Video Games and Anger (Part 3)

Read Part 2 First!

It’s not too great a stretch to say that video games taught me a lot of things, or at least reinforced ideas and concepts I learned from other places. I may have learned to read in 4K or so, but JRPGs reinforced that reading skill by forcing me to read more and more. I can literally speed read due to the need to absorb information quickly and accurately. Yes, that’s a learned skill which also explains how I can write so much (and can read a lot too).

Action games teach you hand/eye coordination, strategy games teach…well, strategy within a given rule set, and you can certainly learn other associated skills with enough time and patience. If you don’t look for constructive skill and/or talent development, one of those indie games with feelings and emotions that make you cry will certainly fit the bill. In all these ways, video games tend to work to foster something, or force the player into a rigorous mindset devoted to the rules (or even breaking them, as the case may be).

To return to our initial subject: everyone gets angry at video games, but we need to reflect on why we get angry. Is it purely a matter of frustration with yourself, hoping to get better? Do you blame the game, the wireless controller, or even some random exterior element for your failure? Or is the anger coming from some other source, bleeding into your designated game time?

I would say that video games provoked me to anger more than a few times, but we could definitely label those as “frustration” moments moreso than “anger”. Who doesn’t get the feeling every once and a while to violent fling that electronic device in your hands due to its inability to do what you want? I imagine smart phones users will disagree with me on that point; as long as you’ve got a TPU case, you’re golden!

frustration_relief

This method works.

But, in most every case, the frustration isn’t with the game but myself. If I did not win, there’s no failure on the game’s part; its impersonal inner systems do whatever they’ve been programmed to do, no more and no less. They do not care whether your controller works or doesn’t work, whether you find yourself unsuited to the task at hand or not. All it does is display the things the programmers wanted it to show, and if you can’t handle it or input buttons fast enough or make a sufficient strategic move to succeed, it will not cry for your character’s death.

Video games aren’t warm and fuzzy; they do exactly what the designer wants them to do, barring glitches. Either you deal with your own problems (or broken controllers, natch) or you will not succeed. If you become angry at yourself in recognition of your issues, then that’s the right response; since you played, you’re the only one to blame. Dust yourself off, rethink your game, and get back in there. A moment of downtime’s often all you will need to re-evaluate, focus, and strive for victory on the next play.

Now, of course, that’s not an automatic response but a learned one. Our first instinct blames the game or some magical exterior force rather than ourselves. The game did it, and IT (what IT is) made you lose. That’s the first step in not improving, and the first way (possibly only way) people begin and continue to play video games. It exists for the purpose of MY own personal standards of entertainment – that is, I am always the victor and the game I paid money to play should bow before my every whim. If it doesn’t, prepare for me to turn my wrath towards an inanimate object and berate something that can’t even hear me. Maybe we can even complain about it on an Internet forum somewhere!

And this, honestly, isn’t the worst it can get (though the Internet trolls sometimes make it feel that way). Rather, letting anger from other areas of life emerge in video game form certainly isn’t healthy. I can’t even imagine (or statistically) say this with any mode of confidence, but that cannot possibly be a healthy way to enjoy recreation. As long as they do something positive for you, that’s fine and dandy.

However,  when they fill a hole…that’s when they are dangerous and that hole can be many different things for different people. Perhaps it isn’t video games at all, for this could apply to nearly every hobby when it turns primarily into an escape or an opportunity to vent. Video games are a trap for some people, just like alcohol, drugs, porn, or anything else negative you can imagine. It feeds into some deficiency in their lives and works in that way, even if they’re innocuous and harmless otherwise. This could account for the near blanket condemnation they receive in most Christians circles, rightly or wrongly.

The danger, then, of anger and video games consists not of video games, but of their use. Like nearly anything, we can either dabble as an enjoyable hobby, a vehicle for self improvement, a home for our predilections and obsessions, or a need for escapism. If video games make you angry, or feed into angry impulses in a negative sense, avoid them. If the anger helps you to improve yourself and causes self-reflection, then use it wisely. I implement Ephesians 4 as my rubric. Paul, here, talks of the renewed minds of believers, and how they should be able to avoid the many pitfalls of life; their eyes are now filled with light, able to discern the darkness.

26 Be angry, and yet do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, 27 and do not give the devil an opportunity. 28 He who steals must steal no longer; but rather he must labor, performing with his own hands what is good, so that he will have something to share with one who has need.

Sin and anger aren’t mutually exclusive, but neither need to be associated. Anger certainly can lead to those sorts of situations if we use it in an improper context, but it requires some keen judgment. Otherwise, we’re opening ourselves up for some negative situations.

 29 Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear. 30 Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. 31 Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. 32 Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you.

And how simple is that? Anger directed outwards, as the context indicates, will not help. Anger directed inwards for the purpose of casting it outwards will not help, either. It’s all in the motivations and the purpose for which it’s used. Apologies that there’s no hard and fast rule, but common sense says you’ll know it when you see it.

Or maybe not.

About Zachery Oliver

Zachery Oliver, MTS, is the lead writer for Theology Gaming, a blog focused on the integration of games and theological issues. He can be reached at viewtifulzfo at gmail dot com or on Theology Gaming’s Facebook Page.