Relax 2


This month, the Ontological Geek has a theme: reli­gion and/or the­ol­o­gy in games. We have a great bunch of arti­cles lined up, from the very per­son­al to the deeply the­o­ret­i­cal, from both reg­u­lar OntoGeek con­trib­u­tors and sev­er­al guest writ­ers. We’d love to hear from you with your thoughts on spe­cif­ic arti­cles and the month as a whole – com­ment freely and e-mail us at editor@ontologicalgeek.com!

One of my favorite video games as a child was Paper Mario. The col­ors, char­ac­ters, story, game­play —  it was some of the most fun I ever had with video games, even more fun than when I final­ly man­aged to get all gold tro­phies in every sin­gle level of Mario Kart 64.   It was the first RPG that I had ever played, and I loved it fierce­ly.  We had Super Mario 64 at home, but I didn’t like play­ing it: the first few lev­els were fun, but then the puz­zles got trick­i­er, the ene­mies were hard­er, and I failed more than I suc­ceed­ed.  Paper Mario never let me fail.  I have beat­en Paper Mario more times than I can remem­ber, but I have never yet beat­en Super Mario 64.  I haven’t played Paper Mario for a long time now.  I tried, not very long ago, but it didn’t have the same fun for me as when I was a kid.  I was dis­sat­is­fied.

However much I want to, how­ev­er many fond mem­o­ries I have of Paper Mario, play­ing it will never be the same, because I am no longer a child, yet, I feel that I am not yet an adult.  I have plateaued in my devel­op­ment, and I am not just refer­ring to video games: I’ve come to a stand­still in my reli­gious life as well. I can­not bliss­ful­ly believe with the trust and open­ness of a child, but nei­ther can I grasp reli­gion with an adult and mature under­stand­ing.  I am frozen with ques­tions and doubts.  Thankfully I am engaged to a man who is much more sen­si­ble than that.  He told me the only per­son that could help me is myself, and that gam­ing is not an innate skill but a learned one.  So, with an incred­i­ble amount of skep­ti­cism, I start­ed a jour­ney, to improve my abil­i­ty to play video games.  It is look­ing to be a long, slow process.  During one of our late night chats, my strug­gles with reli­gion came flood­ing out to his sym­pa­thet­ic ears.   After calm­ing my near rage quit, my fiancé said that my faith can and should be devel­oped.  Expecting some­one to believe that they can improve in videogames is one thing; want­i­ng them to believe they can improve their faith life is quite anoth­er.  However, he has yet to steer me wrong (even his root beer and pina cola­da icee con­coc­tion was amaz­ing), so I am embark­ing on yet anoth­er jour­ney, this time to ignite my faith.  The par­al­lels in these two endeav­ors sur­prised me.

I have never been very good at video games.  My skills seem to be for­ev­er frozen at begin­ner level, lead­ing me to rage quite with spec­tac­u­lar enthu­si­asm.  That’s one of the rea­sons I still haven’t beat­en Ocarina of Time; I start­ed a year or two ago, but I get so mad at the game that I refuse to play it.  The puz­zles and ene­mies in video games seem so sim­ple when the solu­tions are point­ed out to me, but in the moment some­thing always blocks me and I just can’t seem to under­stand any­thing.  Climbing trees was always a bit of a strug­gle for me, but I never mind­ed, because I didn’t want to climb them in the first place — they’re cov­ered with ants and bugs and spi­ders and all man­ner of nasty things — but I want to be good at video games.  I want to be able to beat a boss in Metroid: Fusion on the first try.  I want to be able to play a first per­son shoot­er and actu­al­ly make it to at least the sec­ond cutscene with­out dying, but yet again, my incred­i­ble lack of any­thing remote­ly resem­bling skill stops me.

I’m start­ing with older games rec­om­mend­ed to me by my fiance, an avid gamer.  He start­ed me on Link’s Awakening, Metroid: Zero Mission and Metroid: Fusion.  After a year, I man­aged to fin­ish both Link’s Awakening and Metroid: Zero Mission, with­out using any sort of cheat or walk­through (other than the nat­ur­al cheat of hav­ing a gamer fiance).  Both of those games, while incred­i­bly fun, were the most dif­fi­cult games I have ever beat­en.  They were also the sec­ond and third games I have ever beat­en.  (I don’t count unlock­ing Rainbow Cloud in Pokemon Snap.)  Most of the year I spent play­ing them was spent not play­ing them.  I spend most of my time in a stage of rage over my inabil­i­ty to advance.   I am now work­ing on Metroid: Fusion.  As I am writ­ing this arti­cle, it has been two weeks since I start­ed play­ing, and thir­teen days since I last picked up the con­troller.  I hate Serris as I have never hated before.  I am at a stand­still in this game, fight­ing the same boss, fail­ing the same moves, and dying over and over and over again.

