Jeshoots gaming pair

At a recent webinar on Christian Families and Gaming, the panellists who are avid gamers presented a new paradigm of gaming as a relational activity. Photo by Jeshoots.com on Unsplash.

“My Secondary 4 son enjoys socialising with his gaming friends more than church friends who do not game. On Saturday evenings, he usually games from 11pm till 2am or 3am and struggles to wake up for church on Sunday mornings.

“What can I do to change his behaviour?”

Without a solid parent-child relationship, attempts to set limits on a child’s gaming habits are likely to be ineffective.

This question received the most upvotes in a Slido survey during the recent webinar, Christian Families and Gaming. About 100 viewers tuned in for the session on September 11 organised by Generations of Virtue, a ministry committed to teaching sexual wholeness and integrity, building family relationships, and equipping communities to transform culture. 

According to a pre-session poll, 67% of respondents have children aged between 13 and 17. Eighty per cent of respondents were concerned that too much device time is detrimental to their children’s studies, sleep and family relationships.

The panellists who are avid gamers portrayed a new paradigm of gaming as a relational activity. Throughout the session, they equipped viewers with tools for building a relationship with their children who game. These included conversational handles and tips for boundary-setting.

A language that connects

“Is it just gaming, or are there other underlying issues that we should be dealing with, and not just gaming itself?” asked Carol Loi, who hosted the session. She is the International Director of Generations of Virtue.

“Gaming may be a symptom of deeper root issues,” said one panellist, Lang Tien. The itinerant youth pastor is founder of God and Games (G.G.), a ministry that engages avid gamers in meaningful conversations on what it means to be a committed Christian.

Lang Tien – a youth pastor, young father and avid gamer – has precious memories playing games with his mother on the old Nintendo Entertainment System. Screenshot from webinar.

A child may use gaming as means of escape from homework, which can be stressful and tough, suggested another panellist, 20-year-old Jakin Tan. The regular gamer was invited to provide a youth’s perspective on gaming and the strict limits set by parents. Jakin is the co-founder of Philotimo, an Instagram presence where Christian guys share about “guy issues” such as National Service, masculinity or the bigger issue of sex.

“Instead of setting extreme limits, take an interest in the games your children are playing,” Jakin urged viewers. It would encourage them to open up about any buried stressors.

A parent could ask their child questions like “What’s fun about this game?”, and “Do you find any problems with the way the game is played?”

Jakin Tan, 20, borrows Christian themes present in game storylines to start conversations with fellow gamers about the faith. Screenshot from webinar.

For Lang who moved as a child with his family between Singapore and the Philippines, and went to Korea as an exchange student, “gaming was a social thing, a consistent language through which I could connect with people from different cultures”.

It also enabled him to connect with his mum who joined him in playing games on the Nintendo Entertainment System.

Healthy gaming communities

Viewers asked the panellists if gaming is alienating their children from Christian values, especially in games involving characters such as monsters and dragons. They also wondered if fighting, killing and shooting games promote insensitivity to violence.

Instead of telling your child to avoid certain games, imparting them with Christian values can help them navigate the gaming space wisely for themselves, said Lang.

One player started a discussion on how he could get ahead in a particular game without using deception.

“Knowing what God wants for their lives, children will be drawn to His purposes, instead of always escaping from something,” he said.

Lang also recalled the sense of disconnection he felt as a young gamer in church. “Gamers are often underground. Due to the negative associations with gaming within the church, it was not so safe to open up about my experiences,” he shared.

Lang now works on connecting gaming communities from different churches. He believes that a healthy gaming community like G.G. can help a child recognise and cultivate a vision of God’s desires, even while gaming.

On G.G.’s forum on Discord, for instance, one player started a discussion on how he could get ahead in a particular game without using the commonly-employed ruse of deception.

The forum also contains devotionals on topics – such as internet porn – which are relevant to the current generation.

Talk instead of farm

Christian themes are found in the storylines of several games, including Sky: Children of the Light, said Jakin. “They can make people curious about the faith,” he said. 

There are functions in games which one can use to initiate meaningful conversations about God’s love.

“Games are a space where we can just be a friend to someone.”

“Instead of farming, why not harness that moment to start a conversation?” asked Jakin. Farming is a tactic used in games to earn in-game currency through performing tasks which are often repetitive. Players usually farm when they have downtime in between game sessions. 

