Year for Priests: What we learn from video games

By Basilian Father Chris Valka
One in a series

When I was a child my parents bought an Atari video-game console for my brother and I.  As it was situated in the living room, it was not long before the whole family began to hold Pac-Man and Pong tournaments on Saturday evenings.

Obviously, a lot has changed in the world of video gaming.  The simple square, dot-matrix type graphics have been replaced with scenes so advanced, one might have difficulty distinguishing the game from actual television.  You only need to go to any entertainment store to know that video games have integrated themselves into the fabric of our society — more than many of us may realize.

Recently, I commented to a few teachers that I am often amazed at how easily the boys in my class fold under pressure.  These young men, who are fearless on the court and field, seem to lose their fight in the classroom at the first hint of failure or setback.  After quickly agreeing with my assessment, one teacher said that the students learn this mentality from video games.  Now, I am always hesitant when such claims are made, but when I asked my students, they could not disagree with the connection and it led to a fruitful discussion.

In a video game, when the scenario is not going as you planned, you simply restart the level, which, my students agreed, happens frequently.  In fact, they admitted to restarting more often than continuing.  When things are really difficult, they get the codes from somebody else rather than wrestling with the problem.  After our discussion, many students saw similar behaviors in the “real” aspects of their life — academics and personal relationships most especially.

I have held that conversation in the back of my mind for a few months now, and as we enter into a new year and bask in the joy of Christmas I believe we can learn something about the spiritual life from video games.

If we learn anything from the Scriptures, it is that the spiritual life does not have a restart button; rather, we are to learn from our successes and failures.  While we are forgiven, we must not forget the lessons learned from our past, and when things get tough, we must work with what God has given us, rather than passively wait for a better scenario.

Over the course of my young ministry, I have met many people who have given up on God because they were not given the scenario they desired.  In their mind, belief in God should offer answers to life’s most difficult circumstances; when it does not, the reason to believe in or even pray to God diminishes.  However I have found that, while there are not always answers in the spiritual life, there is always meaning — and it usually occurs after we want to hit “restart.”  Too often, we are all too ready to erase the pain, the false starts, and the errors, but we do not advance very far without them.  Rather, we are to reconcile and learn, forgive and move forward.

As we all begin a new year, let us not be too eager to hit the restart button, as we often receive the greatest blessings in our lives by learning to persevere through the challenges in the great game of life.

Father Chris Valka, CSB, was ordained a priest for the Congregation of St. Basil in May and is teaching at Detroit Catholic Central High School in Michigan.

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4 Responses to Year for Priests: What we learn from video games

  1. Monaca Zlatic says:

    I’m a mom now, but when I was teaching the idea of gaming and teaching was something I was thinking a lot about as the school year ended for me last spring. I agree with you that students many times concieve of the classroom similarly to thier video games. However, my thought was that we had to teach them what the “cheat codes” were to the classroom. What students need to understand in order to be a successfull student. Many times students need to be taught behaviors and re-train thier minds in order to succeed. For example, the student who has been able to pass tests by using flashcards, but then quickly forgets all of the facts after the test is over with. Instead, teaching the student organization techniques (Mind mapping, note taking, utilizing technology) students will be able to store more information in long-term memory. I agree students usually give up when things get too difficult. Maybe we should take a clue from them and figure out a way to make learning more accessible instead of an insurmountable mountain. This doesn’t mean that we should let everything be easy, and when students are challenged we shouldn’t let them grapple with problems. However, I do think that students need tricks and support in order to succeed. Please excuse all spelling mistakes, I kn ow there are much and grammar.

  2. Kevin Holmes says:

    “O, my God, I am heartily sorry for having offended you. I detest all my sins because of your just punishment, but most of all because they offend you, my God, who are all-good and deserving of all my love. I firmly resolve, with the help of Your grace, to sin no more and to avoid the near occasion of sin. ”

    Restart button?

  3. James says:

    Hello! I’m a father and I found so interesting your comment.
    I agree about what you say, most of kids play video games so often that they think real life is just like video games and this is not.
    I have two boys, 11yo and 9yo, and they love playing video games, of course, but I’ve created some rules because I don’t want them to play the wrong games or be living in a game world as the one you described.
    I’d like to explain what I do because it will be worthy for some one, may be.
    What I do is playing with them because I can control what they play, I can control how much time they play and I can tell them to go to do another stuff.
    They like this idea because they can say their funny dad plays with them!

    hope my comment is worthing for some one.
    and thank you for your post.

  4. Lili says:

    Blessed Christamas everyone!

    James –
    Thank you so much for pointing out such a simple means of a family playing & being together. As Fr Valk, mentioned his family played those early video games together. Too many families, use the games as another babysitter. One would be very surpirised to learn – that to say to a teenager – let’s do something else – want to learn how to bake or cook ?- the answer will ..uuhhh…oookay . “they are doing something for YOU” lol lol – share that food and a better family time will take place – but be true and do it often – who cares about the mess – clean up can be taught soon thereafter together -together cleanup – but such memories -forever ingrained! Try it earnestly – so much fun and truth about values.

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