There was a lull in our work. We were awaiting some new religious commission or discovery - perhaps something we could enter in the next Judge First, Ask Questions Later religious conference, that august assemblage to which we last year submitted two worthy entries but this year have come up with zilch. To kill time, we broke out the Acquire game, a personal favorite of mine, even though Monopoly and Life are better known. All the regulars were there: Wheatandweeds, Weedsandwheat, Pearlsenswine, and Fishenchips. Our former science officer Tom Tombaugh was also there, more full of himself than usual, flush with success from his latest scientific breakthrough. I have to hand it to him; it really was brilliant. Since Aristotle's time, scientists have wondered why, when ducks are flying in 'V' formation, one arm will be longer than the other. In a blinding flash of insight, Tombaugh hypothesized that it was because there were more ducks on the longer arm! Of course, fellow scientists laughed their sides off, as they had done with Semmelweis, but careful measurements verified Tombaugh’s hypothesis! I would not be surprised if this advances his reputation considerably among the scientific community, which was unimpressed with his last, rather ‘pedestrian’ research on sock-eating shoes.
So all of us were moving our little pieces around, wheeling and dealing with play money, when in walks Tom Whitepebble - the same Whitepebble who made an everloven fortune in the courtesy newspaper delivery business. We invited him to play, but he declined. Games like this are made for losers, he maintains, who can’t make it in the real world, so they strut around pretending to be millionaires in the board game world! Naturally, we were all indignant, but also a little hurt, for what he said was basically true. None of us have made our financial mark in the world, and, come to think of it, I can’t recall Bill Gates ever playing Monopoly.
I recalled this experience upon when I came across a Wall St Journal article about a fellow who spends all his time playing Second Life. Second Life, as many readers will know better than I, is an online game in which you, represented by your “avatar,” interact with other players who are represented by their avatars. There are hundreds of thousands of players, I’m told, and together they make up an online world, which can become more interesting to them than the real world. You can do everything in Second Life that you can in the real world, and a lot more, since you are unrestrained by such factors as family responsibilities, financial hardship, health or age infirmities, physical distance, or social inhibition.
The character featured in the article is almost sixty years old. He discovered Second Life while recuperating from surgery. He plays it virtually every waking moment, as long as fourteen hours a day, the Journal reported, pausing only for bathroom breaks! His avatar is a twenty-something muscular hunk, a fond remnant of his actual sixty year old self. He develops shopping malls and creates designer clothes. (in real life he works at a help desk) He’s idolized by all his employees, sort of like Michael Scott, I guess, and when he logs on after a long absence, his workers all welcome him back and earnestly inquire as to his health. (I haven’t yet figured out why anyone would play Second Life and be an employee rather than a king.) He has an online wife, a pretty avatar he met some time ago. They set up house, they work together, shop together, do everything a married couple might be expected to do…yeah, everything! In real life, he’s never met the woman, and has no intention of doing so. In Second Life, they are inseparable.
Now, this fellow has a wife in the real world, and she’s not happy! “Leave this loser,” her kids urge her. (It’s the second marriage for both of them) But she sticks with her man, if he can really be called hers. He is a good fellow, she maintains, who has been sucked into an online addiction. Someday he will wake to find he has squandered his whole life in a make-believe world! She brings him breakfast while he’s tapping away at the keyboard. Hours later she returns. “You didn’t touch your breakfast,” she says. “Oh, sorry. I didn’t notice it.” (Mrs. Sheepandgoats would dump my breakfast over my head at that point.)
Imagine. An online world so engrossing that people prefer it to the real world! Next to Second Life, Acquire and Monopoly are mere….well….board games.
Yet without too great a leap in creative thinking, one may view this life as if it were a second life, which would relegate the online Second Life to Third Life. For the Bible makes clear that this life is not the “real” life. Sickness and death are not part of God’s purpose for humankind; everlasting life is. An earth brought close to ruin by human activity is likewise not His purpose; a paradise earth, much like Eden (which literally means garden, or paradise) is. Neither is happiness marred by evil and suffering part of His purpose, but instead unsullied life under Kingdom rule. We limp along as best we can in this system of things. Some find success and overcome obstacles better than others, but in the end there’s little difference between us. A mere few decades finds us all senile and in diapers, en route to the grave. That’s why Paul encouraged Timothy to….“give orders to those who are rich in the present system of things not to be high-minded, and to rest their hope, not on uncertain riches, but on God, who furnishes us all things richly for our enjoyment; to work at good, to be rich in fine works, to be liberal, ready to share, safely treasuring up for themselves a fine foundation for the future, in order that they may get a firm hold on the real life. 1 Tim 6:17-19
There is some basis, therefore, in viewing this life as a Second Life, and your real self as an avatar! And perhaps some advantage. The joys of this life one can experience fully, if our WSJ character is any guide. But the hardships that this life throws at you, things not always within your power to fix, you may be better able to handle with an “aw hell, it’s just an avatar” attitude! Like any board game or online game, this life comes to an end. You may have hotels on every square or you may go directly to jail - do not pass Go, but the game does end for all. The real life, however, does not. Jehovah’s Witnesses live as happily as they are able to in this life. But it’s the real life that they look forward to.