Video games and the problem of evil
No, I am not going to argue in this post that video games are part of the problem of evil (if God were omni-benevolent, surely He would intervene to prevent innocent youngsters from being exposed to violent video games?). But I do think that video games can help clarify and reinforce one popular response to the problem of evil, which is normally called a 'free will' defense but which I think should be called the 'consistent consequences' defense, or something similar.
It goes something like this: in order for moral choice to be meaningful, the consequences of those choices have to be consistent and irreversible. If you attack someone with the intent of hurting them, that person has to get hurt. If you chose to lie to someone and you are found out, the embarrassment has to be real. Choices have consequences. This means that God cannot intervene every time human beings are ugly to other human beings. It is inherent in the concept of a moral universe that the consequences of one's choices be consistently upheld, however monstrous those consequences might be. On a (much) smaller scale I am aware of this reality as a teacher: if I want a smoothly functioning classroom environment, I must lay down the class's rules and procedures, as well as the consequences for disregarding them. If I doll out those consequences inconsistently, applying the full penalty to some while letting others off the hook, the students will rightly suspect me of hypocrisy and will not know what to expect in my class. This will encourage their inherent opportunism in testing boundaries (children and adolescents always try to see what they can get away with), and will inhibit their moral development.
Contrast this with playing a video game, in which most choices are completely reversible: if you go down a wrong path or make a move which results in the death of your character, or someone you are defending, you can simply restart the level. In many games, including my all-time favorite Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, you can choose whether to play the story as a good guy, accumulating wisdom and virtue as you go along, or a bad guy, deceiving others and acquiring demonic power as you go along. It doesn't matter which way you go, because you can always play the game again and make different choices. It's even fun to play the dark side, all the more so because you know people aren't really being hurt.
I submit that a world more like a video game than the real one, in which bad choices rarely if ever have lasting bad consequences, would not be a moral universe at all, and would not reflect the wisdom of a loving God. A world in which choices did not have consistent consequences would be a world unable to produce morally mature persons.
So far the discussion has centered on a defense of the necessity of moral evil: the bad choices people make must have real consequences in order for morality to be meaningful. But similar reasoning can also apply to the problem of natural evil: in order for us to have meaningful experiences in this world, there must be consistent consequences of our disregard for the order of things. If we build a house too close to a river, we risk it being flooded. If we don't plant crops on time, the harvest will be poor and people will go hungry.
Of course these considerations do not address what may be at the heart of the problem of evil: why bad things happen to good people, or why people who make good choices often suffer, while those who make bad choices flourish (similarly in the case of natural evil, why a drought would devastate crops planted by diligent farmers trying to support their families). But I think they do go some way toward explaining why God doesn't intervene more in those cases when people make bad choices that result in the suffering of others.