As a gamer in my thirties, sometimes moments of introspection creep into my controller-mashing lifestyle.
I love playing sandbox-style action games. The most popular of these is, of course, the Grand Theft Auto franchise, but I’ve especially enjoyed playing two lesser-known (but, in my opinion, equally enjoyable) games in the drive-and-shoot genre, Watch Dogs and Sleeping Dogs. (If you order them online at the same time, Amazon will throw in a free CD copy of “Who Let the Dogs Out.”)
In titles like these, there are sometimes moments when the main story line requires the protagonist to head back to his safe house to regroup and/or recharge, probably because the ensuing cutscene will involve sleeping through some sort of dream or nightmare sequence. This trope is highlighted in Sleeping Dogs (hence the name), heightened to such an extent that, where the HUD would normally give you a general instruction like “Meet Jackie Ma at Mrs. Li’s house,” at several points throughout the game, your main mission instructions are three simple words: “GO TO BED.”
If I’d been playing this game ten or fifteen years ago, I probably would’ve been annoyed at what I’d surely have perceived as a lazy bit of game design with hackneyed writing. Aren’t there plenty of other places where people sleep besides their homes? Why not use the in-game currency to have access to hotels or create some sort of futuristic hypersleep salon, where fifteen minutes of cryogenic sleep would be as good as eight hours of the real thing. Use your imagination, people!
But now, in my late thirties, I see that scene, and I think to myself, Oh hey, thanks for the reminder.
And then I put the controller down and go to bed.
And sometimes after silently lamenting the late hour but before trudging up the stairs, a stray thought will flit quickly through my consciousness. Wait, why am I doing all this again? When my body finally gets to rest after I spent the better part of two hours trying to figure out how to pass a certain checkpoint or complete a mission or beat a certain race time or high score, I have to remind myself that there’s a reason why I forgo extra sleep or other, more physically healthy activities, all in the pursuit of video game achievements.
It’s the question that I choose to explore first in this series about gaming, because, well, my guess is, not enough of us gamers have enough self-awareness to even ask the question, let alone answer it. And oftentimes, this answer is the thing that helps us to relate to the members of our immediate circles of friends, family members, or coworkers who don’t totally understand video game culture.
So when you have to explain to your boss why you’re taking a personal day on the day that your favorite title or console goes on sale, or when you have to bite your tongue to avoid letting loose a profane tirade that would make the average construction worker blush because you died in the EXACT SAME SPOT AGAIN, and your spouse hits you with, “So . . . this is supposed to be . . .fun?” here are some options for a response.
I play to challenge myself.
I play as a way of exploring worlds that I can’t otherwise access.
I play in order to make friends (or to help keep the friendships I’ve already made).
I play so I can engage in the kind of high-adrenaline activities that would be life-threateningly dangerous in real life, like driving fast cars, shooting large guns, and blowing stuff up (preferably all at the same time).
And I play for the enriching stories.
More specifically, I play because I believe that video games can be, under the right circumstances, emotionally moving, thought-provoking, and awe-inspiring, and that they can reflect the creative goodness of God just as much as music, cinema, or literature can (especially because your average AAA title is an impressive amalgamation of cinema, music, and literature).
Furthermore, I play because I think the imagination that allows us to mentally plant ourselves inside an immersive sci/fi or fantasy journey is the same mental tool used by God to ignite our emotions and catalyze us into taking action in our own context. It helps us to contextualize the biblical stories, to examine the characters we read about in the Bible, people who were just as selfish and fallible as we are today, but through whom God still used to display His glory, and see ourselves in the reflection.
Playing video games helps awaken my heart and mind to see past what is and reach toward what could be.
And, okay, I’ll be honest . . . I also play for the achievements.