Christianity Oasis Ministry
Playing Games with God
Where Do Games Come From?
by Robert M. Smith
Strolling through the toy department of a large store can be tremendously enlightening to even the most dispassionate shopper. Toys of every shape and description compete for the attention of both child and adult; board games spread out virtually endlessly across shelf after shelf; sports equipment lines the aisles and clutters the floors; electronic gadgetry, too expensive to be left unattended, locked behind rafts of glass counters; computer programs of every conceivable and inconceivable creature lying dormant, awaiting the customer who will set them free; dolls, vehicles, aircraft, puzzles, bicycles, tricycles, wagons. The list grows monthly. The list is a testimony ... and the testimony is not flattering.
Believe it or not, there was a time when a mere fraction of these things was considered overkill. Believe it or not, there was a time when most games served a respectable purpose. They were once used to hone the skill of the participant. Watch any child, or any young creature for that matter – birds, cats, dogs, bears, otters – and it is evident that training and games often go hand in hand. Today that is seldom the priority, yet ours is an era of unparalleled preoccupation with games. This degree of concentration, of course, influences us to a far greater extent than we are prepared to admit however. North American leisure time is bulging with a variety of games; some of which we do not consider games, and some into which we place a great deal of value. Because of our attitudes toward work, personal rights, pain, ecstasy and life in general we have inundated ourselves with these release mechanisms. Once the difficult workaday world of responsibility and pressure can be left behind we may focus our lives upon these all-important fun activities because they help us to unwind and to forget. They allow us to jump from the relentlessness of reality into the ethereal and timeless world of fantasy. Quite a difference from the original intent of games, I might add. Most of the department store games fit this description but there is more to the North American game-market than this.
We have allowed some games, in particular, and most games, in general, to become far more important than they should ever be. What were initially started as health-promoting physical endeavors, providing interpersonal challenges during one's developing years and during one's spare time, have morphed into big, multi-million dollar enterprises. Football, hockey, baseball, tennis, golf and soccer are supported by eager spectators who often lack the discipline and determination to play any of these sports themselves. Men – and increasingly, women – who display specific skills in these areas are wooed and lured into providing their services for incredible sums of money. They are paid to play games!
The basic attitude seems to be that, if one cannot play a certain game to his or her own satisfaction, the proper thing to do is to pay someone else to play for you. Thus, on one hand we have a vast audience looking to identify itself with an individual or a group of individuals who play a specific game. On the other hand we have the high-priced participant looking to become "the best" in order to acquire fame, fortune and prestige. All this from nothing more than a game!
Actually this should not be surprising for there are many other games that demand and exemplify the ludicrous as well. Have you ever heard of those great financial wizards who play the stock market? This is a game that can cause a lifetime of sorrow by erasing any and all of one's savings, earnings or investments in a single "plunge". Admittedly, some people have much success at this game but the greater majority is lost in the dream of stumbling across some windfall. If you do not know your ponies, your prize-fighters or your greyhounds well enough to bet on, and if you lack the mental and manual dexterity required in handling cards, you may possibly gratify your gambling urges by playing with stocks.
If the stock market seems a bit too hazardous, with its sudden crashes and daily swings, any citizen of our country may choose to squander life-savings on lottery games. The appeal of lottery tickets and the hopes of a fast, easy million or multi-million-dollar prize have soared to prominence within the last couple of decades. Along with them, many families, marriages, homes and lives have found their way to the trash heap. Lotteries are not only allowed by governments in many countries but are shamelessly supported and promoted through government funds and involvement as well. Now national coffers are brimming with blood-money obtained through what was formerly called racketeering. This type of gaming chips slowly and steadily away at those who are intent on winning a lot for a little. It also feasts upon those who are afflicted with covetousness. With the illusion of the next ticket or the next group of tickets containing that special formula that has the capacity to transform a person into the next multi-millionaire in the country, the dream is kept alive and just within reach. Consequently addiction to the system is quite easy to contract. If one hears about the odd winner or two, he/she will likely choose to continue buying tickets regardless of what our previous experience has been. However, if any ever stopped to think of the millions who lose with every "draw" and if any ever stopped to think of the ruination left in the wake of this one-time gangster related activity, they might react differently.
