Discernment Beyond Game Ratings

There’s a Friend who helps make sense of what to play.

When’s the last time you really looked at the cover art for the game you’ve been playing or its marketing page? That letter or number you’ll find isn’t just for aesthetics. Everything we do in some way is governed by someone or something.

The purpose is to regulate activity or in the case we’re focused on, content classification. Whomever you are, these letters don’t begin to scratch the surface for the gift found only in Jesus Christ—discernment.

There are many regional ratings systems for games, but our focus is on the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB). In general, the ESRB was created by the Entertainment Software Association (ESA) as a response to the growing outcry against an increasing display of violence, sexual themes and their relation to realistic expressions of humans within games in the early 1990s. It was an effort to appease the Senate as it was seeking to regulate the sale of games itself. Its present mission is:

To empower consumers, especially parents, with guidance that allows them to make informed decisions about the age-appropriateness and suitability of video games and apps while holding the video game industry accountable for responsible marketing practices.

ESA

At face value, it’s pretty good. Each letter grade is accompanied by content descriptors that the ESRB uses to highlight what a game is about and how the subject matter is represented. Its parent company the ESA has provided various research, suggesting that game ratings have a positive impact on assisting purchasers make age-appropriate decisions. Here’s what I gathered from the ESA’s ‘About Page’:

The Entertainment Software Association (ESA) is the U.S. association dedicated to serving the business and public affairs needs of companies that publish computer and video games for video game consoles, handheld devices, personal computers and the Internet.

Under his leadership, the association is transforming the perception of video games by demonstrating the influence of entertainment software on areas of daily life such as education, health, and the workplace.

ESA

As you can see there are two foci: serving businesses and transforming the perception of video games, neither of which are concerned with your relationship with God or even its ESRB arm. The issue is that as the world continues to create for itself what’s tolerable or not, it will reveal those ideologies in digital games.

I’ve been on both ends of the retail/consumer dynamic. I used to consume games, keeping a steady backlog of un-played games and I worked as an employee for various retailers concerned only with the company’s bottom-line. I’ve seen the idolatry, deceitful themes and other gross things found in games rated E through M, not just M for “mature.”

I’ve found consumers to be lazy. I should know—I was one. I’ve gobbled plenty of will-breaking games for the sake of entertainment and handed that same mess to others by selling them and trading them in.

For the Christian, there is a better case for knowing what to engage in beyond what’s suggested by people you don’t even know. Why rely on a system that’s attempting to appease companies and chasing dollars, while failing to obey God? Why not rely on His Holy Spirit?

The Discernment of God

God really cares about what you play. If this is your first time hearing this, today is a day of freedom! A worldly system at best, seeks to discover what’s acceptable as society’s desires change. But God has already told us what is and isn’t acceptable and His word is settled. He’s perfect and holy. His word is sovereign—it need not change.

When you’re confronted with something that isn’t a concern for game ratings or something deemed tolerable (making much of it) how do you respond? It matters to God, so it should matter to you.

Spend time with God and you’ll see how to enjoy the leisure he has given you.

Discernment is the key for knowing what to play for God’s people. You receive discernment from the Spirit of Christ. He is discernment, knowing the mind of God and ready to disclose such knowledge so that we may glorify God in all things (1Co 2:11).

“Test all things, and hold firmly that which is good” (1Th 5:21). Discernment speaks of knowing what pleases God. We’re told to test the sayings of prophecies—and don’t digital games have all kinds of messages for you! Notice the command. God is putting you in charge of exercising discernment—so be active in this.

Don’t leave this up to someone else. You can know what pleases God, because the Spirit of God grants us such a privilege as we seek Him as our priority. And we test all things by the word of God and prayer, seeking His will.

Now when you discover the good grasp it, because that reflects the value God. It’s shareable. It’s praiseworthy. By the same token, if it isn’t good, let it go with an open hand. If it doesn’t honor God, why keep it and allow it to distort the beauty of Jesus?

We have an eternal responsibility for handling temporary matters. I’m thankful for game ratings systems such as the ESRB—they have their use, but can only go so far for your life, your courtship, marriage, parenting and relationship with Christ Jesus. Those systems can’t address specific spiritual battles you may be having like lust, anger, bitterness, homosexuality, etc. In the end, the system is more about the industry and less about you and even less about God.

If you’re a Christian, you’ve been given the mind of Christ for such discernment. Don’t flow with the tide of this age and its ever-changing ways, but spend time with God and then you’ll see better how to enjoy the leisure God’s given you (Rm 12:2).