Greatness awaits. Two men don their armor and swing their weapons, a giant battle axe against two short swords. The axe falls and the battle is over. Two men race their sports cars through the countryside, mountains rising up on both sides as they jockey for position. One car aggressively bumps the other so it hits the guard rail and overturns in a shower of sparks. Greatness awaits. Two men lead their futuristic armies as they wage a bloody war to defend or overthrow a city. They march bravely through the noise, the confusion, the blood. Greatness awaits.
Greatness awaits. Greatness is there for the taking, if only you’ll reach out and take hold of it. This is the promise of Sony’s campaign for the new PlayStation 4 gaming console. It is the theme of their marketing, the challenge of a commercial that has been viewed on YouTube almost 12 million times and many more times in other media. The commercial and campaign have been received with great enthusiasm. Men get it. They want it. They respond to it.
We hear a lot of complaints today about men and their video games. We know now that the average gamer is not a thirteen-year-old boy burning up those hours between getting home from school and eating dinner with his family (though certainly teenage boys do love their games). There has been a massive demographic shift so that today the average gamer is a man in his twenties or thirties who owns a $1,000 widescreen television, plugs in his $400 console, loads it up with $70 games, and regards gaming as his hobby.
I have often wondered why it is that men are so drawn to video games. What is it in the male consciousness that responds to these games and keeps going back for more? I think Sony may have captured it in this brilliant campaign: Greatness awaits.
Most of us live very ordinary lives, lives that are consumed with far more drudgery than excitement. Even the most interesting jobs involve endless amounts of maintenance and paperwork. We know we are doing the right thing, the good thing, when we go to the office and put in our hours and have a salary deposited into our bank accounts every couple of weeks. It is the right thing to do, but it’s all so humdrum.
Video games offer the action and adrenaline missing from our lives. But even more significantly, video games offer the allure of accomplishment, the allure of greatness. We don’t play games to lose, but to win. We don’t play to be the vanquished but the vanquisher. We play to triumph, to conquer, to overthrow and overcome, to do the things that are so far outside our experience of life. Our nerves grow taut, our palms sweat, our hearts beat faster. In a column at Family Studies, Amber Lapp says games offer “an ‘escape’—as one 23-year-old unmarried father put it—from the duties and drudgeries of reality.”
I get it. I feel it. Like so many men, I am drawn to video games. I could easily spend endless hours playing them. I have had to discipline myself into avoiding them in most circumstances simply because they can draw me in and keep from prioritizing what is more important. I see and want that promise of greatness.
But there is more to games today than greatness. There is greatness together. As the men in this commercial battle one another with swords, with cars, with guns, they sing Lou Reed’s classic “Perfect Day.”
Oh, it’s such a perfect day
I’m glad I spent it with you
Oh, such a perfect day
You just keep me hanging on
This is their perfect day, battling with ancient weapons, driving at breakneck speeds, fighting future wars, and doing it all together. As video games have matured, they have added a multiplayer, community component. Even as gamers spend more and more time in front of their televisions and computers, they increasingly spend it linked together. Where gaming used to be man against machine, now it’s men against machines.
Games offer the allure of accomplishment and greatness, and now they offer it in community and friendship. Men can battle against one another competitively or they can battle together as a team. Greatness awaits us together.
I am one day behind in my Bible-reading plan (or Bible-listening plan, as it happens). My plan tells me I should be in Matthew 19 today, but instead I found myself in Matthew 18. It turned out to be one of those happy little providences because it meant that I heard these words as I drove to work in the cold, pre-dawn darkness:
At that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” And calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of them and said, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.
God measures greatness very differently than we do. We measure greatness in what we accomplish and who we vanquish and where we do battle. We value greatness in the things others can see, in the medals awarded, the accolades offered.
But God associates the truest and deepest greatness with the things others may not see at all. We believe greatness comes when we elevate ourselves, but Jesus says greatness comes when we lower ourselves. “Everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted” (Luke 14:11). Leon Morris says it well:
The kingdom of heaven is not like earthly kingdoms. In earthly kingdoms military might or earthly wealth is what counts. It is the ability to overthrow others or outsmart them or to outbid them that matters. The person who asserts himself is the one who gets on. But Jesus’ kingdom is quite different. Paradoxically it is the person who is like the little child who is the greatest. Being in the kingdom does not mean entering a competition for the supreme place, but engaging in lowly service. True greatness consists not in receiving service but in giving it. The genuinely humble person is the one that really counts in that kingdom. The humble person is the greatest.
Sony promises that greatness awaits us in their games. But Jesus promises a much better greatness. This greatness comes in being a godly husband or an attentive father or a faithful friend or a humble servant. It comes not by going high, but by going low.
It may not feel like greatness to cuddle up with your daughter and read her that bedtime story. It may not feel like triumph to pray with her or sing to her before she goes to sleep. But this is the stuff of true greatness. Ask her and she will assure you it is true.
It may not make every nerve taut with anticipation and excitement when you turn off the games and spend the evening talking with your wife, listening to her, reading God’s Word with her, praying with her and for her. But this is the stuff of true greatness.
There is no reward, no medal or badge or accolade, in serving the people of your church by putting out the chairs or cleaning up the post-potluck mess. There is no hero’s parade at the end of it. But this is the essence of true greatness. And this is the greatness our games can never deliver. To the contrary, this is the very greatness our games may cause us to miss altogether.
We want to escape the doldrums of life so we can experience greatness. But Jesus calls on us to define greatness in his way. Greatness awaits, but it is waiting right there in the mundane, in the ordinary moments, in real life. Don’t miss the real thing!