Video games have been the most popular item in department stores as of late. In fact, they have become so all-encompassing that private shops have been established to deal with them solely and specifically; with all manner of creatures, vehicles and scenarios flashing across the TV screens and computer monitors of North America, ready to stimulate and challenge the individual on the "joy stick". There are "arcades" springing up all over the continent where avid fans can melt away countless hours of devotion playing. This was done to such an overwhelming extent by adolescents that the British government, in the 1980's, had banned arcades from England, claiming that they will arguably tempt the youths of the nation to waste time, money and precious school hours in front of them. Whether they have or have not maintained this amazing stance since that time, I do not know ... but that initial posture, in the face of an oncoming juggernaut, is to be commended for its tremendous insight. And, here in North America, we continue to provide ample proof of the precision of that initial British speculation. The tragic aspect of this particular obsession, however, is that now – in the twenty-first century – such games have reached the status of role-playing. This extremely dangerous ploy by major manufacturers of video games has led to the callous desensitizing of youths who then take their games to the streets and schools of our nations. With little to no discernment between reality and fantasy adolescents now live-out the roles on the computer screen in their everyday lives; all, of course, in surreal HD colour!
Further consideration of leisure activities will uncover many more areas wherein games are found. The dating game that so many of us participated in allows everyone, in all walks of life, to "play the field" as we have appropriately coined it many years ago. In similar respects we have known people who have played or toyed with another's feelings or affections. There are also such things as mind games and playing the fool. Obviously, we could go far beyond the department store versions into every facet of life with our subject. However, one must realize by now that there is an overabundance of games in our society, but the real issue is: how did we ever get to this ludicrous point?
Well, as stated before, we have a somewhat skewed perspective on life. The more we are presented with ways of escaping our own drab existence, the more we sink into the attitude or mindset of needing and depending upon the fantasies created by the games of our lives. Our problem is one of irresponsibility. Being responsible and resolute are presently considered negative terms and thus to be avoided. We surmise that anyone who maintains a serious outlook on life for more than forty-eight hours at a time cannot be enjoying life. However, we often fail to see that this life must be taken seriously and that our increasingly game-oriented mentality suggests that we, of North America in particular, are both negligent and ignorant. We are suffering from a chronic case of terminal desensitivity. How dangerous and wide-spread is this problem? Os Guinness provides some of the answer: "Moreover, it implies the reduction of life to a game. If life has no meaning, then all that is left, as Nietzche foresaw, is the game plan ... Robert de Ropp, recommending his meditation as a higher game beyond drugs, advises, 'Seek above all, a game worth playing ... Though nothing means anything and all roads are marked "NO EXIT" yet move as if your movements had some purpose. If life does not seem to offer a game worth playing, then invent one. ... Any game is better than no game.'
... Leary was once asked if he would drop out of the drug scene and go to something else. His reply was in the same vein, 'I'm ready. And do what? You've got to name me a better game. ... I'm ready to give up LSD at a moment's notice if someone will suggest to me a game which is more exciting, more promising, more expansive, more ecstatic. Tell me ... I'll take off my shoes and follow you.' Rimbaud had already seen where this game led. He wanted God but could not find Him through mysticism. He was forced to conclude: 'Life is a farce that all must go through.'"
Our irresponsibility leads to negligence in that we deny the importance of many essential aspects of life. We have transferred top priority to the world of fantasy and withdrawn it from reality. Indicative of this dubious displacement is society's unhealthy fixation with "game shows" where covetousness is whipped into a frenzy and greed is applauded. This transposition has come about because of an insatiable love and desire for the things that this world has to offer. We end up hoping that through a massive dose of escapism we shall be able to live a much more pleasant life. The question that we must contend with is "can such subsistence be condoned?" Indeed, I am not clamouring for the complete ban of all games and leisure activities, for they do assist us in many ways: a) relaxation: it is no sin to relax from time to time; b) teaching: there are a number of informative games on the market today; c) preparation: remember the days of "playing house" in our formative years; d) health: many sports, like badminton and squash are extremely good for our bodies; d) fun: it is no sin to laugh and enjoy one's self – God has never been a killjoy. I am, however, questioning the absolute obsession that North Americans have with such things; where the accent placed upon life is fun at the expense of all else. That, my friend, is not healthy.
Aesop had applied one of his renowned fables to this fundamental fact of life: A grasshopper played and danced the waning summer hours away while the industrious ants worked diligently getting food and preparing for the coming winter. As time wore on the grasshopper would not – indeed, could not – change his ways. When summer finally departed, recognizing his folly, the grasshopper began to plead with the ants for food and shelter. He was, however, left to bear the brunt of his own imprudence. The North American mindset is like that grasshopper. Our foolish absorption with playing games of all kinds and fabricating games out of every aspect of life leads us to inaccuracy in judging the finer elements of life. We play around with things that must be handled with gravity. In this regard we shall, with this book, examine one, specific, all-important aspect of life: the spiritual side.
 Os Guinness, The dust of death, Intervarsity Press, Downers Grove, 1973, Page 268
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