This article looks at the problems and sinfulness of violent video games

Source: Clarion, 2014. 3 pages.

Violent Video Games

The scene before me was shocking. Four men walked into an airport, armed to the teeth with fully automatic assault rifles. Standing behind an airport security guard, they waited until he turned and noticed them, and then they opened fire, cutting down him and the crowds of innocent victims behind him with the sounds of gun­shots, screams, groans, and music all swirling togeth­er. Behind the carnage, giving me a glimpse of his gory world was some unseen gamer, deftly moving his thumbs and fingers to perpetuate the bloodshed before him. He was playing Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2.

This is not even the worst of the games. A little bit of research, which I had to stop when my stomach began to turn and my mind began to feel over-polluted, revealed that there are many games that allow the gamer to wade into scenes of massive and senseless violence and perform sadistic acts of torture on virtual avatars in virtual en­vironments that are incredibly and increasingly lifelike.

The proliferation of violent video games and the tech­nology that allows these games to look, sound, and feel so real brings Christians face to face with a necessary question. Is playing violent video games sin against the sixth commandment, "You shall not kill"? In this article I will argue that it is.

What is a Violent Video Game?🔗

The first thing to establish is this: what is a violent video game? I do not believe that every video game which contains violence is a violent video game. The type of game that I am speaking about in this article must meet with one or more of the following criteria:

  1. A violent video game is one in which killing and per­forming violent acts is or is closely associated with the main objective of the game.
  2. A violent video game is one that includes a high vol­ume of killing and other violence.
  3. A violent video game is one that includes sadistic ways of killing and performing other violent acts.
  4. A violent video game is one that includes highly re­al-to-life environments of killing and other violence.

Along with these we could add the qualification that the killing and other acts of violence is done against human or human-like avatars within the game. I can recall playing video games where a plane flies along and shoots score of planes, helicopters, and asteroids that come its way dur­ing the gameplay. I do not regard this as a violent video game. The violent games that I have in mind are mostly first-person shooter games that trace their origins back to Doom and Duke Nuke'm (games like the Call of Duty, Far Cry, and Halo franchises), fighting games in the tradition of Mortal Combat, and also role-playing games that intro­duce killing and violent acts into the game's narrative.

What Happens as You Play Violent Video Games?🔗

Quite obviously, these games contain a lot of in-game killing and violence, which one could argue is itself a sin against the sixth commandment. But there is more to con­sider. Playing violent video games correlates very strong­ly with increased aggressive behaviour. One summary of many studies on video game violence lists these effects. Violent video games are significantly associated with increased aggressive behaviour, thoughts, and feelings. They increase physiological arousal (heart-rate, adrena­line), which affects the development of the mind's neural pathways. They also decrease positive social behaviors, like helping people when they are in need. These effects can been seen in players after both short and long term exposure to video game violence, and it does not seem to matter whether the environment is highly true-to-life or if it contains creative and cartoonish elements.1

Why does playing violent video games promote these harmful behaviours and reactions in those who play them? The authors of the same study suggest sev­eral sensible reasons. First, violent video games create positive attitudes toward aggression and aggressive solu­tions to problems. Garners are presented with challen­ges that require violent solutions and are rewarded for performing them well. Second, these games reinforce aggressive "scripts" in the gamer's mind. A script is a predetermined series of actions and reactions that train the mind to act and react in a certain pattern. Whenever a problem is presented in a game, the answer involves killing and violence. Scripting can go beyond the game as well. Consider a teenage boy who uses violent video games as a refuge from the difficult realities of his life: argue with your parents, the retreat to perform violent acts in a video game; get bullied at school, recover by performing violent acts in a video game; get hurt by your friends, get your mind off it by performing violent acts in a video game. Do you see how a pattern can start to form? Third, violent video games minimize non-aggressive scripts. The easiest and best solution in these games is al­most always to kill. Fourth, violent video games decrease normal negative reactions to violence. This is commonly spoken of as becoming "desensitized." The first time that someone plays a game like Grand Theft Auto III, they are taken aback by the brutality, even though they know it is "just a game," but the more they are exposed, the more normal the brutal and senseless acts of violence become.

The Sin of Violent Video Games🔗

With the onset of mass-violence that has beset especial­ly the United States, media and politicians there have strug­gled to find that direct causal link between video games and murder. But the perspective that Reformed believers bring to the table greatly helps this discussion. Murder, according to our Lord Jesus, has not only to do with a specific act of killing, but also with the root cause of hatred (Matthew 5:21-22). John Calvin says, "The sum of this Commandment is, that we should not unjustly do violence to any one."2The Heidelberg Catechism summarizes a host of biblical in­sight and direction when it says the sixth commandment requires that,

I am not to dishonor, hate, injure, or kill my neighbour by thoughts, words, or gestures, and much less by deeds, whether personally or through another.

Murder is not just an act, but also a thought, a word, and a feeling. Murder is not just killing, but includes hatred, envy, anger, and desire for revenge (LD 40).

According to this broader and more biblical under­standing of murder, violent video games are sinful and sin-inducing.

  • First, they simulate the act of murder itself. Many garners and even Christian gamers will argue that the virtual world of the game means that it is not possible to murder. But if we were to compare that logic to the sev­enth commandment and suggest that committing adultery, viewing nudity, and stimulating lust is just a part of the gaming environment and does not affect us outside of the game, no one would believe us because we all know it is not true. What we do and see on the screen has a tangible connection to what we experience in our hearts and minds.
  • Second, they stimulate the root of murder. God's Word abhors men of violence: they walk the path of fools (Proverb 4:17 and context) and are enemies of God's people (Psalm 18:48). Can we at one time fill our minds with murderous intentions, aggressive desires, and vengeful thoughts, and at the same time call ourselves the children of God?
  • Third, violent video games stifle our ability to show empathy, care, and love to our neighbour. The Heidelberg Catechism rightly explains that the sixth commandment is not only about avoiding certain actions, but by this command God also seeks to induce us to love our neighbours and express positive traits like gentleness and mercy toward them.
  • Fourth, these games desensitize us to the injustice of murder and violence. The presence of sin and brokenness in this world is meant to grieve us and to cause us to cry out to God. David cries out in Psalm 7:9, 

O righteous God, who searches minds and hearts, bring to an end the violence of the wicked and make the righteous secure.

When we see the violence promoted through violent video games, and then consider that a large contingent of Chris­tians, especially Christian young men, are uncritically and wholeheartedly losing themselves into these virtual worlds of death and destruction, our hearts should grieve and our prayers should ascend to God for them.

The Lord calls us as Christians – male and female, teenager or retiree – to not conform to the pattern of this world, but to be transformed by the renewing of our minds (Roman 12:2). The world might lose themselves in the violence of Call of Duty and Halo, but we must keep our minds pure and unpolluted by sin. Violent video games induce sin. Let's stop playing them.


  1. ^ Craig A. Anderson and Brad J. Bushman, "Effects of Violent Video Games on Aggressive Behaviour, Aggressive Cognition, Aggressive Affect, Physiological Arousal, and Prosocial Behav­iour: A Meta-Analytic Review of Scientific Literatiure," Psycho­logical Science 12, no. 5 (2001): 353-359.
  2. ^ John Calvin, Commentaries on the Four Last Books of Moses Arranged in the Form of a Harmony (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2010), volume 3, pg 20.

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