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Word of Wisdom

Video game playing is perhaps the one thing young people hold most in common with each other. According to a Pew Internet study in 2007, 99% of boys and 94% of girls play video games. In moderation, games can provide a much needed diversion. Most teens play games in groups, so game playing can also be a social experience. However, excessive game playing, like anything done to excess, can cause imbalance in your life. If the time you spend on video games crowds out study time, exercise, sleep, and “real world” interactions with your friends and family members, it’s time to reevaluate how much time you spend playing. In extreme cases, excessive video game playing can result in social isolation and desensitization to others. This is particularly true of violent or sexually explicit games. If you play games, you should choose games that are uplifting and worthy of your time and attention. And you should keep the amount of time you spend on them balanced appropriately with the more important things in your life.

As a student you have multiple demands on your time. It can be challenging to maintain quality relationships with your family members, roommates, friends, and classmates while keeping up with your academic and employment endeavors. Every day is a balancing act. Sometimes you have to make difficult decisions, choosing between two or more things that are “good.” It is important to build recreational activities into your schedule to rest your mind and relieve stress. Video games can be part of a healthy mix of activities you engage in. There is a danger, however, of getting so caught up in games—or in one particular game—that you allow your life to get out of balance. Those who are addicted to games tend to get lower grades and are “more likely to have been diagnosed with an attention deficit problem.” Single-player, multiplayer and so-called “massively multiplayer online role playing games” (MMORPGs) (such as World Of Warcraft and Everquest) can be particularly time consuming, expensive, and addictive.

You should also carefully review and consider the subject matter, storyline, and content of the games you play. Games that include graphic violence or that contain sexually suggestive, obscene, or pornographic images, words or sounds are not consistent with Latter-day Saint standards and the Honor Code. Playing these kinds of games can be desensitizing. In an Ensign article about violence in movies and video games, Brother Brad J. Bushman observed:

Scientific studies have also found evidence that violent media can be desensitizing—a finding that has been validated by our priesthood leaders. Elder Marvin J. Ashton of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles (1915–94) said: “A diet of violence or pornography dulls the senses, and future exposures need to be rougher and more extreme. Soon the person is desensitized and is unable to react in a sensitive, caring, responsible manner, especially to those in his own home and family. Good people can become infested with this material and it can have terrifying, destructive consequences.”

If you are still not sure about the appropriateness of a particular game, the prophet Moroni taught us the sure way to choose between good and evil (in Moroni Chapter 7):

16 For behold, the Spirit of Christ is given to every man, that he may know good from evil; wherefore, I show unto you the way to judge; for every thing which inviteth to do good, and to persuade to believe in Christ, is sent forth by the power and gift of Christ; wherefore ye may know with a perfect knowledge it is of God.

17 But whatsoever thing persuadeth men to do evil, and believe not in Christ, and deny him, and serve not God, then ye may know with a perfect knowledge it is of the devil; for after this manner doth the devil work, for he persuadeth no man to do good, no, not one; neither do his angels; neither do they who subject themselves unto him.

Elder David A. Bednar similarly counseled: “The standard is clear. If something we think, see, hear, or do distances us from the Holy Ghost, then we should stop thinking, seeing, hearing, or doing that thing. If that which is intended to entertain, for example, alienates us from the Holy Spirit, then certainly that type of entertainment is not for us” (“That We May Always Have His Spirit to Be with Us,” April 2006 General Conference).

More recently, Elder Bednar has warned, "A young man or woman may waste countless hours, postpone or forfeit vocational or academic achievement, and ultimately sacrifice cherished human relationships because of mind- and spirit-numbing video and online games. As the Lord declared, 'Wherefore, I give unto them a commandment … : Thou shalt not idle away thy time, neither shalt thou bury thy talent that it may not be known'."

You should carefully avoid getting so caught up in video game playing—particularly games that are offensive to the Spirit—that you lose sight of that which is of greatest worth.

One of the most important skills you should learn in your busy life is time management. BYU’s Counseling and Career Center offers workshops on time management that can help you create the right balance in your life.

