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The Reset Button


I’d like to say that I am absolutely a product of my American culture. Just like most people, I get very excited when something new is about to come out. This was a trait that has been with me for as long as I could read. I grew up in an era when personal computers (PCs) were on the rise in family homes. It was also the era when personal gaming consoles were becoming more common in American households. New technology was revolutionizing the world in the late 1980s, and it would be a trend that would continue at an unprecedented rate.

As an adult, I look fondly upon my memories of childhood. I, of course, enjoyed long hours of playing outside with my family and friends; yet, I also enjoyed the challenges and storylines presented in video games. I remember being torn between riding my bike with my good friends, or staying inside and attempting to beat Super Mario Brothers for the 100th time. Usually my mother made the decision for me by giving my younger brother and me $1 and telling us to walk up to Kmart at the end of the street to buy something for ourselves.

As I grew older, the graphics and complexity of video games grew substantially with each passing year. My parents would always sacrifice as best as they could in order to help their three boys get the latest system that all of their friends and cousins were playing. As you can imagine, Christmastime was much anticipated every year when gaming companies like Nintendo, Sega or Microsoft would release their next-gen system. It was all the talk, especially among boys, at schools all over America. It still is.

Now, as a Catholic priest, I cannot help but look back on those moments of gaming and ask myself, “why?” Why were video games so encapsulating to me as a youth? Was there some redeeming quality to which I can now point as an adult? Every time I have a chance to reflect upon these questions I begin by thinking about the skills with which playing video games help gamers.

  1. 1.     Hand-Eye Coordination: This is probably the most quoted excuse gamers give to their non-gaming counterparts.
  2. 2.     Reaction Speed: Because so many things are happening on the screen all at the same time that require the gamer’s attention, in order to win, the gamer must often act fast.
  3. 3.     Reading: Really? Reading? To go off of personal experience, a cousin of mine actually learned how to read by reading subtitles in video games. He would get help with the words he could not understand. To this day I would say that he is an excellent reader.
  4. 4.     Problem Solving: Most video games, whether or not people notice, contain a series of complex problems to be solved. Each gamer becomes a detective trying to solve these problems.
  5. 5.     Imagination: This is probably my favorite point. Video games immerse their players into a world that is created, mostly, out of pure imagination. When people play video games they get to enter the skin of someone or something else. As they play, a story enfolds right before their eyes. It is an interactive story, whereas reading a book is more of a passive endeavor.

Now, I must say that the Church has always preached moderation. Temperance is one of the cardinal virtues, after all. Games can have addictive qualities. I remember doing a presentation a few years ago about the effects of video game addiction, and there are some alarming statistics. This is why I caution that self-control is a very important characteristic for anyone to develop, especially in a world that seems to have limitless distractions.

Recently, I must admit, I was in conversation with a group of students from the grade school on the very topic of video games. Being not as connected as I used to be, I always enjoy hearing about the games that are popular with the youth today. At some point in the conversation, one of the students’ faces turned from excitement to a look of nervousness. I could tell that he wanted to say something.

“Fr. Chris,” he eventually began during a lull in the conversation. “My class is going to confession tomorrow, and I’m pretty nervous.” The others in the group nodded their agreement. “Is there anything that I can do or that you can say to make it a little easier to go,” he asked me.

I’ll admit that the student caught me a bit off guard. I wasn’t quite sure how we went from talking about video games to talking about the Sacrament of Reconciliation. With all of their eyes on me, I said a quick prayer asking God to help me give the group an explanation that was adequate enough to at least make things a little bit easier for them. “Before I begin my response to you, I want to let you know that there is a point that I will eventually make. Just be patient,” I said to them. “When I was younger, there was a feature in video games and consoles that I really liked,” I began, as they all looked at me intently. “This feature actually has a lot to do with the Sacrament of Confession.” As I said this, I know I had their complete attention. “When you lose in a video game on a certain level or to a certain boss, most of the time a question pops up on the screen. What is that question?” I asked.

“Would you like to retry,” replied one of the students.

“That’s exactly the question I was thinking about. But what happens if you hit ‘retry’ and play the level the exact same way as before?” I asked.

“You lose again,” replied all the students.

“Well, in real life, God gave us a real-life reset button. It is called the Sacrament of Confession. In a video game, when you lose, you have to figure out what you did wrong in order to win. We have to do the same thing in real life,” I continued. “You don’t just come to the confessional, say your sins and leave without really thinking about what you did wrong. You have to strategize.”

I learned very quickly as a young priest that, when you have all the eyes of a group looking back at you, they are immersed in what you are saying. At this point, I had the entire group of students looking very intently at me. In all honesty, I knew that this explanation was absolutely a gift from the Holy Spirit. I was just blessed to be along for the ride.

I took a breath and continued. “Because God is very merciful, He is always willing to forgive you and give you another chance, but you have to be willing to admit what you did wrong. The priest is there to help you strategize a little bit, but you’ll learn the best strategy to defeat the temptations of your life through prayer and your relationship with God. As the priest says the words of absolution, God is giving you another chance to try again.”

“What if I mess up again?” one of the students asked.

“You come back to the confessional to try again. You admit what you’ve done wrong and you approach life differently,” I said. “In life, what do you think our goal is?”

I will admit that I am very well- known to smile a lot, but I had an extra- big smile on my face as one of the students responded: “To become a saint.”

I could not have been more pleased with how my conversation transpired with my students that day. Occasionally I will have one come back to me and tell me that our conversation helped him or her understand the Sacrament of Confession so much more. They also tell me that they try to explain it to their friends or family the same way that I explained it to them. As a priest, I am elated when students walk away learning something new, but words do not even seem adequate to explain the satisfaction I feel when a student tells me that they used what I taught them to teach others.

In those moments, I realize that I have helped create new evangelists.

And on that particular day, a group of students learned that “game over” does not always mean “the end.” The real-life “reset button” is a new opportunity to strategize and “try again.”

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