“I want to be a lawyer.”
Pablo and I were talking under the wide, shady mango trees in rural Honduras. He was Honduran and had been a student of mine at a school in the United States, so I was catching up on his life after returning to his home country. He seemed to have good qualifications to be a lawyer: intelligent, confident, determined, and well-spoken. He had issues at school and had to leave, but perhaps his life was turning around.
Later that weekend, I gave a short testimony about how I used to be a video gamer and how God pulled me out of it. The next day, as I was in the kitchen, he came up to me and, in something of a whisper, asked, “Have you heard about the new Halo?”
“Dude, it’s going to be great! Cortana has gone insane, and so Master Chief has to hunt her down. She thinks that she’s…”
I was speechless. I hate video games because of what they did to my life and had just spoken against them, but I didn’t suspect that Pablo was himself a gamer. The chain of events that led to him leaving the school and, yes, aspiring to be a lawyer suddenly made sense. Computer games had encouraged him down both of these paths.
You, the reader, may be wondering, “What does gaming have to do with leaving a school and becoming a lawyer?” Read on, and you will understand.
I started gaming when I was three years old. My dad bought a Nintendo Entertainment System and games such as Super Mario Brothers. It didn’t take long before I was playing along with him. They were a fun distraction from our small apartment and the ugly divorce that my parents had just been through. I had few friends because I had changed location several times in a short period. Unlike friends, games could be taken with you wherever you moved.
When I was around ten years old, one of the first ever internet cafes (with no internet, just LAN connections) sprang into existence very close to my house. I was hooked. At that tender age, I took on the name “The Destroyer” and used all of my allowance to fight people in games. The crowning achievement was defeating the local champion, much to his rage, and being the champion for a week.
As I grew, so did my love of games. Almost everything else was sacrificed: friends, homework, grades, housework, sleep, and health. At one point, I was scoring a 24% in a high school English class because I rarely did homework. I had three friends out of a school of over a thousand students. One day, I became dizzy while taking a shower and nearly collapsed. The culprit was the sugary drinks and candies I would eat while playing games. I laid aside sodas and candies, but not games.
Besides these things, something else was happening: my character was transforming. People had always said that I was a nice kid. Some parents would want their daughters to date me because the parents themselves liked me. But by my college years, this was no longer true.
Two examples will suffice. Once, I was sitting in a field in a game when someone attacked me for no reason. I defeated him and sat back down. He resurrected, came back over, and tried to fight me again. Again, I won. When I saw him again, he ran away. This time, I chased him down and made him pay. He didn’t do anything the third time, but I was too proud and vengeful to let him go in peace.
Another time, I was playing a game where you could get gold by ‘fighting’ monsters. But someone had a better way: attack weak players and steal their gold instead. “What a great idea,” I thought, and began to try it. Soon I was rolling in gold. I was also rolling in hate mail, as very angry players would send me nasty messages and swear at me. Some would try fighting back, but without success.
In short, those years of gaming warped my character. I had gone from being a “nice kid” to a proud, vengeful, swearing thief and murderer. Without going into detail, these traits played out in the real world. Eventually, I had a wake-up call when I was arrested for vandalism. I had spent four years on a two-year college degree, failed numerous classes, had no aspirations in life, had few friends, and was trapped by a crippling video game addiction.
From the age of six, my dad made it a habit to take me to a nearby Seventh-Day Adventist church almost every weekend. I went through Bible studies and could see that the Bible was true, but I had no desire to let God rule my life. But one sermon changed all of that.
When I was in college, an evangelist came to our church and shared his testimony. It was like he was telling my life story, except that his addiction was drugs instead of games. He did terrible in school and was trapped until he gave his life to Jesus. Once he did, everything changed. God pulled him out of his addiction, sent him to a conservative school, led him to do evangelism, and gave him great success. He was newly engaged to his now-wife and couldn’t be happier.