I have also never been very good at reli­gion.  I know what the cor­rect thing to do is, and I try to do it, but most of the time, it is devoid of any true con­vic­tion.  Even when I am alone and try to pray, it is some­times noth­ing more than the attempt to do what is expect­ed of a good Christian.  For a long time I was at peace with this exis­tence.  After all, the alter­na­tive would be to seek answers, and I wasn’t sure I was going to like them.  I am fond of tak­ing the path of least resis­tance, so ignor­ing my ques­tions and act­ing the part of a hap­pi­ly reli­gious per­son seemed like the eas­i­est choice.  The only time it caused me any pain is when I talked about it, so I chose to not talk about it.  Ever.  Moreover, I have never had much con­fi­dence in my abil­i­ty to make log­i­cal, sound deci­sions.  My lack of belief in my own men­tal prowess decreased con­sid­er­ably when­ev­er I looked at the peo­ple engag­ing in reli­gious activ­i­ty around me.  Everyone always seemed so sure of them­selves — even the athe­ists had more con­vic­tion than I did!  I came to the con­clu­sion that my lack of faith was because some­thing was wrong with me, and, quite frankly, the more I con­tin­ue this jour­ney the more I am con­vinced that I am cor­rect.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not about to erupt into angst.  While I do have a few obsta­cles to over­come, video games and reli­gion are both frus­trat­ing in and of them­selves.  Some video games are sup­posed to con­fuse and frus­trate you, and try­ing to grasp at the mys­ter­ies of the­ol­o­gy has never been described as easy.  I’ll admit, some­times I feel like there is some­thing wrong with me, though I do not mean to imply that I am some­how bro­ken because I can­not get a head­shot the moment I pick up a weapon. It is my atti­tude toward reli­gion and video games that is cre­at­ing this insur­mount­able wall.  To put it sim­ply, I don’t trust them.  I don’t trust the game mechan­ics, and I don’t trust the work­ings of reli­gion.  It’s hard to trust that some­thing you’ve never seen will work for you and help you to suc­ceed.  I get tense and wor­ried and feel that I must con­trol every­thing so that noth­ing will go wrong.  Of course, every­thing goes wrong.

A mag­i­cal moment hap­pened to me over Easter week­end.  I was play­ing Ocarina of Time, which has taken me almost two years to get through.  I was fight­ing the final boss of the Shadow Temple and was fail­ing epi­cal­ly, as is usual for me.  I had one and a half hearts left, no more fairies and I was sure that I was going to die, again.  I was fail­ing epi­cal­ly, unsur­pris­ing­ly.  I had been dying and com­plain­ing all day long, and I was sick and tired of it.  So, rather than throw my con­troller across the room, I silenced my Brechtian mono­logue of doubt and despair, and just relaxed into the game.  I let the z-targeting do its job; I stopped fran­ti­cal­ly press­ing the c but­ton for arrows; I stopped run­ning around like a chick­en with its head cut off and I beat that boss with­out get­ting hit once.

As I write this, that stu­pid voice is back in my head, telling me that I prob­a­bly won’t be able to repeat that feat, and, any­way, how on earth could this pos­si­bly apply to my prob­lems with reli­gion?  Are you say­ing that you can just relax into faith?

Serris will prob­a­bly be hard­er to beat than Bongo Bongo, but I can man­age it, as long as I stay relaxed and focused and don’t get lost in invent­ing new insults for myself.  As for reli­gion, relax­ing isn’t real­ly the best word.  Letting go of con­trol is bet­ter.  I do not, can­not, and will not have all the answers.  No one does.  There is no way to empir­i­cal­ly prove that one answer is bet­ter than the other.  Let’s face it, there is no way to empir­i­cal­ly prove God at all, and even if there was, I’m sure peo­ple would chal­lenge it and con­tin­ue to not believe.  The only thing I can say with def­i­nite cer­tain­ty, the one thing I know above all else, is that God is Love, and if that is true, He will not let me, or any­one, fail if they have a true desire for Him.  I can­not truly know whether or not I am on the cor­rect straight and nar­row path, but I am try­ing to stay on it to the best of my abil­i­ty, and if I fal­ter, God will guide me.

If only there was a way for God to help with video games, I’d be set for life.


Anne Winters

About Anne Winters

Anne Winters is a beginner gamer, intermediate ukulele player, and advanced knitter. She is majoring in theatre with an emphasis in Shakespeare because she wants to be poor for the rest of her life.

  • That was a great read, Anne, and I feel silly ask­ing about this — but I’m curi­ous — have you tried play­ing video games that do not require spe­cial agili­ty and finger-coordination? Maybe dif­fer­en­ti­ate them a bit, play some­thing calmer and slow­er and then return to the more fran­tic Zeldas and Metroids.

  • Anne Winters

    Actually, I have. I fid­dle around with Spyro and Crash Bandicoot and a whole bunch of Mario pary!