Being a “Gamer”

Note: This article was originally published in August 2014. It has been republished for your enjoyment!

I’ve never felt that labels ever helped anyone with much of anything. In most cases, it functions as easy shorthand to summarize or categorize a person in their entirety as a person. At worst, it allows for a complete and utter dismissal of some one from the outset. And, in another way, it also lets us simplify reality to our own perceptions of what constitutes a person with such and such a hobby.

Hence, my reticence to accept the label “gamer” at any point in my life. I honestly don’t consider myself part of the subculture known as “gaming”, nor do I find myself invested in “nerdy” things just for the sake of it. I have always liked what I liked, and did what I like to do, and none of it ever came to pass purely from societal pressures or otherwise. If something interests me, I pursue it and engage with it in a passionate interest, regardless of whether or not I’m supposed to like X or Y. I’ve never been a fan of people telling me who I am, or who I should be.

Sometimes I don’t want to play video games at all. They are my favorite hobby, but sometimes you need a break from what you love to appreciate it more when you return.When I need some intellectual stimulation, I’ll read philosophy books or investigate theological books to which I haven’t familiarized myself (on the plate currently: Heidegger’s Being and Time, which as a philosophy major in college I should read at some point in my life). When I want light hearted entertainment, I watch Burn Notice; when I don’t want light-hearted entertainment, I watch The Killing. When listen to a new musician or group or composer, I tend to absorb their work in a frenzied rush eager to see whether that first encounter holds up to scrutiny. If I’m up for fictional writing with messages or meaning, I’ll take up some novel out of the giant used book collection I accrued in the past two years. Other hobbies interest me as well, from travel to fine dining, but I’m sure you get the idea Frankly, I don’t find myself beholden to any one thing in particular.

And yet, most human relationships end up with one party or another initially defined by a certain idea in particular. While that may function at the outset of that social exchange, it needs to move beyond a simple exchange of likes and hobbies. Conversations must progress beyond a simple “I like this, do you also like this?” mentality. You must broaden your horizons, even to those things in the world which you don’t particularly like or even find distasteful. You might not grow to enjoy it or even tolerate it, but to understand it will help you far more than you know.

Identifying yourself with a subculture primarily, especially as a Christian, creates a confusion of identity. To so fervently dedicate one’s self to the rigorous rules and lore of a fake universe, or the density of game structures and mechanics, or whatever else you want to plug into this list of examples, places the focus elsewhere. Yes, we can find bits and pieces of God’s truth in popular media, but passion does not often govern wisely, and that goes for anything to which we dedicate ourselves.

That’s why I tend to avoid what they might call “shop talk” unless completely warranted. A conversation where other people cannot participate, simply because they do not hold the basic background knowledge necessary to understand it, always makes me iffy. Whether talking about people you don’t know, or video games in general (to, well, most people I know in REAL LIFE, as they might say), there’s a time and place for everything. I study everything so that I may avoid being pigeonholed and stuck into one category, precisely because it seems un-Christian to do otherwise. Closing yourself off from the vast majority of human experience makes no sense to me, especially with the Internet at your fingertips.

It’s probably entirely coincidence that the Bible places me in Proverbs at this particular juncture. The whole book acts as a helpful guide to young men, whose main temptations (at the time) consisted of joining gangs or committing adultery with older housewives (seriously, there’s a ton of references to that book). Continually, the author tells us to look for wisdom and understanding:

My son, if you will receive my words
And treasure my commandments within you,
Make your ear attentive to wisdom,
Incline your heart to understanding;
For if you cry for discernment,
Lift your voice for understanding;
If you seek her as silver
And search for her as for hidden treasures;
Then you will discern the fear of the Lord
And discover the knowledge of God.
For the Lord gives wisdom;
From His mouth come knowledge and understanding.

Proverbs 2

I believe the main reason comes down to seeing the world as it is. Christianity and identity with Christ looks beyond the veil of appearances, of stuff that keeps us happy and sane in the temporal sense. So many distractions exist that breaking our focus from the centrality of the Gospel happens so easily. To identify with a subculture, or even culture at large, denies our identity in Christ. God makes us holy, sets us apart, and we must remain that way while also maneuvering through our own circumstantial landscape of social interactions and mass media influence. Jesus is our High Priest, and we are His holy people:

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nationa people for God’s own possession, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; 10 for you once were not a people, but now you are the people of God; you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.

11 Beloved, I urge you as aliens and strangers to abstain from fleshly lusts which wage war against the soul. 12 Keep your behavior excellent among the Gentiles, so that in the thing in which they slander you as evildoers, they may [n]because of your good deeds, as they observe them, glorify God in the day of visitation.

1 Peter 2

None of this means you can’t enjoy your hobbies or the thing which speak to you personally; this website and blog should stand as testament that I don’t deny that at all. Rather, we must always keep God continually in mind, and our identity within Christ in mind, as we do anything. Our earthly associations should reflect an eschatological perspectives – we live in the “already” and “not yet” simultaneously while we await Christ’s return. Why not live as if this were the reality, that all of our various hopes, dreams, and desires really point to the true One in the grand scheme?

About Zachery Oliver

Zachery Oliver, MTS, is the lead writer for Theology Gaming, a blog focused on the integration of games and theological issues. He can be reached at viewtifulzfo at gmail dot com or on Theology Gaming’s Facebook Page.
  • Great piece. I considered writing a similar treatise called “Why I’m Not a Gamer.” But it looks like you hit the nail on the head.

  • Interesting read. I have begun identifying myself as a “gamer” in the past year, but mostly because I identify with people who are neglected/alienated by the church because of their affinity for video games. Not saying the Church as a whole does this, but in my experience those who take up gaming as their main hobby are treated differently by Christians (wasting their time, being immature, not growing up and accepting responsibility, being lazy, not honoring God with our time, etch). And many non-Christian gamers I know (I call them ‘gamers’ because that is the only medium in which we interact) have little or no other connection to Christians outside of those they game with.

    Personally, I’ve gone back-and-forth on this topic. I can understand the desire to live as though we are ‘set apart,’ but taken too far that can neglect the power of the Incarnation and the fact that Jesus always identified himself as the ‘son of man’ and not the ‘son of God’ in order to identify with the people he came to minister to. Labels can definitely be demeaning, narrow, and bad, but sometimes they can identify a powerful connection between two people and be a tool to minister to others.

    But those are just my thoughts.

  • I have a group of friends who always call me “The Nerd.” Sometimes it bugs me for the same reasons you listed above: I think there’s more to me than just my nerdiness. Yet I admit I often list it as a defining characteristic.