Sexualizing Our Time

In his homily on October 8, 1995, Pope St. John Paul II addressed a crowd at Oriole Park in Baltimore, warning Americans of our “permissive mentality that reduces freedom to license.” In other words, what I do with my time is my own damn business because I can. Why call us out? This obsession with freedom is a pervasive American trait that even modern Catholics cannot shake. I will soon have four children, and I still catch myself saying it.

I avoid current events like mosquitos, but the country has been rocked by the potential overturn of Roe v. Wade, impacting women’s ability to terminate their offspring. There is surely no better example of freedom versus license, but I am less interested in that. Instead, see Bungie, a video game company, forced to make a statement in defense of abortion. While it is more and more prevalent for companies to needlessly weigh into public policy, this one struck me as highly reasonable. At the same time, hundreds have come out in opposition, uttering something like this: “I think it is very strange that a video game company feels the need to write a press release defending abortion rights.

Is it strange, really? I ask because 27 years ago, as St. John Paul II spoke, I was upstairs playing Vectorman on my Sega Genesis. I have played for almost 30 years and have made hundreds of friends whom I have never met in person. Most of these people — call them ‘gamers’ — do not have a productive personal life. This is not to say they do not have girlfriends or wives. It is no surprise that 60% of gamers are men and only 55% of gamers are married. But if they do have personal lives, they are usually troubled in one or more ways. A study in 2013 by Brigham Young University found that 75% of spouses of gamers say they wish their spouse put more effort into their marriage and less into games. To be crystal clear: playing video games for more than 2 hours a day is a serious red flag because it shows an inattention to the rest of one’s life — specifically the most important aspects: God, family, and work. Most of the people I have met play well beyond 6 or 8 hours a day. We can call these types, ‘hardcore gamers.’

So let us think about a company who is primarily concerned with earnings. A video game company’s bottom-line depends on their target demographic: young, mostly single, men who dedicate their lives (and wallets) to investing in fictional universes and currency. Statistically, these hardcore gamers are less educated and lower wage earners. They are more likely to live at home and be involved with pornography. It is essential for gaming companies to hook these men into extremely complex reward systems (have you looked at an in-game user interface lately?) and keep them playing for as long as possible. Gaming takes on an almost sexual quality. Attention is the economy — not the sale of the game. And the surest way to kill retention of game playing and minimize hardcore gamers? Distract them from gaming. Give them other, higher things to do.

Society wants you to believe that video games (and by extension, most of what other companies are selling you) are a blessing and that babies are burdens that prevent you from doing whatever you want at any given time. They limit your freedom. The reality is, babies are blessings and video games are actually the burden. Games and self-entertainment sap your available time to love and serve others — God, family, and beyond. All of this to say, if you cannot understand why a video game company and its shareholders would defend abortion, I think you misunderstand how far the modern world has come and what we are willing to surrender to keep the cash machine humming.

Across the market there is a shiny veneer covering a grotesque apparatus that built upon slavery, sex trafficking, abuse, negligence and inattention. This is only one small piece. It is a good reminder that capitalists are not political. They are just looking out for their bottom-line. It is up to men of virtue to decide what the good is and how to implement it in their own lives. St. John Paul II, in the same homily generates one of his most memorable lines: “Every generation of Americans needs to know that freedom consists not in doing what we like, but in having the right to do what we ought.