I have to preface this by saying that there is nothing wrong with video games. The concept of a video game as such is a legitimate form of entertainment, and can even be considered an art form. Certainly the potential exists for video games to be artistic. I also grew up not playing video games. I remember seeing some friends playing some kind of arcade style fight game on a Sega once when I was a kid, but I did not join in. I wanted to, but I was certain my parents would not approve because it was “violent.”
One Christmas, in a fit of I-don’t-know-what, our parents bought us a pair of games for the PC. One was a fighter pilot simulator game, the other was a helicopter pilot simulator game. The fighter one was too graphics heavy for our dinosaur of a PC, but we could get the SimCopter to work. We were technically allowed to play it for a limited time each day but my Dad made it quite clear that he thought it was a waste of time and there were much better things we could be doing. That game ended up falling by the wayside.
It wasn’t until I joined the Army that I got a chance to play video games regularly. A buddy in my first unit had a ninja game called “Tenchu II: Wrath of Heaven” for the PS3 and I played that quite a bit, although not nearly as much as I wanted to. I found some first person shooters for the PC and put in hundreds of hours playing them on my laptop. “Age of Empires” was another of my favorites, as was “Alpha Centauri.” I felt a little less like I was wasting time on those two because they were “strategy” games, and Alpha Centauri at least had a strong veneer of pseudo-intellectualism. The whole “Command and Conquer” series was fun as well.
I had a love/hate relationship with the games through most of this time. I liked playing them, but they left me feeling empty and a bit guilty. The guilty feeling simply came from the fact that there definitely were better things for me to be doing with that time. When we were growing up stewardship of time was pretty solidly inculcated into us. To this day I can hear my Dad’s rhetorical question, “That is not bad, but is there anything better?” “Good, Better or Best,” was his catch phrase. The emptiness I now recognize as a much deeper product of my upbringing. I had been raised on books, taught to play outside and make up my own games, taught to build things and enjoy learning. Spending all my time on video games or any other empty entertainment was bound to leave me feeling the emptiness. In much the same way, having grown up on solid, hearty food, meat, cheese, vegetables, potatoes and whatnot. If I ate nothing but junk food for a week, or even only a day, I just felt sick.
It wasn’t until I came across World of Warcraft that things began to get serious. That game was seriously addictive. I never skipped responsibilities, such as work, exercise or church for the game, but I did skip a lot of healthier and more fulfilling pursuits. I ended up going through three separate WOW binges, a few weeks each, separated by a year or two. During this periods I would do absolutely nothing in my spare time but play WOW. I made time for my morning Bible reading, my daily rosary and daily Mass. I still worked out, but I ate a lot of delivery pizza, and got very little sleep. Each time I would eventually get disgusted with myself and force myself to break away, but it was a negative denial. I was concentrating on not doing what I wanted to do.
As I mentioned in my last blog when I moved to Tacoma I started building the social life I had needed and that reality changed. By slow degrees my life became full and fulfilling and the urge to play faded away. Instead of denying myself I was doing things I truly enjoyed. Recreation is taking the place of entertainment.
Which is not to say that entertainment has no place. I did end up buying an x-box and “Call of Duty: Black Ops,” just so that I could play Nazi Zombies with my brother. He and I usually play a round or two after we get home at night. When playing with someone else I am much less likely to over-indulge, and that is when we do most of our talking. The game provides something fun and almost mindless to do while we discuss the day and what is going on. Sharing it turns it from simply entertainment into a recreation.
You see, there has to be a balance in life. It is one thing to be addicted to mindless entertainment, and I don’t want to be like that. However, it is just as possible to be addicted to busy-ness, always needing to feel like I am accomplishing something, making progress on some project or goal. It is a mistake, I think, to regard rest and recreation, and even entertainment as mere concessions to human weakness. They are windows into something greater, something that is a part of what Heaven is, and we need them to prepare us for Heaven. Someone who cannot work will be ill-prepared for the rigor of Love that is Heaven. On the other hand someone who cannot rest will be just as ill-prepared for the utter peace and lack of urgency that is also Heaven.
I am who I am, I am where I am. Jesus is with me.
That is all that matters.