PRESS FAITH TO PLAY
In the past few years, Christianity has been brought into the sharp focus in the athletic world with athletes like Stephen Curry, Jeremy Lin, and Tim Tebow speaking for their faith in places where celebrity and multi-million dollar contracts abound.
In 1 Corinthians 10, Paul expresses that as believers, we have the privilege of engaging with anything in the world with a clean conscience, without the restrictions or views that the world has placed on anything (v. 25). The believer has a redeemed view of his choices—everything he or she does is out of thankfulness and for the glory of God (v. 30-31). Whether you’re Tim Tebow, a student, a housewife, a fiction writer, or a rock star, defining “What does it mean to be a Christian?” is a struggle. As someone who picks up a controller and hits ‘START’ on a regular basis, it’s a question that hasn’t been asked enough.
But video games are growing up. In the past few years, game developers have been releasing games that have challenged an industry oversaturated with first person shooters and tired, old sequels. A landmark title is 2012’s Journey, a game about a red-cloaked figure traversing a beautiful and (at times) unforgiving landscape. It can be described as a light puzzler and a light platformer, but its popularity stems from the fact that it transcends genre conventions and stands as an artistic meditation of life and death. A more mainstream example is the game Bioshock Infinite released in the same year. It tells the story of a gun-for-hire, Booker Dewitt, who gets tasked with kidnapping a young lady, Elizabeth Comstock, from a dictator in a literal pie-in-the-sky dystopia. In the game, Booker, a violent man with a past, rejects a fallen, eerily Christian-like religion and searches for what it means to have genuine faith. The bond between Booker and Elizabeth grows strong, and as the plot unfolds, we see that their relationship becomes redemptive to the point of being self-sacrificial. I was taken aback, because while the game was criticized for its violence, it also asked questions of choice, redemption, and dare I say, predestination. The critical acclaim and financial success of both these examples prove that gamers are willing to wrestle with the hard questions and the medium is beginning to afford us the opportunity of playing in order to think.
The challenge today is that we need to expand our comprehension and realize that video games, like film and literature, possess a narrative that have the power to impact our thinking and being profoundly.
As a believer who plays games, it means that I am on an ongoing journey to find Christ. Just as I hope to encounter Christ when I am away from the console–at work, in His Word, in the people I meet, I am on a constant lookout for anything remotely resembling His likeness in what I play. It means that when I do find Him, I am transformed, because no one can have an honest-to-goodness encounter with Christ and stay the same. Conversely, it also means that I have to draw the line where I feel there is a rift between of biblical worldview and the worldly one. For some, this could mean abstaining from playing certain games. For others, it could mean playing games so we can keep our ear to the ground and know what it means to live in the world but not be of the world.
The idea of finding Jesus in video games seems strange, but that’s the freedom we ought to celebrate in Christ—that we can find Him when we constantly seek His face and His glory. By connecting every facet of our lives to what we believe, we profit by helping define for ourselves and for the people around us what it means to walk with Christ. While an outspoken, professional eSports Christian might help, having everyday believers engaged with the subtexts of the games they play is already a game changer. If indeed we are free, then we should be brave enough to make a stand for Christ with the issues of violence, sexism, and addiction in the gaming world.
If Christ is number one, then games are not a way for us to escape the world, but they’re a way for us to see our place in it today as believers.
I hope that someday, someone will use a video game as a sermon illustration on the pulpit. Maybe someday, I’ll be that person.
Writer’s Bio: In his head, Timothy Villarica has visited a thousand worlds and is at a loss to describe even the tiniest mote of dust. It’s the best and the worst problem a human being could possibly have.