Halo 3, the violent video game that made Microsoft hundreds of millions of dollars in its first week on store shelves, is now being used to attract young men to church, the New York Times reports today. “Teens are our ‘fish,'” one youth pastor wrote in a letter to parents. “So we’ve become creative in baiting our hooks.”
The headline of the article is “Thou Shalt Not Kill, Except in a Popular Video Game at Church,” which seems to be trying to paint church leaders as hypocritical for using Halo parties to get kids in the door, and then selling them the gospel. Sure, being against violent media and then using that same media to recruit churchgoers is hypocritical. But even though the author mentions evangelical opposition to violent games, he never presents an example of a pastor who condemned violent games and then used them for outreach. Without that, there is no evidence of hypocrisy. There are just some pastors disagreeing with other pastors about what is appropriate.
Simply believing in the 10 Commandments and then playing a violent video game is not hypocritical. Killing virtual aliens is not equivalent to violating the 5th (sometimes 6th) commandment, and it’s insane for the Times to imply that it is. Most religious scholars agree that killing animals doesn’t violate “Thou shalt not kill.” Why would killing imaginary characters be prohibited?
But even if the author didn’t want to hunt down actual evidence of hypocrisy, there were still plenty of other interesting questions left unasked. As I wrote in an article two weeks ago, the Halo games have always been an online playground for bigots of all stripes. Homophobia, racism, and antisemitism are rampant in the smack talk that is a staple of the multiplayer game. So it’s especially interesting to learn that some of the young men (they’re almost all men) who are playing Halo are doing it at church. Are they shocked to hear what other players say? Do their pastors insist that they play with the mute button on? Or, more disturbingly, are some of these young Christian soldiers and the hate-spewers one and the same?