November 21, 2005
As I was growing up, I had a common and perennial struggle with my parents regarding the subject of what exactly counted as "too much" video game playing. I know I'm not alone ... most children of my generation experienced this. I think probably every generation does, with some other pastime. I suppose in the past it was outdoor games and fishing and novel-reading and such in the golden days of yesteryear. However, it seems to me that video-game playing is viewed by responsible adults as being a particularly pernicious waste of time ... that and watching television. My parents (my father in particular) would have been much happier had I devoted my playtime to sports and "outdoorsy" kinds of things. They were regarded as being morally superior to video game playing (which itself might be considered marginally preferable to the watching of television).
I didn't like it then, and I don't like it now. I like playing video games, thanks very much, and watching TV is fun too. It's more than a simple matter of preference (my father prefers physical sports, I prefer the construction and ruling of fantasy empires); adults and generally responsible people make the case that playing video games is moral decadence. Certainly there are worse things, and they tolerate the playing of games, but I'm sure their vision of an ideal world doesn't include video games. They see video games as perhaps a necessary and relatively minor evil, but evil nonetheless.
And, let's face it, they can make a strong case. I estimate that thousands of hours of my time have been spent playing such games ... spent rearranging 1's and 0's in a computer's memory that were promptly lost forever when the power was shut off and the disk wiped. I've seen video games eat people's lives, functioning as an all-absorbing black hole that swallows a person whole. And what do I have to show for it? At least with physical outdoor games, you get a lot of exercise and wind up with a healthier and fitter body. And team sports can build character ... at least, so my father firmly believed :). Certainly I've gained a few things ... a huge storehouse of facts and strategies and trivia that's necessary to play some my games really well. I imagine my fingers are swifter to react than they would be otherwise, and I've gotten to do a lot of imaginary things that were quite awesome ... things like ruling a country, fleet, planet, and saving the galaxy and blasting storm-troopers to smithereens and building awesome weapons. And I had a lot of fun. If I were into multi-player games, I could even make a case that I've gotten some of that "team-building" experience my parents were so in favor of.
"But it wasn't real(TM)"
DIE, DIE, DIE!!! So bloody what? It was an approximation of real. My parents would have been reasonably happy to see me building forts and clubhouses, and those aren't real either. I think the problem is that parents have a "feeling," something somewhere deep inside them, that says that there's something inherently better in manipulating the physical world instead of the electronic one. I would be more scornful if I didn't have the same feeling myself. I blame my parents and culture for infecting me with the ridiculous notion. :)
Actually, I suppose there's something to the notion. If you work with the "real world", I suppose you're closer to working with what God made; when you work with the electronic world, you're working with something man made. Also, the "real world" is ... well, real. It's there when you don't want it to be, and your ability to do with it what you please is circumscribed. (Though, on that score, so is your ability to manipulate video games).
I think the feeling is linked to our conviction that time ought to be spent well. Personally, I've never liked this notion, as it makes me feel as if every single instant of life ought to spent in ceaseless busyness, a notion I find exhausting and demoralizing. I suppose the eager proponent of such a life might point out that we aren't expected to spend every minute working ... some moments need to be spent resting. Yes ... so that we can get more work done! If we could work without getting tired, such a philosophy would work ceaselessly forever. And I hate the idea. My reaction to it strikes me as a little childish, and think there's a lot of truth in that. I've always hated the fact that the world seems to want nothing but work, work, work all the time. I want to play but the world is geared to make me work. I've always felt that the world is trying to make me stop playing and start working.
Ecclesiastes is such a great book; it provides me with a ringing answer to give to the world's insistence on busyness. "MEANINGLESS!" I cry in a booming voice. "MEANINGLESS! Everything is meaningless. Your ceaseless strivings are meaningless and empty." In some ways, this "fact" strikes me as freeing, not damning. It means it's ok to play. It's ok to play, because work isn't necessarily "better." Unfortunately, the New Testament comes in and screws up Ecclesiastes by saying that work "for the Lord" isn't meaningless, that death isn't the end, that our work can earn eternal rewards (and our lack thereof can have eternal consequences). Damn it! Now, once again, the cruel logic of the universe closes in on me, trying to snare me into the trap of the eternal (or at least life-long) rat race. (Though, if that was the case, I swear I'll play video games for millennia in heaven, just to spite the inner compulsion.) How strange that the doctrine of eternal life and reward can be such terrible news.
My training immediately rebukes the thought. "It just makes you face up to the fact that you need to grow up and get to work!" it says most forcefully.
But I'm not finished yet. True, deeds can have eternal reward that really matters (and, actually, this gets around nihilism as well, which is a problem with Ecclesiastes alone). But they must be deeds done for Him. And I know enough to know that the deeds of the lifelong busybody are not guaranteed to all be worthwhile. Nope, it's not enough to teach Sunday School or become a pastor or missionary ... even those deeds are not guaranteed to win reward. The deeds that count are the ones done in accordance with His will. And when you dutifully try to find His will for everything and try to spend every minute busy ... you lost sight of His will. Then you have to go looking for Him again. And sometimes you find Him fishing. Or playing video games.
Yes, work matters. I know it does. And I'm ok with that ... as long as play matters, too. As long as it's ok to play. Not just a concession to the weakness of man (stupid man, can't work all the time. If only he were stronger), but as a built-in truth. And I'm convinced that's the way the world really works.