One of the consequences of adding commitments to my life—like blogging every day—is that there is correspondingly less time available for other leisure activities. Like video games.
Halo: Reach came out a few weeks ago; I've invested a fair amount of time in it, but haven't actually even opened the game up since Friday, October 1st. Too many other things I've been working on. Interestingly, and perhaps a bit controversially in some circles, I find video games can be a very profitable way to spend my time—sometimes. While I know a number of Christian leaders decry all video games as wastes of time, I have found theym to be invaluable in at least one area: keeping up the "fun" aspect of relationships with long-distance friends.
Xbox LIVE allows me to connect with the guys I grew up with for an hour or two here and there and spend time just "hanging out." Is it as good as being in the same room? Not even close. Is it far better than not getting to spend some pure fun time with them at all? Absolutely. So, over the last month, I have spent a fair amount of time doing just that. Once my dad picks up the game, it will be a good connection point with him as well (it's fun being able to play video games with my father, and even more fun being able to do so even though we live 750 miles apart).
Perhaps surprisingly, it's also a great way for Jaimie and me to spend time together as a couple. While our definitions of spending time together differ at times, Jaimie and I deeply value the hours we can spend with each other. I am uniquely blessed with a wife who enjoys playing video games almost as much as I do. (Aside: she's taking a nap at the moment, and I just watched her distinctly nod her head as though in conversation with someone. She's quite a dramatic napper.) In fact, playing video games is one of the ways she most enjoys spending time together—along with watching movies and taking walks. So again, video games can be a great benefit to me.
(If you're curious, her favorite games to play are those in the Halo series and Lego Star Wars. Strangely, at least from my perspective, she also gets a pretty big kick out of watching me play through Mass Effect—she commented that it's something like watching a 30-hour-long, action-packed, well-written sci-fi movie. And she likes sci-fi movies, so that works out well for her.)
The catch with video games, though, is the point that makes so many Christian leaders eschew them. They can be serious time wasters. While I don't play nearly as much as many of my friends do, I certainly can fall prey to the same urges: to sit down and go at it for hours on end. Games like Reach, which have some brilliantly conceived built-in reward systems, can be particularly addictive. They make me want to keep playing. The trick for me is to enjoy them in moderation—neither feeling guilt for relaxing by playing a game for a few hours, nor being sucked in and doing nothing else. It's much easier to be productive when I have relaxed at times as well, but it's also easy to fail to be productive by spending too much time relaxing.
Somewhere in here is a thought about honoring God not only by being productive but also by enjoying the lives He has given us. I suspect that American culture's emphasis on achievement can bleed over into our faith in strange ways, leading us to think that relaxation is bad, or that simply taking time to enjoy the good things in life together is somehow sinful. (Whatever you may hear, these aren't the ideas of the Puritans, who in fact valued times of enjoying life far more than most modern believers do. Blame hatchet jobs like those pulled off by Nathaniel Hawthorne or Arthur Miller for our skewed and caricatured views of the Puritans. They had their flaws, but generally they were different flaws than later thinkers have tended to ascribe to them.)
God made this world and called it good. Though it has since been subjected to futility, much that is in it remains good—just as there remains much that is good about fallen people, and just as those fallen people produce much that reflects God's goodness. Taking time to enjoy life, even by playing video games, can honor God, if it is done in moderation and with the right understanding.
On which note, I think I'm going to go do something productive for a while, so that I can confidently enjoy some Reach later tonight.