Christianime: Life First, Loot Second

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?

kirito,

“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.

Smile, Asuna in school uniform

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.

It certainly won’t get replaced by an awful game full of fairies, that’s for sure.

To recap:

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.

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11 thoughts on “Christianime: Life First, Loot Second”

  1. Love certainly does strike in MMOs – however at times not for the best it seems. An anecdotal is in order for this – prepare for a long comment Jeko. It’s been about a year or so, since the incident that almost wrecked the guild I was with, and put it out of existence for good. The guild was run by a young couple in their early twenties. I got along with them brilliantly. In fact I helped them to establish and market the guild. Anyway, the couple were having some issues behind the scenes. But didn’t let anyone know, to keep the guild together. However that didn’t last long. A new recruit, a charming fellow. Started to team up with the guild leader (she). Then, they just abruptly stopped teaming up. A new female member joined, the chap did the same, teamed up with her – this was noticed by the entire guild but said nothing. They eventually developed feelings for each other. This didn’t sit too well with the guild leader, for she also developed feelings for the chap. Thus wrecking and finishing her current relationship.

    What happened was sheer immaturity on the guild leaders part. When she found out that the guy wasn’t interested in her. A massive blow out occurred. With a little game of Chinese whisper from the guild leader to the chap. She managed to insult and push away a long standing member of the guild – who did her best in making sure the situation didn’t get out of control. The chap and female recruit also left the guild together. He did confirm something that bothered me though – but that’s another story. Sorry about it too long Jeko.

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    1. That’s quite a story! No need to apologise – it’s exactly the kind of thing I’m getting at.

      In that scenario, i wouldn’t think of what was going on as ‘love’ – not the kind worthy of praise, anyway. If a guild relies on a personal relationship, you should make damn sure that said relationship is damn secure before you build anything on it – be it a virtual world or a real one. Else you’re just building on sand. When the storm comes, what will survive?

      It’s the same for having a relationship with Christ. If you’re willing to spend the time getting to know him, sacrificing your life to be close to him, you’ll have a secure relationship, and anything you build on top of it – religion, romance, anything – will be built on rock, as the parable describes. But keep Christ at a distance and build things on a less personal relationship with him, and sometimes life will knock down you house and you#ll realise, as a Christian, that you actually haven’t gotten to know Christ yet at all.

      Thanks for sharing that story – it immediately reminded me of that parable and how much it relates to my own life at the moment.

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  2. I don’t think anyone REALLY believes in heaven, otherwise they would be doing all they could to get their as soon as possible depending on their assumed access criteria e.g. being a martyr, self-sacrifice, tight-rope walking over shark tank while blind folded after being forgiven all of your sins (it doesn’t count as suicide if you generally want to get to the other side, does it?)

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    1. Actually, that’s exactly what people did in the Early Church when the Romans started persecuting Christians. Then, the Catholic Church came out with an edict forbidding Christians from turning themselves in so that they could be martyred. After all, how does one know whether one will remain constant in the face of torture? Best to imitate St. Thomas More, who tried to escape martyrdom honorably until he had no choice but to accept death or violate his conscience.

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    2. You raise an important point, which Paul debated himself in the Bible: ‘For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labour for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far. But it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body.’

      The point he makes is that we don’t live our lives for ourselves – nor do we live our lives for our afterlife, which is just an extension of our own life. Christianity would be a selfish Gospel if the idea was prioritise your salvation and inheritance in the afterlife above another’s. As Paul also said: ‘For I could wish that I myself were cursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my people, those of my own race.’

      We remain on this Earth because it is by working through us that Jesus saves. So yes, many of us do truly believe in heaven, the New Creation and all that jazz. But we keep going with this life because the Lord has ordained for us works to do in his name, and that comes before our desires to be with him for eternity.

      But yes, there are many Churches in the world that don’t preach this Gospel correctly from what I’ve heard, giving the paradoxical impression you’ve presented. The whole idea of ‘salvation by works’ hinges around it, for instance, which completely goes against the notion that ‘he who tries to save his life will lose it’. The true Gospel, I believe, is not that we do good to get to Heaven; it’s the other way round. If you’ve truly believed in your heart, you’re saved – now, because of that, because you now know God and love him, do good works. Live alongside the Lord not to pass a test, but because God gave you a scholarship, and because sacrificing your time and energy for him will please him to no end.

      Hope that clears some things up, at least regarding my own personal take on the Christian faith.

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    1. It seems they’re going to change the console it runs on too. While this game runs on the Earth, powered by the sun, the next one, according to next gen games blog Revelation, will apparently be on a new planet powered by Christ himself. :)

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  3. This why i like SMT III and Forbidden Siren 2, not only because those two games offers a different approach of their respective genre but they also urge me to tell to public how i felt about them.

    Since those two game is not MMO game thus there is no way to interact with other human players, the best things to do is to drop to an forum and share with everyone. However it’s occur to me “why not making a blog or site instead to show it to people about my opinion on these games ?”.

    So i started to write and prepare my site, but i admit i my web is not ready yet. To be honest it is really nice experience for me when i am finished some games it is not only give sense of accomplishment by beating them but giving me an push to do better in this life, in this case the will to interact with people despite unknowingly how it will turn out to be.

    Yeah, that’s about it i think, maybe it is not exactly match about your view Christian on MMO games, but that’s how i felt when i read your post.

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