What does Judaism say about video games? What kind of video games are permitted? [Violence, Dystopian, Sexually oriented, War themed, mental challenges, problem solving, mazes, role-playing, logic,and others.]
The answer to this question is broken into two parts; halacha - Jewish law and hashkafa - Jewish philosophy.
There is no problem halachicly with the concept of video games, with certain caveats. Sexually explicit material is striclty forbidden at it violates the laws of tzinut - modesty. War games and other violent games would also be forbidden as they are compared to the circuses of Rome (which the rabbis 2000 years ago ruled to be off limits for Jews) where people watch combatants kill each other for sport.
Games of logic like Sudoku, cross word puzzles and the like as well as tutoring games used for developing specific skills such as math and reading would be allowable according to Jewish Law, provided one engages in these games for a purpose - to relax and clear one's head to be able to face further challenges in the day, to learn a skill or similar.
Philosophically, a person who is absorbed in computer games turns his mind from Torah and his heart to idleness. This creates a drastic setback in a person's goal of achieving spirituality. A person is not allowed to filled their minds with empty things.
Years ago, I wrote a paper on how many sports are really a re-enactment of a battlefield, but with rules and structures and boundaries in place – to ensure safety, fun, and human dignity. (One need only to look at the early history of lacrosse, for example, to understand this idea.) The risks are what make the challenge of the competition interesting – but the world that we set up, with its boundaries and rules, is what makes it a redemptive and not destructive act.
I would say the same for other fantasy-based games – including video games. The worlds that we create in such experiences can spark creativity and intrigue; they can teach us lessons, in a safe and bounded manner, about our “real world.” However, we must recognize several cautions:
Scientists have recognized an addictive element to these games. In addition, unlike sports, they promote sedentary behavior, and excessive “screen time” is documented as bad for one’s health. Even more educational games should be used in moderation;
When used as tools for education (problem solving, role-playing, logic, etc.) – such tools could be encouraged (again, in moderation);
Most importantly, many games nowadays do not promote values that I’d view in keeping with Jewish values. Games that devalue the sanctity of human life – through violent, misogynistic, or sexualized themes, for example – would be highly discouraged from a Jewish perspective. We must see ourselves as created b’tzelem Elohim – in God’s image – and these video-game images desacralize that.
Worse, just as we have seen in sports, where certain players do NOT respect the boundaries of the game, and unbounded violence spills into “real life” – we have seen that the violent fantasies embedded in video games can be a factor in de-sensitizing people (especially young people) to real-world violence. The games do not cause other violence – but they play a role in numbing people to the real-world violence, nonetheless. When this happens, such games should give us pause.
Except in cases that devalue human life, sexuality, and the image of God, I would stop short of “forbidding” video games – but I would emphasize the above cautions before endorsing them, as well.
Games have been used throughout Jewish history as teaching tools and ways to engage individuals. Be it the dreidel game, or the games played by Akiva at seders to keep the kids entertained, games are an essential expression of identity.
Today, we have a variety of games to choose from, including video games and online games, which are often unmatched in sophistication and storyline, and many create opportunities for puzzle and problem solving that develop real skills. However, many games do celebrate violence, misogyny, racism and the like. On top of that, the social media aspect to many games too often leads to "trolling", a kind of cyberbullying.
As Jews, we shouldn't shy away from video games but use them as opportunities to teach our values rather than get mired in muck. Answered by: Rabbi Yair Robinson
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