By Calvin Lane

As a “geriatric millennial”/last of Gen X, I was unusual in the 1980s and 1990s for never getting into video games. Yes, of course I played the original Super Mario Brothers and Duck Hunt and I pounded my fists on the power pad instead of actually running. But I never got into video games past that. Fast forward to the end of 2019, just before the COVID pandemic. On more than one occasion I, a middle-aged, suburban dad with kids, was in Target and I wandered past the alluring demo for something called The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, a game released a few years before. It stoked some memories from childhood, but there was more to this game. Google searches revealed that this game was dubbed one of the best video games ever made. I started to find excuses to take my  kids to Target so I could play the demo. I was hooked.

So, yes, for Christmas 2019 our family purchased a Nintendo Switch and for my birthday in January I got BOTW (as it is known to gamers). During the pandemic, playing this game while also reading The Lord of the Rings to my children became my escape. BOTW is a beautiful, open-world concept game with layered adventures. I had an instant conversation-starter with my kids’ friends and the other boys in our Cub Scout pack, and then, in 2023, we got the sequel, Tears of the Kingdom (TOTK).

Here’s the relevance (no, I’m not leaving you with the comic picture of a balding, middle-aged dad giving and receiving game tips with 9-year-olds). First, yes, there is the whole subject of beauty and story. Snobs, stop reading here if you like, but watching the sunsets and sunrises while journeying on adventures as an underdog questing knight is reminiscent of so much creative literature we prize, like Tolkien’s Legendarium and Lewis’s Narnia Chronicles. But that is actually not what I love the most about the game.

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What I love the most is, perhaps surprisingly, what it has to say about stewardship. Both BOTW and its sequel have all manner of adventures and side-quest, but it is fundamentally about the care, development, and right use of resources. In both games, the player starts out with little clothing, no weapons or armor, no food. But through wandering around, the player finds materials — raw food items like plants or animal meat, clothing, gems, wood. These resources seem providentially placed, but it does take work to find them and see them (let the reader understand). The player not only finds raw materials, but then has to improve these resources and enhance them in different ways. One must cook meals and for specific purposes (some meals have different effects, like defense or speed or stamina). The clothing sets can be upgraded by visiting magic fairies and giving them other acquired materials, plants and gems, etc.

But the point is not simply hoarding. While my son tears off to fight monsters unprepared, I spend tremendous time doing “maintenance,” caring for and developing what I have received, like baking apples by a fire. I suppose it’s the old scout in me, trying to “be prepared” even in a video game. But that’s not the end purpose either. The player has to envision and plan how to use what he has developed and curated. And I do in fact use my developed, curated resources for my mission and purpose, not simply stockpile.

This is a lesson in stewardship.

What do churches have? What has been providentially placed along the way? Money, buildings, emotional and spiritual energy, time, relationships. It is more than money, of course. But it’s also not less than money.

Second, how will we develop and curate what we have rather than simply letting these resources sit? Will we improve buildings with an eye to new and creative uses? Will we let some programming die in order to cultivate and properly equip other programs best suited to mission and context? Will we make prudent financial investments in, for example, money markets? Will we develop leaders as Bible readers who can in turn lead Bible studies?

And then, finally, will we actually use these resources for our quest? Will we trust that these resources were given to us — providentially put in our path along the winding quest — so that we might reach the kingdom’s goal?

It’s also fun to kill monsters.

About The Author

The Rev. Dr. Calvin Lane has served in various ministry settings and is currently associate rector of St. George’s Episcopal Church in Dayton, Ohio.

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