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Recently I've slipped back into playing computers games. This morning I had a moment of clarity and realised that for me it is not a good activity and I've uninstalled them and I feel a lot better.

But generally from a Buddhist perspective is playing computer games an unwholesome activity? If so what aspects of it make it so. Or could one be a committed practitioner and still do a bit of gaming on the side. I appreciate we have discussed the impacts on violent games on Karma before but I would like to know if computer games of any description are unwholesome.

(Note - I'm not looking for my own computer game playing habit to be legitimatised so I can start it again. I'm satisfied that for me it is something best avoided. I am just wondering if it is something that Buddhists generally should avoid and if any modern teachers have discussed the issue).

  • Which games might I ask? – hellyale Oct 3 '15 at 20:07
  • @hellyale erm well Baldurs Gate EE was the main one - which is violent in fairness but not GTA violent. But also Megapolois (city building), A Risk type war game, something with Romans that I forget the name of and a game with Dyson Trees where you are pollen falling on planets. So a bit of a mix really. All uninstalled now though – Crab Bucket Oct 3 '15 at 20:35
  • "unwholesome" (akusala) is same as bad karma... so in essence this question and the question about games and karma, both ask for the same answer. – Andrei Volkov Oct 15 '15 at 11:13
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There are different degrees of unwholesome activity. The term akusala (lit. unskillful, unwholesome) is a broad term that in addition to referring to 'bad' deeds (e.g. killing, stealing, adultery etc...) can refer to any kind of action that doesn't lead to the highest happiness. In this broader sense, all types of sensual indulgence such as food, sex, entertainment, wanting good clothes, etc... are akusala.

By teaching that sensuality is akusala the Buddha wasn't teaching that everyone must abstain from them or else they are being bad Buddhists, but rather that they don't lead towards Nirvana, and that renouncing them is superior, and that in the end when one becomes Enlightened, one will give up the desire for them. That doesn't mean that as practicing Buddhists we cannot enjoy sensual pleasures within moderation, but giving them up is in the long run a much better way of finding happiness.

  • Well said, well suggested, Mr/Mrs Bakmoon. – Samana Johann Jan 6 '16 at 13:29
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There is a Sutta (SN42.2) where the Buddha is approached by the head of an acting troupe and asked, “I have heard that it has been passed down by the ancient teaching lineage of actors that 'When an actor on the stage, in the midst of a festival, makes people laugh & gives them delight with his imitation of reality, then with the breakup of the body, after death, he is reborn in the company of the laughing devas.' What does the Blessed One have to say about that?”

After twice refusing to reply, the Buddha said, “Any beings who are not devoid of passion / aversion / delusion to begin with focus with even more passion / aversion / delusion on things inspiring passion / aversion / delusion presented by an actor on stage in the midst of a festival. Thus the actor — himself intoxicated & heedless, having made others intoxicated & heedless — with the breakup of the body, after death, is reborn in what is called the hell of laughter. But if he holds such a view as this: 'When an actor on the stage, in the midst of a festival, makes people laugh & gives them delight with his imitation of reality, then with the breakup of the body, after death, he is reborn in the company of the laughing devas,' that is his wrong view. Now, there are two destinations for a person with wrong view, I tell you: either hell or the animal womb.”

2500 years ago, just as today, actors make people laugh and give them delight with their imitation of reality. With today’s technology, we have new ways of making ourselves “intoxicated and heedless” (such as computer games) but the effect on the mind (and our spiritual development) is the same.

According to AN 8.40 (and elsewhere) “idle chatter” leads to rebirth in a woeful state. In many Suttas (such as AN 10.69), the Buddha defined “idle chatter” as “conversation about kings, robbers, ministers of state, armies, alarms, battles, food and drink, clothing, furniture, garlands, scents, relatives, vehicles, villages, towns, cities, the countryside, women and heroes, the gossip of the street and the well, tales of the dead, tales of diversity, the creation of the world and of the sea, talk of whether things exist or not.”

With today’s technology (newspapers, Facebook, etc.) we have new ways of indulging in “idle chatter” but the effect on the mind (and our spiritual development) is the same.

You will notice that the five precepts (the moral code for laypeople) do not mention giving up wrong view or idle chatter. This is because the five precepts are ethical in nature. Only once there is a strong foundation of ethics can one consider spiritual development (taking on eight or more precepts). So playing computer games is not an ethically unwholesome activity, but the mental states that playing computer games engenders are not conducive to spiritual development.

  • 2
    As I wrote this, I felt like a bit of a hypocrite, because I spend too much time distracting myself with online Sudoku puzzles. Your question has prompted me to "abstain from Sudoku"; not because Sudoku is "evil" but rather because there are better ways to spend my time (i.e. such as practicing mindfulness) – RobM Oct 4 '15 at 4:28
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The mind-state one is having is most important. A happy, joyful state, filled with focus and energy is not only positive but also similar to samadhi.

This mind-state is free from the Three Poisons and the Six Root Afflictions is good.

On the other hand, some games that have a competitive nature, if taken too seriously, can generate the Three Poisons and afflictions, affecting the various levels of mind, attitude, and neurology.

On the other hand, one can utilize the non-mortal nature of video games to practice detachment from such things... essentially practicing to be a bodhisattva of the world! It is hard to be detached like this for longer, more immersive video games, but it can be a harmless practice watching yourself compete and the emotions and afflictions arise and fall within oneself.

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If you try to spend time to develop enlightenment. You will realise that a calm mind is much more easier to live with. This calm mind in time would achieve any of the four fruits of liberation. Thus perfecting ourselves to attain nirvana is the only right path is the only right thing to do. Games being a fuel to craving will stop you to enter into Jhana. If you enter first Jhana you will see how much better the life becomes.

  • Sure, Mr/Mrs Amit Dethe, sure. How ever, where does one would know "If you enter first Jhana you will see how much better the life becomes.", who says this and how and why would it get better? – Samana Johann Jan 6 '16 at 13:27
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Context

Other types of media (books, films, etc) can also have an effect on us. Plato thought that books were an assault on the person reading because the reader were not able to argue against the thoughts presented there

Mindfulness and concentration

However a difference is that the immersion is often bigger in computer games, in other words it's more difficult to maintain mindfulness and easier to be fully concentrated on the game. We easily "get lost" in this other world

Content of the game

Assuming that we are concentrated on the game and have lost connection with our body and mindfulness in general, the content of the game becomes extra important. Do we think it will be beneficial for us? What states of mind does it help to create and maintain?

Many games contain violence or competition

Some games create empathy and understanding of others, for example:


A positive perspective from a Buddhist gamer

Jane McGonigal is a futurist, author and Buddhist who has written and lectured about the positive psychological effects of gaming

Here is an excerpt from one of her lectures at a "Buddhist Geeks" conferance: Is Super Mario a Buddhist?

Her tips for gaming:

  1. Don’t play more than 21 hours a week.
  2. Playing with real-life friends and family is better than playing alone all the time, or with strangers.
  3. Playing face-to-face with friends and family beats playing with them online.
  4. Cooperative gameplay, overall, has more benefits than competitive gameplay.
  5. Creative games have special positive impacts.
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While we playing games we are prisoners of that and limited opportunity to escape from it. Life has same bondage. The unwholesome or wholesome is depends not on the activity itself, but which type of habit it generate.

  • Maybe Mr/Mrs Shrawaka likes to explain it more, this "The unwholesome or wholesome is depends not on the activity itself" and what generates a habit, how does it become one and how to abound it. – Samana Johann Jan 6 '16 at 13:26

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