You should also be honest with yourself about how you spend your time and your motives for spending it how you do. When you play video games, are you in search of a harmless, fun distraction for a few minutes, or are you allowing yourself to get so engrossed in the world of the game that your accomplishments in its virtual world are more meaningful to you than the things you do in the real world?

Elder Bednar suggests you also ask yourself the following questions as you make media-related choices and decisions:

  1. Does the use of various technologies and media invite or impede the constant companionship of the Holy Ghost in your life?
  2. Does the time you spend using various technologies and media enlarge or restrict your capacity to live, to love, and to serve in meaningful ways?

If you aren’t sure if you’ve found the right balance in your life regarding the kind of games you play and how much you play them, these questions are a great starting point in a “personal game playing inventory” you should conduct.

Additional guidelines and suggestions you might want to incorporate into such an inventory include:

  • Prayerfully consider and set limits for yourself and stick to them. For example, you might set aside a specific amount of time each day or each week for video game playing. You should establish personal rules about what kinds of games you will play. If some of the games you own or play are not consistent with the limits you set, get rid of them and quit playing them.
  • Play intellectually challenging games that hone your decision-making and problem-solving skills.
  • Keep game consoles and computers in public areas where others can see the games you are playing and the way you are playing them.
  • Whenever possible, play games with roommates and friends to make gaming a more socially enriching experience.
  • Create a budget for your game-related expenditures. Reevaluate your budget on a regular basis.
  • If you’re worried that your game playing time and expenses are getting out of control, keep a game playing journal for two or three weeks and then review it. Prayerfully consider the impact of your behavior and purchases on the things that matter most to you.
  • Make sure that video game playing is not your only or even primary form of recreation. Participate in a wide variety of recreational activities, including physical exercise and social activities with friends and family members.

Video game playing can be a harmless, enjoyable diversion in your hectic, busy life. Make sure that you keep the right balance in your life. Don’t allow video games to become an avoidance mechanism for the real-world challenges and problems you face.

If you’re worried that you might be addicted to video game playing, seek the help of your Bishop and the professionals at the Counseling and Career Center. You should also review the articles and organizations listed on the “Resources” page, including “Online Gamers Anonymous.”

To an alarming extent, our children today are being educated by the media, including the Internet. In the United States, it is reported that the average child watches approximately four hours of television daily, much of the programming being filled with violence, alcohol and drug use, and sexual content. Watching movies and playing video games is in addition to the four hours. And the statistics are much the same for other developed countries. The messages portrayed on television, in movies, and in other media are very often in direct opposition to that which we want our children to embrace and hold dear. It is our responsibility not only to teach them to be sound in spirit and doctrine but also to help them stay that way, regardless of the outside forces they may encounter.

“Limiting the amount of time spent playing computer games. How many kills you can make in a minute with a computer game will have zero effect on your capacity to be a good missionary.”

Sadly, some young men and women in the Church today ignore “things as they really are” and neglect eternal relationships for digital distractions, diversions, and detours that have no lasting value. My heart aches when a young couple—sealed together in the house of the Lord for time and for all eternity by the power of the holy priesthood—experiences marital difficulties because of the addicting effect of excessive video gaming or online socializing. A young man or woman may waste countless hours, postpone or forfeit vocational or academic achievement, and ultimately sacrifice cherished human relationships because of mind- and spirit-numbing video and online games. As the Lord declared, “Wherefore, I give unto them a commandment … : Thou shalt not idle away thy time, neither shalt thou bury thy talent that it may not be known” (D&C 60:13).
You may now be asking yourself, “But Brother Bednar, you began today by talking about the importance of a physical body in our eternal progression. Are you suggesting that video gaming and various types of computer-mediated communication can play a role in minimizing the importance of our physical bodies?” That is precisely what I am declaring.

Similarly, the Spirit is offended when we pollute our minds with harmful, violent material, whether or not such material causes us to commit violent acts. Consuming violent media makes it more difficult to keep ourselves “unspotted from the world” (James 1:27). It is troubling that so many people consider it entertaining to view violence or play violent video games.