Gaming Advice from the Jehovah’s Witnesses

Posted on June 12, 2014

On Facebook, someone shared with me a link to an article entitled ‘What should I know about electronic games?’ under the heading ‘Young People Ask’ on the Jehovah’s Witnesses website. Rather than dismissing it immediately as spam I thought it was worth looking in some detail at how a large religious organisation is dealing with some of the issues around young people and technology that we’ve been discussing here.

Kid playing handheld under covers

This image is not really value-free, unfortunately; source: http://www.jw.org/en/bible-teachings/family/teenagers/ask/know-about-electronic-games/

Overall, the perspective is quite balanced, which is encouraging. It begins with a quiz with answers based on 2013 data (although no source is given), and the quiz serves mainly to disrupt some of the key myths about gamers: mainly that they are young boys. Yes, the average age of gamers is 30 (2013 Australian data has it at 32) and yes, more gamers than you think are female. Although not new to the gaming community, this debunking is important for those who are unfamiliar with modern gaming. Data like this serves to break down some of the pervasive mainstream myths about gaming that seem to have some traction in wider culture.

The piece then goes on to outline ‘the good’ and ‘the bad’ about playing video games: this ends up like a pretty familiar laundry list of items taken from both the digital evangelist and moral panic camps of gaming commentary. On the one hand, games can be fun, a welcome distraction and release from daily stresses, even educational! On the other hand, they can be addictive, a waste of time, and even encourage violence. This uncritical presentation of two relatively ill-founded arguments is not really very helpful, but it does at least serve to underscore two different perspectives on the issue.

For my money, the standout value of this article is the ‘back to reality’ section, which argues that ‘Many young people have learned to be balanced in their use of electronic games’. This suggests the need to build young players’ capacity to reflect on their own gaming activities and how positive or negative they may be, and to begin to put in place their own boundaries to ensure that their gaming stays positive. Of course, this sometimes requires guidance and facilitation from adults and parents, but if this becomes rule-setting it can become adversarial and counterproductive.

'What peers say' from JW website post

The tone here doesn’t quite hit the mark of a friendly, helpful peer; source: http://www.jw.org/en/bible-teachings/family/teenagers/ask/know-about-electronic-games/

Of less interest and usefulness to the agnostic, secular me is the website’s regular quotation of scripture to support its points – although I understand that the Bible can inform your life in important ways, for me it seems like a bolt-on approach. Also, the ‘advice from peers’ section seems a bit one-sided, although there is a good attempt to encourage young players to regulate their own behaviour. The overall tone comes across as a bit preachy though, which I guess is understandable given the source.

Altogether, though, this post is very useful for the balance it brings to public discussion of young people and gaming, specially from a large, conservative religious organisation in a country often dominated by moral panic about the effects of video games. All credit to the author for contributing in a reasoned, rational way to a discussion which is not always so.


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