Virtual & Spiritual Reality
Even within virtual reality, belonging to Jesus means he’s present to love, guide and satisfy us.
The rapid growth and impact of gaming technology has been staggering. My earliest memory of gaming involves my mom and older brother playing Super Mario Bros. for the NES—ah, that dual cartridge with Duck Hunt on it! For a long time I believed that to be the most simplistic gaming experience, until I played Snake on my first Nokia cell phone in the early 2000s. It still held enough depth for me to play more than once, but then I saw a live Atari Pong Home Console in 2009 at Hard Rock Park in Myrtle Beach, SC and was humbled by electronic gaming's nascent steps.
Reminiscing over the consoles we were blessed to have, just look at what's available today! These experiences are robust with diversity of genre, scale, subject matter, feedback and much more. Perspectives have moved from 2D to 3D and from third person to incorporate 1st person and along the way, we've been introduced to 3D gaming and looking ahead to virtual and augmented reality gaming. So I ponder over how my relationship with Christ Jesus impacts this new frontier. How do these realities interact with each other?
To begin, we need look at a broad perspective of what virtual reality means for gaming. At large, it's all of the games we've played on some device. When done well, players become imported into the experience at-hand, drawing attention away from our normal circumstances to allow us to enjoy solving problems of different realities—virtual realities. You use Mario to save Princess Peach. You manipulate the falling blocks in Tetris to clear the level. All of this is happening with you, but not in the same space as you. And there's a limitation to that. Virtual reality needs three components to truly be the experience sought after: immersion, interaction, telepresence. All games have interaction, but most suffer in the department of immersion (we'll come back to telepresence later).
How have developers evolved the immersion experience of gaming? They've taken advantage of the increase of computer graphics. It's about an appealing aesthetic for some, simulating life-like water, wind, light, sounds, etc. Others have tackled the issue with the first-person perspective. In this way, it appears as if players are looking out onto the landscape within the game, just as we see all things every day of our lives. This perspective gives the player an opportunity to become more invested with the experience.
Another way to increase the joy factor is with interaction. Now, innately gaming is always interactive. Whether computer, mobile or video games, players are either using keyboard & mouse, hands or controller to interact with what's on screen. There have been all kinds of attempts at improving said interaction. There was the Sega Activator, an octagonal perephial that didn't last, but I'd say was surpassed by Microsoft's Kinect. Then there was the Power Glove by Nintendo, and it then was surpassed by their own Wii remote to name a few in a sea of interaction possibilities.
The most subtle advance in gaming interaction (and most tactile) is haptic feedback. Developers have used this technology to encourage players to invest in the experience by allowing them to feel what the digital character feels. Jump from a high ledge and the impact is harder than when bumping into another character in the marketplace. Or take the Wii U controller or Nintendo DS and players can blow on the microphone and insert wind or any other programmed interaction upon that digital world. With immersion and interaction, telepresence is born.
In short, telepresence is a sensation of being elsewhere, created by the use of virtual reality technology. This is the developer's aim—when you are engaging in a gaming activity, you're supposed to be transported to that experience in full. This equation as I see it, immersion + interaction = telepresence, works for any gaming experience you have. It's just that some do it better than others.
There have been attempts to introduce players to the 3D experience and most have fell short of the mark, like Sega VR and Nintendo's Virtual Boy. However there's a new wave of interest in VR gaming and Facebook's Occulus Rift is center stage. With computing power that didn't even exist half a decade ago, the Occulus Rift and others in the race have a new foothold on attempting to remove the barriers that have held players back from a true expereince of telepresence. With that introduction in mind, we can turn our attention to what matters most—how does Jesus affect this alternate reality?
Jesus: Lord of All
At some point in your gaming, I pray you have or will ask yourself that question. It's crucial because it will dictate to what you play, how you play, when you play, where you play and why you play! The Bible declares in Col. 1:16 that all things are by Jesus, through Jesus and for Jesus. And especially of His disciples today, 1 Cor. 6:19 shares that we aren't our own. Any experience we have should be yielded to His lordship. You may say, what about my fun? I say, what about your joy? Christ isn't to be served out of duty, but out of joy (we'll come back to this point).
