As Easter weekend approaches I can't help but feel a pang of guilt hearing the pleasures and vices people gave up for lent, knowing that, like always, I gave up nothing.
The 40 days leading up to Easter is consider the time of Lent, and refusing to indulge in your favourite treat or entertainment is a means of practicing self-control and focusing on the spiritual, while denying the physical. There's the usual: pop, TV, smoking, dessert and videogames.
And I always think about giving up videogames, imagining how much God had better appreciate the seriousness of the sacrifice, and how much time extra time I would have to exercise and plan romantic dates for my wife. But it got me thinking, are videogames really an indulgence in the flesh? Or can they reflect the an act of meditation?
There is something transcendent in the DNA of gaming. If the soul is apart from the body, then investing yourself quite literally into another dimension via the medium of a controller is a meditative, spiritual discipline. After a golf injury last summer, I prayed in my dark living room propped up by pillows as I fought back spasms late into the night. I closed my eyes and tried to cut off or diminish the distractions of living in a physical body, to focus on the ethereal.
A similar phenomenon happens when we've invested into the reality of intergalactic peacekeeper Commander Shepherd and his universe of Reapers, Salarians and Asari. In effect, prayer and videogames place more emphasis in another dimension than the physical; videogames mirror a spiritual exercise by basic definition.
Videogames have also been described as a system of rules; we are reborn into a world with firm boundaries. I can only run so fast, or jump so high and see so far. There is a natural order in place, and as the player, we can experiment and grow within this environment safely and confidently, knowing where the lines are drawn. And when we stray from the author or developer's intent, like abusing a duplicating item glitch in the Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, we invariably "break" the game. Without the need for money, we no longer have a reason to perform tasks or quests; we eventually lose the designed motivation to play the game, or by achieving invincibility we stray from the author's vision.
Similarly, God's wisdom is the framework for both the universe's rules, as well as our behaviour. While we can't fall through the floor into infinite nothingness, clip past invisible walls to untextured game areas or achieve invincibility, we can bypass God's will for the way we live. We break our lives, making selfish decisions for money or personal gain, and wonder why our accomplishments feel hallow.
Like religion, videogames also create a shared experience, a communion of "did you see the part where…" and, "what did you do when…" It's interesting that every gamer relishes sharing their testimony, and don't be deceived, every gamer has a testimony.
My first videogame experience was duckhunter. I remember the shaggy green carpet of my cousin's basement, I can smell the musty air, and I can still feel the cold plastic in my hands. I can hear the distorted 8-bit pops of gunfire, and the clink of the gun-tip against the glass of the TV, and the intoxicating thrill of beating my cousin's high score. I knew my life would never be the same.
As human beings, our purpose, our fulfilment comes from interacting with our creator. Is there anything more spiritual than joining God in the act of creating? As Adam came fully formed from the sand, alive with the breath of God still reverberating inside him, we live and breathe in the world of God's creation. Is that not the nature of videogames, interacting and joining a creator in their creation?
So no, this year I didn't give up anything for lent. Maybe next year I will give up chocolate pretzels, but I will play videogames and reflect on what they can teach us about our role as God's creation, prayer and interacting with a Creator.
Happy Easter everyone!
Jesus loves you and wants you to play videogames and visit Gamechurch.com. And if you're at Pax make sure to stop by and say hi at our booth!