“Why on earth would you spend so much time doing that?” You may ask, but let me explain.
To non-gamers, gamers may seem like people who spend way too much time giving themselves to a fantasy world. From devoting most of their time to playing video games to dressing up as their favorite characters to attend video game conferences with fellow gamers. While I did not dress up as my favorite character with friends, I did devote many years to playing video games. So much so, I pursued a career in video gaming development to further my studies of the industry and also capitalize on the opportunities to bring some of my ideas to life.
For the sake of this discussion, I want to clear up some misunderstanding or misrepresentation of gamers. Just like any other field of entertainment, there are varying degrees of commitment to this particular form. The three main classes of gamers are: hardcore gamers (those who spend much of their time playing video games), social gamers (those who play video games for a sense of community with other players), and developer/professional gamers (those who get paid to play video games). And please realize that not all gamers are socially inept with a propensity to being childish or irresponsible! However, it is fair to note that there are a good number of young men and women who are socially inept, irresponsible, and have a difficult time maturing into adulthood. The question for the church is not just “Why are video games so attractive to this generation?” but also “How can the Gospel address the needs of this particular generation?”
Growing up as an only child with a knack for technology and gadgetry, video games provided me with a rare opportunity to control how the story ended for the main character in the game. In fact, one particular genre of video games I enjoyed playing was Role Playing Games (RPGs). Role-playing games allow the player to make decisions for the main character in the game and these decisions affect the way the narrative ends. For example, I have played Elder Scrolls, Syrim, Mass Effect, and many others. In my opinion, what makes video games so fun is also what makes them so potentially dangerous: they feed on our innate desire to be the master of our own fate with a little practice and patience.
I do not want to give the impression that video games are satanic or inherently sinful, but I do want to give some insight as to how the Gospel changed my perspective on the way I play video games as a Christian. During my first year in college, Jesus Christ captured my heart as I read through the gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John). I was amazed by the way He spoke to His disciples, the multitudes and even His enemies. In video game development, we learned what is known as the Hero’s Journey, which generally begins with a hero going on an adventure to conquer a particular foe or save particular people, then returning home, but different or transformed from what he was at the beginning of the narrative (see illustration provided by Wikipedia). Thus, as I read through the Scriptures I began to see Jesus is the Hero who came to save me from my own sin by overcoming the world and the devil on the cross; and now He sits at the right hand of God the Father interceding for me until He returns again.
This reality changed the way I played and developed video games. During this time you could classify me as a hardcore/social gamer; I still spent most of my down time playing video games, but as a believer, I wanted to honor Christ in the way I did so. For instance, I became more generous, compassionate, and merciful to my teammates online when working on a mission together. Video games went from being a platform where I was my own sovereign to being my virtual platform where I could live out my faith amongst the gaming community both on and off line.
How can the Gospel address the needs of this particular group of people? God is still merciful and gracious to social outcasts. Jesus continues to actively seek the lost and broken wherever they may find themselves. There is no realm where He is not Lord and Savior. He is able to replace our fantasy worlds with a more glorious reality, where we recognize our role in His redemptive narrative. That is a game changer.
Joshua Mathis trained as a video game developer and is now a student at Reformed Theological Seminary in Atlanta, GA.
Graphic from Wikipedia: “Monomyth.” Photo: FreeImages.com/Joao Paulo.