By Jaime Nava –
*Jaime is the pastor of Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Yucaipa, CA and a friend of The Jagged Word.
One Christmas morning, when I was about six or seven, my brothers and I received our first Nintendo Entertainment System. It made my friend’s Atari look like the stone age of video games. Four buzz-headed boys were beside ourselves. We couldn’t wait to race each other on the power pad or dodge goombas as a tiny Italian plumber. As time went on we got a computer. It had AOL installed with a noisy modem and there were, of course, games on that too; X-Wing, Quest for Glory, Prince of Persia, and more. There were other gaming consoles like the Sega Genesis & Saturn, Super Nintendo, Turbo Grafx-16, Nintendo 64. Alongside Bilbo Baggins and Lucy Pevensie we had the epics of Mario and Sonic.
This was far different than what my grandpa grew up with. Angry Birds would make him think of an Alfred Hitchcock movie. I suppose he had sticks and rocks and mud to play with. Eventually, though, one got civilized. You got a tie. You got a job. You went out and did something. You took care of your family. You had cocktail parties and tried your hand at a pipe or two.
One thing you did not do anymore as a civilized adult is play games. Games were for kids.
Now I played outside with mud, rocks, and sticks too. I burned my feet on asphalt. I played football in high school (I kept that bench very warm). I dabbled in wrestling. I ran hurdles in track meets. I worked in a restaurant from middle school to college. All the while, though, there have been video games. It is something that has grown up with me, evolved with me. I still play video games. Here I am living out important roles—civilized, adult roles—as husband, father, and pastor (LC-MS) while logging into the same types of video games that my confirmands play. It’s like leading a double life. There’s this weird sense of guilt for playing video games at this age. It’s not inherent in playing the video games. It’s more like I have this voice of a generation-past tsking at me when I boot up the XBOX or hop onto a Minecraft server.
The reality is that society’s view of video games is changing. There are articles showing a father and his son bonding over a game of Minecraft. Movies, television, and commercials all have grown people playing video games. Cosplay is growing by leaps and bounds where people dress up as video game, movie, or television characters in giant conventions. The video game culture continues to grow and I think we all know that there will be kids who recall their “Angry Birds” stuffed animals with affection after they have grown up. Our kids and grandkids will not have the voice of those before us telling them that games are for kids. Instead, many a grandpa will swing that Wii remote alongside the grandkids or even with others his age in a retirement home.
More important than that, however, is that video games do two hugely important things. First, they tell a story. Where one culture heard about Beowulf, now we can take on the traits of the hero and say to Grendel, “Quit hitting yourself.” This is a whole new way to tell the story inherent in all of us. Something is wrong and it needs fixing. Video games open up what Dr. John Warwick Montgomery calls apologetics for the “tender-minded”. The need for a savior is inherent in the story of video games in general just as it is in movies and literature. Second, and this might seem counter-intuitive, but it actually brings people together. I have made connections with people in Texas, Georgia, and South Carolina. These are people that I have actually met in person. I continue to talk to people in Canada, England, and Germany. Many of them have little to no church background, and here I am able to speak to them about Christ crucified while we slay monsters. It removes distance and borders so that people are virtually in a room together while actually sitting thousands of miles apart. I’ve even prayed for people I met in video games at church. I guess what I am saying is that being a gamer is, in its own way, a unique vocation.
Video games aren’t just for kids anymore. Video games can be an outlet for all sorts of different things. It makes our world smaller. It opens channels of communication. It draws people from all walks of life. As a Christian with a rich Lutheran theology I have an opportunity to reach a whole new level of people who are weighed down by guilt, who struggle with self-image, who have kids, who are sinners just like me. I don’t turn off the Holy Spirit when I turn on the game. This doesn’t mean we start a video game church like some have done with MMA, motorcycle, or cowboy churches. It does mean that, even in a virtual world, we are prepared to give an answer for the hope that is within us.
Should I feel guilty for playing video games because my grandpa didn’t? No. I still wear a tie (or a collar). I still go to work. I still take care of my family. I still attend a cocktail party here and there and try my hand at pipe smoking. I can do all that and still play video games. I play because it’s fun. I play because it’s relaxing. I play because I have friends online, friends who sometimes need to hear about Jesus. So for all you civilized adults out there, game on.