I’m not a big video-gamer. With that said, I need to make a confession: it’s not because I’m anti-video game but because my parents knew full well that my addictive personality would have attached itself to video games and would never have let go. So, I was never allowed to own a game system growing up; although my brother and I were allowed to rent them over a weekend once in a while which would turn into sleep-starved days of video game binging that only served to underscore my parents’ point!
I went through university and graduate studies never owning one, but I was really too busy to notice. Either that, or I was too poor to buy one, I’m not sure which. Now, I’ve got my own family and life is much too hectic to even find the time to sit down and play video games. This is all to say that video game culture has never become a part of my life, until now.
My father-in-law recently purchased a PS3 (that’s a “Sony PlayStation 3”, for those of you who are not down with the lingo) to go with his new High Definition TV. We visited a few weeks ago and our four year old son was quickly introduced to this culture. Watching him clutch the game controller was like watching a smuggler holding onto his cherished contraband as a smile of wild hilarity mixed with mischievousness gripped his face. A racing game with intense graphics and pounding music promptly became his favourite. I should admit, partly because my wife reads this column and partly because I’m honest, that I got hooked too (now, two in the morning isn’t that crazy a time to be sitting alone giddily driving a rally car across the desert is it?).
What really took me by surprise was how proficient my son became at this game. After only a few tries, he was keeping his vehicle on course, passing other cars and making good time around the track. Not only that, driving home down the highway he was giving me lessons from the back seat on exactly how to pass other cars at high rates of speed!
Regardless, what I took from this little foray into the alternative reality of “Video Game Land” was how quickly and thoroughly our children are shaped and formed by what we put in front of them. Not only that, I’m amazed at how skilled and adept, at how well versed a four year old can become in the habits and skills of this culture.
While I’m aware and convinced of the potential dangers of video-game addiction and the abhorrent nature of some of these games that make Quentin Tarantino look like a younger, edgier Walt Disney, I’m not overly interested in weighing in on this. What I am interested in is the simply fact that these ‘alternative’ realities so deeply and completely capture the imagination of our children and young people (and sometimes even a husband or two!).
Our imaginations, especially those of children, are apprehended and formed by what’s around us. What the church often forgets and neglects is that it is in the imagination business, as deeply and completely as something like the video game industry is. We don’t often think of the church in this way, but it’s imperative that we re-capture this sense of ecclesial imagination if we are to be, in any way, a witness to God’s action in our world.
At a very basic level, the church imagines a different world, not because it’s in the business of making stuff up, but because it follows Jesus who, in himself, brings God’s imagination to bear on all things. When the church gathers as followers of this Jesus, it can’t help but imagine that everything is different because this Jesus showed up on the stage of history and imagined God’s very kingdom into existence.
Much as our imagination is trained and shaped by what we spend time with—be it videogames, movies, television, the internet, or the ever-beloved IPod (a word which, by the way, my spellchecker recognizes!)—the church’s imagination is shaped and trained in its worship and in its life together. It’s in this life together, in our liturgy, where we learn to inhabit and act out this kingdom among us. Our communal reading of Scripture, our prayers, our table fellowship, and our peace-sharing are some of the habits that shape us; they are some of the spiritual disciplines that form us and ought to form our children.
But our church has often failed children and young people at the fundamental level of capturing their imaginations and worlds with the amazing and exhilarating adventure of the kingdom of God. We continually make the same mistake the disciples did—we assume that this kingdom of God stuff is grown-up and important business.
I’m fully conscious that it’s not easy for the church to keep the attention of children and young people these days. Maybe it’s because we live in a world where there is so much sheer competition vying for the attention of our children that the church is fatally doomed from the start, or maybe, just maybe, it’s because we ourselves aren’t sufficiently hooked.