Gaming, VR, and the Heavenward Call

Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. (Phil 3:12-14; NIV)

Have you ever spent a lot of time and energy (and maybe money) on something, and then later, for whatever reason, lost interest in it? I'm sure most of us who are Boomers* and Gen X wish we could take back and repurpose the many thousands of hours we have spent watching TV shows which, on rerun, seem incredibly dull, low-resolution and cheesy. Yes, you could have used that time to learn to play a musical instrument beautifully, or become an expert in Plato's philosophy of the Good, or developed amazing skill as an oil painter or sculptor. Unlike Bill Murray in Groundhog Day, we don't get to rewind and try again.

One of the things that hooks Millennials is gaming. Gaming today is not like the games that Boomers played on the coffee tables in their living rooms. Gaming is an immersive, three-dimensional experience that is becoming nearly indistinguishable from real life. Games are structured to provide challenges which require an increasing amount of expertise, to keep players from getting bored and moving onto something else. Just when you think you've reached the game's limits, there is downloadable content (DLC) that extends the adventure, for a small price. Every so often, a new version of the game is released that utilizes recent advances in technology and offers new, enhanced experiences.

Some authors have started to equate gaming with religion. It provides a more exciting vision of life, it draws us compellingly into ritualistic behavior, and it provides psychological payoffs that make real life more bearable. At the same time this is happening, fewer young people find themselves interested in traditional religious faith.

I have played games (and I still do, with my son). I understand the appeal. I also understand that real life is better, for at least this reason—it is real. When you take off your headset and shut down your computer, all you have left to show for it are many hours spent distracting yourself, to escape real life. It was fun, but in the end, you're still stuck with reality, and you haven't done anything to make that better.

The Bible doesn't have a section where Jesus speaks out about virtual reality. What it has instead is a picture of life which draws us into accomplishing things that are concrete. It has a picture of worship which is not about the rapture we get from a virtual world but rather a tangible experience of the Holy Spirit that fills us, changes us and guides us on a path to make our lives count. Jesus doesn't speak about virtual reality or television. What he does speak about is love, self-denial, obeying the God who created you, and focusing on the kingdom of heaven in the here-and-now. Gaming is not necessarily incompatible with these things, but it is a rabbit trail—something which can divert us from the path. It can consume our time. It is designed for that very purpose. We can't rewind to get that back, any more than I can get back the hours I spent watching the Jeffersons and Charlie's Angels when I was growing up, I'm sorry to say.

Paul talks about focusing on the “one thing” in Philippians 3:12-14. Even in Paul's day, there were many things to distract and waste time. Not as many as we have today, though, so his words have more relevance than ever before. Paul says he has not yet “taken hold of it,” and by that he means, the resurrection and eternal life which await him when this world and its distractions have passed away (see vv. 10-11). So in the meantime, he is focused on one thing. He forgets the past (all the things that he used to spend time on) and strains toward the future (the moment when he stands face to face with the Lord). He makes choices consistent with that goal. The goal implies a defined path and a series of priorities. It is the reason why God intercepted his life in the first place. Not for where he had come from, but for the race in pursuit of that coming moment.

Diversions are fine. We all need to unwind. The question is how they impact the important things that await us on the journey ahead. Time with our families, worshipping our Savior, friendships that will build you up, the chance to offer Christ's love to someone who has lost everything. Things that matter. You don't get to rewind. Time is short, we have to get this right.

*If you're not familiar with these terms, they define the three generations since World War II (Baby Boomers, Generation X, and Millennials). Google the terms for more information. Each has defining characteristics that reflect, in large part, developments in technology over the last 60 years and how those have changed the way we look at life. I am working on a book on discipleship that will explain how that works and what the next generation will look like.

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