This particular gentleman came to my attention via the brilliant, profanity-spewing AlphaOmegaSin. While I agree with more or less everything AOS had to say on this latest piece of advice from the former baptist minister and media mogul Pat Robertson (dyslexic Twilight fans read carefully), I do think it’s worth looking at the quote in context. After all, I don’t like to be one to shy away from seeing both sides of the coin.
Ok. Context. Good.
Naturally, there’s been a pretty hefty slew of derision at the idea of an 83 year old making claims about the dynamics of videogames – an incongruity that hasn’t slipped through the journalistic fingers of Slate or The Inquisitr. But back up a moment. Robertson makes no claims of gaming expertise here. He freely admits he’s never played a videogame in his life (and I wholeheartedly believe him), so it’s not strictly fair to pin him with the ‘self-proclaimed-gaming-expert-who-thinks-he-knows-more-about-gaming-than-gamers-do’ badge.
No, this was a response to a caller, who should probably bear the biggest brunt of mockery. See, if your moral compass in such a state of confusion, that you have to ask whether God will judge you for pretending to shoot pretend people in pretend worlds, then you probably shouldn’t be let out of the house (lest you might reproduce, and tell your children that they’ll go to hell for playing cops ‘n’ robbers). The ‘Is it a sin if…?’ question bears such a lack of moral intelligence that it begs for a patronising answer. This person asked for finger-wagging nonsense, and they got it. In spades.
It’s sometimes claimed that Christianity, unlike other religions, doesn’t do any babysitting when it comes to what you’re allowed to think. Well, not according to Robertson, nor, apparently, to Jesus. No, the resounding wisdom here is that if you think lusty thoughts upon seeing someone who’s not your wife, you’re basically going to end up in the same celestial naughty corner as those who went ahead and cheated. You might argue, as gay activists have been arguing for years, that you can’t block those feelings – that doing so is about as easy as not thinking of a black cat when I say ‘don’t think of a black cat’ – and that human lust is simply the by-product of the millions of years of successful evolution that got us here in the first place. You might also argue, as Sam Harris does, that you can’t pre-empt a thought in time to stop it. That would require thinking it before you thought it.
But no. Don’t think about unsavoury things. Or else.
Thus was coined ‘virtual sin’, and so it goes with shooting bad guys in videogames. If you have the desire to kill virtual human beings, you must also have the desire to kill real ones, right? It doesn’t matter if it’s all a fictional simulation: as far as God is concerned, the two are on a par with eachother. Killing is killing. Even when it’s, er, not.
There are two assumptions that this clumsily-drawn link makes. The first is that videogames are basically just mindless murder galleries. Turn up, grab a gun, and go round exterminating any old unarmed bozo who happens to be in the room. But as you’d know if you’d played any shooters, Mr Robertson, games are not this. If they were, they would be pretty bloody boring.
The second is that you’re equating the shooting of digital AI with actually wanting to kill a real person – as paralleled with wanting to cheat on your wife. But what gamers (well, the sane majority who aren’t murderous psychopaths to begin with) enjoy about gaming is not the taste of what it’s like to end a human life – not that that’s even provided. Nor is there a danger of ‘trivialising’ real murder: if you could desensitise yourself to the horror and torment that killing – even in self-defence – presumably brings, you could eradicate all risk of PTSD in active servicemen just by making them all play a few levels of Battlefield 3 as a mandatory precaution, like having injections before going abroad. But as we all know, that wouldn’t work, because killing in a game has as much consequence in the real world as dying in a game: absolutely none.
Pious, simplistic, and short-sighted as his attitude quite obviously is, it doesn’t appear to be the main thesis of Robertson’s answer. No, the real danger, Robertson emphasises, is that playing games makes you “grow dead in your heart”, because you’re distancing yourself from God. Because, as far as I can glean, it’s an activity that isn’t worshipping, or praying, or reading bibles, or seeing “miracles in your life”.
Ok, no, that’s definitely worse.
I could just about conceive the quasi-moral place Robertson was coming from with the whole virtual sin thing. But this? Presumably he takes the same stance on all other activities that don’t fall under the general category of impressing a deity. Like making the bed, for example. Or eating M&Ms.
I won’t even get into all the other mental crap that Robertson has said in the past. This is idiotic enough all by itself. And who knows, maybe one day we’ll be free of these attitudes. Free to think what we can’t help thinking, and do what we’re not hurting anyone doing. And free to virtually blow each other up in blissful, un-judged peace.