“You know how I know you’re Catholic?”
A couple weeks back I read something by a priest arguing that Real Catholic Men should not play videogames. The article was pointless and ill-informed, and proved mostly that the author had not one single solitary clue about his subject matter and only the vaguest notion about “videogames” and the people who play them.
We were treated to the standard hand-wringing about man-children, wasting time, how people could be improving themselves rather than engaging in “pointless” activity, and so on. Honestly, the piece could have written itself by dropping almost any cultural artifact–rock music, comic books, TV–into a Disapproval-o-Matic and churning out the same hollow junk.
I want to just point out two of the main problems with these useless critiques: the assumption that playing a computer, mobile, or video game interferes with life, and the idea that it’s somehow unmanly and time-wasting.
Let’s look at the time factor first, and imagine two dialogs with the author, who we’ll call Fr. Beaman.
A man in his 20s comes to visit Father for counseling. Part of their conversation goes something like this:
MAN: I spend about 12-15 hours a week following professional sports, and another 3-5 on my fantasy sports league and brackets. I also watch about 2 hours of TV a night.
FR. BEAMAN: Ho, ho! How about those (insert local sports team)!
Now let’s imagine a different exchange:
MAN: I spend about 12-15 hours a week playing Civilization V or Titanfall. I don’t really watch TV. I don’t like sports.
FR. BEAMAN: [curls his lip in disgust] And you call yourself a man?
Here’s the thing: I don’t follow sports, at all. Ever. I don’t judge people who do, but I think it is one of the most mind-numbing, pointless activities I can imagine.
If a man spends his leisure time in a complex and deep game world in which he takes an active part, while another man spends the same amount of time watching TV or following football (a fundamentally passive act), the second man is somehow judged to be more “manly” and not “wasting his time.”
This doesn’t follow. There’s nothing less “masculine” about playing World of Warcraft than there is in watching American Idol or Monday Night Football, or even going fishing. It runs afoul of none of the three moral determinants (object, end, and circumstance), and given the complexity of modern electronic gaming, it is not an empty or mindless activity.
Gamers watch far less television than non-gamers. One could even argue that gaming is morally superior to television because it can engage the intellect, stimulate the imagination, and require an element of physical interaction, whereas television renders the individual into a passive receiver.
If you’re a member of the Philadelphia Eagles, sure, I’ll give you extra “Man Points” if that’s important to you, just like I would if you were a soldier, fireman, ironworker, commercial fisherman, or longshoreman.
But if you just follow the Philadelphia Eagles? No. You’re just a guy sitting on a couch watching other men exert themselves for your amusement.
Beyond this, parsing who is a “real man” and who isn’t is a fool’s errand. Masculinity is not a set of things to be checked off a list.
The second criticism is the “you’re wasting your life” bit. We get the usual examples: you could be hiking! Learning a language! Deepening your faith! Helping the needy!
So one precludes the other? Why?
Here’s a partial list of things I have done in my life: camped, fished, sailed, fired a variety of weapons, built things out of wood and metal, painted and sketched, written and published books, learned to play several instruments, traveled to foreign countries, been in a fight, worked on a television series, earned the love of a good woman, made love to said woman, sired children, studied and taught the faith, volunteered thousands of hours, worked with the poor and sick, raised money for a charity, prayed daily, earned two advanced degrees (one of them in Theology), learned a language, raised and cared for a variety of animals, played a team sport, took care of my dying father, run a 6-minute mile, chopped a tree and made a fire, earned an income and supported a family, paid a mortgage, conducted pilgrimages, and earned a reputation in my profession.
Some of these I still do. Some of them I tried and do not enjoy, and thus will not likely do them again. I do not like camping, for example. My wife loves it. We’ve tried to compromise. I can take or leave fishing. I don’t oppose hunting but neither do I enjoy it. I’m not handy. And although my physical problems sometimes limit my ability to get around in the world, I don’t feel this makes me less of a man or my life less full.
Thus, this idea that all men who play games are living withered and incomplete lives is a fantasy. Some men indeed may be letting games interfere with a full life, and that is a problem just like any other disordered attachment. If Father had merely said “Men who overdo the gaming thing need to get out now and then and see the world,” he would have had no complaint from me. An obsession is bad regardless of the object.
But that wasn’t the point being made. Gaming was singled out as something no Catholic man worth his manhood should be doing.
Well, I’m a man, and like many other men my age (46), as well as men both older and younger, I enjoy computer and videogames now and then.
And that’s just fine.
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