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Computers and Entertainment

Written by Rev. J. Geertsema
The following article appeared as an editorial by Rev. J. Geertsema in the Clarion, publication of the Canadian Reformed Churches, dated December 2, 1994. Because this is a topic we ought to reflect on and discuss, permission was requested to place this article, omitting several reference to persons and names.

We may thankfully make use of computers, such as in the publication of this magazine, but it is also another powerful instrument which Satan uses. Especially when we consider the latest developments, such as "virtual reality" (VR) and the unlimited access provided to all kinds of immoral, pornographic material, including visuals, through InterNet, we fully affirm Rev. Geertsema's warning: "Let us watch and pray. Satan is busy to make also the computer his tool to defeat and conquer not only the world but also the children of the church."

Computers as Tool
Are computers good or bad? When the radio came many Christians called it an instrument of the devil that would ruin Christian families and destroy a God-fearing life. The radio, they said, would bring the world into our homes. When the television came, the same thing was said for the same reason. The TV brings the world into our Christian homes and families and will secularize them.

If we are willing to face reality, and if we still know from God's Word what a God-fearing family is and how such a family lives, we must acknowledge that these warning voices predicted what has happened and is still happening in the life of many Christian families and individuals. The cause of this secularizing power of radio and TV is to a large extent their use for (easy) entertainment.

When the computer came, such warnings were not heard. The reason seems to be that the computer entered our homes via the office and the factory. The beginning of the computer's popularity was its use as a tool. In the office it took the place of both the typewriter and the calculator. In the factory it was received as a tool useful for making better products and making them quicker. And in science it was used for increasing helpful knowledge. An example is medical science.

Nobody saw anything wrong with all this. The computer was received as a product of modern technology that can and will help man in improving life. As Reformed people we see in the computer a tool for the fulfilment of our cultural mandate. This view is correct. The computer belongs to that which is created by God and is therefore good, and can be received with thanksgiving. For Christians will consecrate it by the Word of God and by prayer (1 Tim.4:4-5).

However, this tool in science and for factory and office is becoming an intense danger for our Christian life. For it is more and more becoming an instrument for entertainment.

Certainly, there are also dangers in the use of the computer as a tool in the office, in the factory and in science. Man is sinful. A negative aspect, for instance, is that the information accessible through the computer is no longer controlled or is often immoral. Sometimes the computer is trusted as making no mistakes. It can make medical service impersonal; the physicians find and treat symptoms with the help of computerized instruments but forget to pay attention to the suffering person.

The Computer for Entertainment
In a recent article entitled "Computer game becomes the addiction of the nineties" (Nederlands Dagblad, Oct.28, 1994) it is stated that:

With the help of the newest computer technology these games
create a three-dimensional simulated reality that involves the
player physically. This "virtual reality," a form of electronic-
digital entertainment, becomes the new addiction of the youth
who, hooked on the computer and turned into themselves, try to
entertain themselves. Many young people are already addicted to
computer games with a passion. Games such as Nintendo and Sega
have conquered thousands during the past years. But this
addiction was literally and figuratively child's play in
comparison with what can be expected: the entertainment
applications of the so-called "virtual reality" will conquer
their ten-thousands. Even more young people will come in the grip
of these modern computer games. Often and for long times they
escape from reality.

Computer for Training
The article informs us further that "virtual reality" (VR) is first of all used in the airplane and space industry. This is a technical, educational use. With VR a "reality" can be created and entered that simulates what really can happen, like an engine failure and crash situation. In this way VR helps pilots to learn to react quicker in sudden situations that threaten to be catastrophic. We may say that VR can be useful as an educational tool just as it is used in the training of pilots.

What happens in such a VR program? How is such a virtually real different reality created? And how does one become part of it? It is done with a computer program and the use of a special helmet and "data gloves." The helmet covers the eyes and places two little monitor screens in front of the eyes. By means of these screens the computer brings pictures before the eyes that simulate the virtual reality. Besides the helmet the student or player wears a pair of data gloves. Helmet and gloves contain movement sensors. These sensors make the sudden "really" feel the things of VR. The student's active movement, his reactions, are also picked up by the gloves and helmet. All this is integrated in the VR computer program. The student "really feels" that he belongs to this new "reality." He is the pilot who reacts to what is happening and his new "environment" is reacting to what he does. In this way he is part of the so-called cyberspace that he is learning to govern with the computer.

