Level up! It’s a feeling of achievement when you reach that next high score or successfully complete a mission. Video games can be a lot of fun, but when we hear the words “video game addiction” many are quick to label this form of entertainment as a bad idea. The trouble with addiction is that it often shows up in the form of something that isn’t inherently bad, but has come to be consumed in excess. Scripture reminds us of the importance of “redeeming the time” (Ephesians 5:15-16)—how can we follow that instruction?
I’d like to note that there are certainly some types of video games that are to be avoided. I’m not going to get into a discussion of how one would make that call today. Neither do I plan to suggest a minimum age for video games or how to approach limits on gaming for children. Instead, I’d like to share how you can overcome the temptation to let games control your life.
Scripture addresses the issue of letting something physical control you: “all things are lawful for me, but all things are not helpful. All things are lawful for me, but I will not be brought under the power of any” (1 Corinthians 6:12). The phrase “all things are lawful” is not to say that we can do anything we want. Taken in context, we see that there are definitely some actions described as sinful in the same chapter. Rather, this verse serves to illustrate the idea that something could not be sin, but still not be helpful to one’s growth as a Christian. Proverbs 25:16 illustrates this point: “Have you found honey? Eat only as much as you need, lest you be filled with it and vomit.” Partaking of desserts is enjoyable. Likewise, entertainment has a place in our lives, allowing us to relax and unwind, yet moderation is key.
Know your habits
What factors lead you to spend an excessive amount of time in gaming? I found I wasted a lot of time on games that gave me the feeling I had to check in daily. Many games send notifications to your phone, reminding you of a “daily challenge” that must be completed in a certain time frame. Finding ways to mute these notifications can help alleviate the temptation. Do you lose track of time when you’re playing games? There are also applications to limit gaming time for phones, computers and other electronics. The book of Ecclesiastes emphasizes the concept that there is a time for everything (Ecclesiastes 3:1). Allowing games to take over all of your available free time cheats you out of the opportunity to experience other meaningful activities. For the next few days, try recording your daily schedule, whether that means setting a stopwatch or noting an hour-by-hour schedule. Where does most of your time go? When you have a greater awareness of how you use your time, you can make an intentional plan to reallocate some of that time.
Some tasks are simply more difficult to accomplish alone. I used to use games and other media to fill up the time I was by myself, but what this ended up doing was pulling me even deeper into the trap of being alone and needing companionship. Try to find a mentor who will keep you accountable. Ask a reliable friend to check in on an app like Discord when you’re getting close to the time limit you set yourself for the day. Or schedule multiplayer gaming time and keep one another accountable. Ecclesiastes 4:9-10 illustrates the importance of teamwork in overcoming struggles such as addiction: “Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their labor. For if they fall, one will lift up his companion. But woe to him who is alone when he falls, for he has no one to help him up.” Keep a clock nearby or set alarms on your phone to remind you of the passage of time. Make a plan like the following: first alarm is the five-minute warning. At the second alarm, save the game and stop.
The hardest time to resist temptation is when you’re tired and have a lot of free time on your hands. Hence, evenings are the easiest time to fall into a late-night gaming binge. If I bring my phone with me into bed, chances are, I will continue to either browse social media or play a game until I’ve pushed my natural sleep cycle off a couple of hours. If you can’t control the urge to play games late at night, keep the electronics in another room. Storing your gaming computer in a separate room will allow you to be intentional and walk away after your allotted time is up for the day. If you need to keep your phone in the room as an alarm, place it out of arm’s reach when you get into bed. As an added bonus, this tip will also help you get up on time in the morning, as you’ll have to cross the room to turn off the alarm! Scripture indicates that the answer to temptation is to flee from it (2 Timothy 2:22), as proximity increases the chance that we might stumble.
Build new habits
Simply removing a problem will leave room for the old problem to return. Ephesians 4:22-24 reminds us that we can’t just stop behaving in a certain way—each of us must “put on the new man” (:24). That is, we have to replace old habits with new actions. It’s important to have a plan. Even if you don’t fall into the same bad habit, it’s not uncommon to fall into another. For instance, you might exercise the self-discipline to walk away from the game after your time limit for the day is up, but then fall into binge-eating or spending the same amount of time watching TV instead, simply replacing one problem with another. If you can, change your environment completely—go for a walk or drive to a coffee shop. If you’re not in the position to go anywhere, try calling a friend or completing a hands-on project.
You can overcome!
It’s not an easy struggle to overcome, but with God’s help it is possible! Even on the days you make backward progress, remember that “a righteous man may fall seven times and rise again” (Proverbs 24:16). The principle is not that you stop trying after the seventh failure—rather, it’s a reminder that following God means getting up and trying again. Here’s where we really want to “level up.” Take the struggle to God in prayer and ask Him for the strength to get up and move forward. You may feel you’ve wasted a day when you lost track of time once again, but don’t let it prevent you from making the next day a success! Let’s consider Paul’s encouragement to the Philippian church, who needed similar encouragement: “Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:13-14). This outdoes any achievement badge we could win in a game!