American Culture In 2018: Gaming And Hollywood’s Comic Book Age

Aug 25th, 2018 | By | Category: Culture & Wordview, Featured Issues

The technology of the 21st century has transformed entertainment and leisure-time choices for the typical American.  The gaming industry in America has raised significant concerns for modern psychology.  Hollywood has taken the 20th century Marvel comic book and transformed it into a lucrative movie brand that is nothing short of astonishing.  What does this tell us about American civilization in the early years of the 21st century?

  • The World Health Organization’s disease-classification manual has added a new mental-health condition—the “gaming disorder:” The pattern of prioritizing online games or video games to the point of “significant impairment in personal, family, social, educational, occupational or other important areas of functioning.”  What do we know about “gaming”?
  1. The average gamer is a 35-year-old and half are female. In fact, more adult women play games than teenage boys.  Most surveyed women say that they play games as stress reducers and 60% say it makes them feel good.
  2. Nearly two-thirds of every American household own some form of a gaming system. These systems on average receive over three hours of play time each week.  The majority of them include computers or smartphones and half of American households own a dedicated gaming system.
  3. Statistically, over half of all gamers spend an average of six hours each week playing multiplayer games.

The gaming phenomenon has actually fostered a unique gaming subculture with a common language and shared community that eludes many.  But gaming can produce addictive, dysfunctional behavior that is dangerous and harmful.  But it does not need to be dysfunctional or addictive.  Jon Campoverde mentions Gamechurch, an organization whose ministry bridges the gap between the gospel and the gamer.  This ministry seeks to reach people of all ages, all ethnicities and all forms of life experience who are involved in gaming.  He also points out that the gaming fad has come to include board games as well.  Jonathan Kay in The Atlantic summarizes this growing trend of board games, which often include sophisticated rules and engaging challenges.  Sales of board games have increased by over 400% from 2013 to 2016.  Indeed, GenCon—one of the largest board-game trade shows in the US—had over 200,000 people attend last year.  For that reason InnRoads Ministries, a board-gaming ministry, has developed to foster meaningful relationships and a loving sense of community for churchgoers through board games.  The local church has the opportunity to leverage the gaming phenomenon, which reflects a desire for meaningful relationships for lonely, alienated people, as a way to foster sense of community and fellowship within the local church.  The church always needs to be bold, creative and flexible in reaching people where they are (1 Corinthians 9:22-23); both Gamechurch and InnRoads Ministries illustrate such creative flexibility.

  • Mark Bowden reports that 7 of the 11 top-grossing films of 2017 were superhero movies, based on characters introduced in comic books. The two top grossing films of 2018 so far are “Black Panther” and “Avengers: Infinity War.”   “We are living in Hollywood’s Comic Book Age.  A global obsession, superhero movies are seen by hundreds of millions, arguably the most consumed stories in human history.”  What explains this phenomenon?  Why do people flock to view comic book heroes presented with the power, dazzle and pizazz of our digitized world?  Bowden offers several explanations:
  1. The various superheroes are idealized humans. They are unique, supremely talented beings who transcend laws, even those of nature.  In a sense, these superheroes feed the Cult of Self, so predominant in current American culture.
  2. These superheroes celebrate “exceptionalism and vigilantism.” The old American ideal of succeeding through cleverness, virtue and grit is absent.  Gone is the respect for the rule of law and the importance of tradition and community.  Institutions and human knowledge are useless.  Religion is irrelevant.  Governments are corrupt and/or inept, if not downright evil.  Only the empowered individual is important.
  3. The superhero is an alien or outcast who possesses unique powers acquired either at birth or through some accident or gift.
  4. Thus, normal human beings are mere bystanders, when “they are not being crushed or vaporized. The average person is powerless and depends for survival on the good will of the gods.”
  5. Often these comic book movies “depict a Manichaean world populated by gods, or superheroes and supervillains, in endless conflict. Christian imagery is freely evoked, but the tenets of the faith itself are persistently contradicted.”

Hollywood’s Comic Book spectacle feeds the fantasies of the alienated, purposeless dynamic of so much of our culture.  So, how should the Christian respond to both gaming and the Hollywood Comic Book wonder? Several important biblical principles can serve as wise guidelines:

  1. The principle of stewardship of time (Ephesians 5:15-16). Time is like any other commodity: We must decide how we will use it.  This includes entertainment choices and the amount of time such choices demand.
  2. The principle of self-control (1 Corinthians 6:12; Galatians 5:23). There is no greater test of this virtue than the amount of time devoted to gaming and movie viewing.
  3. The principle of moral purity (Philippians 4:8). We must choose what we allow into our mind; this verse encourages us to dwell on what is “true, honorable, right, pure, lovely, of good repute, excellence and worthy of praise.”  These virtues produce godly living and form the grid through which we make entertainment choices.
  4. The principle of edification (1 Corinthians 10:23). The believer in Jesus Christ has great freedom in the nonmoral areas of life, but with that freedom comes immense responsibility.  Although we may have the freedom to participate in many forms of entertainment, most of those forms may not edify, build us up in the Christian faith.
  5. The principle of God’s glory (1 Corinthians 10:31). We live our lives to the glory of God, which includes the entertainment choices we make.


See Jon Campoverde, “What the Church Needs to Know about Gamers,” in DTS Magazine (Summer 2018), pp. 8-10; Mark Bowden, “Hollywood’s Booming Comic Book Age,” in the New York Times (8 July 2018); and James P. Eckman, Christian Ethics, pp. 97-101.

Comments Closed