 1 Corinthians 10:23 Paul says, “All things are lawful for me, but not all things are helpful; all things are lawful for me, but not all things edify.” This is what I understood Mark to be communicating. Sure, the sound byte doesn’t do the best job of presenting this context but I think the entire sermons points toward this.

    2. Objects aren’t inherently sinful, people are. As such, you could never say that video games are sinful in and of themselves, but an individual could certainly be sinning by playing video games (same goes for watching tv, being a workaholic, etc.). Any thing that people have turned into an idol can be sinful for that person.

    3. Pastor’s are typically far more aware of the sins that plague their churches because they have to deal with counseling on a regular basis and the same things come up again and again and again. I am not a pastor and it is even very easy for me to suggest what issues pastors do and do not speak to, but do I have their perspective, their experience, their burdens?

    All in all, I guess I’m just disappointed that something as inane as this has been latched onto.

  • http://electexiles.wordpress.com/ Drew Dixon

    @David, as a pastor I sympathize with you and agree with most everything you have laid out in your last comment.

    I take issue with your last line “I’m just disappointed that something as inane as this has been latched onto.”

    This is really a discussion on preaching. Pretty much everyone agrees that Driscoll is stereotyping gamers. Most everyone agrees that stereotyping isn’t a good thing–to be specific its dishonest, typically toward large groups of people.

    All I am saying is let’s not stereotype. Further I am making the point that this particular stereotype is far reaching because 183 million Americans play video games, so that fact also doesn’t aid Driscoll’s desire to be missional.

    My goal here was to be helpful–we all stereotype at times because we are all sinners–I am just saying to Driscoll and anyone who will read this, “let’s try not to.” Let’s try not to stereotype because it is dishonest and therefore can be hurtful to those we’d like to reach with the gospel.

    I know Driscoll to be a preacher of the gospel, I have been edified by his sermons and writing, I praise the LORD for him–I would hope that this small critique would aid him and anyone who reads this in preaching the gospel just a tad more faithfully.

    I hope that helps. Thanks for taking interest in my article.

  • Rod Donovan

    I love how these same Christians who condemn games and other pastimes for such reasons are the same Good Ol’ Boys who are downright idolatrous and vicarious when it comes to their favorite sport teams and tweet about how they can’t wait for “The Big Game.” Love the double standard!

  • Kristi

    I agree with the point Drew made about Pastor Driscoll hurting his missional purposes. If games indeed do strike a chord in people because of a desire to fight epic battles and be heroic and conquer enemies, this seems like a perfect bridge to me to a discussion about the ultimate Kingdom.

    Personally, I believe the fact that so many people are drawn to epic stories, be they in books, movies, or games, is that we have this God-given desire to participate in God’s Kingdom- it’s what we were originally created for. Of course the “shadows” of the kingdom we participate in on this earth are not the same, and can be turned into idols if we make them our ultimate desire, but by calling gamers stupid shuts down what could be a great opening for mission. If you could point people to why it is that they have the love they do, it could be really powerful.

  • Lelia

    Kristi, I think you bring up an excellent point. Once, in college, a friend told me how he disliked the church and christianity. I asked him if he liked the Chronicles of Narnia books. He said he did and especially he loved Aslan. I asked him why he didn’t recognize Aslan as a type of Christ. Think about his sacrifice. The friend stared at me and then ran away. The next week he was a Christian.

  • Noah Campbell

    Aha, I have stumbled upon this site through a friend’s facebook post, and I have a few points:

    I listened to the clip, and I find the guy entertaining and insightful. He clearly is not referring to casual gamers, but to young men with unhealthy habits. The only thing I found offensive was that, as an ordained minister in an official capacity, he was dressed like he was going out for ice cream.

    I enjoy generalizations and employ them often in conversations. They open the door for further discussion and clarification.

    I enjoy fantasy in general, whether video games or LOtR or some D&D; they provide transcendence and diversion in a dark world. For instance, I have been playing Baldur’s Gate 2 lately and play Pathfinder one per week- good entertainment. There are many young men, however, who live inside such games, and this is unhealthy. This is not a problem with the games, but rather with our culture that is obsessed with fantasy and being entertained.

  • http://www.teacupandsaucersets.com Sol

    Are you sure that Driscoll doesn’t just think maybe, that…. video games are stupid?

  • http://electexiles.wordpress.com/ Drew Dixon

    @Noah Driscoll never clarifies the is referencing only hardcore gamers or gamers who spend too much time playing games. He says “video games are stupid.” That implies all games and consequently any level of affection for them or time spent playing them.

    “I enjoy generalizations and employ them often in conversations. They open the door for further discussion and clarification.”

    The entire point of my article was that generalizations are not helpful but harmful–they shut down further conversation and discussion. They are dishonest and not befitting of the Christian or the Christian preacher. I hope you will reconsider that very dangerous statement as I fear you are offending many and closing yourself off from discussion with others if you are regularly generalizing people.

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  • Adam

    Hi Drew,

    I love that you appreciate Driscoll’s work and critique him out of that.

    With Driscoll, it’s very much about culture and ‘men being men’. Defining manhood is key and neither pop culture or Driscoll have it nailed. I admire Driscoll’s call for men to stand up and be men. He often becomes a voice preaching to counter-balance the faults he sees in the church. (as he does with Joel-Olsteen-ism) This makes him controversial and this is sometimes a good thing because it promotes discussion and healthy reflection. But only with an audience that is willing to engage in critical thinking with their pastor’s ideas.

    Many evangellyfish know not how to do this and therein lies the problem.

    Blessings

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