Jesus cares about what we do. Ponder on that…Our infinitely valuable and wise Lord and God thinks of us and says he has good plans for us (Jr. 29:11). Matt. 28: 20 says that He's always with us. He's chosen us to be His temple! It matters because whatever you play, it either assists you in praising God or tarnishing His infinite worth. The goal of these virtual experiences, all of them, is to immerse the player in the event. Developers through their games lift up many gods–whatever they have going on in their lives, spills over into their work. Jesus made it clear that out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks(Lk. 6:45). In other words, who you are and what you have going on in the hidden depth of your heart, shows up in what you produce.
Self-gratification doesn’t work joy in you—your gaming collection might speak to that.
There are plenty of games that don't just touch on sinful issues, they glorify them. You know what I'm saying. Whether women are grossly misrepresented, or gore is worshipped, or how subject matters are trivialized—all of this comes from the heart of developers. What's crazy is we're supposed to dive into that. Do you really want your soul to be encapsuled even more by the telepresence of it all? Col. 3:2 says to set the mind on things above, namely Jesus and all that He is. When we're engaged in these things, we cannot focus on both. Being consumed by those base things will distort our ability to see Jesus for how marvellous He is!
Our involvement in them isn't passive. God sees everything. When He brought this to my attention as I was enslaved, I had two question to ask—what does He think of me? Is He Lord? Lord doesn't mean I serve Him out of duty, because that's what I'm supposed to do. If you're stuck there, let me help you—His Lordship is based on how He infinitely satisfies my soul and that compells me to give everything about me to Him completely. This truth set me free from the bondage of entertainment.
When I used to saturate hours of a day in gaming, it was an escape, even of His Lordship. As long as what I was doing wasn't real, I supposed I could talk with Him as if nothing happened…
I'm so glad He cares!
He revealed to me how those terrible digital experiences I was having began to help shape my personality and in turn remove me from His presence. But He set me free from the bondage to enjoy Him again and seek Him even in the games I play. What's the practical way He accomplished that?
Immersion in Christ Jesus
You've heard people say "read your bible and pray", well that's what began to happen. He put a passion in my heart to immerse myself in His glory. When I tried to do the same things in my own strength, out of duty, I always failed. There was burnout. I don't always feel like doing those things now, but the difference is not the combination of my base emotions, but my joy in Go and knowing that He's enabling me to cherish Him (Phil. 2:13). God is infinitely valuable. No mere game can any longer compare or compete with His grandeur.
He took me back and reminded me of my salvation and baptism in His Spirit. If I've been fully immersed in God, I can't have room for anything to impede that immersion. We cannot be immersed in two things, right? Luke 16:13 attests to this truth with regards to God and money—it certainly applies to God and entertainment. Lastly, I think the master key is to mediate on my experiences with God. I can't treasure Him in passing—I must savor Him as the blessed one in Psalm 1:1-3 does.
Interaction w/Christ Jesus
Here's another truth He used to release the grip of sin in my life: God is active in my life. He's active through…
- His Word (Heb. 4:12)
- As I rely on Him (Is. 64:4)
- As I speak with Him (Heb. 4:15-16)
- As I give myself to the saints of God (Heb. 10:25)
- As I give myself, for His name's sake, to the world (1 Cor. 9:22)
God is not sitting back somewhere being a mere spectator. He's more active than any of us! For this spiritual reality to become more tangible, we must interact with Jesus throughout our days. The more time we spend taking pleasure in anything else, we yield our interaction with what's most satisfying to us, seeking the pleasure we can only find in God from things that are fading.
The five ways above speak to a relationship with Jesus and it's the only thing that matters and lasts. It's about giving and only in giving can one really experience the joy God speaks of. Self-gratification doesn't work the eternal joy in you—your gaming collection might speak to that.
If telepresence is a sensation of being elsewhere, created by the use of virtual reality technology, then God's omnipresence is the reality of knowing that wherever I am, He is (Jer. 23:24). God's omnipresence is brought to fullness when we immerse ourselves in and interact with Him. Can you be captivated by this wonderful truth, more than you can about being ferried to some place digitally?
Wherever I go, He keeps me. Wherever I am, there He is (John 14:23). If we belong to Jesus, even when gaming, He's still there to love us, bless us and satisfy us. That's how He keeps me from the wrong thing. He guards our hearts against all enticements, if we will just yield to how satisfying He is for us.
Wherever I go, whatever I'm doing, my treasure is with me. That's why He's even the Lord of gaming—this spiritual reality of God being sovereign is truth. Will you let Him be Lord of your life? He's better than any game. It costs you nothing to receive Him—it cost Him everything to allow you to see and be satisfied in Him.