Computer games and holy bananas

Ahrrrgggg…. The internet is down again. This has become a daily occurrence here and it can stay down for six hours at a time. Sometimes when it goes down I can shrug my shoulders and find other things to do without much trouble. Sometimes it’s annoying but I can make a game out of it by pretending I’m a pioneer on the Oregon Trail – I’m pretty sure they didn’t have internet in those wagons very often. Sometimes, however, it’s just damn annoying. The pioneers on the Oregon Trail may not have had the www but they probably didn’t have consulting projects with rapidly approaching deadlines either.

Speaking of the Oregon Trail, how much would it have sucked to be pregnant during that great trek West? Can you imagine having to either walk or jostle around in wagons with no shock absorbers all day, every day?

Speaking of being pregnant…

No, let’s not speak of that. I was up five times last night and I’m grumpy. Let’s go back to the Oregon Trail.

So did anyone else ever used to play the computer game by that same name? It was based on the trips of those early pioneers You began by picking out names for your wagon mates, shopping for provisions, and choosing what time of year to set out (too early or too late in the year and you were inevitably stalled by snow). Then you spent many hours trekking slowly across the computerized plains, hunting buffalo and other animals as you went to supplement your provisions.

I had this game loaded onto my laptop when I was at university. Occasionally, during a very boring statistics lecture, I would look like I was taking notes but instead I’d be hunting deer. I’d also put all my nearby classmates on my wagon, which added excitement to the day for them but sometimes also meant I had the sad task of passing a note that read something like: “Tash, you just fell out of the wagon and broke your leg and three days later you died of a fever. We buried you somewhere in Kansas. Sorry, hey.”

Ah the wacky and wonderful world of computer games. At least the Oregon Trail was pretty sensible as far as games went, unlike another favorite computer game of childhood that was called, I kid you not, Spiritual Warfare.

The aim of this game was for you, a pilgrim, to progress through the six levels of the game collecting the six pieces of the armour of God along the way (As per Ephesians 6 these were: the belt of truth; the breastplate of righteousness; the shoes of the gospel of peace; the shield of faith; the helmet of salvation; and the sword of the spirit). As we moved through the levels our pilgrim met all sorts of dangerous challenges.

Sometimes red, horned demons would fly onscreen and attack us. The only way to defeat them was to slay them with the fruit of the spirit. Actual fruit – you could choose from six different types (assuming you’d been a good pilgrim thus far and been working hard to build up your stash in preparation for just such an assault). Grapes didn’t go very far, but they spread out like buckshot. Apples were long-range “spirit” missiles but traveled slowly. Personally my fruit of choice was the banana. It rotated when you threw it, like a holy boomerang.

If you managed to hit the demons with the fruit they were instantly transformed into little kneeling figures, dressed in white and with hands folded in prayer. After hovering for an instant in all their redeemed glory they disappeared off the top of the screen, presumably on their way to heaven. If you didn’t manage to slay them, however, the consequences were severe. Sometimes they took the jar of anointed oil that you could use to heal yourself when you were wounded, or stripped you of a piece of heavenly armor, or stole spirit points that you needed to progress to the next level. This last was particularly annoying, as then you’d have to spend ages in prayer earning them back.

Occasionally a white and haloed angel would flutter down from the top of the screen and ask you a Bible question. If you got it right, you were rewarded with spirit points. If you got it wrong you either lost spirit points or were assigned a penance to perform. Sometimes the angels would appear not to question, but to warn. The first time my little pilgrim trotted past a bar an angel appeared and warned me not to go inside. I hadn’t even noticed the bar, frankly, so intent was I upon my quest of the moment – to find the jawbone of Samson – but after being specifically instructed not to, I just had to go into the bar. If I recall correctly I lost all of my spirit points and half of my fruit of the spirit the instant I sent my pilgrim through the door.

Remembering that I thought this game fine entertainment when I was eleven now causes me to laugh and to cringe, for there was a point in my life when my understanding of God and faith was founded upon just this sort of harsh and legalistic divine calculus. During the last dozen years, however, the way I see God and the way I think God probably sees me has changed. As core issues of living faith have become less neatly edged by dos and don’ts they have inhabited instead the far messier territory of awareness, attitude, action, and intention.

A couple of years ago now, when I was struggling to write about this non-computerized faith journey in one of the early drafts of the memoir, I gave up on prose temporarily and tried my hand at poetry. This is something I hardly ever do – I’ve written fewer than a dozen poems in my entire life. But I was looking for a way to summarize, to distill, and I thought poetry might help me get to the point. So to close today, here’s that poem:

I used to think I understood God
Then I didn’t.
Then I wasn’t sure God was.

The world used to appear binary.
Then it didn’t.
Then I wasn’t sure black and white were.

Now I’m pretty sure God is.
But, still,
I often don’t understand.

And I think black and white rarely are,
But mostly the loving truth of things is grey.
A fertile interplay of sun and shadow you begin to grasp
where your head
and your heart
and your sense that God is,

Over to you: Talk about computer games, post a poem, or simply start with “this reminds me of the time that…” and put up something totally random. Trust me, it’ll fit right in with this rambling  internet-less inspired post.


6 responses to “Computer games and holy bananas

  1. Oregon Trail! That computer game was the best, back when I was a young child. (So, like, eight years ago, haha). I don’t recall it looking like that picture, though. Age of Empires was also a favourite, but mostly I liked building worlds rather than playing through the actual missions.

    I enjoyed that poem. Thanks for posting!

    • I never played Age of Empires. We didn’t play many games really, which given my addictive personality for these sorts of things was probably a good thing. As for what Oregon Trail looked like… yeah, my version looked nothing like that either (I wish, that version looks awesome!). They’ve really spruced up the graphics. Sort of makes me want to go out and buy the new and updated version.

  2. Now I really want to play a game of Oregon Trail…

    My sisters and I played it with our Barbies; we had covered wagons for them and plotted out their journey on our map of the United States. They forded rivers and often met with disaster.

    I can’t believe that Spiritual Warfare game… really?!?

    • Really. I kid you not. When he read a draft of this post Mike asked me whether I really wanted people to know all the gory cringe-inducing Bible-esque details, but I couldn’t resist. Truth really can be stranger than fiction.

  3. This post reminds me of a game I saw on someone’s phone where the point was to keep the Babylonians from building the famous tower by zapping them with lightning from the sky. Disturbing. Even more disturbing was that in this particular game you were supposed to be God firing off the lightning bolts…to kill people. Awful. So awful. Perhaps Christians should stay out of gaming if they can’t come up with something better. But then, you can’t really create an accurate spiritual game because as much as we like rules to follow, there really are no predictable outcomes. Truly we live in, as you say, a “far messier territory of awareness, attitude, action, and intention.”

    • It’s awful, but I have to admit it’s sort of funny, too. I’m half tempted to see if I can come up with a truly awful Bible-based game myself. Maybe something to do with Noah’s ark. Or… oh, the possibilities are endless.

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