Gaming Theology 008: Identity

What’s the difference between finding worth in games & finding worth in Christ?

1

Games vs. God? Like there’s any real competition there!

Sadly, though, many people, even professing Christians, make it seem like there is. Don’t get me wrong: an idol can be any person, place or thing in one’s heart worshiped instead of God. But by nature, no gift in and of itself can truly compete with the Giver of every good & perfect gift (see James 1:17). Still, video games offer entire worlds full of people, places, things, and, of course, identities to take on, control and overcome challenges with. And that fact cannot be overlooked or taken lightly, as it can leave us unchanged for both better and worse.

So here’s the difference in a nutshell (sorry if you’re allergic to nuts):

Seeking personal worth in video games in and of themselves is deadly. It can isolate, lead to idolatry, and generally leave one craving more games to play, more achievements to unlock, and just wanting more, more, more! I’ve been there and it ain’t pretty; gaming can be an endless, joyless, identity-a sucking timesink. It’s also a rather expensive hobby to keep up with if you’re not careful (see other posts in this series on time & budgeting for some pro-tips there).

A wise man once said, “All things are full of weariness; a man cannot utter it; the eye is not satisfied with seeing, nor the ear filled with hearing.” (Ecclesiastes 1:8, ESV) Thanks to digital stores and sales aplenty (Steam, anyone?), this temptation is especially strong with the constant offer of new releases almost every week. It’s no wonder that gamers are generally seen as obsessive, neurotic, basement dwellers. (Or are they? Check out a post in this series on Community for more on that.)

On the other hand, realizing and relishing one’s worth in Christ is life-giving. This perspective liberates, leads to worship, and generally gives purpose to, redeems, and satisfies our blameless enjoyment of all things, which includes yet is certainly not limited to video games. I am reminded of Romans chapter 12, where we’re commanded to avoid conformity with this world’s way of thinking and to instead be transformed by the renewing of our minds. To take it a level higher, we are told in Philippians chapter 2 to have the mind of Christ, who was always about his Father’s work and who knew who he was in and for his Father.

In The Joyful Christian, C.S. Lewis famously wrote, “Aim at Heaven and you will get Earth ‘thrown in’: aim at Earth and you will get neither.” Likewise, if all we focus on is video games, with all their fleeting senses of accomplishment and self-contained experiences, we’ll miss the greater joy of relishing them as another beautiful gem of God’s goodness and grace towards us selfish sinners. Reminds me of all the times I’ve heard our podcast hosts, Logan, Jonathan, and Adam relish the artful and God-echoing morsels they see in the games they play and talk about on most episodes of The Reformed Gamers. From The Legend of Zelda to The Witcher 3 to Kingdom Hearts, there is no game whose artistry and narrative elements overshadow the Gospel. This reminds us of the substance and beauty that is God and His Truth.

So we’ve considered identity as it pertains to consuming games, but have you ever asked yourself: Who am I, as a “Reformed Gamer”? What does that exactly mean?

You might answer: a voracious consumer of Geekdom; a slayer of 8-bit bosses; a champion of high scores and leaderboards; an avid hunter of trophies and/or achievements. Or you might answer: an image-bearer of God; a redeemed sinner-turned-saint; receiver of Grace; follower of the Christ who came, died, resurrected, and ascended. Or perhaps: A theology buff who enjoys reading commentaries on Hosea, making fun of false prophets, and making James White memes.

Well, you can be all of these! Though tricky, this IS possible. It means examining your heart often, having your priorities in check, and making adjustments whenever and wherever needed. There is no one-size-fits-all approach here, dear reader. But if you aren’t actively seeing sin in your life, confessing and forsaking it, repenting towards God in faith and greater works of obedience, don’t be surprised if you’re not growing in Christian maturity or enjoying more of life (including video games for that matter) to God’s glory.

“For as he thinks in his heart, so is he.” (Proverbs 23:7a)

Taking it a little deeper, the Oxford American Dictionary defines identity as “the condition of being a specified person or thing.” Amusingly, it then goes on to define an “identity crisis” as “confusion in a person’s mind, especially in adolescence, concerning his or her social role & true self” (sound like any kids you’ve heard on their headsets in online multiplayer shooters? Yeah, I use that ‘mute all’ button all the time, too). Curiously, though, those two definitions weren’t the first type of meaning listed.

To my surprise, the first technical unpacking of the word “identity” in this dictionary is “the state of being identical, absolute sameness.” But then when looking up the word in Webster’s New Word Thesaurus I found these synonyms: character, individuality, & uniqueness.

Hold up.

So identity can refer to our state of being identical with something AND being our own unique, individual person? Yeah. I think that’s what we call a paradox.

From the beginning of Creation, our identity has always been tied to our Creator. Even though we all come in various shades, sizes, and personalities, we are made in the same image and likeness of a thinking, feeling, acting Being. Is it any wonder this Supreme Being’s identity is summed up by the mysterious name revealed so long ago to Moses, “I Am”? It could be said that God is very being itself (or Himself, rather, since God is not an inanimate object, but a living Personality). You could see how “being your own you” while still being imago Dei or an “image of God” bearer could work. Like many aspects of the Christian worldview, it’s not either-or, it’s both-and. Yeah, don’t hurt yourself thinking too hard about that one.

The very word, “identity” has so many layers of meaning and nuance to it. I think of my cultural identity as a first-generation American whose parents hail from Kabul, Afghanistan. My sense of who I am can be traced down through the years from my experiences as the oldest son of four. I can see a young man being shaped through sweat, tears, and downright scary and thrilling times in my old dojo learning the art of Shotokan karate. But most of all, I remember the dude voted best actor in his high school class who crushed on a charismatic Christian girl and attended an Easter play, leaving with nothing but questions as a sincere Sunni Muslim. Then I got saved and everything changed. But that’s a story for another time and place. Like my YouTube video.

But none of these things is who I am. Not in reality. Not as a Christian.

“From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself & gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, & entrusting to us the message of reconciliation.  Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Corinthians 5:16-21)

If you don’t see your identity in that, then where is your identity? Thank God there’s still time to repent.

Keep playing “dem vidyah game” masterpieces and always remember that you yourselves are masterpieces (see Ephesians 2:10), made to worship God in Spirit and in Truth as dearly beloved children of the light He’s called and made you to be!

GG & amen.

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