Let us start with a caveat: I am me, and you are you. What bothers me might not bother you, what tempts me might not tempt you. Take alcohol, for instance; I don’t drink it. Not because I am some super-holy dude, but because I just don’t like the taste.
However, I don’t think the sex versus violence in entertainment is entirely the same thing. Personal temptations might come into play, don’t get me wrong, however, there is a fundamental difference between the two acts. Sex is to be an act between two married individuals. Any act of sex outside of marriage is sinful. Granted, sex in video games is not the same as sex with an actual person, although MMO’s might blur that line some, and Matthew 5:28 might not exactly fit if the person you are looking at with lust is the figment of someone’s imagination. So, what we may be talking about, more than adulterous sex, is pornography.
Sex sells. It is a phrase I am sure we have all heard, and it is true…to a point. In reality, the promise of sex sells. Most guys (and gals) really wouldn’t go out and hire a prostitute, but they’ll spend a lot of money on clothes or perfume or a haircut that will attract the opposite sex. What does body spray or a slinky dress have to do with porn? If I spray on this scent, women will look at me with desire…or, I could buy a magazine or go to a website, and get pictures of women who will always look at me with desire. Video games are very similar. Lara Croft will wiggle her butt for you any time you want to load up her game. My gaming experience is rather limited, so I don’t have a lot of examples, but, to call out a friend, if you go to the Theology Gaming website, there, front and center, is a picture of Bayonetta doing what anthropologists would call “presenting”. I dread the argument I would get in if my wife walked in the room with that picture on my computer screen.
Okay, sure, but it isn’t like anyone is actually getting hurt. I’ve heard that when I talk about the pitfalls of pornography with friends, and I disagree with it. Here is why: when I was dating and first married, a busload of swimsuit models could have asked me if I knew where there was a guy to rub oil on them, and I would have recommended a city where they could go look for volunteers. After a while, though, I have found that it is more and more tempting to let my eyes linger on an attractive woman, and where I wouldn’t have cared one way or another about a provocative scene in a tv show…now, I have to divert my eyes. My wife is twenty years older than when I married her, and she has had two kids; she just does not look like the girl I married. (I lost my hair and gained seventy pounds, myself…I’ve definitely got the better bargain in life-long mates) Sexiness on tv, or in games takes away something from my marriage: I can’t help but compare what I have to what is shown. Even a completely rendered work of art, such as a video-game character, can do this.
My wife recently got upset when she looked through a Conan graphic novel that I was reading. Now, the pictures in it weren’t what I would be moved by, but even without tempting me, that book made my wife compare herself to it! I gave it back to the friend who lent it to me because even sixty year old line drawings made my wife feel insecure.
Sure, Mike, you are married, though. I’m single what harm is there for me? Are you staying single forever? Images can burn themselves into your memory. I still remember a picture that a locker-mate hung in his locker in junior high … both of my kids are in high school. Even if you planned on being single forever, and that plan turned out that way, the person in the pictures you look at might not be single or single forever. How would you like it if someone could conjure up an image of your loved ones naked any time they wanted to?
Okay, so sex in games isn’t something I should be involved in, but surely violence is the same thing, right? Not exactly; granted there are mindless violence games out there. However, your mind seems to be able to tell the difference between shooting someone in a game and real-life, in a way that it cannot differentiate with sex. It is possible that if we lived in a more violent culture, this would not be the case. There are people who have been traumatized who can’t play certain games. The difference would seem to be one of plausibility; I could meet that person, or someone who looks like her, and what would happen if she looked at me like that? Well, your imagination is going to come up with some interesting possibilities. I could be surrounded by soldiers shooting at me and throwing grenades at me. That thought’s scenarios probably aren’t going to be I’d jump up and down, while trying to get a head-shot with my spring-loaded knife. Unless you are some kind of superhero, your reaction would probably be more in the lines of laying on the floor and agreeing to go peacefully.
So maybe you react differently to the sex stimuli compared to violence stimuli… still, should we be pretending to kill tons of people for fun? Well, no, not per se. The idea of actually taking the life of another human being should really horrify us. However, there are times when violence might be justified. This is getting long, so I won’t go into just war theory; we’ll just take it at an intuitive level.
Games generally give the player a reason for doing what he or she does. Trying to save innocent lives or, at least, your loved ones is a pretty common reason for fighting. Hordes of ogres, a terrorist cell, demonic legions… usually we fight against a well-defined evil. An actor once said something to the effect that every character thinks he is the hero of his own story; even when we play characters who are not seen as the heroes, we take on a cloak of justification for what we do. In essence, we make believe that we have good reasons for doing what we are doing.
As Christians, we are called to love justice. In video games, we are thrust into scenarios where justice demands action on our part. Sure, you could start up the game, run out and refuse to fight back. I am not sure how much replay value getting shot or stabbed until you die is going to have. Maybe that is your principled take on it, and you probably won’t be playing the game to begin with. If we are to interact, we enter into a world where killing the bad guys might just be a real aspect of loving justice. What happens if you don’t kill them? They kidnap the princess, they slaughter the villagers, they set off a bomb, demons take over the world, tyranny reigns, etc.