A comment on my previous blog really caught my attention. Do violent video games have a part in youth group events? Guys love them. Shooting, killing, and blowing people up can really make a group of normally quiet guys come alive! A quick survey of college guys yielded a 100% agreement--Halo tournaments are the bomb! (in a good way) The multi-player games promote teamwork, strategy, adrenaline and lots of back slapping, yelling loud fun. If that wasn't enough, a Halo 3 night can bring in tons of kids. And, if video games are on the menu, there are lots of non-church friends who would be more than happy to enter the unfamiliar church doors. These are the same guys who, if they weren't at church, would be at home playing the same games with strangers on the internet. According to an article in the New York Times, youth groups across the country have found Halo tournaments to be a successful way of engaging young guys--in ways that no other youth event can.
I'll be honest. I struggle with this issue. There is no way to get around it: Halo 3 is all about killing. It is rated M and full of violent themes. That means the games can't even be bought by kids unless they are at least 17 years old. There are plenty of youth group kids who have decided (or have had their parents decide for them) that these are not the kinds of things they want to have their minds filled with. By sponsoring Halo tournaments there is no way to ignore the message that the church is endorsing violent video games. These tournaments will also doubtlessly become the target of church elders' and parents' passionate criticisms. Is this a hill we are willing to die on? But, even more generally, is Halo 3 really the best we can do? In an effort to appear relevant, are we sacrificing our souls--the very thing that sets us above all the junk in our culture?
Personally, these video games frustrate and discourage me. I hate the way our kids are becoming desensitized to violence and sex. It seems like the far-reaching implications to kids' moral development are significant. However, I also have to acknowledge, I am a middle aged woman who has never really sat down and spent enough time getting into these games to really appreciate them. My guy students consistently talk about how important these games are to the way they get to know each other.
So, perhaps there is a middle ground. Here's what I think. If you are planning a Halo party, don't miss the opportunity to use the technology to transition into issues of spiritual importance. That may very well involve a post-tournament discussion of good and evil--themes that are quite evident in the game. I would also suggest looking for less violent games to engage kids. Whether it be Guitar Hero, Grand Turismo, or Madden's NFL, there are lots of ways for a creative youth minister to get kids' adrenaline pumping. I guess my recommendation is the same for any other piece of technology. We need to think of it as a tool. We can't use technology just for the sake of using it or because it's popular. We need to be intentional and wise about what we gain and what we give up. So, before requesting 4 more large screen t.v.s from the youth budget, I would strongly suggest considering the good and bad points of using the church as a Halo killing field.