First off let me paraphrase things by stating unequivocally that I am not a pastor or official member of any clergy and am in fact a layman who also happens to be a life-long gamer. I am just one man who is trying to take the scriptures and my walk with Jesus Christ and share my experiences as a believer. In short, I am trying to put together what it means to be both a gamer and a Christian and what we can do as Christians in our hobby to be good and faithful servants.
We are told to go into the world and be a light on a hill to those that do not have the Holy Spirit indwelling within. Matthew 5:4 “You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden.” We are also told to beware of idleness, Ecclesiastes 11:6 “Sow your seed in the morning, and in the evening let your hands not be idle…” Should we spend time playing a game? If so what does that mean for our other pursuits, responsibilities and family? So what does this mean for us as Christians who feel that we have been made with a creative spirit to pursue aspects of the hobby?
Back when I started my company – notice the emphasis on the word my – people used to ask me how I found the time to write with a full-time job, being a father, being a husband, being active in church and being actively gaming and I oftentimes paused as I searched for an answer that would make sense to both me and to them. How did I find the time?
For starters, let’s get real, there are only 24 hours in a day and if you look at the amount of time you spend working a full-time job and sleeping that only leaves a precious few hours of the day and weekends (if you are lucky) to spend time doing other things such as spending time with family or time gaming. This is pretty much the bottom line – there is only so much time. How you choose to spend it says a lot about your relationship with God. Do you spend the majority of it for yourself or do you first tend to those things which God has entrusted you and then spend time on your own pursuits?
Confession time! I found it difficult at first not to be caught up in the idea of being a game designer. I would spend countless hours on the phone discussing the possibilities of the company at the expense of time with my family. My prudent wife was very patient with me during this time. I think it was partially because she knows me so well and knows that once I get into something I tend to jump into it. I am an all or nothing kind of guy. I find it very difficult to something halfway. Melanie knows this and has seen it countless times during our time together. Eventually, however the time I spent on the phone began to take away time with the kids and other things we were supposed to do as a family and I did not see it at first. Ironically, I did a similar thing a few years prior when our youngest daughter Bailey was born and should have recognized the similarities there. I felt called to pursue Youth Ministry and in so doing spent a few days a week away from a colici baby while my wife fended for herself because I felt called. Unfair I know but it was what I did at the time and the point of this column is to share my story with you so you see what I did and learn.
The warning signs. Andy Stanley has a wonderful series on marriage called i-Marriage. The little i is important in that title and I encourage you to check it out if you are in any kind of relationship because the advice that he gives and the messages he delivers through the series are very eye opening. In the series he talks about how a person can only hold a rock for so long before they drop it. The person who drops the rock knows exactly why the rock has been dropped but the person for who the rock was being held does not understand the problem. Why did you drop the rock? We were doing so fine! Really?
For me it finally came to a head when I spent two plus hours on the phone with my artist. This was not uncommon for me but I had made a promise to my eldest daughter to play with her when I got home and I got caught up in the business again. When my wife brought it up to me by speaking truth in love I was at first mad. This was my ego and probably also the enemy trying to get me to see her very reasonable pleading for nagging. Luckily for me she continued to be the prudent woman that she is and we were able to work through my ego, the enemy, and get to the actual problem at hand which was that I was quite literally sacrificing much of the time I should have been spending with my family to the god of game design.
I am not saying we should not have a game business or play games. I did both during this time by the way, every Tuesday and every other Friday were game nights on top of what I did every day as a business. I am saying to be careful that your hobbies do not become idols and that you do not sacrifice the precious time you do have with your family to hobbies.
After much heart-felt discussion (on both of our ends) we came to the compromise that if I wanted to spend some time designing the game I needed to do it during her and me time after the kids went to bed. I saw what she was trying to do. She was trying to trick me! So I agreed. Of course she was not trying to trick me, she was trying to be kind to the kids and to make sure that they got daddy time too but at the time I did not see this. I just thought that they took up a lot of my time. After all, we’d eat dinner together at the table, hang out for a few hours after and then I’d go into my room and do game design – so what was the big deal? The big deal was that although I was spending time with them I was not there with them I was always in my head in the game or in the company dreaming of ways that I would be recognized in the industry (yes that’s the ego thing) or that we’d make money (everyone in the industry is laughing at this comment trust me).
