Wow! Gaming moments and the eternal.

Bioshock Infinite
Bioshock Infinite

Sometimes, without warning, you read a sentence and you stop in your tracks. The same thing can happen with a painting or walking in a park and seeing a stunning flower or (this does it for me) a perfectly calm lake with a boat resting motionless in the water. Hearing new music for the first time and exclaiming, “Who is that!” Being blown away by a scene in a film, some of the flight sequences in Avatar or that moment you see your first huge dinosaur in Jurassic Park. Seeing The Wizarding World of Harry Potter for the first time or, having had the experience lately, being introduced to a new puppy and not wanting to let it go, you are utterly captivated! Holding your newborn baby, a world changing moment. Something new is introduced into your life and your life is changed forever.

Being a bit of a gamer I was reading an article and came across this sentence on internet gaming and entertainment site IGN:

“That’s the thing about Abzu: within moments, it introduced me to a world that I simply did not want to leave.”

It’s a game from a new indie gaming company called Giant Squid led by Matt Nava.

IGN describes the game thus:

“Nava told us that he set out to make a game that provided, “A more respectful and personal interaction with animals.””


“Abzu is a third-person adventure exploration game that places you in the role of The Diver, a slender undersea wanderer…”

But it was that one sentence, that particular combination of words:

…within moments it introduced me to a world that I simply did not want to leave.

I thought of games I’ve seen which, initially anyway, had a similar effect on me, made me stand back and simply look at what was on the screen in front of me, before I did anything at all. A whole new world laid bare before you, the revelation of another person’s imagination.

Bioshock’s undersea metropolis (before all the carnage kicks in), Bioshock Inifinite’s city in the sky with its musings on a multi-verse.

Bioshock Infinite: City in the Sky
Bioshock Infinite’s City in the Sky

Then there are particular scenes in games like Naughty Dog’s Uncharted 2: Among Thieves, where Drake and Elena look out over the mountain village to a simply breathtaking panoramic scene. It’s difficult to convey the effect of some of these gaming moments in a still picture but if you think of similar awestruck moments in your own life you’ll get the picture.

Uncharted 2 Village Mountain Scene
Uncharted 2 Village Mountain Scene

The part in The Last of Us where Joel follows Ellie and sees the giraffe/s in the post apocalyptic landscape. It’s such an amazing and frankly unexpected and tender moment in a frequently violent game that I confess when I got to it I stopped playing for a while and just watched the screen.

The Last of Us
The Last of Us

Even within the game, Ellie has a “Wow!” moment. She runs ahead having seen what Joel has not, a giraffe (there are several) in the middle of a deserted city, and she obviously finds it so beautiful that she runs ahead headless of any dangers which may lurk around the corner. She’s seen something amazing, something that renders everything else peripheral, something that, for now, supercedes all other concerns and she runs ahead to see it closer up. It’s one of those beautiful gaming moments. It’s not often a moment in a game causes you to just sit back and watch the screen. Games are interactive but usually the interaction involves use of the controller or making on screen choices via a menu etc.

The Last of Us
The Last of Us

To interact by putting the controller down and simply looking at the screen is not a regular experience, not for me anyway. The meme on the right sums it up for me. You’ve travelled, fought and agonised your way through hours of game play and finally reach this moment of calm in the chaos, respite where the artistic branch of the game design team place an unexpectedly tranquil, tender and touching scene. Its very unexpectedness is compelling. It doesn’t matter that there are still hours of game play ahead, just sit back and admire the view. It struck me that the game designers didn’t need to have this scene. They could have simply gone from one action scene to another and some games are like that, no respite given. Here though it’s as though the designers know the characters (not the on screen characters – in the end they are simply computer generated images – the real people feeling the emotions and tension and delight are the players) have come through tense, emotional scenes battling enemies, solving puzzles that tax the brain…and there are further battles ahead…but for now, the designers decide a moment of respite is what’s needed. It turns out to be, for me anyway, one of the games defining moments. No action, no running and gunning, no tension as tactics are formed, just a truly wonderful view and time to admire it, be filled with awe and wonder and enjoy the inner smile it brings. Soon enough you’ll be filled with tension and adrenalin again, for now, sit back, relax and enjoy the view.

There are so many games with so many amazing and tender moments like ICO, then other worlds like Oblivion (Elder Scrolls), Skyrim and Fallout 3, where the game starts with you actually being born as a baby within the game, then that first moment of departure from the Vault when even the post apocalyptic world is compelling in its barrenness. Worlds you can explore for hours and not notice the time passing you are so captivated.  The recently released Space exploration game Elite: Dangerous (drastically updated from David Braben’s 80’s classic) is another example. You’ll have your own favourites.

As well as being a gamer, I’m also a Christian. Being someone whose ultimate hope is in Jesus and heaven, I know that sense of a place where everything else pales into insignificance. A place where nothing else will matter, the glory of that moment of opening your eyes for the first time in heaven, seeing Jesus, nothing else will matter, you’ll never want to leave, you’ll be home, you’ll never have to, no-one will ever say, “Right, time up.”

