I can’t remember a part of my life when I didn’t know and love video games. I remember waking up on Saturday mornings excited to play on the family Super Nintendo and thinking, Should I play “Super Mario Bros.,” “Donkey Kong Country,” or “Super Star Wars”? This excitement never left, and I’ve continued to play video games, old and new, as the years have gone by.
Video games have given me so many wonderful memories and experiences throughout my life. Beyond entertainment, they’ve brought me closer to friends and family. Video games have even helped shape my mind and even my faith life through the stories they tell. I personally think that video games are a prime medium to help educate and evangelize.
I’ve certainly not always been popular because of my love for video games, however. I was often looked upon as a nerd growing up for playing them. I’m glad that gaming has become more mainstream now and something that so many people get to enjoy, not just as a form of entertainment, but also as a way to engage and grapple with complex ideas. There are games that have positively impacted me as a person and as a priest. I’ve unfortunately also seen video games used as a scapegoat often when a violent attack occurs (despite the fact that there is not sufficient scientific evidence supporting this). Even with that, though, I still think that video games should be championed and shared in our world in much the same way that a good book or movie is.
Video games have so much to offer to the world and many don’t use violence as a component. In fact, there are video games that tell fantastic tales that naturally invite us to be a part of them by being the ones actively involved in the story. More than just a passive viewer, the player becomes a part of the world and can take in lessons from the experience.
Take for example the game “Thomas Was Alone.” On its surface, it seems an exceptionally simple game. It’s a puzzle game about moving a square from one end of a maze to another. Despite being released in 2012, the graphics look like they could have been made on a Commodore 64 in the 1980s. But the story of who these shapes are invites the player to be a part of a great tale of self-sacrifice.
The colorful squares in the game are AI programs and the scientists studying them are shocked to learn they are developing sentience. Out of fear, the scientists try to erase the AIs. Thomas, the titular character and red square, leads the other AIs to a part of the program where they can connect themselves to the internet and allow AIs to exist freely in the world, but in doing so, they completely sacrifice themselves.
I remember playing “Thomas Was Alone” in college when it was brand new, and there is a pivotal scene about halfway through the game. The AIs are presented with a choice, gain knowledge for themselves and stay trapped in the simulation, or sacrifice themselves and allow other AIs to move freely about the internet. Thomas courageously chooses to sacrifice himself, and I remember being awestruck by the Christ-like nature of this character. This story moment about a red shape made me cry and appreciate the importance of giving of one’s self to care for others. This game had me thinking about Thomas’ sacrifice long after I had put the controller down.
Another great example is the point-and-click adventure game “Myst.” In the “Myst” series, you explore strange and fantastical worlds that are written into existence by Atrus, a man who wields ancient magic to write books that create worlds. Throughout the games, you learn how Atrus is not only a creator but also a caretaker, desiring the best for his family and the worlds he makes. In stark contrast is his father Gehn, who only uses the worlds for personal gain.
Through Atrus, the developers display what might be called a spirituality of being a creator. Atrus meticulously crafts his world in “Myst,” but also visits them afterward, seeking to continually share his love with his creation and share that love with others. I’ve often resonated with this kind of spirituality in my artistic endeavors, even in something as simple as making a meal. I know that in being creative, we reflect God who lovingly created the world, we reflect God’s act of love in bringing forth something new. We know that God always loves the world and continually looks after it, and I can share that very same love by being a steward of what I have created as well.
I have many fond memories of my family playing these games together, all crowded around the family PC. It was a great tool to have us work on puzzles together, and also just to bring us together as a family. Video games have the power to create a common experience and bring people together, be it a family at one computer, or hundreds of players scattered around the world.
I have found so many other examples of video games teaching me about friendship, kindness, and spirituality throughout my life. Games exist as so much more than a mere distraction, and I dare to say that video games can be a great source of good in our world as well. I continue to explore this by livestreaming games regularly on twitch.tv/frevancsp. You can catch me live on Mondays, Tuesdays, and Fridays from 2-4 p.m. EST and on Saturdays at 10 a.m to noon EST. Each day, I explore different kinds of games together with the followers in chat to look at different angles of faith and spirituality in gaming. Please give the channel a follow as that helps us build up our community and I hope to see you there.