Gamer Motivations: Escapism

By Michael Mendis

Why do gamers love to play games?  What draws them to a game, to the experience that game provides?  These are vital questions when it comes to understanding gamers and building relationships with them, and as Christians, people who are seeking to share Christ’s love with those around them, they are questions that we must take some time to answer if we ever hope to be an effective witness.  There are a wide variety of reasons why people are attracted to playing games, and for any one gamer there are likely multiple motivations at work, depending on the person as well as the game they are playing at that moment.  This three-part series will attempt to take a close look at just a few of these motivations, and today I’d like to focus on one that I myself am well acquainted with: escapism.

Many gamers enjoy being enveloped in fascinating fictional worlds, and in doing so allowing their minds a respite from their regular lives.  This is especially true of gamers like me who love to play single-player games, and get immersed in a finely crafted universe that is rife with fascinating characters and filled with places to explore.  There are plenty of positive things about this approach to gaming, and also some pitfalls to be aware of.  Let’s start with the positives.

One of the gifts that God gives to people is a creative mind.  The author of creation has taken his desire to create and passed it along to us, his image bearers, so that we will take the raw material that is given to us and make something new.  People come up with incredibly imaginative fictional characters and worlds, and when we as an audience take these in, it spurs our own imagination.  Creativity feeds off of other creativity, as the young generation is inspired by those that came before.  It’s a part of how we fulfill God’s mandate to us to subdue the earth, cultivating it and helping it reach its full potential.

Fiction can also approach difficult social/cultural/moral problems by working them into their own unique narrative, which allows the audience to examine these issues from a more detached perspective, somewhat outside of their own personal experience.  Interacting with engaging, well-written characters dealing with their own challenges can shine new light on experiences we have with those around us.

On top of that, we all need a break from the daily grind from time to time, and getting lost in a well-crafted game world can be a wonderful way to do that.  The game transports you away from the problems you are facing and lets you relax in an environment where things are much more ordered and under control than they normally are in the rest of life.  Progress is more easily defined (quests completed, characters upgraded, etc.), and victory is within our grasp.  When life is a slog with no end in sight, it can be a real encouragement to experience some success within a game world.  Saving the maiden from the dragon, defeating the invading forces threatening the galaxy, or otherwise seeing the forces of good triumph over evil in a fictional world brings us a sense of satisfaction, and is a reflection (pale and fleeting as it may be) of what our hearts truly long to see: the full and final triumph of Christ over the curse of sin that besets our world and ourselves.

We don’t even need to look to gaming to see all of these positive things in action.  Rich fictional worlds have been a part of human culture for centuries; just look at the influence and impact of stories like King Arthur, The Lord of the Rings, and The Chronicles of Narnia.  We attach ourselves to characters like Lancelot, Frodo, or the Pevensie siblings, living vicariously in this fictional world through them and sharing in their victories and defeats.  We see the trials they go through, and contemplate how our own are similar or different.  Games are following in the footsteps of their literary forefathers, using new technology to regale us with fantastical tales and immerse us in unexplored lands.

As with all the good things in this world that God gives to us, though, there is always the opportunity for us to misuse it and idolize it, putting it above our relationship with our Creator.  Escapism is no different; we often find ourselves tempted to get sucked into a world or a story to the point that we don’t want to leave.  After all, it’s so much easier to just ignore the problems in our lives and try to bury ourselves in something else than to actually deal with them.  Suddenly, the thing that was supposed to be a benefit to our lives starts to become a detriment.  When we over-absorb ourselves in a game world, it depletes us rather than refreshing us.  When the controller gets put down, the rest of the world feels dull and empty; our meaning, in our minds, now resides within the game and what we do in it, rather than in God and the entirety of the life he has graciously given us.  We become blinded to the world around us, rather than having our eyes opened in new and exciting ways.

Spending too much time absorbed in gaming leads us to neglect the tasks and relationships that we need to take care of; our minds become so consumed by entertainment that there isn’t enough space left for the people around us, and our friends and family suffer from the emotional distance it creates.  We may still be eager to share our gaming experiences with our loved ones (which is a good thing, in general), but we are nonetheless left unable to sit back and listen to the things that our loved ones share with us, and the relationship becomes one-sided.  When used in proper moderation, escapism can enrich those around us, but when it gets out of control, it drains those that God has put into our lives.

So for people like me who love to sink their teeth into a deep and engaging gaming experience, we have to make sure that we keep escapism in its proper place.  If we let it take too much of a hold on our lives, we put ourselves in danger of being unable to tear ourselves away from it.  But if we subjugate our entertainment to God and keep his will as our ultimate priority, we can benefit from the creativity of others and allow it to refresh and enlighten us.  Our understanding of the world, our fellow man, and the one who created us becomes richer as we explore the fictional worlds that people create, stretching our imagination and causing us to think not only of what can be achieved today, but also what we might be able to achieve tomorrow.