A dangerous aspect of this educational VR used for training pilots was discovered. It appeared to be hard for a trainee to distinguish between the virtual reality and the real reality. In the real reality he sometimes was strongly inclined to act as if he still lived in the VR. His mind was still set as if in the VR. For this reason pilots who were trained with VR were not allowed to fly an airplane for a whole week. It was feared that the pilot could act as if still in a situation in which his plane was in danger of crashing.

Dangers of Virtual Reality and Computer Games
In other words, the human mind becomes so intensively occupied by this virtual or simulated reality, that this VR continues to occupy and rule the mind, even when one is back in the real world. This shows where one of the dangers lies for VR use.

However, there is more. Games have a social aspect. Games are mostly intended to be played together. Computer games are played on an individual basis. You enter and live entirely in your own world. Indeed, with a computer game a person can escape from the real reality and "live" all by himself in the simulated reality of his choice, not bothered by anyone else. He can exist for himself only.

Our Creator did not make us for that purpose. As Christians we learn from our God that we are made and redeemed to live with and for Him and with and for our neighbour.

Then, there is the addiction aspect. With regard to the first generation of computer games, such as Ninetendo and Sega, we read about addiction. This is no wonder. Many games can be addicting at certain times. How many young people have spent hour after hour playing, for instance, Monopoly? It was good that a father or mother said: "this is enough." One can also be absorbed in a book. This is not the place to discuss the difference between reading a good book and being absorbed in a computer game.

Fact is, these Ninetendo and Sega computer games can be very addictive. They are fascinating. The player is actively involved in his own world. You have to go on. For you become totally absorbed in the game's world. There is no time any more for other things, for doing homework or dinner or fulfilling other duties. Only one thing is important: the computer game.

Fohn Ruane, a producer of VR games, admits that as a young person he started with "an hour behind his Ninetendo game and ended up with sitting entire days in front of the screen. 'I put everything aside in order to be able to play on. I hardly took any time to eat or to shower or do other normal things...'" (Nederlands Dagblad).

Escape From Reality
For Jaron Lanier, An American computer fanatic who invented the term "virtual reality," the computer is not only a tool to increase the possibilities for enriching our lives by increasing our experiences. He finds it the nicest aspect that a person can disguise and play the role of practically everything. You can enter the virtual reality of an insect or of a building and play the role of that insect or building, or whatever the computer program gives you. This, he says, gives a person enormous possibilities of experiencing many things and "live" many different, new "lives."

It is good to remark here that the VR player is not really free. When he wants to experience a new VR world, he remains bound to what VR producers offer him. Knowing man's depravity and sin, here already a red warning light comes one.

Panders to Man's Lusts
Entertainment through radio and TV is attractive not in the least because it brings in the matters of money and sex. Money and sex fascinate most people. These two matters are also going to be used in VR computer games. The article says that soon the porno-industry will make use of VR. "It appears to be just a matter of time for the "06-VR-computers" to make electronic-digital fornication possible. With gloves and suits containing sensors, sex experiences can be simulated.

We read also about VR as means for New Age propagation. Through VR the player enters a different world. Timothy Leary, the man who used LDS to have ESP experiences, now praises VR as means to experience things from other "worlds." New Agers are busy with the possibilities of VR and try to create trips through their simulated "cosmic universe" in order to "help" people to believe in those "realities."

Watch and Pray
When one reads such things, it becomes clear that the computer, too, is being grasped by the world of sin in order to make money through sin at the cost of the lives of many. The computer is in progress to conquer the world of entertainment and add to the destruction of tens or hundreds of thousands of minds and lives.

How thankful we should be that in this world with its almost unlimited possibilities we have God's Word. In it we have the message of Christ Jesus, God's Son, who conquered sin and death and who gave us His Word and Spirit. The Spirit of God will go on to sanctity those who believe in Christ with a true, biblical knowledge of, and a firm confidence in Him as their Saviour. This faith in Him will make them live in the real world, that is, in God's fellowship, with and for Him in holiness, and so with and for the neighbour too, in Christian love. Not their own entertainment, living in their own world for themselves, means true life for those who follow Christ. Their life is lived in gratitude for true salvation in a responsible way, guided by God's Word.

Thank God, also the computer will not be able to separate from God and from Christ those who love Him. But at the same time, let us watch and pray. Satan is busy to make also the computer his tool to defeat and conquer not only the world but also the children of the church. He is still going around as a roaring lion, seeking to devour us and draw us away from our God and Saviour. Let us watch and pray, as parents and children together, that when Christ comes, He finds the faith in us.

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