Ask any gamer what they think of when you say ‘treasure’, and you’ll probably get a conversation about the relative value of items in Diablo 3, or a nostalgic reminder of the sound it makes in any The Legend of Zelda game, or maybe even a nostalgic conversation about how much old, rare and treasured video games can go for. They might also ask why I’m asking you to ask them about video games for something that’s supposed to be an anime feature, but that’s beside the point.
We love to value things in our lives, and that crosses over into our virtual lives too. From the amount of loot that dropped from the boss you killed yesterday to the size of your impenetrable fortress in Clash of Clans, it’s easy to get hooked on the feeling of getting so many valuable pixels and binary figures. With this in mind, a Christian ought to be careful; greed can easily seep in, and your enjoyment of the game can be corrupted. Just what should a Christian ‘treasure’ while playing in a virtual world, and, moreover, how should this translate into real life?
“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven,where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
– Matthew 6 19-21
He may be popular to hate on as a ‘plot-armoured’, ‘over-powered’ and ‘bland’ protagonist, but Kirito has the right idea while playing Sword Art Online. We may be able to disconnect from any of our virtual lives at will (well… sometimes), but Kirito is trapped in his world; rather than ‘live the dream’ of escapism, the goal of the anime quickly becomes beating the game and freeing everyone inside. Real life is valued above everything in the game; powerful items and amazing skills are only a means to the end of waking up IRL again.
Kirito’s journey through the game leads him to a ‘treasure’ more important than any of his in-game fame or fortune – a relationship with Asuna, and the longing to be with her in real life. Their relationship with Yui adds another dimension to this, making them want to break the boundaries of the game to bring her into their lives too. It’s important to note that they manage to establish a beautiful life in a log house on the 22nd floor, but that still isn’t enough. The game will end – it must end – and everything there will be destroyed. As wonderful as the fantasy might be, it only makes sense to care more about things that will carry on into the real world.
It’s not uncommon for gamers to make real relationships through games; my favourite YouTuber, videogamedunkey, met his current love through League of Legends. It’s also not uncommon for MMOs to perish – just look at Star Wars Galaxies. But the real issue is that there’s a game with the best graphics, the best hardware and control interface, and the most opportunities – albeit under the constant concern of permadeath – that’s going to get shut down one day. That, of course, is our world.
If our lives are limited – maybe more than we think – why would we spend countless hours pretending to be other people in places that only exist on screens and in our heads? We have to think like Kirito did, with the fact in mind that ‘everything is permissible, but not everything is beneficial’. If we’re playing games, particularly large single or multi-player RPGs, to relax or to feel some kind of achievement, then we have every ability to make that experience beneficial to our real life. Kirito managed to kindle a relationship within a game that could take his very life. With things so much easier for us when we play our games, why can’t we achieve even more?
This is why Dark Souls is my favourite video game of all time. It’s not the story, the action or the atmosphere that I remember most. It isn’t even the feeling of accomplishment that you get after three hours of trying to beat Ornstein and Smough. It’s the work I had to put in – those three hours themselves – and the perseverance I developed that I’d never really had before with games. I spent dozens upon dozen of hours in a world all about learning from your mistakes, and the message sunk in. I remember my work ethic at school actually improving. I also made a few friends through us all playing the game and sharing tips. I love Dark Souls so much because of the impact it’s still having on my life right now, making me want to seek out challenges because they’re challenging for rewards worth more than just rare items or lots of XP.
Other video games that I’ve played for arguably too long haven’t been so great in retrospect. My hours of grinding away at Borderlands 2 to get all the shiniest guns were purely out of a desire to get cool loot and boast about it to my friends – not good. The same goes for a lot of mobile games – Summoner’s War, Fallout Shelter, Love Live! (sorry @skycorps) – that I either burnt too much time on or couldn’t get into because the main draw of the games felt only addictive and indulgent. Certainly I was the one at fault for falling into greed and envy, but why should I play games that tempt me so much into it? However much time I allot for my virtual life, it should be spent in places where I’m encouraging myself along a more righteous path.
The aforementioned ‘best game’, however, should get the same treatment. Why should you invest your thoughts and feelings in what car you’re going to buy, or what house you’ll live in, when all these things will pass away? They should only be a means to a more permanent end, like the swords and skills that allowed Kirito to progress towards the goal of SAO.
We have a father in heaven preparing a place for us, and we can store up everlasting treasures there – items that are of an infinitely higher grade that what we can get our hands on now.. Anything we have in this life ought to be seen as simply ways of increasing that inheritance – not for the sake of gaining it, but for the one who gives it. Our performance in life shouldn’t be primarily for things that will pass away, and nor should it lead us into greedily desiring rewards from any good works that the Lord ordained for us in the first place anyway.
Our inventory in this world, and all our skills, and every level of XP we get, are gifts from our creator, like everything Kirito had was made by SAO’s creator. But instead of beating this game and the one who made it, our goal is to work with its creator, using everything he gives us to please and glorify him, for a closer relationship that will merit us with a greater experience of the next game he makes – the new creation, an RPG that will never go the way of Star Wars Galaxies, which will be unimaginably better than what we have now.
1) Just as anime can’t be a way to escape from Christian responsibility, we can and should play video games with righteousness in mind. Be watchful for ‘fun’ that tempts you towards sin or requires an investment into a mindset that takes you further from God. Likewise, be on the lookout for opportunities in games to make positive changes in yourself and others! Act like a Christian, whether you’re gaming with friends, strangers or by yourself, and you’ll be sowing for success.
2) Play the Christian life to win, not to have more meaningless things. Ecclesiastes’ words on the subject are blunt, but pretty to-the-point; what good is investing in life for life’s sake? Our world is but a pindrop in the ocean compared to our future eternity with God. Topping the leaderboard in life means being at the bottom of it in people’s eyes – only then will you be at the top of it in God’s. Use everything you have as a means of pleasing him; offer it all up, be wiling to sacrifice anything, and your devotion will be richly rewarded – even if pleasing him can be seen as reward enough.
I suppose this is one reason why I can’t believe in reincarnation, aside from it being entirely unbiblical; I don’t like games that you only play so that, after you die, you get more stuff for the next time you play it. Endless runners like Temple Run and Jetpack Joyride consumed days of my time before I realised that having a 250m head start for my next try would only help me get things that would help me for my next try, et cetera, et cetera. I only played them for the feeling of what I’ll have for the subsequent times I would play them. A nightmarish cycle!
I want to complete my games and take something away from them – not for games, but for life – just like I want to complete this life by gaining something not for this life, but for the eternity with God that I can’t compare to this world in the slightest. What good is loot when someone comes and steals your hard drive? What good is money when thieves rob you in the night?
The only loot that’s worth it is the stuff you’re hoarding in heaven. Those are all rare items; the produce of a life spent living alongside the Lord. So what are you waiting for? Go on an adventure with him, through the Valley of the Shadow of Death (perfect name for a dungeon btw), and find the treasure that his grace is leading you towards.
Thanks for reading, and may God bless the all the lives you have: real, virtual, somewhere in-between – may they all work together for his pleasure and glory.