“Games are a space where we can just be a friend to someone,” said Jakin. He recalled an instance in which a fellow gamer had opened up to him about struggles with gender dysphoria.

“God is in the business of using things that people are familiar with and redeeming it,” said Lang. He cited the example of the Israelites bringing jewellery which they had carried out from Egypt when God asked them for jewellery to build His tabernacle (Exodus 12:35-36). 

Lang “began to appreciate how big God’s created universe really is” when playing a galaxy-themed game.

Setting limits together

With all that has been said about gaming for good, there remains an undeniable need for restrictions.

Limiting a child’s exposure to gaming becomes increasingly difficult as they get older. However, parents with younger kids can influence their children’s gaming habits by playing games together.

Lang, a young father, also seizes precious opportunities within the gaming experience to teach his two-year-old daughter about the realities of life. When she gets frustrated by failure to progress in the game for instance, father and daughter work together to formulate a better strategy than “simply pressing ‘jump’ “.

Father and daughter work together to formulate a better strategy than “simply pressing ‘jump’ ”.

“My daughter has come to associate gaming with the presence of a parent,” he noted.

How should parents start to implement restrictions, especially if there previously were none?

Without the foundation of a solid parent-child relationship, attempts to set limits on a child’s gaming habits are likely to be ineffective, he said.

Pulling a gamer away from his game may be difficult, but it is not impossible. Understanding how games work is essential for successful boundary-setting, said the panellists who gave the following tips: 

  1. Use fluid boundaries. Knowing how long a single game session lasts is helpful in identifying a suitable stopping point. The duration varies across games. “Dota matches, for instance, typically last for about an hour. If Mum asks you to stop at the 50th minute, you have to let your teammates down,” Lang explained. Dota is a popular strategy game involving teams of players competing on a battlefield.
  2. Get your child to set his own limits. Ask your child: “How many games are you intending to play today?”, then settle on a reasonable number together. This heads-up would make ending a gaming session less abrupt for the child. Children may also be more motivated to adhere to the limits to avoid breaking their own word.
  3. Encourage your child to communicate their limits to their gaming friends. Jakin often suggests starting a session earlier, which would allow him to end the game and go to bed earlier. Most of his friends have been supportive of his suggestion.

To help their child become aware of how dependent he is on gaming, and how it is affecting school or work performance and social life, parents could draw inspiration from the website of Comeback. Comeback is a programme to help gamers overcome their dependency on gaming.

(Editor’s note: The website says, “Gamers play games. Gamers are not supposed to be played by games. This is because the one who is playing has mastery over the one being played. The one who holds the power is the master.

“Game dependency occurs when the power of the gamer is given over to games. When games have the upper hand ie, mastery, any resistance is almost futile. Such gamers find it almost impossible to not game and games become the master of their lives.”)

Its Game Dependency Test (which is supposed to be taken by the child) contains questions that parents could use in conversation with their children to help them realise the impact of gaming on different facets of their life.

Discernment and prayer

Exercise discernment when implementing restrictions, especially if doing so for the first time, parents were advised. Try to invest in building a parent-child relationship first, for strict restrictions could elicit violent threats from children battling gaming addictions.

“Gaming can be a tool to get to know my own child better instead of dividing us” was the key sentiment articulated by participants when asked to type their main takeaway at the end of the session.

Reminding viewers of their position in discipling a generation that will become a part of God’s redemptive work in gaming, Carol prayed for all to be granted:

  1. Wisdom to train up God’s children in the way He desires for them, in today’s complex environment.
  2. The right words, at the right time, to speak to their children the way God desires.

Reported with permission.


Where to find help

If someone you know is seeking to overcome a gaming addiction, help is available:

  • National Addictions Management Service (NAMS)
    Tel: 6732-6837 (6-RECOVER)
    Click here for more info.
  • Help123 (by TOUCH Community Services)
    Tel: 1800 612-3123
    Click here for more info.

  • Comeback (a programme by gamers to help gamers regain mastery of their lives)
    Click here for more info.

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About the author

Konstanze Tan

Konstanze Tan is a graduate student researching population health. Outside work, she can be found in the kitchen conceptualising below-10-minute one-pot meals. Her love for the written word was birthed in an English tuition class she attended back in primary school after a series of failed English exams. Konstanze is an intern at Salt&Light.