So it’s an ordinary day, and I’m watching football. Every Sunday, a bunch of the Chicago and Wisconsin guys get together to watch the Packers and Bears games together, which couldn’t possibly end poorly. Of course, the Bears were getting it handed to them and the Packers were doing what they do. Same story, different day.
Anyway, what made this day different was one particular Taco Bell ad. Before I go any further, let me say this: I love Taco Bell. Of course, the average burrito effects a man’s body much like swallowing a grenade, but knocking back that Baja Blast Mountain Dew makes it all worth it.
But this ad wasn’t for free burritos. It was for a Playstation 4. A beautiful, gold-plated Playstation 4. Man, that was one shiny console. While a few of the fellas joked around about getting two of them to use as bookends, all I could think to myself was, “Holy cow (and of course I said “cow,” seminarians don’t use profanity), a golden game console. That is straight-up idolatry.”
Think about it.
What got the Israelites into trouble that one time? (Trick question: They were always in trouble.) But seriously, after the Israelites are freed from the Egyptians, Moses goes up the mountain so God can lay out the way things are gonna be on some big stone tablets — and all the while, the people down below are freaking out because he forgot to tell them they could sit down and chill for a bit.
So they say to Aaron: “Hey, Aaron! Make us a cow! If we dance around a cow, everything will be real cool!” (If you don’t know how that story ends, look it up. It’s in this really old book I’ve read a few times.)
Now it’s confession time:
I have a huge problem with video games. Back when I was a missionary (and long before that as a student), I’d come back to the house with a few hours to kill after a long day on campus or on a lazy Sunday, throw in Call of Duty and start knocking off the zombies before Bible study.
At first, it was no problem. But then a trend was created. “I’m tired,” I thought. “I’ve earned this.” I’d turn on Halo, and the first hour was great. Energized, enthusiastic, I’d still be down for hanging out, praying, having a heart-to-heart, playing Hammerschlagen — you name it.
“Only an hour,” I’d promise myself. But then one hour would turn into two. “I should pray evening prayer. I’ll do it in half an hour.” Two hours into three. “I should call my mom; we haven’t talked in a bit. Nah, I just don’t have the energy to talk to her right now.” (If you ever read this: Sorry about that, Mom). Sometimes three hours turned into four. “I am so bored. I can’t believe I have to drag myself back to campus for Bible study.”
Not too far in, I saw that I really didn’t want to do anything. I didn’t want to leave the house, I didn’t want to hang out with my study guys (even though those guys are stinking awesome), and I certainly didn’t want to talk about Jesus. I wanted to do nothing. Literally nothing.
Sometimes on those Sundays, I’d get back from Mass at noon, lay on the couch and lull myself into a daze. “I’ll go over to the chapel for my holy hour at four,” I’d say. Four o’clock would slip by, rolling into 4:30, “I’ll go at five, and finish this level.” I’d finish playing at five, but make a new excuse, “I’ll go after dinner.” “I’ll take a quick nap and go after I’ve worked off dinner.” “I’ll go after I’m done laying on my bed staring up at the ceiling.” I’d paralyzed myself, falling into a crippling inactivity.
On those days, I preferred to prostrate myself in front of a video game rather than prostrating myself in front of Jesus. That sounds like idolatry to me.
Last year, I finally got wise that something was going on. I started to cut back. I set limits. “I’ll only play for two hours.” “I’ll only play with other people.” “I’ll only play games on the Nintendo, because those games aren’t isolating.”
Excuses led to new excuses, and I wondered why I kept slipping, why I kept bingeing in video games over a weekend only to go into withdrawal for the whole next week.
Finally, I cut the cord. I broke my games in half, deleted the ones on my phone and swore to a very good friend that I was finished. I had him keep me accountable to it every time we talked; I went through a withdrawal harder than when I stopped smoking cigarettes.
The fact is, I had set up a golden-calf-shaped spot in my heart — and every time I felt bored, I thought that the hole could only be filled with my golden calf. As much as I wanted to give all of myself to Jesus, I had a big part of my life that I had given to another god. And Jesus is still healing the scar that that idol left in my heart when I let Him cut it out.
Now, after seven months of video game sobriety, there are still days when the only thing holding me back from playing a game is knowing I would have to tell my friend what I had done.
But seeing a commercial about a gold-plated Playstation helped remind me why I quit, too.