According to a recent report, 40% of the world’s population plays video games.  This number has increased dramatically with the rise of smartphones, which enable people to play anywhere, not just using the game console connected to the television set in their home. Many Christians are interested to know whether or not playing video games is sinful.
Playing video games isn’t inherently sinful, as the technology itself doesn’t violate God’s moral standards. However, the content can be sinful because some games include images and storylines that glorify sin. It’s also wrong when video games take priority over matters that God says are important.
How can people know what kind of content is in video games? What is the ESRB? Is it a Christian organization? Does it matter that the content is animated and not real? What Bible verses can help people think through this topic? Keep reading to learn the answers to these questions and others.
Also see Watching Anime A Sin? to learn more.
Why are some video games inappropriate for Christians?
In the early decades of the video game industry, games that didn’t have questionable content, like Pong and Pac-Man, dominated brick-and-mortar arcades and home television screens. The content of video games has changed a lot since then. Many popular games have content that is similar to a rated R movie, and some have more extreme content than that.
The content of video games, like their storylines and images, determines whether or not they are sinful to play. If someone composed music for a song and one person wrote lyrics for it that glorifies God and another wrote lyrics for it that celebrated sin, the problem wouldn’t be in the music itself. The content of the lyrics would determine if the song (music and lyrics) was sinful or not. Similarly, video games can be used to help kids learn math or get physically fit, but they can also glorify sinful behavior.
How can people know what kind of content is in video games? The “Entertainment Software Ratings Board” (ESRB) is a non-profit agency serving the region of North America that assigns ratings to video games based on their content. (Other regions have other agencies.) The ratings are intended to inform parents about the subject matter of games. The ESRB ratings include five general categories.
|E for Everyone||Games with this rating contain content that the ESRB believes is generally suitable for all ages. They can contain content such as infrequent use of “mild” cartoon-like violence, and mild language.|
|E+ Everyone Over 10||Games with this rating contain content that the ESRB believes is generally suitable for ages 10 and older. They can contain content such as a greater amount of violence, mild language, crude humor, or suggestive content than the Everyone (E) rating.|
|T for Teen||Games with this rating contain content that the ESRB believes is generally suitable for ages 13 and older. They can contain content higher in impact than the Everyone 10+ rating but not to the extent of the Mature (M) rating, such as moderate amounts of violence (including small amounts of blood), infrequent use of strong language or suggestive themes, sexual content, brief nudity, and crude humor.|
|M for Mature 17+||Games with this rating contain content that the ESRB believes is generally suitable for ages 17 and older. They can contain content such as intense and/or realistic portrayals of violence (including blood, gore, mutilation, and depictions of death), strong sexual themes and content, nudity, and more frequent use of strong language.|
|A for Adults Only 18+||Games with this rating contain content that the ESRB believes is only suitable for ages 18 and older. They contain content with an impact higher than the Mature (M) rating can accommodate, such as graphic sexual themes and content, extreme portrayals of violence, or unsimulated gambling with real money. The majority of AO-rated titles are adult video games and received their ratings for their graphic sexual content. |
Many of the best-selling video games have ratings of T or M. One of the most popular genres of E-rated games are sports-related. A T-rated video game may have content that Christians find objectionable based on the ESRB description. The majority of M-rated games include content that the Bible considers sinful. For example, an M-rated game reviewed on the ESRB website includes the following descriptions:
- Violent content: “Cutscenes also depict intense acts of violence: a man executed from the gallows; a character shooting himself in the head; a man repeatedly electrocuted; a bound man set on fire.”
- Sexual content: “The game contains instances of nudity and brief sexual content: a woman (breasts exposed) straddling a man inside a brothel; a spanking scene that is depicted from a distance and includes a fleeting depiction of male genitalia; sexual moaning sounds inside a tent; male characters with exposed genitalia in non-sexual settings (e.g., a man swimming in a river, corpses on the ground).”
- Drug content: “During the course of the game, players’ character can engage in a drinking mini-game in which alcohol is poured for drunken bar patrons; players’ character is also depicted drinking alcohol, sometimes resulting in screen-distortion effects and impaired controls. One of the stimulant power-ups is known as Cocaine Gum, which players’ character can chew; in one scene, characters can briefly be seen smoking from an opium pipe.” 
Content that the ESRB factors into its ratings include:
- Alcohol references
- Blood and gore
- Drug references
- Crude humor
- Real gambling
- Nudity and sex
- Offensive language
- Realistic violence
Is the ESRB a Christian organization? No. The ESRB isn’t assessing video game content based on biblical standards of morality. However, Christian parents can still use their rating system as a starting point for understanding the content of video games just as many consult MPAA ratings before watching movies.
Also see Are Subliminals A Sin? to learn more.
Does it matter that video games are animated?
Some people argue that video games do less harm than real-life depictions of the same events. The argument states that since animated characters aren’t made in God’s image like real people are (Gen. 1:26-27) then no sin is occurring. Yet this only addresses one way that people sin by playing video games with objectionable content.
M- and A-rated video games, for example, depict sex in ways that violate God’s intention for it. The Bible teaches that sex is for a married man and woman. It’s a private experience between consenting spouses. Sexually explicit video games don’t uphold the Bible’s teachings about the holy nature of sex and God’s purposes for it. In this case, it doesn’t matter if the people are animated or not.
Also see Is Cheating On A Test A Sin? to learn more.
Can video games be used for good purposes?
Like television, the radio, the internet, and smartphones, the technology that enables video games isn’t inherently sinful. However, how a person chooses to use each of these technologies can be sinful.
- Many schools use video games to teach the basics of math, science, spelling, and other subjects.
- Many municipalities use video game-like technology to run simulations related to water, energy, housing. and transportation.
- Many divisions of the military use video games to train soldiers.
- Many families play video games together, including ones that encourage teamwork, physical activity, and managing money.
Also see Is Cutting Your Hair A Sin? to learn more.
5 Bible verses that help people assess video-game content
- Philippians 4:8, “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”
- Psalm 101:2-3, “I will ponder the way that is blameless. Oh when will you come to me? I will walk with integrity of heart within my house; I will not set before my eyes anything that is worthless. I hate the work of those who fall away; it shall not cling to me.”
- Colossians 3:17, “And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”
- Hebrews 13:5, “Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you.'”
- Ephesians 5:11, “Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them.”
Also see Is It a Sin To Believe In Zodiac Signs? to learn more.
1 John 5:16 makes a distinction between a sin that leads to death and a sin that doesn't. This description confuses some readers and troubles others. That there is a "sin that leads to death" raises...
Manifestation, or the Law of Attraction, is a philosophy whose purpose is to draw to oneself life-enhancing gifts like love, money, and success through a certain way of thinking. Many Christians are...