When I read about the underwater game Abzu and those words, “…it introduced me to a world that I simply did not want to leave“, I remembered a sermon one of my ministers from years ago, the Rev Eric Alexander, delivered. He was speaking from 1 John 3:1 “See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!” I prefer the “Behold” from the King James Version, “Behold what manner of love is this?” That “Behold” better conveys the sense of awestruck exclamation, the stopping in your tracks at the sheer wonder of what is before you, what has been revealed, what you’ve realised, what you’ve been given, who you are.

My minister described being on holiday (it might have been Switzerland), waking up on the first morning, opening the curtains and being stopped in his tracks, blown away by the breathtaking view from the room window.

Engelberg, Switzerland
Engelberg, Switzerland

Behold…” Something amazing,something so special everything else pales into insignificance.

Romans 8:18, “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.”

This ought to be a default vision of the hope Christians have in Jesus. “No more death nor mourning nor sorrow nor pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” Revelation 21:4. A vision so powerful, so compelling, so real and life transforming, that other things in our lives, while still important, are somehow rendered more bearable, compared with the glory that will be revealed in us. Jesus endured the cross for “…the joy set before him…” Hebrews 12:2

I remember a time at College when I was in my room reading a passage in Isaiah 43:19:

“Behold, I will do something new, Now it will spring forth; Will you not be aware of it? I will even make a roadway in the wilderness, Rivers in the desert.” (New American Standard Bible)

As I read sunlight seemed to fill my soul and I stopped reading, stared at the words and just basked in the glow of the glory which was within me and surrounding me at that moment. This happened maybe twenty five years ago and I still remember it so clearly. We can all remember times like that. Intimations of a better world, a far far far better place. Of course, we have to come back down the mountain to the valley but those moments are so hope filled, so inspirational, so world changing.

Are Christians communicating this “Wow!” sense? “Behold!” Do we want to show off Jesus the way we might show off a new car or, as I did in my younger days, boast to my friends of my new console game? Are we taking as much pride in Jesus, who is infinitely more valuable and worthy of our care and attention than any of these temporal things? Are we pointing to the One who makes all things new, who is the way, the truth and the life, who freely gives us the inner perpetual reality of that amazement which these games can only point to? When we speak to people, living our lives in their midst, do they see something, sense something, that makes them stop and think, “I want that!” Not the car or game but our best friend Jesus, who wants to be their best friend as well?

Of course, the examples from the games world are limited. They are, in the end, human creations, visions built out of the human mind, limited and finite and temporal for all the great moments they provide. Even those “Wow!” moments pass. You do everything the game offers and that’s it, maybe you go back to it from time to time but it doesn’t hold the same power of that original moment. You know what’s there, there’s nothing new. When I completed Fallout 3 and all the DLC, I felt a sense of accomplishment, satisfaction, but then put the game to the side, there was no reason to return to it. There was nothing more to do in that world.

depthwisdomKnowing Jesus, and heaven, are eternal experiences, there is no point where there’s nothing more to learn, nothing more to see or hear, we’ve done it all. Those who truly know Jesus always want to know more and there’s always more to know, there is never a moment where you can say, “I know everything there is to know about him, there’s nothing new, no more to learn.” In Romans 11:3, Paul gives us a sense of the everlasting search of joy and new meaning and adventure, “Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgements, and his paths beyond tracing out!” That “Oh!” is yet another “Wow!” moment, a “Behold!” moment. This is a world and relationship unlike any other, truly limitless, truly satisfying, truly fulfilling.

No matter how broad in scope, video games or favourite films do not have endless depths and heights to explore and cherish, even the huge games are limited by the programmers imagination, the power of the processor, the capabilities of the graphics card, they are temporal and finite. That’s why some games have sequels, like films, numbers 2 and 3 and 4 etc until eventually some of them get tired and dull and repetitive and 3 or 4 or more games/films too far. Knowing Jesus isn’t like that. Truly searching and keeping searching reveals more and greater and higher and deeper riches to explore. How do you get there? How do you find this world? Who introduces you?

“Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.” John 17:3

That word, eternal. Only something or someone who has not been created can be eternal. Only God, as he makes himself known in his Son Jesus Christ, can reveal eternal life, and he has.

When you know that, when you know him, then you know that “Wow!” moment that is eternal, cannot be limited or searched to the point of nothing new to find.

In the words of Simon Peter, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” John 6:68

Words of eternal life sustain and motivate and delight eternally. Eternal words can only come from someone who is eternal. Jesus gives eternal life, he speaks eternal words. Hear him, receive eternal life.


PS. I have no doubt Jesus loves a bit of gaming…

Oi! Jesus! You're breaking the speed limit!
Oi! Jesus! You’re breaking the speed limit!

Be nice, be contrary, but don't be rude :-)

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