Sometime last year I was playing Star Wars Battlefront 2 with my roommate Andrew. We both played frequently, but he always seemed to have an edge on me (something about him being homeschooled, I think). Anyway, we were playing the game, trying to wipe out each other’s respective armies, and he was kicking my butt. I forget what exactly happened, I just remember charging through the jungle of some alien planet (in a galaxy far far away) when Andrew blindsided me with blaster fire and killed me…again.
My frustration boiled over. Watching my character fall limply to the dirt, I gritted my teeth, tossed my controller and very vehemently vocalized my displeasure. Now I don’t mean I grumbled some safe Christian cusswords like “gosh-darn-it” or “Da-gum!”. This was some full-fledged PG-13 profanity (feel free to use your imagination).
I’m not prone to random fits of anger, nor do I struggle with cussing, so my outburst came as a complete surprise to me and my roommate. It wasn’t as if I were dealing with a personal frustration at the time. It was just the game that got me so riled up. It’s a little bit embarrassing to admit, but the times I can remember being the angriest have been playing games.
And while I haven’t spent tons of time playing the most involved video games (World of Warcraft, Assassin’s Creed, etc.), but I’ve seen so many guys get unspeakably angry when their game doesn’t go their way. I’ve even seen grown men reduced to childlike tantrums after dying in a game of Super Mario.
So why do we get so angry over this stuff? Why is it that we go to something for a break or to “blow off some steam” and come away no better, or even angrier, than we were before?
I was talking to my friend John about this, and he hit the nail right on the head. “It’s the promise of a perfect reality” speaking of video games “and when someone janks with that you’re all like ‘What the heck!”
And he’s right. Video games deliver a great promise. Enter a world where you are a brave warrior or a have super powers or an elite NFL quarterback. You get to live an adventure, fight dragons, save the kingdom, be the hero, but you needn’t even risk leaving the house (or even putting on pants). You bury yourself into a perfect little world where you have absolute control…until the perfect world kills you.
So what are we really after? What are we looking for when we plug in to a console for hours at a time? I can’t imagine that it’s the sensation of becoming a super human version of ourselves. That has plenty of cool factor, but that quickly wears off. There is some part of us, tucked away deep in the deep recesses of our heart that is crying out in need of some adventure, something that we don’t get in our real life of our job, our commute, and our bills.
John Eldredge pointed out something like that only with movies. He says “every man wants to play the hero. Every man needs to know that he is powerful…The Magnificent Seven, Shane, High Noon, Saving Private Ryan, Top Gun, the Die Hard films, Gladiator – the movies a man loves reveal what his heart longs for, what is set inside him from the day of his birth.” (Wild at Heart)
Where did we get this idea in our heads that life is needs to be an adventure, that we are incomplete in the in the habits of a dangerless life? Is there a necessary part of our hearts that starves to death when we don’t step out our comfort zone?
If there is, then the games and the movies and anything else will never ever ever give us what we desire. We’ll just continue giving ourselves over to our pixelated hope and 2-Dimensional trophies, all the while our heart cries out for more. Fighting little dragons will only yield small rewards.
By way of disclaimer, let me emphasize that I’m not saying never ever play video games or watch movies or take part in any kind of downtime activity. I’d be the grandest of hypocrites if that was the point of all this. All those things are great. Indeed, God has hardwired many of us to respond to the beauty and excitement in such things, but that is not the ultimate goal. It’s more like a road map, showing us the way to something better.
I can’t tell you what your ultimate adventure is, nor where it lies, but I don’t believe God would put the adventurous spirit in us unless there were something that was meant to fulfill it. The adventure you seek isn’t on Xbox live or buried somewhere in your Netflix queue. Seeking it there will only frustrate you.
If you finding yourself cussing out your controller for the um-teenth time today, try unplugging yourself for a bit, step outside, take a chance and see what danger’s you can overcome in the real world (and, please, do remember to wear pants).