Day: July 23, 2013

the games we all play

I’d like us to do some thinking about the games we all play.

No. Not those kind of games…

Games like Candy Crush Saga (or Angry Birds).

And I’d like us to set our thinking about such games in the context of a passage from the Bible — Colossians 4.2-6:

“Devote yourselves to prayer; stay alert in it with thanksgiving. At the same time, pray also for us that God may open a door to us for the message, to speak the mystery of the Messiah, for which I am in prison, so that I may reveal it as I am required to speak. Act wisely toward outsiders, making the most of the time. Your speech should always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you should answer each person.” (HCSB)

Depending on how you take it, the idea of ‘making the most of the time’ in this passage can be tricky to square with the temporal black hole of gaming (something almost every gamer has experienced at some point).

In fact, a book I’m keen to pick up off the back of this review at Reformation 21, argues that this exactly is why gaming is incompatible with serious Christian discipleship:

“If there is a conflict between gaming and discipleship, its root is not necessarily gaming content or the pursuit of pleasure, but simply time. The intensive natures of gaming and of discipleship suggest that we may not have time for both.” (D Brent Laytham, iPod, YouTube, Wii Play: Theological Engagements with Entertainment)

Of course, there are ways to ‘redeem’ game playing — addressing the stigma of ‘total waste of time’.

Professional observer of digital culture, Tom Chatfield, identifies three in his book, How To Thrive In The Digital Age (pages 103-116):

  1. Game playing is a serious business. Not only is the industry massively lucrative (something only enhanced by the emergence of ‘playbor’). But an increasing number of our interactions have become ‘game like’ in their interfaces — think of the playfulness of Facebook’s interface or the more sinister game-likeness of the way US Air Force drones are remotely piloted.
  2. Games also offer us a fun, relaxing, boredom-killing form of escapism that we can inject into our everyday lives. The psychological benefits of which should not be underestimated.
  3. And gaming is loaded with educational potential. Not only those games that aim to teach everything from basic mathematics through to the risks of social networking. But also those like Candy Crush that present us ‘tame’ opportunities for problem-solving. While most of life is far from ‘tame’ — many of the analytical and goal-setting skills these games require can be fruitfully applied to more complex real life problems.

For my part, I’m not ready to give up on treating gaming as a waste of time. Precisely the opposite. What I’d like to do is redeem the notion of time wasting. And do it from Colossians 4.2-6!

You see, in its context the phrase ‘making the most of the time’ fleshes out how Christians are called to ‘act wisely towards outsiders’.

Humanly speaking, the key to the Colossians’ mission lies in maintaining relational and conversational readiness — corresponding to the boldness and clarity in proclaiming Jesus that is the key to the apostolic mission.

Paul wants ordinary Christians to keep their eyes peeled for opportunities to give gracious and ‘salty’ answers to people who ask them questions.

It’s about being ready to give the kind of answers that get the conversational juices flowing, whetting the appetite for more (rather than leaving people with a bad taste in their mouth).

Stepping even further back, this ‘making the most of the time’ readiness has its root in prayer. Devoted, alert and thankful prayer, to be precise. Thoroughly grounded in its acknowledgement that God is the prime mover and giver of every good gift.

What this means is that it’s a kind of ‘relaxed readiness’ — an unforced (and even a playful) readiness, secure in the knowledge that God is the main player in mission.

Such relaxed readiness is worlds away from the desperately activistic, guilt-ridden drivenness that expresses itself in thoughts like:

“I don’t have time to waste with video games! There’s work to be done. People to be plucked from the flames. People who’ll be lost if I don’t get my butt into gear…”

Not that there isn’t work to be done. Not that those who don’t trust Christ aren’t in need of rescuing. And certainly not that Christians aren’t given any responsibility in the face of that.

But that our responsibility begins — and is shot through — with prayer. With calling on God to do the heavy lifting. Looking to him to rescue people (as only he can). And asking his Spirit to do the work.

Ours is a readiness, therefore, that surrenders (mere) activism.

It’s a ‘making the most of the time’ that starts with a fundamentally playful ‘wasting time’ in prayer — not only not getting anything tangible done but giving up on the illusion that any of us ever gets anything done apart from the sovereign enabling of our gracious God…