After calling countless stores and finally finding one that could connect to a national database, we had it—or rather it was ordered and being shipped to our local EB Games store. We were finally going to finish Final Fantasy II (aka Final Fantasy IV)—of course FF III (aka FFVI) was already out (which we bought a few months later) and this was part of our problem in finding it. We joked that we probably bought the last unopened copy of FF II. These games along with the original Mario Kart are some of my fondest memories of middle school and hanging out with my brother. Final Fantasy had a big impact in my early life because it made me want to be a part of something bigger, and I know that is a big reason why I ended up doing theater in both high school and college. There was nothing like being part of the crew that would do everything behind the scenes to bring a play together. That sense of community and accomplishment was so fulfilling.
I know this desire of community is part of what drove me to Jesus in high school and Christian fellowship in college. Up to this point I was often ridiculed, especially by my Christian school mates: for doing theater, for not being the best in sports, for playing video games, for enjoying sci-fi, etc. But I knew who I was and I was comfortable with it. It was during college that I was first confronted with the dominant culture’s idea of what it meant to be a “MAN”—that you need to know how to camp, shoot a gun, etc., some of which I tried. I liked target shooting, didn’t really care for camping, and flatly refused to actually go hunting because I couldn’t stomach the idea of killing an animal—especially if I wasn’t going to eat it. Since I was willing to try these “manly markers,” I was accepted for who I was. I think I was also accepted because most of my Christian friends were nerds of some sort and appreciated my uniqueness. Yet, this small seed of doubt had been planted, a seed that would find fertile soil and grow a few years after I was married to my college sweetheart.
We decided to move to Louisville, KY so that my wife could pursue a master’s degree in worship as soon as she finished her BA in Music Performance. I had graduated 2 years earlier with a BS in Accounting and was working/driving close to 60 hours a week to support us while she finished her BA, so I was super excited to move to a bigger city where my commute could be cut in half—and even more excited that I got a job at the library on campus. I was also excited because I would no longer be too tired from work to play video games. My excitement was so evident that our families bought us an early LCD monitor so playing Star Wars: Empire at War and Age of Empires 1–3 on my Frankenstein computer that my brother had built for me would be more enjoyable.
It was during this period of renewed gaming that a seed of frustration began to grow, not as a result of the gaming but because of the work/school environment we were in. Many of my co-workers were very southern. Most were seminary wives, while most of Christi’s classmates were their husbands—and many of them questioned my manhood, albeit in the oh-so-indirect manner that only southerners seem to be capable of. The general sentiment of not camping, not hunting, not going to seminary, etc., while playing video games somehow made me not a “MAN.” I remember asking my co-workers for good “Christian” games that my wife and I could play together to chill since we didn’t have a TV and I was met with responses of “not godly” and “grow up” and “just read the Bible more.” What compounded the situation was that as a low-level employee of the seminary I was “encouraged” to attend the twice-a-week chapel sermon. While these sermons were occasionally uplifting, often they were very bland and sometimes would only loosely preach about God. The most common detour away from God was how they would selectively take adjectives describing men in the Bible and apply them to how today’s men should live.
Looking back, I can see how these chapel sermons and my co-workers were damaging my self-esteem and self-worth, but at the time I had no idea. I stopped playing video games and reading fiction. I assumed these activities were out of bounds and that all my energy should instead be thrown into volunteering at my church. It even affected my marriage. My temper was more frayed because I felt like I wasn’t being “MAN” enough for her. The worst part, she hated that I was trying to make myself into a person I wasn’t and trying to be a “MAN,” the same kind that would dismiss her because she was a woman. There was no single moment when I decided to start heading down that dark and twisted path of self-loathing about not being enough of a “MAN”; fortunately, my wife and several church friends worked hard to keep me from completely turning into a Sith-lord and helped me start to accept who I was. It was actually a seminary couple we were friends with who introduced us to Settlers of Catan and that night was like a bucket of cold water. Of course, I was so excited to be playing a board game I didn’t even realize until later what had been happening to me.
I was at that job for almost 3 years and I would say the worst of this darkness lasted maybe 18 months, but the damage to my psyche would take years to heal. Part of the healing process came when I returned to work at the seminary years later after being laid off from another job outside the seminary. This time I worked in a different department where my co-workers were career professionals rather than seminary wives or students. There was a chapel address that sparked a huge discussion in the office on this subject. The speaker listed traits of a “Godly man,” but we realized that the speaker perfectly described King Saul rather than David, and failed to mention any fruits of the spirit. My coworkers pointed out this was a very narrow mold of manhood and could cause confusion to many young men, and even women. After all, if a woman liked camping, hunting, wood working, and all the other things that make a “MAN” then would that woman cease to be a woman? Of course not. It was refreshing to hear and it helped solidify my path to healing.
While part of me wishes that I never had to go down this path—after all, “If wishes were horses, we’d all be eatin’ steak” (Jayne Cobb, Firefly)—I am thankful that I did go through it because it has helped me see that this attitude exists in various forms throughout our culture. The biggest lesson I have learned is to find people who accept me for me, especially my nerd side. And if I encounter the “this is unacceptable” attitude from fellow Christians, I give them a smile and move on. So on that note, my fellow nerds: keep on gaming, keep on playing, and keep on nerding out. As for me, I am going to tap into my Star Wars nerd side and see if I can unlock the next toon in my game.