By Matt Gordon
I woke up this morning surrounded by grassy fields. There was a gentle breeze and a less gentle-calling to grab my gear—my axe and map and paraglider—and renew my quest, when a hand tugged my leg. It was my toddler, toddling me away from the fictional world of Hyrule and back into the filled-diaper land of my life.
For several holidays, I’ve been talking my mother away from gifts—“I already have a shirt, Mother!”—and towards cash. This cash, with the help of a speaking engagement here or crime-for-hire there, has accrued to over $68,000!
No, it hasn’t really. I just wanted to make sure you weren’t just skimming through this piece like I sometimes do through life. This very “skimming” was precisely the thing I was wanting to remedy, in fact, with the few hundred dollars I had ferreted away. From the age of five, I played video games. Not a lot of video games and not a lot of the time, but it was a constant rainy-day escape for me. Every five years or so I’d upgrade systems; every couple years, I’d upgrade FIFA games. And life jaunted along merrily enough. Then, at the age of twenty I just stopped. School and sports vied for my attention, and then gave way to travel. Travel equaled a level of poverty incongruent with high-priced video games—do you know how much ramen you have to trade for a game! All of this led to a fifteen-year hiatus from control-in-hand escape.
I would probably still tell you I like video games, but any type of follow-up would out me as confused or phony, possibly both.
But now, all that has changed. My wife ordered me a Nintendo Switch because she knew, in my frugality, I never would actually follow through. And with some gift cards she had been gathering, she bought me Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild.
If you don’t know what that title means it proves you are not a massive dork. But let me fill you in: it means an immersive, beautifully wrought fictional world awaits, complete with quests and adventure and escape into a fifty-hour fight between good and evil. It also means for a handful of minutes a week, I leave the world of diapers altogether. And yes, it means I am a dork.
But at least I’m a more congruent one than I was a week ago. I now can say that I enjoy video games and have a story about raiding a haunted dungeon to prove it. I probably will have fewer friends, yes, but you should see all the treasure I got out of that dungeon.
I woke up this morning surrounded by grassy fields. But I think that sentence could have stopped at, “I woke up this morning.” Because my reclaimed hobby, I was different. I had something on my mind. And we could quibble if that is a responsible thing to have on one’s mind as a fully functional adult, but we cannot fight about the change. The fiction that had entered my life had, in fact, made a difference.
I had closed myself off to video games, which is about the least interesting clause to ever be written. But what happens when we do this with things that actually matter? When we close ourselves off to faith or whimsy or imagination—when Never Land becomes just Never because somehow unbelief feels more grown-up?
Today has dragged on. I miss my wife and my kids, but I also want to get back into the fictional land of Hyrule. It is on my mind, and it has colored the way I see the world today. But there are better lands than even that; vaster worlds to explore.
I wonder how much of my life is spent pretending to be a thing instead of just becoming it? I wonder how much beauty I’ve hidden from simply because I’ve lied myself into believing hiding is easier? I wonder how I’ve so easily dismissed wonder altogether?
While my explorations about Hyrule are not spiritual in nature, the act of entering into the video game world and exiting this decade-and-a-half drift is. Spiritually speaking, for many years I claimed belief in a thing from which I was mostly disconnected. Then, scared of the disconnect, I converted bad belief into disbelief—forget the whole thing; it just doesn’t work. It was something like unplugging a gaming system and then cursing at it for being unplugged. Whatever it was, the energy was gone. And I somehow with it.
The first night I got the new gaming system, I wasn’t going to play. It all started to seem silly. Juvenile. Regressive. What if I didn’t know how to do it anymore? Why would I put something in my life I had been freed from?
The answer is easy: because it is good. Right. True. Powerful. Fulfilling. Joyous. Defining. Authentic.
I’m not sure if any of this actually applies to playing a video game. Probably not. But when I opened the box back up on God, a switch flipped, and the power flowed: good; right; true; powerful; fulfilling; joyous; defining; authentic.
The other night I came to bed earlier than my wife expected. She asked me why I wasn’t playing my game and I explained to her the present difficulty I was having at hitting the wrong button and chucking valuable weaponry out among dense, grassy fields.
Half-asleep she mumbled: “Don’t give up.”
Wide awake, I couldn’t agree more. Don’t give up.