The Testimony of a Gamer

I play Dungeons and Dragons.

I know, right? “Satan’s Game” is what some call it. They say it teaches you how to summon evil. But if I were to show to you my player’s manual, you wouldn’t find diagrams of rune circles that summon the denizens of hell. You’d find rules. Pages and pages of rules: how to ride horses, carrying limits, crafting armor, damage from falling. It’s actually a really tedious game.

You see while Dungeons and Dragons (or D&D) does have demons (defined as destructive and horribly evil creatures from another dimension) and gods (defined as powerful and horribly petty creatures from other dimensions) it is mostly… just a game. In fact, you can even ignore the designers’ cosmology and polytheistic pantheons entirely and the game continues to function perfectly. It’s not necessarily the content or context of the game that traps you. It’s the design of the game. The true devil is in those details.

You see, games—whether you’re talking about D&D, Pokémon, or FarmVille—are designed to be compelling. They are designed to capture your attention and to keep your interest. Game designers want you to keep playing, to spend just a little more time with their product. This isn’t addiction, mind you. Addiction by definition requires altering your brain chemistry, and that simply doesn’t occur when you play video games. The game suggests or convinces you that playing a little longer or trying just one more time is probably a good idea. And then the game rewards you for it. Everything from level-ups to item drops to the flashy graphics when you do something right are designed to reward your persistence. And that’s where the trouble starts.

See, real life is hardly ever so generous as to always reward your effort in so concrete a manner. That’s when the compulsion takes over. The games become more satisfying than life because you’re constantly being rewarded for your hard work. And then you become absorbed in the game just like I did.

Some years back, I was trapped in game compulsion. At the time, I’d started a family. I was working almost full-time hours at a photography studio. And I was attending full-time college courses for a Computer Science degree. I was spread pretty thin and always felt like I was falling behind. I was studying a major I didn’t truly love. My job was selling a luxury product, so the recession managed to bring business almost to a halt. At least my wife and son still liked me.

And it was at about this time that I got into D&D. The game let me escape what I refused to cope with in real life. Of course, I never meant for that but I let it happen. That’s the important factor to remember about compulsion: you choose to keep going. Soon enough I wasn’t just worried about my weekly game night. Through the week, I’d plan for the next game, memorize rules sets, and come up with new characters to play later. It took over all my free time and then some. I’d even find myself drafting character builds in class. I let D&D get in between my school and me. It got in between my wife and me. And most importantly, it got in between Jesus and me.

Now remember, this is just a game. I didn’t become an evil person. I didn’t try to conjure any demons, elementals, or inevitable. I didn’t start reacting to the real world life my in-game character would. I just lost focus. I was so buried in the game, I stopped studying the Bible. I traded a confident grasp of the Word for nigh upon encyclopedic understanding of a game. I lost the ability to witness because I couldn’t recall all the proper verses and arguments. But I could build almost any character concept you wanted. I had swapped real gifts of the Spirit for mastery of an overly complex board game.

How low had I sunk?

That’s where games claim you in the end: your time, your focus, your mind. I’m not here to tell you to not play games. I’m not here to defend or vilify gaming. It’s not gaming I’m worried about. This testimony is written to warn you.

Don’t ever think the game is perfectly harmless.

Since I’ve put gaming on the back burner, I’m gaining back my knowledge of the Bible, and in some cases I understand it even better. Jesus welcomed me back, like the lost sheep in Luke 15. And I still do play games. If you love games, who is anyone to tell you shouldn’t play. Read this:

Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might; for there is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom, in the grave, whither thou goest (Ecclesiastes 9:10, emphasis added).

If you find something you enjoy, do it. It’s right there in the Bible. But realize there’s a catch here. If you’re reading the Bible—or even just this magazine—you must have some interest in God, in Jesus. And so do that with your might. Pursue Him with all your strength, all your mind, all your heart, all your soul. Just don’t get lost on the way.

Kyle WilkesComment