Last week I arrived to the Brewhouse Gallery a little early for a night of board games and beer with some good friends. One of the great things about this spot is that they have a Nintendo 64… I may or may not have intentionally got there early for this reason.
One of the games they have is the classic 007: Goldeneye, for those unfamiliar it is a James Bond first-person shooter. I can’t begin to imagine how many hours I played this game as a child, nor can I imagine how much time I spent playing first-person shooters in general. I have all but given up video games over the last several years for a variety of reasons but that Nintendo 64 brings out a bit of nostalgia that I enjoy.
Previously, I had only indulged in Mario Kart, another classic from my childhood, but this night it was time for a little 007. I started the game and immediately remembered and selected one of my favorite levels, “Dam.” (as in the giant concrete things that stop water) One thing I was not ready for was just how bad the graphics were, it really is amazing how far technology has come. However, the nostalgia drove me to carry-on with the mission.
My first enemies appeared, little more than human looking blobs, and I quickly dispatched them with minimal effort, Mr. Bond would have been proud. Shortly after that, I came across a sniper rifle, picked it up and zoomed in on another human blob, took a successful headshot, the virtual body crumbling… but what was that? No matter, surely it was nothing. Another shot, another tiny human blob falling to the ground and still there it was, was this really my conscience? No, there is no way. First, it’s just game. Second, in my past gaming days I killed thousands of human combatants without a second thought. Third, there is no way my conscience cares about these tiny, horrendously blurry, human blobs.
So I kept going. A little further, a couple more kills, was I having fun yet? Just what about killing these little human blobs was supposed to be entertaining anyway? Where were these thoughts coming from? My conscience. Or was it perhaps legalism? Was I not free to play this game? Yet, I have been trying to listen more to my conscience, to understand it, to train it, should I be so quick to dismiss it? After all, did I not remember, did I not believe, “Feeding excuses to your conscience is like feeding sleeping pills to a watchdog.”1 Currently, I was not just feeding sleeping pills to my conscience but forcing them down the poor dogs throat while putting a muzzle on it, and for what? It was time to pause and to figure out exactly what was going on.
Hadn’t I been writing pro-life material that argued strongly for human dignity based on being made in the image of God? Hadn’t I been arguing that no matter the health or how small, no matter how “blurry,” if they were human their life should be valued, respected and defended? So what was my conscience firing for? Could it be that these little human blobs, although certainly not made in the image of God themselves, represented those who were? What possible justification could I give for seeking to be entertained by their virtual death? Especially considering what I have been writing so passionately on: inherent human dignity. I had a couple more thoughts, a couple halfhearted justifications or excuses, they were all too weak to continue.
Now, let me be clear, I’m not arguing that you should adopt my new position on video games that involve killing humans. I believe this to be a conscience issue and it is not the duty of a Christian to force their conscience on another, (Romans 14) yet it is the duty of every Christian to seek to cultivate a God honoring conscience within themselves and I am just describing my attempt to do so.
Perhaps another factor that was causing this could be that it had been sometime since even watching a TV show or movie with much killing in it. Is our society, and my own heart, really that numb to human death? Could just a short time removed from entertainment violence realign my conscience so quickly against it? Are our consciences that far removed to not be troubled by how pervasive and accepted being entertained by human bloodshed is? (even if it is not “real”) The thought is a bit chilling. I remembered when I gave up watching the Walking Dead for very similar reasons, I became uncomfortable with the dehumanizing of image bearers and the glorification of violence that is subconsciously, or maybe consciously, accomplished in much of zombie fanfare. Maybe these tiny blobs were just the next step my awakened conscience was taking. God charged Israel for not hating bloodshed? (Ezekiel 35:6) Is it unreasonable to imagine He desires His servants not to draw pleasure from simulated and unnecessary bloodshed?
I could not think of a reason to keep playing, I actually didn’t want one either. So I turned off the game and put in Mario Kart, selecting Yoshi of course. Shooting a couple of turtle shells and dropping a couple banana peels is about as crazy as it got and my conscience felt just fine.
1. Andrew David Naselli and J. D. Crowley, Conscience: What It Is, How to Train It, and Loving Those Who Differ, Chapter 4: “How should you calibrate your conscience,” 64 (Crossway 2016)