How Video Games Taught Me About God

First we need a way for people to talk. We’ll add a chat window so players can type messages to each other. But relationships take more than words. Let’s allow players to choose their faces and expressions. Now players can communicate, but they need more to do than stare at each other and talk. They need activities. Let’s make it so they can build things: statues, houses, machines—anything. This sounds good—our design begins to take shape.

Will Wright, the brilliant designer of Sim City, The Sims and Spore, defines a game as “a series of interesting decisions.” Our design already meets his definition. By giving players building blocks and letting them put them together in different combinations, we’ve envisioned a world that rewards ingenuity. Some players will build artwork, others functional things like shopping carts and bulldozers; still others might build instruments of destruction like battering rams and catapults. I imagine a noisy, exciting, talkative world full of players making, using and trading things. We have ourselves the core of a good game.

You and I have just done what I do for a living. I develop video games. I helped make Ultima Online, Brothers in Arms, Halo PC and Phit. If you haven’t played one of my games, ask your nephew—he probably has.

As I design games, I keep rediscovering how God’s world resembles a well-designed game. Sound ridiculous? J. R. R. Tolkien once described God as the ultimate Myth-Maker. God, he said, authored the “True Myth.” Like any myth, the “True Myth” has plot, events, characters, heroes and villains. Yet it lives and breathes: you and I dwell in its pages. In much the same way, the real world resembles a game. It is the Good Game, designed and programmed by the ultimate Designer.

The Good Game

How does the real world resemble a game? A game poses challenges, leading players into interesting decisions. Likewise, the real world confronts us with choices and responds to our decisions. Video games have instruction manuals and strategy guides to help players excel. Likewise, God has provided us with the Scriptures to teach us the objectives, rules and hints (and even some of the cheat codes) to help us excel in the Good Game. The mastermind behind Ultima Online, Richard Garriott, entered his own game as a player named “Lord British.” Similarly, the mastermind behind the Good Game entered as a player named Jesus Christ.

As Game Designer, God has total control over every element of His Game. If He says the sun will shine, it shines. If He says players should blink every few seconds, they blink. If He wants to teleport a player named Philip, Philip goes zipping through space. But in a game, unlike a book or movie, players should have some control. Their choices matter. Much of the skill of game design lies in crafting rules that limit what players can do while also granting them freedom. The Nintendo character Mario can jump high, but only so high. He has power within limitations. We see the same principle in God’s Game. He grants us, His players, control within the boundaries He defines.

Because players have freedom to do what they want, game designers influence players in indirect ways. A good designer suggests what players should do, rather than forcing them. For instance, many games flash the health bar when your health gets low. In God’s Game, hunger has a similar effect. By requiring us to eat, God wakes us up and gets us focused on the world around us. Without hunger, we might spend our lives yawning and daydreaming—why bother getting out of bed? Hunger lets us know from the opening moments of the Game—from our first seconds of life—that we have something at stake, that we have to play in order to win.

The Challenge of Love and Relationship

More than any other game element, the Challenge of Love and Relationship advances God’s desire to teach players how to love. Yet, at times, our distorted views of sex blind us to the genius of its design.

Game designers will tell you that if you want players to work together, you have to entice them. Players prefer to work alone unless cooperation pays off. To promote cooperation, designers give players complementary abilities. In a role-playing game, for instance, archers excel in long-range fighting but succumb to close-range attacks, whereas swordsmen excel in close-range fighting but succumb to long-range attacks. To survive in the widest variety of fights, archers and swordsmen wisely team up. By designing each type of player with strengths and weaknesses, designers encourage players to join forces.

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God’s strategy for cultivating relationship follows a similar principle. He begins by making half His players male and the other half female—two complementary types. He rewards relationship between these types with emotional contentment and physical satisfaction. This gives an incentive for every player to connect with a player of the opposite sex.

Next, God attaches the process of childbearing to relationships. Producing children offers another of the greatest rewards in the Game, and both males and females naturally want children. God designs children to need protection and training, a difficult challenge for parents. This challenge brings players into real connection with their mates: players who want the best for their children must commit to work together with their mate, communicate about their children’s needs and agree on difficult choices for nearly 20 years. A couple pursuing these challenges moves toward even deeper relationship.

Yet men and women differ greatly, not only physically, but also emotionally, in outlook and psychology. God designed this challenge too—not to frustrate our relationships, but to perfect them. Through the design of our bodies, God has posed a challenge that guides us toward marriage and deep relationship.

However, too often, we often respond to this design with resentment rather than joy, and the “battle of the sexes” rages on. But God never poses a puzzle we can’t solve (1 Corinthians 10:13). He has created us to win at the game of love (Genesis 2:18–24). When we trust Him, we see that God gives us these challenges to teach us intimacy. Because men and women look at sex and relationships differently, we fully enjoy the benefits only when we commit, communicate, compromise and—ultimately—love one another. Like the best game designers, God keeps us engaged with wonderful rewards that help us press through the hardest lessons. We choose whether to keep on striving for success or to give up hope. But we must remember that God’s Game Manual gives two key instructions: “Love the Lord your God” and “Love your neighbor.” If we truly want to win God’s Game, marriage provides the best training.

The Grand Design

The great Calvinist creed known as the Westminster Confession states the ultimate objective for players of God’s Game: “To glorify God and enjoy him forever.” God draws us, His players, toward that objective through challenges such as hunger, sleep, pain and death. But the challenge of relationships—the Puzzle of True Love—exposes the brilliance of His craftsmanship. When we look at His world as a Game, we discover a beautiful design full of subtlety and wisdom, crafted for our growth and enjoyment.

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