The haze greeted our nostrils immediately. We entered into the dim auditorium as eager passengers arriving to see a spectacle. People cheering, worshiping, rejoicing, yelling. The flash of neon lights and nightclub level thrills looked much like the stage design and festivities evoked nostalgic memories of Disney World. Giant dragons stretched across the show floor. Booths full of Robots, tanks, monsters. People dressed in costumes meticulously crafted to be dead on depictions of favorite video game characters. Arcade machines blinking, card tables, Indie games, DJ and bass, giveaways. Cheers emanating down the corridors.
This was their world.
To them this was home.
We all have those things in life that we live for.
Those activities that make us feel fully alive.
Through countless hours we became good at them. Rarely tiring in the pursuit of those hobbies, our passion is so strong that we can sustain doing the same mediocre thing over and over and still feel a certain freshness to it. An entirely separate terminology is developed and when two people who are enthusiasts get together, it may as well require translation to those outside of the know. Through elitist terminology the two communicate, entering into a world that they relish and understand while so many would hardly be able to relate. some it’s French dance terms, for other Chords and bars, and for some pop culture references.
When I look back at my life I think I always imagined ending up with someone who had the same loves that I do. It may be unrealistic given my love for Dance that I would find a Christian dancer who dabbles in surf as a side hobby but wants to do missionary work. He’s also got to be tall. Because that’s probably spiritual, right?
Instead I found Jake. (Who is tall!)
In many ways Jake and I do share the same loves. We are constantly between wander and wonder. We adore adventure, often ending up in outlandish situations that cause people to question how truthful our stories really are. We love trying new Asian cuisine, writing together, and studying everything from conspiracies to theology. Many nights casually consist of discussing documentaries over tea and Vinyls.
Not those terrible hip Vinyls either. Ones you’ve probably never heard of.
But of course I have those loves that Jake is not extremely fond of. I am fascinated by the art of dance, I don’t go a day without a hot yoga session, and if I sit down for too long I end up painting something and throwing it away, likely because I was not satisfied with the end product.
Jake has always made such an effort to love me by investing in those interests of mine. He has probably seen every episode of Dance Moms, he has attended hot yoga classes with me even though he clearly is not a fan, and he sometimes shows up at the house with a brand new canvas knowing fully well that it probably will never make it up onto the wall.
I however have always struggled in this department.
I seriously wrestle with investing in an interest of Jake that I have pretty much always despised.
Jake is a gamer.
I dislike video games and I am not ashamed to say it.
Now I am not the wife who refuses to let her husband play games occasionally yet when he starts to play, I am always the first to make sure he knows how I think it is a waste of time. I just can’t wrap my head around the concept of people sitting and doing activities with thumbs when we live in a world where we can do any of those activities in real life.
Editor’s Note: You cannot go to space, kill a dragon, become sentient meat, collect animals through balls, or fire guns at strangers in real life…
It’s a real challenge to me. I don’t have much of a voice when it comes to video games. Either from lack of experience or a lack of as Jake calls it, “Rapport.” I want a voice; I want my opinion to matter. Yet, I probably don’t want the exposure required to earn that. My perspective may come from being selfish and somewhat ignorant about games. I don’t have any rapport with that community. In fact, I know very little outside of Pokemon Go. Games to me are starting represent something beyond the digital explorations of the universe. They speak to a deeper truth about marriage.
When in a marriage you don’t invest in the interest of your spouse you are missing out on so much.
You are missing out on huge slices of life that have defined the person you know. You are missing out on years of history that shows deeper and greater the person whom you are with. Sometimes for good and also for bad. Yet like a painting of the finest quality, it is a collection of light and dark strokes, a tapestry of conflicting brights and lows that make a fully formed work of art.
Love does not fear the differences but instead walks into them. Love is investing in another person’s interests.
There have been the occasional times where I will dance close to the line with his hobbies. We won an Xbox because of his obsession with Fallout 4, he woke me up at 7 AM after driving for days and said “We have to go to Seattle.” Rarely though have I sat down and played a game or really engaged watching one. I have danced near the line of his beloved hobby and yet kept from crossing over.
