As a confessor of meticulous sovereignty (Eph 1:11), the concept of “alternate realities” provokes my inner philosopher. Still, my relationship with video games has always been only slightly above disinterested. But the occasional strategic campaign in Rome: Total War (basically Risk on steroids) has often proved helpful to relieve stress.
Or at least, that’s what I’ve told myself.
Today I woke up on the couch with an Xbox controller in hand – which isn’t too abnormal, right? Sometimes we fall asleep mid-task. And in 22 years of being a night-owl, this wasn’t the first time I’d emerged from a dream to such a context. But this morning hit me in the gut – conviction-level-gnashing-teeth – because for the first time I understood why I sometimes play video games.
I’ve done some research in early 20th century escapism. Media was flooded with fictional Utopias that, for a few minutes, helped Americans forget about Great Depression poverty or the atrocities of WWII. Escapism did nothing to fix tangible problems. It only created an alternate reality for people to live in and avoid their less-than-favorable context.
I do the same thing with video games. Though I seldomely engage them, virtual realities are my escape from the real world. I enjoy this because, in these alternate worlds, my alternate self isn’t glutinous, forgetful, prone to laziness, tempted by lust, and burdened with an unfinished B.A. In Call of Duty, I’m strong and swift – in real life, I get tired and need sleep. In Skyrim, I respawn when I fail – in real life, I have to own-up to mistakes. In Civilization V, the world is under my command – in real life, I’m sovereign over nothing.
But the glaring deficiency of my alternate realities is an absence of the Triune God. Fiction is not sinful – Christ Himself utilized this form of story telling. But the stories He told were within the framework of a Christo-centric reality: this universe’s skeleton and purpose were maintained. A helpful story will meet these two criteria via logical coherency and proclamation of truth, in some way providing an opportunity to see and savor Christ.
In my experience, none of the video games I play help me rejoice in Christ… Probably because when I turn the Xbox on, I’m disinterested with God and wanting to forget about my problems.
So all of this to say: I sometimes use video games to escape tough things (i.e. escapism) and that’s wrong. But why is it wrong? If I shouldn’t escape from my problems, what should I be doing instead?
Well instead of escaping, how about enduring? “We also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us” (Ro 5:3-5).
Instead of fleeing, how about fighting? “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might. Put on the full armor of God, so that you will be able to stand firm against the schemes of the devil” (Eph 6:10-11).
What if, instead of avoiding tough things, I became a pilgrim (1 Pt 2:11), a runner (Heb 12:1-3), a soldier (2 Ti 2:3), a stubbornly happy man (2 Co 4:7-12)? I am resolved to live with eyes open: seeing my life as it is and facing what I see in the context of faith in Christ. Rather than grasping for realities which my God has not ordained to be, I will seek Christ in the comforts and calamities I am in.
It will be quite embarrassing for many of us when, before the face of Christ, we have to explain why the counsel of His will was not good enough (Eph 1:11).