In Deuteronomy 28:38 “You will sow much seed in the field but you will harvest little, because locusts will devour it.” I was sowing but the company profits weren’t there. Why? Because I was not being faithful to what God had already given me. Although at the time I did not realize this it was because I had not been faithful to my family and had thought it was because of something else. Maybe I was not spending enough time in the game. So while I told them that I would spend more time with them I was secretly in my head working out game mechanics, storylines, etc. I still daydream, it’s a part of me to daydream. God made me this way but there is a time and a place for daydreaming and family time isn’t that time.
Any game designer or small business owner knows that the business is always going to be present in their lives so long as the business is there. What I mean by this is that the business will always be in your thoughts no matter what else you are doing. Put that together with the ADHD (overdiagnosed in my opinion but probably there in me nonetheless), a compulsion to be a people pleaser (more on that in another column), and the desire to have a successful career as a game designer and to have fun as a gamer and this make for a devastating mix when your kid just wants attention.
Let me ask you – what is missing from the above paragraph? My family. I kept putting everything else first. Oh if anyone ever asked me I would tell them I am providing for the family and love the family and spend every Sunday with the family after church but in truth that was about all I was doing other than just helping around the house and being a normal guy I suppose. My heart was in game design when it should have first been with God and secondly with my wife and kids.
Edit: I have just been informed by my wife that I was not spending every Sunday with the family and at least once a month was trying to host a miniature game on Sunday after church. So while I did spend most Sundays with them I was taking one day a month in addition to the game design, gaming, etc to have “me” time. I have since stopped those games partially because we could never get enough people and partially out of guilt.
Ironically I did the same thing this morning when my kids were trying to show me “stinky” outside and I wanted to read this very column to my wife. I found myself pleading with the kids “Kids please let me read this to your mom.” But caught myself and felt a peace come over me that was so obviously the Holy Spirit. He said “Be at peace. All things will come to you but be a good father first.” So I took my son to school – we’re going to the zoo today with him and his school and I am very excited to go!
By the way, taking time for you is important and is actually even biblical. To paraphrase “The Lord makes you to lie down in green pastures” and sometimes it is good to get some “me” time. I still run the game company though at a much reduced and for me less stressful rate. I.E. the books are out there and if people want them they can get them from rpgnow or directly from me but I’m done writing for this season of my life. I game every Tuesday and biweekly on Fridays with two great groups of people (wife included – oh yeah!) and I go to conventions and play miniatures here and there but I also spend time with God, my family, brothers and sisters in Christ, outdoors (this turned out to be very important for me but that’s another story) and my other responsibilities and career.
As a matter of fact, we played Al Qadim last night and I worked on the Pirate’s Guide for Me booklet/house rules I am putting together for the next campaign. The kids need to understand that you need time to yourself and they should respect that. If not then it is your responsibility as a parent to teach it to them and hopefully in so doing they will find some “me” time for themselves. More importantly, kids and family need time WITH you. Do not sacrifice all of your time with the kids to the game. You probably won’t wish you gamed more as you lay there breathing your last, ready to meet Jesus.
So to the question can one play games and be a Christian? I say yes absolutely one should do what God created them to do and a passionate gamer is by no means defying the will of God by having fun imagining games or creating worlds (CS Lewis comes to mind immediately!) God gave me a creative leading spirit and I fully embrace my geek. I am sitting for the Cisco exam tomorrow for instance and am working on CISSP and CISA so that should tell you how much of a geek I am.
On the subject of balancing gaming with responsibilities though one should always put the responsibilities in the correct order and be faithful to what God has given you before you try to force more into your life without consideration for your loved ones. Then God will say “Well done good and faithful servant.”
God Bless You and Yours