Love Thy Nerd
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Finding the Gospel in Nerd Culture

I distinctly remember when I was a teenager, after a Sunday morning service, a friend of my parents asked me what I had been up to that weekend. I replied that I had been to a LAN party, and attempted to explain why Age of Empires II, Warcraft III, and a clustering of computers heating up a room while sweating players ate cheesies and sent digital armies after each other was fun. I watched the confusion in her eyes as she tried to reconcile “Christian” with “geek” and, when she couldn’t seem to manage it, she changed the subject.

I’ve heard D&D and Harry Potter books referred to as evil, soul-sucking franchises.

I have experienced conversations like this many times, especially when I was a teenager and in my early twenties, because I was a quiet, unassuming girl who played piano on a worship team and assisted the pastor with PowerPoint presentations. Unlike my later adult years, I didn’t have blue streaks in my hair or wear a Dungeons & Dragons hoodie, and church members thought I was a sweet, “proper” young lady until they heard about my hobbies.

I’ve heard pastors refer to gaming and Netflix as irredeemable activities and time wasters. I’ve heard D&D and Harry Potter books referred to as evil, soul-sucking franchises. I’ve had my favorite things thrown back in my face as dangerous obsessions that Christians need to keep away from in order to stay pure.

I’m saddened when these lines are drawn in the sand, because they encourage nerds to feel unwelcome and misunderstood.

God is in these stories, games, and franchises, just as He is in the parables Jesus tells. I know, because He’s spoken to me through them.

During college and right afterwards, playing video games was one of the only ways I made friends during the loneliest season of my life. TV shows and reading fantasy books were (and still are) the only things that are able to distract me when I’m having an attack of chronic pain. Playing D&D introduced me to one of my closest friends and is a place where I have experienced loving community. (It’s also a game where players learn to work together, despite differences, towards a common goal, which is more than I can say for many board games that are deemed “acceptable” by most Christians.) Video games, TV shows, movies, comics, books, and anime have encouraged me to think deeper about social justice, life, morality, and, yes, faith.

God is in these stories, games, and franchises, just as He is in the parables Jesus tells. I know, because He’s spoken to me through them.

Because I’m a writer, editor, nerd, and Christian, I’ve had some opportunities to combine my faith and fandom in unique ways. The most recent project I’ve been working on is a devotional for geeks, titled Thy Geekdom Come: 42 Fandom-Inspired Devotionals (May 25, 2019). Written by authors, pastors, and Christians of various backgrounds, this book is meant to bridge the gap between geekery and Christianity—Christ was all about bridging gaps, after all—and digs deep into theology to point towards what is holy. Below is a sample devotional from the book, which I hope my fellow Christian geeks will enjoy reading!

Allison Alexander

Hope Beyond the Grave

By Matt Civico

“Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons begins and ends with death.” —Gamespot

Read: 2 Samuel 1

Reflect: Once properly invested in a story, everyone loves a happy ending. However, some tales begin—and end—in grief. And no matter the story, whether it’s one we play or one we’re living, everyone carries the weight of loss.

Life is sad more often than feels right, but grief is not something to be ignored or suppressed until we have time to deal with it.

Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons is a game about two boys seeking the Tree of Life to save their ill father, all the while grieving for their lost mother. They proceed together, the older brother controlled by the player’s left hand, and the younger by the right hand.

Their quest takes them through wheat-filled plains, moon-washed mountains, roaring rivers, bloody battlefields, frozen villages, and crumbling castles—surroundings that seem even more beautiful than they may have been otherwise because of the serious purpose of the boys’ journey. The land around them flows with life and death; it’s life they hope to bring to their father, and death they wish to defy.

With no intelligible language in the game, the brothers’ actions tell their story. They move through their world with a persistent hope even though, ultimately, theirs is a journey through the valley of the shadow of death.

Though time is of the essence, they don’t overlook strangers in need. With childlike faith, they stop to relieve even the smallest woes, and their quest is chock-full of opportunities to help others—from releasing a caged bird to cutting the noose of a man attempting suicide.

The brothers’ desire to do good is likely linked to the weight of loss they carry. With their mother gone and their father dying, they push back against the threatening darkness with acts of love. They grieve because they love, and they serve because they love.

