I know I’m a traditionalist in a lot of ways. Stuck in a rut. Not always open to new ways of doing things.
Even if there is some truth in that, I don’t think it is completely true of me. It’s more that I don’t think just because something is the newest or the latest that it is automatically good or right. By the same token, I don’t think that just because “We’ve always done it this way,” that the old way is automatically good or right.
I certainly catch a lot more flak from resisting the “new way” than I do from either embracing or challenging “the old way” of doing things. And, truly, I am more likely to continue doing the same thing the same way while considering a new way than I am to try out the new while reconsidering the old.
Okay, that’s the disclaimer before I make my stand saying that I have a problem with online-game evangelism, brought to my attention by Think Christian.
Second Life players create a virtual version of themselves – an avatar – and wander through an ever-growing virtual reality with its own currency, industry and culture.
The point suggested by a Jesuit scholar seems to be that missionaries could join in the game with the purpose of evangelizing other players and leading them out of all the virtual temptations that exist there. The Jesuit Father suggests, “Second Life is somewhere where the opportunity to meet people and to grow should not be missed. Therefore, any initiative that can inspire the residents in a positive way should be considered opportune.”
Okay, so I’ve got a problem with this. Why? Well, on one level Lore Sjoberg gets quickly to the heart of my concerns about online-game evangelism, even though his starting point is a worldview very different from mine. (I second the caution note from Think Christian–while I think the post is a worthwhile read, it is not without irreverence and graphic language, so count yourself warned ahead of time.) I like this quote:
If you’re a virtual missionary in a virtual world speaking to another virtual person, are you trying to convert the virtual person or the real person behind it?
This seems like it ought to be a fairly straightforward question. After all, as far as we know Heaven doesn’t even have broadband… (that cracked me up 🙂 )
So, yes, I am skeptical of online gaming being a good venue for evangelism. I could be wrong, but for now this is my stuck-in-the-mud stance.
Theological concerns aside, however, there was another problem I had with the call to Second Life evangelism. Once again, I sensed the concern, but did not have words for it, until I read this quote in a totally unrelated book on a seemingly unrelated topic–cell phones:
Cell phones take people out of the present moment they are sharing with others and transport their attention to some virtual place instead, often resulting in their becoming mindless of those around them. (from: The Contented Soul: The Art of Savoring Life, by Lisa Graham McMinn)
Aha, that is the heart of it for me. I have a fundamental problem with the attractiveness and seductiveness of virtual reality. It’s a pull not just to something, but from something–“real” reality.
There is no denying the pull and appeal of a fantasy world. It’s a lot less messy and a lot more immediately rewarding than real life. (I don’t think there is anywhere in life where nonstop dopamine/feel good hits are as easily available as they are in computer games. I’ll save that rant for another post. Just ask my kids about how I can go on and on about that.)
I’m not convinced by the argument that online gaming is a social event. I’ve watched a LAN party in action, with lots of people and lots of computers in the same room. Not one person there seems aware of the physical person sitting next to him. I’m not an expert on this, but it seems like even if there is typed communication to the other person, it’s not really about the two “real” people talking, but their virtual characters talking to each other. The very nature of being engrossed in the fantasy world makes being mindful of the “real” reality seem almost impossible.
I try to be openminded and think of other scenarios like a beautiful concert where I’m so caught up (enraptured) in the music that I’m mindless of those around me. I’m thankful when a breathtaking sunset removes me for a moment from noticing anything or anyone else. But, somehow, in those scenarios, the “caught up in beauty” state seems different than being caught up in living out virtual reality.
The quote by McMinn is helping me think about applications to my own life consistent with my frustration with online gaming. In other words, while I don’t want my kids absorbed in online gaming, and while I want to pass on to them the principles for that and not just the outward pronouncement, I can see that I must also look at how the principles behind my concern apply to my own life. When a cell phone can jolt me out of (and repeatedly keep me out of) my present reality, when email and online blogging consumes me and takes precedent over being “with” my family, well, that is wrong in some of the same ways as I believe online gaming to be wrong.
I’m not saying it’s unequivocally wrong to talk with someone on the phone. Or to communicate with someone via the internet. I’m glad for the people I’ve met and the things I’ve learned through the blogging community. But when I become mindless and even disregarding of those physically around me, there is reason for concern.
Writing this out is helping me think through the principles that I hope will help my children and me to make wise decisions regarding the overabundance of hi-tech opportunities in front of us–whether those opportunities be deciding on participation in online-game evangelism (or online-gaming without the evangelism), answering my cellphone while talking to a friend, or reading and commenting on my favorite blogs while my children want and need me to be present with them.
I want to learn to be less distracted and increasingly mindful of those around me.