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.