Ever heard of video games as a tool of Satan? If you grew up in the 90s, you’re probably familiar with the worldwide hysteria that is now known as the Satanic Panic. Back in the day, everything could be a sneaky scheme to encourage children to practice sorcery. Pokémon, Dungeons and Dragons, and of course Doom video games were all condemned by Christian evangelicals as tools of the devil.
But what about other faiths? As a person who enjoys a lot of games and who is deep into meditation, I can’t help but wonder how video games and Buddhism interact. Here’s what I found.
Videogames and Violence
There’s a perception out there that some games are violent and damaging in some sort of ways. We’re all familiar, for example, with the long-standing debate about whether violent video games may lead to real-world violence. Buddhism is associated with the idea that by teaching the mind you can approach enlightenment. Conditioning the mind towards violence seems then all the more dangerous.
Why Videogames May Be Bad for You…
There is indeed a text in which Buddha talks about the games he did not play. He doesn’t gamble, he doesn’t play chess – these activities can take us away from mindfulness. Games can be addictive and can lead us to spend less time being mindful and present. Our minds can get trapped into (video) games so much that we forget the true nature of our emotions. We get angry and we feel frustrated when someone interrupts us.
… And Why They’re Actually Good
But that’s not the whole picture. You can counter that with examples of how creative a lot of games are. Video games are an incredible outlet for creative people – and that’s particularly true for marginalized people. Artist Cornelia Geppert gave a moving TED Talk in which she argued that video games can help us better grapple with the complexity and struggles of mental health. And even Buddhist monks use video games as a good way to relax, to blow off some steam, and to release tension. The Karmapa Lama – head of one of the four schools of Tibetan Buddhism – told the Times of India that he plays videogames a form of emotional therapy. He sees games as a means of catharsis: “the aggression that comes out in the videogame satiates whatever desire I might have to express that feeling.”
It looks like some lines shouldn’t be crossed, though. Griefing – repeatedly killing a person in a video game or, broadly speaking, preventing someone from enjoying the game – is much more akin to doing a little bit of harm to a real person than just bowling off some steam. And of course, there’s the issue of not becoming dependent on something external for your well-being. Gaming can become an addiction – and you do not give the key to your happiness to anyone else.
With that said, I’ve found that moderation, honesty, and awareness are the key ingredients when dealing with Buddhism and video games. Meditation teaches you to look with honesty and awareness at how activities can generate negative emotions – and how to deal with them. Games are fun and can be an intense meditative experience in and by themselves. You just need to stay mindful and not let them become overwhelming. Maybe the next time you play, put on some meditative chill music in the background. It’s a great way to chill, play, and not get trapped in the Samsara.