What’s at the end of Satan’s Rainbow?

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What’s the Go with Pokémon? Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock for the past week, you’ll probably be aware that the release of Pokémon GO has caused the beginning of a global sensation. As droves of young (and perhaps not so young) people walk around with their smartphones out like they’re going to take a photo (but are really trying to capture animated monsters that first caused waves around the world 20 years ago) – pop culture seems to have entered a new era.

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Almost the real thing…[2]

Of course, the prevalence of Pokémon GO is naturally going to bring discussions about video games to the fore of Christian conversation once again. Already I’ve had a brief discussion with a brother about the common Christian responses to Pokémon back in the 1990s and I’ve seen people linking to old articles on Facebook about the apparent evils of the popular game franchise. Pokémon games certainly aren’t the only video games that some Christians find objectionable for one reason or another. There are many more worthy contenders on the market for our disapproval  in response to the content of games. But some Christians are anti-games altogether. So what are we to make of it all?

Not long after Pokémon first burst into the world, Brisbane alternative rock band Regurgitator released a catchy tune called Black Bugs. It somehow manages to act as both a tongue-in-cheek nod to the literal demonisation of video games by some sections of the community  and a cautionary tale about the unending, addictiveness of gaming.

I got killed by Black Bugs on my video game
Then although to myself it doesn’t mean that much
I keep dying and dying over and over again
And now I feel I’m alive so I’ll just pretend

What’s at the end?
What’s at the end?
What’s at the end of Satan’s rainbow?

Turn off the TV to low now and I’m not the same
I’ve got to remind myself that it’s just a game
It’s getting harder and harder to get to sleep at night
I think I let them shoot me so that I can die

What’s at the end?
What’s at the end?
What’s at the end of Satan’s rainbow?
What’s at the end?
Tell me is this the end?
What’s at the end of Satan’s rainbow?

The song’s hook is a vivid description of addictive gameplay as a colourful “rainbow” used by Satan to entice someone to embark on a quest for the treasure that they anticipate will lie at the end. The trouble is, the best games are either never-ending – or at least require scores of hours of immersive play to complete. Equally problematic is whether the sense of achievement, virtual reward or limited social glory gained from beating a game or getting a better score than others is really that satisfying in proportion to the time and effort that has gone into it. Thus the golden refrain: “What’s [really?] at the end of Satan’s rainbow?

Many conservative Christians would be happy to identify certain games as satanic – either due to their content or the aforementioned addictiveness and side-effects they might have on players.

The main charge levelled at Pokemon has tended to be that it features monsters that have occultic connections (especially the ghost and psychic types) and that these things are not spiritually neutral – having more in common with demonic forces than with godliness. Other games, such as fantasy role-playing-games like World of Warcraft are likely to receive the same kind of reception. Other games again, are seen as immoral, inappropriate (and therefore, perhaps by extension, satanic) for other reasons, such as graphic violence, sexual content, coarse language etc; (games in the Grand Theft Auto and Mortal Kombat franchises come to mind as reasonably recent examples).

But is it a helpful approach to label all or some video games as being “of the Devil”? Does such a declaration promote godliness in our churches and protect our young people from harmful influences, or does it cause more problems than it remedies?

I think the issue has been too contentious and super-charged with emotion and vastly differing perspectives for us to ever see a consensus amongst evangelical Christians on this issue. But I think the dangers of legalism are themselves a satanic, corrupting influence that we must be on guard against in our churches. Thus, making morally-binding, blanket-statements on issues the Bible doesn’t address directly is often a risky practice. Therefore it seems wise for churches not to attempt to guilt their members out of playing video games in general. A rules-based, guilt-based or fear-based approach is not conducive to sanctification, but encourages external morality and self-righteousness instead.

However, when it comes to content and side-effects, no Christian should be encouraged to game without discernment. God does care about what we view with our eyes. He cares about which desires we choose to feed. He cares about whether your gameplay amounts to innocent relaxation and recreation or interferes with your devotional life and your commitments to family, friends, neighbours and work.
Dare I say, God cares if our thoughts are constantly immersed in an imaginary world, when there is a real, present world He has called us to live godly lives within. He cares when our hearts inhabit a virtual la-la land, to a greater extent than they look longingly for the eternal reality that has been promised to us in Christ.

But while video games may be the vehicle by which some people embark on a vain pursuit of temporary pleasure and elusive satisfaction, they are by no means the main or only means of doing so.

You see, I think the question, “What’s at the end of Satan’s rainbow?” is a good one, precisely because it applies to so many areas of life and potentially futile pursuits. Some people might waste hours of their lives playing games that keep leading them on an endless quest – not realising that there’s little more than the carrot on the stick they’ve been chasing waiting for them at the end (if indeed it ever comes). And yes there can be something deceptive and perhaps even sinister or satanic about this addictiveness.

But when I look around at the “real world”, I see plenty of people chasing satanic rainbows that are just as illusory and just as unprofitable at the end. Millions of people sell their souls to a career in order to chase a rainbow leading to happiness in material wealth. Family, ethics and the glory of God are ignored to reach the dream of financial success – but there’s a disturbing lack of reward at the rainbow’s end. People selfishly chase the rainbow of fame – thinking that a great name and popularity will be worth all the risks and hard work. But while this rainbow promises greatness, adoration and a sort of immortality at the end – personal insecurity, popular fickleness and eventually death and relative obscurity are what actually awaits.

Even in the church, Satan can offer us promises of influence, honour, recognition, applause, acceptance and social security if we deludedly chase a rainbow of respectable religiosity. We can spend hours acquiring Christian knowledge, doing Christian activities and seemingly serving others, all the while being motivated by the promised reward of greater status in the eyes of others and a greater sense of self-fulfilment.

Appearing to “serve God” but doing it to seek our own glory and advancement instead of His is a much older and more dangerous satanic rainbow which we should be more wary of than we are amusements like video games. And calling yourself a Christian, while the trajectory of your life is aimed at achieving something other than the glory and enjoyment of God, is all too easy to do. And there are hundreds of ways to do it.

And so, whether you game lots, sometimes or not at all is a question of fairly minor consequence. The real question is: which rainbows are you chasing. And if the things you’re chasing and the promised reward you’re hoping for at the end are independent of the gospel of Jesus Christ, maybe it’s time to ask: “What’s at the end of Satan’s rainbow?”

 

[1] joinash “Rainbow” (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)
[2] Sadie Hernandez WILD PIKACHU APPEARS! (CC BY 2.0)

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