I wasn’t sure what to say when my mom came home from church and asked if I had a game called Doom. Of course I did. I had Doom, and so did all of my friends. Every week, we’d get together, network our computers and have a blast. As I sat there, though, put on the spot, memories of an earlier period of my life when I played another favorite weekly game with my friends flashed through my mind. I remembered the heated argument over why I wasn’t allowed to play Dungeons and Dragons anymore and started to panic.
She’d heard from a friend – who’d heard from a friend – that some kids had gotten into a lot of trouble playing Dungeons and Dragons and wanted to make sure I had nothing to do with it. Unfortunately, nothing I could do or say would dissuade my mother from believing that Dungeons and Dragons was an evil game – and that was that. The case was closed. Now, somehow, my mom had found out about this terrible new threat to her children and had come to question me about it. My heart raced and my mouth went dry. I felt my favorite pastime was lingering in jeopardy – everything I loved would hinge on the answer to the question at hand. Should I lie? Should I feign ignorance? If I told her the truth, she might flip out and take my games away. On the other hand, there really wasn’t much she could do. As long as I had my own computer, I could do whatever I wanted. I decided that honesty would be the best policy. “Yeah, I’ve got Doom. Why do you ask?”
“Well,” she said, “the pastor was wondering if you would let him borrow it.”
Wait, what? Suddenly, there was a new dimension to this whole thing. What would the pastor of a church want with a game like Doom? This all seemed incredibly fishy, but I had to know, so I asked her, “Why?”
She shrugged her shoulders and said, “I don’t know. I guess he wants to play it. In fact, some of the other guys from church were talking about taking their laptops over to his house. You could probably join them if you run over right now.”
Her reply nearly knocked me out of my chair. Who wanted to borrow what, now? Obviously, I hadn’t heard her correctly and needed clarification. “The pastor, you said?”
“He wants to play a game about going into Hell and shooting a cybernetic Satan in the face?”
“Yeah, that sounds like something he’d play.”
No, it didn’t. It didn’t sound like him at all. There was no way the pastor of my church was inviting me over to his house for a death match with “some of the guys.” Was this a trick? It had to be a trick. This was obviously some kind of intervention. Yes, that had to be it. I was about to undergo an intervention to break my video game addiction.
But it wasn’t. The truth was, my pastor was a cold-blooded killer. In his free time, he enjoyed hunting men down and murdering them where they stood – at least, within the confines of a video game.
I had often heard the phrase “paradigm shift” but I had never experienced one until now. While the idea seemed odd at first, over time I came to realize that, of course, the pastor of a church can also be a gamer. Ronald Andrae, one such example, looks like any other guy you’d bump into on the street – tall, thin and clean-shaven. He is married with children and is the associate pastor of a church he helped found a few years ago. He’s a calm, charismatic man who likes to speak his mind, but never in a heavy-handed, authoritarian manner. He’s the kind of guy anyone can get along with and seems like the last person who would enjoy a violent video game. Yet he admits that he enjoys killing Nazis in Call of Duty on his PC. Hunting down friends in a round of death match? Yeah, he’s been there, he’s done that. What’s more, he’s not alone. He is just one of many pastors I’ve met who enjoy playing games in their spare time – and all of them love to win.
Pastor Andrae is only a few years older than I am and, like most other pastors and youth ministers his age, he grew up with video games. He remembers the arcades and early days of home console gaming. He shares stories about playing games into the wee hours of the morning and we talk eagerly about new releases and advancements in technology. The latest hardware, the big news at E3 – it’s just like talking to any other gamer. I never hear phrases like “murder simulator” used to describe games. There’s no hype, no “talk show rhetoric” being thrown around about any of this. The words I hear the most are “fun” and “cool,” and he means them. He just shakes his head when I talk about articles I’ve read and the statements made by certain outspoken individuals on the evils of video games.
On Sunday morning, however, it’s all business. He’s dressed up, standing behind the podium, preaching The Word and telling us all how to live better lives in the eyes of God. He doesn’t condemn video games, but he does express concern about people who obsess over them. His chief concern, however, isn’t about graphic violence at all.
“I don’t understand why they have to swear so much in these games,” he says as we throw old, weather-worn tiles into a barrel. It’s a beautiful Saturday, and we’re at my parents’ house where he volunteered to help fix the roof. For the wage of coffee and ham barbecue, we’re cleaning up the yard and dodging falling debris as the roofers throw bits of tile and wood down to be disposed of.
His moral objection to profanity reminds me for a moment that this man really is a preacher, and not just some guy off the street. It reminds me that it’s his job to object to some of these things, and despite his love for video games, he puts God first. He may have grown up with video games but he doesn’t live for them. He lives for God.
If you’ve never thought of a pastor as the type of guy who’d be into video games, then chances are you’ve never met one like Ronald Andrae. This is at the heart of the most recent paradigm shift we’re all going through: more and more people are becoming gamers every day. People of widely varying backgrounds and beliefs are all coming together to play video games on their cellphones, home consoles and even in the few remaining arcades. Like most of them, the Reverend and I seem to come from completely different worlds, yet we maintain a common point of view regarding video games.
It’s been said that the heat around video games – their use as a scapegoat for all of society’s ills – will dissipate as future generations who understand video games replace the generations that either can’t or won’t. We’ve seen this happen throughout history and indeed, it’s already happening again in pastors like Ronald Andrae who believe that the root of the problem lies elsewhere. His faith and morals don’t conflict with what’s happening on the screen, because none of it is real. Hunting down his friends and murdering them in cold blood is all just part of the fun.
In retrospect, I should have found it hard to believe that any of this would be a surprise. Men of God are, after all, just men. They’re entitled to a little rest and relaxation, and if that means indulging in some online combat from time to time, so be it. Far from what we have come to expect and quite contrary to popular belief, these people are out there. They really do exist. So, the next time you find yourself face-to-face with a stone-cold killer on a server late at night, check out your local church. The man at the podium may just be the man with the gun.
Dale Culp is a freelance writer and correspondent for TheWeekender.com and also blogs for LoadingReality.com