Editor’s Note: This post was written by guest writer Jordan Ekeroth. Jordan lives in sunny San Diego, where he studies Theology and writes about videogames. You can see his ongoing project at Follow and Engage.
If there’s one thing that humans have been proven to be good at, it’s survival. Our history is made up of stories of people enduring even the most adverse conditions. However, that gift bears with it an unfortunate side effect. We are also very good at settling for less. There is something in every person that yearns for more, something that dreams of “life and life more abundantly.” But when we don’t see those dreams become reality, the temptation is often to simply keep dreaming or fantasizing, and stop hoping and believing. Somewhere along the way, many people become disillusioned with reality as we know it and so descend into a sort of sub-reality, full of entertainment and escapism. As a Christian, I’ve felt that pull myself, away from community and into isolation. Away from the vigor of a life worth living and into mere passive existence. So why do we do this to ourselves? And is there a way out?
A couple of years ago I saw Avatar for the first time. If you recall, the film is about a crippled Marine who is given another chance at heroism as he mentally inhabits the body of an alien by means of advanced technology. Of course he ends up saving the day, but something didn’t feel right to me. I had too many questions about how such technology would affect our world if it really existed. What if through technology you really could live out your life in another body? I realized that I was not alone in my musings, but rather had stumbled onto a major theme in contemporary thought. Namely, the nagging fear of what we might become if we settle for living a fantasy. You find it in other films too, such as Christopher Nolan’s masterpiece, Inception, which asks: “What would happen if we got so confused by our created worlds that we forgot which one is real?”
Then there’s animation, like the Pixar blockbuster WALL-E, that wonders: “What if humans were spoiled beyond belief? What if life never had any challenges?”
It’s definitely in sci-fi literature, such as The Reality Bug, the third book of the young adult fantasy series Pendragon by D. J. Machale, which poses the questions: “What if there was true virtual reality that you could live inside of? What would happen to society?”
In every situation the consequences are terrible: Suicidal lovers, impotence and morbid obesity, the collapse of civilization itself. On one level, I was worried by a far off future that offered complete immersion in an alternate identity. Yet on another level, I realized that the future wasn’t so far off, for I had just seen it come to life before my eyes. Immersion wasn’t just a theme of the story of Avatar; it was a theme of the movie experience itself.
When Avatar came out, no one really cared about the story anyway. Most were blown away by the incredible CG and unprecedented use of 3D. I saw it in IMax 3D — it was the most immersive movie I had ever experienced. And that’s what got me. The future I feared was coming, but it was also already here.
Video games are a step toward that future: controlling an avatar as a projection of yourself. As the years have gone by, video game graphics have become more lifelike, the experiences have become more thrilling, and the experience of another reality has become more complete. We play because we’re not satisfied with our normal eating, drinking, going around. Though on many points we’ve settled into being comfortable with “ordinary,” we still long for more than an ordinary existence has to offer.
Paul put it like this: “For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands. Meanwhile we groan, longing to be clothed instead with our heavenly dwelling, because when we are clothed, we will not be found naked. For while we are in this tent, we groan and are burdened, because we do not wish to be unclothed but to be clothed instead with our heavenly dwelling, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life.” (2 Corinthians 5:1–4)
The fifth game in The Elder Scrolls series, titled Skyrim, was released on the eleventh of November of this year to massive critical acclaim. The game is pure escapism. Cliff Blezinski, a leading game designer, commented that even the act of walking around inside the game world was “magical.” Here on CaPC, Drew Dixon talked about how Skyrim reminded him of heaven, saying “Skyrim is but a foretaste of the world to come. One day we will stand atop snow capped mountains marveling at the fields, trees, waterfalls, and villages below free from the bitter sting of cold. Because of what Christ has done for me, one day I will inhabit a world where death will no longer reign and where I will rejoice in God and what He has made.”
The whole discussion reminds me of something C. S. Lewis said one time: “If I discover within myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.” Gamers, you were made for another reality. This revelation puts two things in a healthy perspective. First, we can best enjoy games when we understand why it is that we enjoy them. That is, God’s plan is to give us more than this life has to offer, and viewed in the right light, video games don’t become a distraction from that truth, but an illumination of it. Second, when we as Christians seek to engage the world around us, we need to constantly remind ourselves that the desires which drive some people into unhealthy lifestyles are the same desires that we have. Not that games illuminate our sinfulness, but that they illuminate our God-given desires which are often so easily perverted by sin.
I felt compelled to start my site, Follow and Engage, because there are millions of people spending countless hours lost in digital worlds, and I know why. My desire, and I pray that it becomes yours too, is to learn how to reach out to our friends, whether down the street or around the world, and introduce them to a more abundant life, one that their game worlds have only hinted at. I’m not an expert yet, but I’m praying for God to use me and others like me as we start talking, praying, and dreaming about this. You should pray too, for our God is able to do exceedingly and abundantly above all that we could ask or imagine in the gaming community and in the world at large.