"Africa is, indeed, coming into fashion." - Horace Walpole (1774)


violent young men

I saw the Halo youth ministry story that everyone's commenting on when I picked up a copy of the New York Times at the airport on Sunday. For those of you who are lucky enough not to have read the story, it seems that staging nights of playing Halo 3 (a rather violent video game) is the hip new thing for youth ministers to do to lure in young boys who never go outside. They set up competition nights on various televisions at the church, then have some kind of lesson that tries to relate Jesus' message to the act of killing pixellated versions of living things. It is, the youth ministers say, the only way to get some kids in the door.

Quite frankly, I don't really care. I've never "gotten" video games, and I don't intend to expend any effort in doing so now. I don't attend the sort of church that would consider making video games a serious part of youth ministry, probably because we consider discipleship, community, and contemplation more important than a body count.

What got to me about this story, though, was the fact that it was on the same front page as was the story that caused me to pick up the New York Times in the first place. There, above the fold, was a picture from Panzi Hospital, and a story that started with Dr. Mukwege, the gynaecologist who performs fistula repair surgeries for hundreds and thousands of women and girls who have been raped by armed forces (usually by young men) in the Congo. It's a hospital I've visited, a doctor I've interviewed, women whose broken faces and broken bodies I've seen.

The article doesn't mention it, but Panzi is a hospital that's supported by churches. Dr. Mukwege is a pastor's son.

Looking at those two articles, juxtaposed on the same front page of the Sunday Times, I couldn't help but wonder what those Congolese Christians who do all they can to serve the victims of violent crimes would think if they knew that American churches are using a violent video game to lure young men into their sanctuaries.

What a wide gulf separates us from our brothers and sisters in Christ.


Blogger David McCullars said...

I appreciate the sense of irony here and am equally disgusted at how far so many church ministries cheapen the message -- it's only about getting more warm bodies into the pews.

However, in defense of these violent video games, I have to point out that Texas in Africa takes no issue with the ubber violence of Football. Yes, no one is getting shot with a futuristic weapon that cause them to explode, but then again no one is getting hurt at all in a video game -- it's all imaginary just like a comic book or a movie. In football, the violence is very real, and people do get seriously hurt.

I had a wise and exceptional history teacher (who was himself a huge football fan) liken our indulgence in football as a sort of substitute for that dark part of our soul which seeks war and conquering, a substitute which gives us release from that angst while keeping our hands clean from the true horrors of such things. Why then should we be embarrassed as a culture of violent things like comic books, movies, or video games. Not only are the entertainment (to some but not all), they provide a similar relief that in large part helps us prevent the kind of violence that happens in places where such avenues are not available. Just think how much better off the world would be if we could replace every AK-47 in the hands of a child soldier with an XBox360.

As an interesting side note: apparently a lot of active soldiers in Afghanistan and Iraq play violent video games in their downtime, even war video games. The irony is hard to miss, but apparently this is helping to reduce combat stress by giving soldiers a safe vehicle to channel their frustration.

Here's a nice article by an MIT prof debunking many of the misconceptions about video games:

Wednesday, October 10, 2007 10:46:00 AM

Anonymous Michael Westmoreland-White said...

Violent video games are banned in our house. So are TV shows like "24," and "The Unit," which promote torture.

I like a good scare from time to time, (big Hitchcock fan), but I see nothing of value in movies like "Saw," "Hostel," etc. which just desensitize people to violence.

Instead, I commend churches which take youth groups to mission projects where they see the results of violence and suffering and become part of the solution, not the problem.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007 1:20:00 PM

Blogger texasinafrica said...

Fair enough, David, but I do think there's a difference between playing a game (a game that's a business, but nonetheless a game) and actually pretending to murder someone. Like I said, I have no real interest in coming down on either side of the debate at least when it comes to whether kids should be playing violent video games.

Michael, I'm guessing it's considerably easier to ban the violent video games when you have girls. :)

Wednesday, October 10, 2007 4:29:00 PM

Blogger Emily said...

I don't really take issue with violent video games, having played Doom back in the day. I don't think kids younger than jr. high/high school should be playing them though. And there is definitely such a thing as too much.

However - I do take issue with the mixed-message that church is sending, the compromising of values just to get the kids in. I had some religious, shall we say, confusion in my high school years and it was not helped by the hypocrisy/mixed message game that some churches/some "Christians" play.

Kids are not that dumb. They'll go to the church, sure, and sit through what they have to sit through to get to play. Instead of reaching these kids/their communities in a meaningful way, they're pandering to the kids....agh.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007 9:47:00 PM

Anonymous Michael Westmoreland-White said...

I don't know, Laura. The girls see their mother yell at the TV when the Lady Vols play basketball and we see how enthusiastic you are on football. In an age of women in combat, etc., I am surprised at you pushing the "it must be easier to ban violent video games with girls" line.

However, maybe you have a point: I have had a much easier time fighting the pro-militarism and pro-violence propaganda than I have the pro-consumerist "Barbie" messages. Sigh.

Thursday, October 11, 2007 8:16:00 AM

Blogger texasinafrica said...

That's a good point, Michael, but I do think there's something to the idea that boys and girls are just different. Watching friends' children and kids at church, it's just amazing how the boys tend to play games that are more violent, even if their parents don't allow violent toys, etc. Most don't naturally tend towards playing house. How much of it is nature and how much is nurture is of course up for debate, but I don't know many mothers who encourage their 2-year-old sons to shoot at things.

Not that any of that should be a basis for denying girls the right to pursue any career they want.

Thursday, October 11, 2007 10:13:00 AM

Blogger texasinafrica said...

Emily, that is such a good point, and one certainly backed my experiences as well. Although I never had much of a choice about going to church...

Thursday, October 11, 2007 10:14:00 AM


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