It’s all fun and games, until…

“That game you’ve been playing – is it Candy Crush?” my husband asked.

“Not exactly…This is Yes Chef…” I answered.

“It has vegetables and healthy foods instead of candy!” my daughter helpfully explained.

Playing Candy Crush on iPad Photo by flickr user m01229   Used with permission under CC BY 2.0

Playing Candy Crush on iPad
Photo by flickr user m01229
Used with permission under
Creative Commons license CC BY 2.0

Yep. I am playing a game that is mainly based on luck, and that almost seems constructed for the purpose of addictive play. So, Candy Crush or not, the main effective difference is the graphics.

I managed to stop playing altogether for a short time, but then I got a bad cold, and I found myself picking up the iPad again.

I am going to try to avoid making a blanket statement about gaming here, because I have a friend who is an avid social gamer, and he has gotten to know people by gaming, and so I will allow that not all gaming is created equal. But what I am playing are a handful of solo games that are dominated by luck, or timers, or creating little fake parks. And I cannot pretend that what I am doing is anything other than a complete waste of time.

Why do I call it a “waste of time”? Well, for one, playing these games doesn’t stimulate any thought whatsoever other than how to better play that particular game. These are the soft drinks of the entertainment world – nothing but empty calories. They fill up my brain space while I’m playing them, and yield absolutely no benefit. Even most TV will yield at least a thought or two. Even if those thoughts are along the lines of “LOL! Remember pay phones?” when watching an early episode of the X-Files. Even a thought like that can lead to more thoughts, which can lead to writing, or having a conversation with an actual human being, or some other constructive thing.

Which feeds into another reason why the games I play are a waste of time: When I am playing the game, I’m not doing anything that would actually yield any kind of fruit. There are dozens of things that I could be doing instead that would be a better choice. A few months ago I was ill and not fit for writing or housework or much in the way of deep thinking, so I went looking for a series of mystery novels, and found Laurie King’s series featuring Mary Russell. And that led to some thoughts about imperialism, and wealth, and entitlement, and so on. Thoughts I would have had neither stimulus nor space for had I been fixated on “purple, purple, green!”

I suppose that someone is likely to be thinking around now, “But [Candy Crush, Yes Chef, whatever similar game] stimulates critical thinking! It’s a strategy game!” If it were a strategy game, you would be able to win every time. Instead, as you level up, you are certain to lose more often than you win. This is called intermittent rewards, and it manipulates the player to play more. Sudoku, as a contrasting example, always has a solution.

Admittedly, there are some times when I feel like turning off my inner social critic for a little bit. But games are not the only option. When I am needing a break, folding clothes or tidying the den or sending a quick postcard is a much better choice. And when I am sick and exhausted, even television is a better choice than playing the kinds of video games that I compulsively turn to.

As much as I want to give up video games altogether, there is something else that I desire even more: I am hoping that I can stop acting as if I’ve done something unforgivable every time I play a video game instead of doing something productive.  That shame spiral is such an awful feeling that I find myself trying to escape it… by playing more video games. I actually use the video game to avoid talking to God about my feelings about the video games.

There is nothing that I can do that places me outside of God’s love, nothing I can do that God cannot forgive. When I start getting scared to talk about something with God – when I start to resist praying – then I can be sure that I am on the wrong track. If God wants me to do something better with my time than play an addictive matching game, it is even more true that God loves me even when I am running away. Which is the best reason to turn off the game, stop running, and start listening.

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