But this last weekend I did something with Jake that I never thought I would do in a million years, and it taught me something deep about God and my husband.
I went to PAX.
There I said it out loud. Now I know that some of your readers who live for Nvidia and Bethesda are possibly clapping right now (Or offended at my view of gaming). But for those of you who feel just as lost about the gaming world as me, let me give you a quick explanation.
PAX is a four-day convention where 35.000 gamers travel from all across the world in a celebration of all things gaming. From trading cards to AAA big-budget video games, PAX is the gold-standard for gaming conventions in the states. They exhibit exotic new games on the horizon, compete against the pros, and meet the dedicated programmers and designers behind the business. The strangeness and spectacle is akin to the feeling of entering into another country. The language becomes impossible to decipher. Many dress up as a favorite character and walk around Seattle confusing the onlookers about what the heck is going on. They spend hours crafting these elaborate and sometimes even functional costumes to be a hero or a villain or even a steampunk 1890’s black and white statue. This is Christmas. Mardi Gras. 4th of July. The spectacle is that of burning man for geeks. I even saw a literal tank drive over a candlelight dinner in the street for no real apparent reason but gamers cheered and shouted because to them it represented something deeper. Or maybe they just got free Energy Drinks from it.
As you walk through the expo you see costumed performers, excited fans, and new concepts on display (We even saw a competitive Congo Line simulator), fitting for the famous home of a World’s Fair. It was overwhelming to digest. You could just sit down and play games made by people desperate to create. I personally loved the Husky Sled Dog Simulator. You pretty much just throw food at huskies. It unfortunately is a shell of the real experience and may not qualify much as a game.
There is something strangely foreign about the mingling of electronic futures and yet bizarrely sophisticated in the air. These people are not mere instruments of propaganda or couch potatoes. They are an oppressed people with a vibrant culture. They are lawyers, doctors, college graduates, programmers, athletes. They are also the darker shades as well, some need to exercise more, some are socially awkward, some disconnected from reality. Yet the diversity of the group is bound together by a bizarre commonality. A love of play. Of make-believe. Of other worlds. A love of creation.
The reality of games is that to some people they mean so much. There can be blogs on community, the modern pulpit, theology and games. The richness of the medium was apparent to Jake, when it was not so apparent to me.
(As seen from this photo here of him expressing excitement, he is a stark-raving NVIDIA fan. Everyone came for free-stuff, he actually went to learn about graphics. Try to find him!)
On the sixth floor of the convention center we saw a big cartoony picture of Jesus, much akin to a catholic candle, with a gaming headset on. People sat giving out bibles and telling others that Jesus loves them. As we talked with this mission agency for a unique subculture I started to see that they too are a people. United by core beliefs and ideas.
Out on the street a man stood smoking crack. Literally on the corner of the convention center. Shirtless, sweaty, spinning around. His lanyard said “Jesus Loves Gamers.” He may never know Jesus, but inside a place where so many are set against God, he found people willing to be Jesus.
Video game missionaries. We actually ran into video game missionaries.
This community was obsessive, with its own news outlets, conventions, products, and ultimately culture. And that culture needs Jesus. The church has in many ways thrown its hands up and abandoned those who love science fiction and video games. It’s almost embarrassing how condemning the religious bodies of today can be. Casually dismissive of video games and yet so accepting of groups that seek to redefine marriage, gender, and sexuality.
“Oh, we don’t judge, we want you to come to church even if you identify as something we would not. Jesus wants you!”
“You are wasting your life with this terrible hobby, nothing good comes from it, get a real hobby like soccer. Grow up.”
(Jake has recalled hearing people drop two similar statements on numerous occasions. He now wears rainbow shirts instead of Xbox shirts to be accepted in christian communities.)
At PAX for a brief moment, I had gone to a completely different culture, another world. It’s not so hard to suppose that deep within our pockets of American culture lie groups of people desperate to know the God of the universe and yet so often they are set against him. Some communities are neutral or quasi-religious. I am sure the large-scale meetups of knitting groups tend to lean more on the Christian side then the large scale meetups of drama teams and actors. The arts have always been a liberal, often ungodly, polarizing field.