A Longing For Relationship

By Michael Mendis

Romance.  You find it everywhere in pop culture.  It doesn’t matter who the intended audience is, whether kids…

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...or adults...

...men…

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...or women.

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It’s a critical part of countless stories and legends, and it has proven to be compelling to audiences throughout recorded history.

Why is romance so popular?  As Christians, we know that it strikes at the heart of what it means to be human.  All people have a longing for relationship; it’s hardwired into our design.  From the very beginning of history, God ordained that it was “not good for the man [Adam] to be alone” in the garden of Eden, and so God created a helper for him, another human with which Adam could be in relationship.[1]  And later in Scripture, we learn that marriage, one of the most important relationships that many of us experience in our lives now, is in fact a reflection of the ultimate relationship that all people (both married and single) are made to have with their creator.[2]

When Gospel & Gaming goes out to churches to speak about gamers, we spend a lot of time talking about the unique aspects of gamer culture, and we get questions from people who don’t know that much about gamers and want to learn more of what they are like.  This is all critical to a discussion on gaming ministry, but I think one fact that can get lost in discussions about gamers is that, despite their many unique traits, they are still people like anyone else.  After all, every person, gamer or not, is made in the image of God.[3]  This means that we should be able to recognize, and identify with, those aspects of gamers that are common to all mankind.  And that includes a longing for relationship.

 

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As storytelling in gaming has grown and evolved over the years, romantic sub-plots have become some of the most widely discussed aspects of many single-player, story-driven games.  Developers use the canvass of games to tell a wide variety of stories, exploring both the brokenness and the beauty we find in our own relationships and those around us.  Sometimes romance within a game’s story is unrelated to it’s gameplay mechanics (Uncharted 4), while other games give the player a measure of choice and agency in how it turns out (Mass Effect, The Witcher).  Either way, it captures the imagination of gamers across the globe; over the years I’ve seen countless threads on gaming forums in which people discuss and debate these narratives (to say nothing of all the videos and fanart that gamers create).

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Just as people get emotionally invested in the characters they see in movies, books, and TV shows, gamers become attached to the characters they meet in game worlds.  It’s a natural part of who they are as human beings.  This can open the door to being able to relate to gamers, even if you are not an avid gamer yourself.  Gamers are eager to share their passion for gaming with others, and for those that like to play story-driven games, this often means talking about the connection they’ve made with a game’s characters, and the relationships that those characters build with one another.

So if there’s a gamer in your life with whom you’d like to share Christ’s love, don’t let yourself be stopped by what you don’t know.  Ask them about what draws them to a game.  Step into their world.  Yes, there are things to learn about gamers and gamer culture, but chances are, you’ll find that you have more in common with them than you realize.

 

[1] Genesis 2:18 https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Genesis+2%3A18&version=ESV

[2] Ephesians 5: 25-32 https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Ephesians+5%3A+25-32&version=ESV

[3] Genesis 1: 26-27 https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Genesis+1%3A26-27&version=ESV

The One Who Speaks For Us

By Ben Kieffer

As part of my work representing Gospel & Gaming as the Chaplain’s Assistant at Lake Saint Charles Retirement Community, I lead a discussion group every Tuesday evening with eight of the residents.  One Tuesday night as I was walking out of the lobby after the discussion and about to head home, I saw Cindy (one of the residents) as I normally do; Cindy usually hangs out in the lobby on Tuesday evenings so she can chat with her friend who works at the reception desk. Like most nights, I expected her to ask how I am, how my wife is, when the baby’s due and encourage me to be safe; in fact, I don’t know that I’ve ever left a conversation with Cindy without hearing about being safe at least 5 times. She worries. But I found out that this night would be different when the conversation took an unexpected turn. I had taken a seat next to Cindy and asked how she was doing. She told me how she was in the process of selling her parents’ house and how she misses them, but is confident that they are “up there”. We began to talk about what it means to know that we are saved and accepted into God’s kingdom.

Whether they think about it or not, having an assurance of salvation is very important for the residents at any retirement center. I was honored to get to talk with Cindy about her faith and her views on God’s salvation. She leaned over to me and said, “When my time comes, I want you to speak for me.” I wasn’t quite sure what she meant, but then she clarified that she wants me to perform the eulogy at her funeral when she passes away. I had never thought I’d have such a conversation before, but I immediately agreed.

While driving home, I thought about the phrase “speak for me,” and I was reminded how as believers we have Jesus Christ as our advocate. He stands before the Lord on our behalf, and speaks on our account. He’s not nervous, he uses all the right words, and he’s speaking for us to his father about how we have been saved and made clean.

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Cindy reminds me to be careful and drive safe because she wants the best for me. “You never know what can happen out there and we just need to be careful,” she says. I remind her of Jesus as our savior and advocate because I want the best for her. The main difference though, is that while we don’t know what will happen on the road, we do know what will happen when we stand before God at the end of our days: Jesus will speak for us.