The game provokes a wave of conflicting emotions—joy mingled with sorrow. These are emotions the Bible’s David intimately experiences when he learns his best friend has been killed. After an Amalekite brings him the news that Saul and Jonathan have died in battle, David mourns: “Then David took hold of his clothes and tore them; and all the men who were with him did the same. They mourned and wept, and fasted until evening for Saul and for his son Jonathan . . .” (2 Samuel 1:11–12).

When their deep friendship began, “the soul of Jonathan was bound to the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as his own soul” (1 Samuel 18:1), and so David experiences Jonathan’s death as a painful rending of his soul. Tearing his clothes is a sign of this intense grief, and his lament compares the strength of their bond to that of a faithful wife and husband (2 Samuel 1:26).

David does not try to ignore his grief, nor is he ashamed of it. He lets himself feel it, weeping over his fallen comrade, understanding that he has lost a piece of himself and will be forever changed by death. In A Grief Observed, C.S. Lewis compares mourning to adjusting to the loss of a limb:

“Bathing, dressing, sitting down and getting up again, even lying in bed, will all be different. His whole way of life will be changed. All sorts of pleasures and activities that he once took for granted will have to be simply written off. Duties too. At present I am learning to get about on crutches. Perhaps I shall presently be given a wooden leg. But I shall never be a biped again.”

This analogy is especially appropriate in the context of Brothers, because the player loses the use of their left-handed controls when the older one dies in a sacrificial act. The younger continues home, broken, after burying his brother in the shadow of the Tree of Life.

Like David, he cries out in pain at the loss of a loved one. His loss is experienced by the player through the broken mechanics of the game—there is no longer a second person to navigate two-player puzzles with.

This presents a problem, because it has been established throughout the story that the younger brother is afraid of water. Any time they needed to cross a lake or river, the younger brother had climbed onto the older’s back to proceed.

Now, clutching the cure for his father’s illness, he faces a deep stretch of river and is unsure how to proceed. The space for exploration is intentionally small; there’s no boat, no bridge, nothing to use to build a raft. It’s confusing for the player, until the supposedly useless left trigger—the control that moved the older brother—is pressed. The younger brother gets into the water and starts to swim. It’s difficult, and he sputters and chokes, the camera zooming in to accentuate his struggle, but he makes it to the other side.

It’s only in accepting the “ghost” of the older brother that the younger could go on.

In grief, a loved one’s absence is painful. It feels like a part of you is missing. It hurts enough that you don’t think you could ever face this new reality. The deceased are like “ghosts” within you, an absence that is somehow still present (and what is a ghost but a present absence?).

When we can incorporate these “ghosts” into our stories, the sun rises on a new chapter; life is changed, but it’s still living. It isn’t easy at first, and cannot be rushed, but if we can incorporate losses into who we now are, we can grow. There is new life awaiting. There isn’t one “right” way to accept the death of a loved one. The grieving process doesn’t always look like the five commonly cited stages. People experience grief in unique ways depending on who they are and their stage in life.

The younger brother learns to overcome fear (and accept the loss of his mother as well). For us, it might be something different entirely, but processing grief comes when we can see that this—even this—is something that can be redeemed in Christ’s new creation.

We worship a risen saviour, one who passed through the depths of loss even unto death. When Jesus mingled that beautiful confluence of grief and hope on the cross, he etched two truths into the fabric of the universe: we will never grieve alone and we won’t grieve forever—there is hope beyond the grave.

Key Scripture

“He will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away.” —Revelation 21:4

Reflection Questions

  1. How do you work through your grief?
  2. Is it a struggle letting yourself grieve and feel broken after the death of a loved one or unfortunate experience? Why or why not?
  3. How has grief changed you?

Matt Civico

Matt Civico writes from Montreal, QC, where he and his wife do their best to prize food and cheer and song above hoarded gold. He blogs at mattcivico.com and hosts Stranger Still : A Stranger Things Podcast, about the wonderful weirdness of being alive.
Allison Alexander is a Canadian writer and Editorial Director of Mythos & Ink publishing. In her spare time, she can be found in Hyrule, Middle-earth, or a galaxy far, far away, probably in the company of her husband and imaginary pet owl.

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