That’s when God spoke to me. An impression much more forceful than anything I had ever felt boomed in my head. The message from God was simple: “I want to use you.” I left that church service with a burning heart. I had literally come into contact with the living God, and I wanted more. Soon I was reading the Bible, attending weekly Bible studies at church, and attending Sabbath School without my dad needing to drag me there.
One Sabbath, I was in the church basement at potluck. It was, to me, a disappointing sight: a bunch of old and feeble people who couldn’t be of much use. “Is this God’s church?” I thought. That’s when it hit me: the games had turned me into a monster. I was insulting the very people that God loved. God doesn’t care about our capabilities, only our devotion and love. Their service, as feeble as it may have been, was acceptable. My competitive spirit, used to coveting power and superiority, had blinded me to that fact.
The spirit of competition that video games develops is completely against God’s character. Competition seeks to put self first and destroy anyone who gets in the way. In contrast, God’s character tries to win people through love and reason and is satisfied with being in the lowest place, if it will help others. I wish I could say that the church is free from this spirit, but it’s not. I wish I could say that I am free from this spirit, but I am not.
Once, I was at an institution when I overheard a debate between a maintenance man and an outside worker. The outsider wasn’t Adventist, and the maintenance man was pressuring him on the Sabbath. The outsider didn’t stand a chance and, when pressed to the utmost, eventually nearly yelled, “OK, OK, I didn’t know!” The maintenance man won the competition.
Do you think this man became a faithful Adventist? I doubt it. Why join a church where a member will verbally attack people while they try to do their job?
I’ve answered scores of emails for a ministry from people trying to start an argument of some kind. I’ve also debated with people on discussion boards about truth. How many conversions, or even admissions of fault, did I gain from these debates? Nearly zero. Any victories that came from discussions happened when both sides had a calm, receptive spirit.
Just last night, I could see that the combative spirit that I learned from video games is still with me. My mind naturally turned to fighting with people who disagree with me. I would repeat their arguments in my mind, come up with crushing retorts and reasoning, and imagine their reactions. It’s been over eleven years since that day when God spoke to my mind, and it still takes conscious, determined effort to put away my warrior instincts and love people like Jesus would. As the twig is bent, the tree is inclined.
The spirit of competition destroys a Christian’s usefulness. Fighting never wins souls. The more activities we do that strengthen the spirit of competition, the less power we will have as Christians. My experience was with video games, but it comes in a thousand forms: sports, fights, contests, anything that pits a human against another human. All of them have the same effect: you can’t reach people’s hearts and are therefore ineffective in ministry.
Back to Pablo.
The reason why he wanted to become a lawyer wasn’t because he loved truth and justice. It was because he loved to argue. He told me under those wide mango trees that he sometimes would argue with his mother even when he knew she was right. He did it for fun. In my Bible classes, he would twist verses to support his own independent views. That same tendency to twist truth to his advantage led to him leaving the school. He loved the thrill of combat, verbal or otherwise, and video games only strengthened that love.
As a lawyer, he will be happy to take any case, for any side, just for the sake of arguing with someone. He will use any tactic to win, no matter how underhanded it is. And he likely will win many cases…for all of the wrong reasons. That spirit will be a plague to him for the rest of his life and, if he doesn’t see his danger, will cost him eternity. He’d rather be shooting people in Halo 6 and arguing with people than doing good for others.
As for me, I teach in an academy. Students are like tender plants and can only grow in a safe, supportive environment. Effective teachers win their students’ trust, and that means they need to be nice to them. For me, exercising gentleness and forbearance, helping those less experienced than myself, has been like a healing balm for my soul. Yes, I still struggle, but it’s nowhere near as difficult as when I had just quit gaming. Jesus gets all of the credit for this change.
May you, the reader, avoid my mistakes. And if you are involved in games and competition, may you escape by the power of God. Put off competition, seek God earnestly, and exercise mercy and compassion. It’s working for me.
Jensen and his wife Jennita serve at VIDA Internacional, a self-supporting ministry in rural Honduras. May God strengthen you by His Spirit always.