“I turn to the alien and I see the face of God . . .”
A recent article on Yahoo! about Robin Williams being an avid gamer got me pondering the question:
Did video games contribute to the award-winning actor’s depression and eventual death by suicide?
On this blog I have written extensively about violence in video games and other media. My purpose here is not to get into a discussion about whether playing violent video games causes one to do violence to oneself or others. Or to point the finger at specific games that may be cause for concern.
Rather the question I ask is related to what game designers refer to as “immersion.”
A good game is one that draws the player into its world so much so that he will spend countless hours immersed in that world. This power of video games has been greatly enhanced by new advances in technology such as 3D and HD graphics. Successful games and their franchises rival movies in the cost, staff, and years poured into their development in an attempt to attain this goal of immersion.
A self-described game addict, Robin Williams spent the many hours between filming immersed in these virtual worlds. As a creative soul who struggles with depression I understand the power of fantasy and its blissful escape from the constant buzzing of the low intensity conflict of life. It is not easy to return to reality which can often seem rather dull and gray in comparison.
Sleep deprivation. Poor diet. Confined space. Distance/separation from close relations (ie family). Sound familiar? Such are some of the primary methods used by interrogators to “break down” detainees. These are also the characteristics of avid gamers, who willingly endure such in order to remain immersed. Did such a lifestyle eventually lead to Robin Williams “breakdown?”
There has been some discussion and research regarding how technology is rewiring our brains. More research needs to occur if we are to have a firmer grasp on exactly what is occurring within us as we spend more time within the virtual realm. The impact of such media is not simply on the outward characteristics described above. Something is happening in our brains as well. Did the virtual world become more real than reality for Robin Williams? Did real life lose out to the increasing “otherworldliness” of a good game?
My purpose here is not to judge Robin Williams. I have been profoundly affected by his work and will continue to be indebted to him for his impact on my life. But I found the article that blissfully described his gaming “addiction” as rather naive without any sense of the impact such may have had on the actor/comedian’s depression and eventual death.
World of Warcraft is planning on creating a character based on Robin Williams to commemorate his love of video games after an online petition amassed almost 11,000 signatures. The character will not be controlled by players, aimlessly wandering through the world I assume, interacting with players perhaps, cracking a joke or two.
It’s a nice idea I guess. Some would say even a fitting commemoration. But like most I would prefer having the real Robin Williams still alive, making me laugh out loud or shedding tears so real they fall off my cheeks and bounce on my keyboard while I type.
More info on video game addiction here.
In 1539, a fugitive former-priest-turned-Anabaptist, in his seminal work “The Foundation,” penned the following words:
“Christ is our fortress; patience our weapon of defense; the Word of God our sword. …Iron and metal spears and swords we leave to those who, alas, regard human blood and swine’s blood of well-nigh equal value.”
So said Menno Simons, principal leader of the Protestant sect which then became known as the Mennonites.
Almost 500 years later, his words still resound with a mighty truth.
At the risk of sounding morbid, it has to do with blood.
While Menno specifically refers to the difference between human blood and that of an animal, his larger point is the “value” we place on the blood of another.
My point is quite simple.
Killing will not end through education, conflict resolution, or disarmament, though all of these are important and can help. Killing will end only when there is a fundamental shift in the mind and heart of those who kill.
For how can you kill someone if you believe that their blood is just as valuable as your own?
Let’s call it – for lack of better term – bloodism. The other, their humanity, life, blood, is somehow less than I, and therefore, their humanity, life, blood, is not as valuable as my own. It becomes quite easy then to justify killing the other, ie. spilling his/her blood.
The directors of death throughout history from every nation, tribe and religion have understood and disseminated this concept quite well. A person (and those like him/her) is described as having the wrong beliefs, the wrong skin color, the wrong gender, the wrong age, the wrong station in life, the wrong land, the wrong possessions, the wrong clothing, the wrong language —- the wrong blood. These others are not as valued as you are, the leaders of the macabre scream, though they couch their speech in terms such as vigilance, freedom, history, security, and truth. Then the killing begins.
The Nazis did it to the Jews. Israelis do it to the Palestinians. Hutus did it to the Tutsis. Shiite do it to the Sunni. Palestinians do it to the Israelis. Sunni do it to the Shiite. Muslims do it to the Christians. Christians do it to the Muslims. This country does it to that country. That neighborhood does it to this neighborhood. This race does it to that race. That religion does it to this religion.
And any one of a million other combinations.
Do not allow your mind and heart to be filled with bloodism.
We are made in the image of God.
ALL of us.
And that divine DNA resides in the very marrow of our bones and flows through our veins.
It’s in the blood.
Things don’t look so good right now.
After the hope of the “Arab Spring,” the Middle East has dissolved into a perpetual war zone with no end in site. The torture and murder of youth in Israel-Palestine has opened another round of fresh blood-letting. A Malaysian jetliner is destroyed by a missile over war-torn Ukraine, the gruesome images tweeted for all to see. We are a world at war with itself, with around 50 conflicts globally as of this writing. The majority of deaths are civilian, “collateral damage” as it were, a dehumanizing term if ever there was one.
Here, our borders teem with desperate children. The gap between rich and poor widens. Solutions are short-sighted and generally involve some band-aid fix, like a new gadget, another casino, or more guns on the street. Congress is a bastion of impotence and hubris. We scrabble over issues that mean nothing like dogs after crumbs while the country and the world burns around us.
While we laud our technological advances, it seems the one thing we are most adept at is killing each other.
So last night my wife and I, as we are wont to do each evening, talked about our days and the state of this spinning sphere like some morbid carousel we find ourselves stuck on. We both have been at this so-called peace work for most of our lives. At times we wonder why. We went to bed rather depressed.
I awoke to a text message from her. She was sharing a scripture she read this morning.
“So let’s not get tired of doing what is good. At just the right time we will reap a harvest of blessing if we don’t give up. Therefore whenever we have the opportunity, we should do good to everyone – especially to those in the family of faith.” (Galatians 6:9-10). As she said in her text, pretty apropos.
Some things jumped out at me right away. We do good simply because it is the right thing to do. We do not limit who we do good to – “everyone” is pretty clear. Those closest to us, within the same family of faith, who sometimes are the hardest to do good to, are not to be left out either. Tenacity and obedience can overcome despair. We don’t give up. There is an end, a flowering of planted seed, a reaping of glorious fruit.
Our fight is not against flesh and blood. Nor should our faith and ultimate allegiance be in and to such. Despair arises when we are inundated with bad news and when our trust in human leadership and institutions has been broken yet again.
Rather we wage a war against the principalities and powers, the spiritual forces of evil in high places. Such a battle requires divine help and divine eyes to see the opportunities to do good as well as the Good News (gospel) occurring around us everyday.
So I’ve given up on peace.
But I have not given up on the good – doing it and being a part of it.
The rest I leave in the hands of the One who continues to hold this broken world in loving, gentle hands.
in the West, the Man-Boy plays with his toy
joystick or drone
killing me softly alone
Xbox Wii PS4
smart bombs virtual war
in the East, the Boy-Man hears the siren’s song of martyrdom
heaven with a harem
pull the trigger
pull the pin
pay the price for another’s sin
in the East and the West we are losing this fight
whether with an army of vegetables induced by FPS comas
or those in the more permanent sleep
obliterated by shrapnel and suicide vests
while we obsess about the terrorists in faraway lands
we have already succumbed to an invasion by screen
in the East a Boy-Man’s body is blown to bits
in the West a Man-Boy’s mind counts up his hits
both are dead
one literal dust
the other lost in microcircuits