Michael's Story - From the Devil’s Lair to a Marvelous Light

A Gamer Story by Michael Liao

It was the year 2010 when my life came into a collision course with faith and religion. I had always found myself to be a person of a spiritual venture. I was converted to Christianity, specifically the Conservative Evangelical type.

Of course, within Evangelicalism there are a variety of denominations and orthopraxis, therefore I cannot paint Evangelicalism with a broad brush. I did, however, have an encounter with what I call the hardline types. These are the type of Christians that would rail against Hollywood as a left-wing devil’s lair ready to snatch your children away from family values. The same ones that will say video games are of the devil and inspire school shootings. Perhaps stretching as far as saying games are part of the Illuminati conspiracy.

Call me crazy, but I was one of them. And I must say there is still a hint of that rigid theology within me because it has been an emotional struggle for me to come into the light. I’m still trying to balance out my faith with what I see in reality, and often there is much cognitive dissonance is involved.

If you think that the rise of the Religious Right was only in the 1970s and 80s where secular CDs and records were burned in bonfires, a part of that culture still exists today. Games like Dungeons and Dragons were considered demonic in origin. In the 90s, Pokémon was Satanic because Pikachu’s lightning bolts somehow exemplified witchcraft. We still pick and choose what is sin and what is not in society, but the only difference is the bonfires have ceased.

I was converted through that type of preaching. For 3 years after my conversion, I did not watch any movies or play any games. I was afraid that if I did, I would somehow open the door for the devil to wreak havoc on my life. The fear of hell was another factor in preventing me from exploring the world and engaging my mind intellectually. Even when it came to relationships with the opposite sex, one of the mottos I have heard from some Christian women is, “Men who play video games are not men! They’re boys!”

Meeting my friend Steve Tocher at a Church in 2013 radically changed my perspective on gaming. He aided in providing what I would call a third way to my outlook on games. He held a balanced middle ground where he was not for violent video games, but supported games that encourage relaxation, fun and strategy. I did not get an explanation for how he could be a Christian while enjoying forms of digital entertainment. I only followed his example.

Only recently did I ask him for why it was OK to enjoy video games. He explained to me that while growing up, he didn’t have a system for a long time, so he started off with video games just wanting to do what everyone else did. He played games that were violent or over-sexualized.

“I grew to like a lot of these games, but we didn’t have a lot of money; we just tried our best to economize as a family. So, for the most part, I was stuck playing the games that I could not get my hands on because the average person I was friends with didn’t have a wide range of games. They could only afford the greatest hits like a Mortal Kombat or a Duke Nukem. But, if I had the money and knowing what I know through Christianity, I definitely would’ve wanted to play games that made me more relaxed because coming from a very traumatic life, you really don’t want to play a traumatic game!”, he said to me.

As Steve got older, he realized a lot of the violent content was seeping into his subconscious, and he started slowly drifting away from games that were causing him to be quickly frustrated. He elaborated that he is a very dream-oriented/visual person, so he knew he had to scale back and think about the information that was coming into his mind.

“Nowadays, I try to go for games that relax me, especially as I get older! My scale of gaming has gone from playing Street Fighter, Chrono Trigger, and to one of my favourite games of all time, which was Intelligent Qube.”

Later on in the evening, I had asked him about how some women in the Church view men playing video games as immature. He responded by giving a simple phrase.

“Your hobby is there to support your life. Your life should not support your hobby! If you are dedicating yourself to a religious belief system, to your belief in other people, if you are being a person who supports their spouse/family (financially, emotionally, mentally, physically), you go to your job every day, if you play with your kids, if you’re volunteering – I think if you've done all of those things and you want to play some video games to detox a little bit…I think that is the perfect way to use video games. And I understand when anyone is frustrated (men or women) with a hobby that takes up a lot of their life.”

In my personal journey, I had found Steve’s responses to be quite balanced. We did not agree on everything in that conversation, but it was an eye-opener nonetheless. Unlike my fundamentalist experience with entertainment, he did not give a black and white answer where he drew a line in the sand against all video games. He acknowledged the positives in some games but is also able to exercise his own discretion. Not only did he help me see entertainment differently, but he helped me see my faith differently as well. That faith in God is a lot more dynamic than I made it out to be. Perhaps that was His way of calling me out of darkness into His marvelous light (1 Peter 2:9).