It made me think about the people I see. Do I devalue them because of something as trivial as a hobby?
Right here, amidst my own household sits a husband entrenched in a culture so different from my own. He does not desire the beach; he does not like the wind and waves of surf; he does not dance when no one is watching.
*Editors Note* …
Really though, one of the reasons the narrative of the bible is so powerful is because of how it handles the foreigner. Incarnate literally means In the Flesh. It is this weird, surgical sounding term to explain the beauty of deity clothing itself with humanity. Jesus, the very God of the universe, incarnates into the world and in a sense is both a foreigner and the most familiar person the Earth has ever known. Jesus relates to us through humanity and through that we learn to know who God is. He didn’t lose Himself, instead He stepped into our world and remained utterly God. Utterly who He is. He enters into the long tradition of the Israelites who lived as foreigners in a strange land and found a home. God made them remember to love the Sojourner. To help the foreigner enter into the world they live in and in some ways enter into the world of the foreigner.
Written on the soul of humanity is the desire to do this. We recreate worlds and literally incarnate into them as the player, for better or worse. Without going into the theological nuances of video games, there is a beautiful picture here. The Image of God in us desires to create, and ultimately to be closer to that creation, to enter into it regardless of the brights and lows. All our creation will be found imperfect, lacking, and potentially hollow when held against the master brush of God. Yet we can see ourselves collectively striving to create a reality, for good or for worse, and enter into it.
And sometimes here on Earth, we refuse to incarnate into another’s world. We refuse to actually step into the culture they live in. I can watch documentaries about Syrians on Netflix, I can read articles, I can write papers, and yet if I have never attempted to encounter a Syrian or meet them where they are at. You know. Since we always talk about refugees theoretically but never go out and actually meet them.
If I live in the theoretical I have failed at attempting one of the most beautiful parts of gospel living.
It is terrifying. I think in a way entering into the world of another person is so scary because underlying that process is the thought, “I will be like them. In some way I will identify with them.” There is this subtle and natural fear that I will lose parts of myself to gain parts I do not really desire and have never wanted. It’s not that I fear video games or the community of gamers. It’s that I fear becoming less of me and more of another person.
Yet that fear holds me back from knowing the one whom my soul loves. I would rather step into the unknown than live amidst the safe, if I can get closer to his heart.
I can do that with Jake. I can enter into his desires, interests, hobbies, mistakes, hopes, and dreams. That does not mean I become those things, and in some ways I may be naturally insulated. In some ways I should be naturally insulated. Yet it does mean I try. It means crossing the boundary line into knowing him deeper and more intimately. That builds rapport. It gives me a voice into a community and his life that I have never had and so desperately want.
He does that for me.
Maybe you have a friend, brother, sister, spouse, boyfriend, and the connection isn’t firing right. You are asking how two people so different could connect on a less superficial level. Sometimes we want someone to walk a mile in our shoes but we need to walk a little in their shoes first. Jump in. Dive in. Enjoy knowing something new, different, and beautiful.
And isn’t that in many ways what a healthy marriage is all about?
After all it takes two to Incarnate.
I am amidst the neon glows of the panels and costumed figures. My mind is racing as the chaos of the whole scene overwhelms me. I have crossed the boundary. No turning back. And here I am learning that there is so much to gaming I have yet to know and so much to Jake. Suddenly, entering into this world… it’s not so scary anymore.
I know I won’t walk out of this being a gamer. I won’t walk away from PAX and inherently drive to GameStop.
I will though understand the people of Seattle, the heart of my husband, and a huge segment of America a little bit more. I will understand those of a unique and living community a little bit better. I have more respect and value for an entire art form then I did before. I am choosing to love a vibrant part of that artistic Tapestry that is Jake, even if it has some tones and hues that I don’t completely understand yet.
And who knows. I may find myself feeding a digital husky someday.