Spiritual Formation through Video Games

We all have places that help us spiritually reflect on our lives. For me, that place is video games. More specifically, I often connect with God best when I’m playing fighting games. 

I travel around the United States to play fighting games in competitive tournaments. Yes, kind of as a sport. More specifically, it can be defined as an eSport, but that is another discussion. It is a hobby that I can enjoy, and a hobby that has definitely reshaped the way that I think about my relationship with God.
It’s odd right? I mean, how can someone think about spirituality through something like a fighting game? Theoretically it promotes violence and aggression; and on top of that, it is a video game!

Well, let me walk you through a little bit of how I approach this concept of spiritual formation through a video game.

It is like having trials in life. We recognize that we are going through a trial, and we figure out what we need to do in order to get through it. In fighting games, that “trial” is your opponent; you have to figure out how to beat your opponent if you want to win.

In life, we tend to “go through the motions” at times, and we do not recognize it until God shows us in a way that is unique to us.

I was playing Ultra Street Fighter IV with some friends to practice for a tournament, and I noticed that my defense was really poor, which made it that much harder to win. Naturally, I tried to keep playing through it, thinking that I was just having an off day or something. But when I continuously tried harder to adapt to my opponent and fix my defense, the losses became even worse, and therefore, even more frustrating. I can normally tell when I am having an off night, as off nights do happen, but this one felt different. It felt deeper.

I asked myself the question, “Why is my defense so bad?” This probably seems like the worst question to ask because it could have so many different answers. It could be that I am not approaching my opponent right or that I could be reacting to things too late or a plethora of other things. But it was a question that provoked thought, and so I went with it. I noticed that I was auto-piloting or, in other words, going through the motions. My mind was clear enough to recognize that I was going through the motions, but it was not clear enough to know how to stop.

I realized I was not trusting the reactions that I have been given by God in order to defend against my opponents. I was tensed up while playing, not having fun, not winning, and not okay with letting something else dictate the matches. I thought I had to win by the way I was playing, and that changing my auto-pilot ways would be worse.

I quickly asked myself, “Am I auto-piloting in real life?”

Am I not trusting Jesus to guide my life? Am I not trusting Jesus with anything and everything? I put the controller down and prayed. I let God know how I was feeling, and prayed that he would help me learn to trust him.

Needless to say, a few days later, there were exciting things in my life that happened that unquestionably came from God.

I came to realize all of these things through doing something I love, which is playing video games. I do believe that God gives us activities to enjoy that bring us back to him, and playing video games is not outside of that realm. Spiritual formation through video games is actually a real thing, just like spiritual formation through reflecting in your quiet space.

I can tell how I feel spiritually through a fighting game.

The Practice of Welcoming Prayer

1. Notice

I’m playing really badly… When I am not in flow or focus I can really tell. This is a place where my spirituality comes out of me. Well, in what ways am I playing badly? What else is going on for me? What thoughts are racing through my mind? What am I feeling in my body?

2. Reflect

Why are these particular things going poorly? Am I auto-piloting? Am I not trusting the gifts God has given me? Am I not adapting to my opponent and just doing my default? Embrace the feelings, not the causes or events.

3. Let go

Accept what is present in this moment. Have I been auto-piloting, coasting along with Jesus? Surrender other desires, and be fully present with God now. Cease justifying, explaining, exploring, fixing. Just be. Ask, “Where has Jesus been in this experience? What is his view of me?”

Application

Video games have become a tool, a gift to me in my journey of spiritual formation. The real question for you, as it was for me, is, Where are you auto-piloting in real life? This isn’t just about whether or not you’re coasting along in life; this is a spiritual battle. So, what in your life can make you more aware of this spiritual battle and point you back to Christ’s presence? How could you develop a practice of paying attention to this deeper reality?

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