Can you smell what the Rock is cooking? Well… I can’t. Not because I don’t want to (I’m guessing it’s probably something keto heavy and low in gluten?). No… it’s because I haven’t been willing to grind the hours in WWE2K Battlegrounds necessary to UNLOCK him yet. Now let me be clear… I WANT to like WWE2K Battlegrounds. I really, really, REALLY tried to. I gave this game hours of my life in an attempt to play as a character that was actually, you know, GOOD. You know, like one of the superstars that are literally PLASTERED all over the video game’s cover. But unfortunately, pretty much anyone I actually wanted to play as was locked behind a wall, and the only way to unlock them was to either grind through matches for multiple hours (with characters I didn’t want to play as), or pay a fee with real world money to have access to them. For EACH of them. And then TWO MORE TIMES EACH if I wanted their alternate outfits. So if you were planning on playing as the Rock, Stone Cold Steve Austin, Becky Lynch… it’s gonna take you a lot of time or some extra $$$. Well… at least it’s better than WWE2K20, right?
This is the era we live in now… the era of buying a game and then paying even more for it if we want to, you know, actually ENJOY it. This whole micro-transaction thing started off small and innocuously enough… first it was the over-priced and fairly pointless horse armor in Elder Scrolls: Oblivion. It was a moderately innocent attempt to create additional revenue for the game developer through offering items of cosmetic personalization or moderate in-game buffs. But then the flood gates opened… completed games were shipped with entire segments hidden behind a pay wall requiring the purchaser to fork over additional currency to unlock what was already included on the disc. So called “Free to Play” games online are anything but. And now we have a true crisis… games such as the recently released WWE2K Battlegrounds that essentially rewards those with the most real-world money to spend on additional characters with advantages over those who merely bought the game and now have to slog through it to unlock the characters that were openly displayed on the cover.
To be fair, I can see both sides on this. On one hand, developing games is an expensive business. And as we unfortunately have seen over the last few years even the largest studios are one under-performing title away from closing their doors for good, so wringing every last dollar out of their investment is the new normal. But that extra channel of income has typically come through the veins of NEW content such as multiplayer maps or expansions, or perhaps in-game items that only enhanced the already completed single-player experience. Now that studios are requiring game players to essentially PAY to fully experience the entirety of the game they have purchased or spend countless hours unlocking it, the world of gaming is rapidly shifting into a dangerous model that threatens to replace complete game experiences with a “games as service” pay structure.
So, now for the big question. Is this just another case of those with all of the power finding yet one more shortcut in life against those of us who don’t have those advantages? Well, as always, the answer to even these seemingly futuristic and technological dilemmas can be found in Scripture. In Luke 19 we find the familiar story of Zacchaeus. Yes, that Zacchaeus. The short one that you may have sung songs about in Sunday School? You know, Zacchaeus was a wee little man… you really don’t remember??? Man, you don’t know what you are missing. There are hand motions and EVERYTHING. Well, let’s get back on track and look a little bit deeper at the issues that simmered beneath the surface and we might just find answers for our own responses to our “modern-era” struggles.
Luke 19:1-7 Then Jesus entered and passed through Jericho. Now behold, there was a man named Zacchaeus who was a chief tax collector, and he was rich. And he sought to see who Jesus was, but could not because of the crowd, for he was of short stature. So he ran ahead and climbed up into a sycamore tree to see Him, for He was going to pass that way. And when Jesus came to the place, He looked up and saw him, and said to him, “Zacchaeus, make haste and come down, for today I must stay at your house.” So he made haste and came down, and received Him joyfully. But when they saw it, they all complained, saying, “He has gone to be a guest with a man who is a sinner.”
If you are not familiar with his case, Zacchaeus was a tax collector. In our day and age that would not make you the winner of any popularity contests, but in his era he was considered less of an IRS agent and more of a traitor. Collecting taxes for the evil Roman Empire from his own subjugated people placed him in a special realm of hatred by the Jewish people, and the common practice of tax collectors leveraging their position to line their pockets by over-taxing the people was the icing on a pretty bitter cake. As we find the high on life but short in stature Zacchaeus on this day, he is just another face in the crowd desperate to see Jesus as he was walking through town… and nobody was going to allow this already disliked tax collector a spot at the front of the line. So Zacchaeus improvised by racing ahead and climbing a tree so he would not miss his moment to see who Jesus was. When Christ passed by his way a stunning and remarkable thing occurred… Jesus saw beyond the wealthy robes of a tax collector who had been fleecing his people and into the heart of someone who was risking their reputation just for the chance to see the Son of God.
His spark of faith was rewarded when the Son of God decided to come and stay with Zacchaeus in his house that day… but that action was NOT met with cheers by the crowd. No, they were none too thrilled about the idea that this guy who had scammed his way through life was now receiving the ultimate reward, and they quickly made their discontent known as they complained that the Son of God was staying as the guest of a man who is a sinner. Rather than seeing the opportunity for this man to make a life-altering decision to turn to Christ, the mob only saw that he was once again receiving something he didn’t deserve. But a funny thing happened as the scenario unfolded… the “evil” tax collector pledged half of his belongings to the poor and then an additional repayment of four times what he had overcharged anyone. And as the story ends with Christ explaining that He had come to seek and save the lost, the reality of this hits home.
Luke 19:8-10 Then Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord, “Look, Lord, I give half of my goods to the poor; and if I have taken anything from anyone by false accusation, I restore fourfold.” And Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because he also is a son of Abraham; for the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost.”
Where others only saw what he was, Christ saw what Zacchaeus would become. He didn’t see his riches, as ill-gotten as they may have been, as a liability but rather as an opportunity. Many people would become blessed by the outpouring of wealth that resulted from that day, and most importantly a lost child of God was found. It is easy to become frustrated when others have advantages in a game simply because they have the ability to pay more than I do. But the truth is that they are funding the games that I love in a way that I can’t, even if it is giving them a better experience or maybe even a competitive advantage by doing so.
I don’t want any more gaming studios to close their doors, and I want more games like WWE2K Battlegrounds to continue to be made. Well, maybe not EXACTLY like this one, because it’s not very good… but maybe other games. And while I may disagree with how they are funding their future growth, if I stop supporting the games that I love simply because they make creative choices I disagree with, the reality is that those games and the studios that make them may disappear entirely. From the point of view of Jesus and his view of Zacchaeus, it is clear He identified Zacchaeus as a sinner. A person deeply flawed and unworthy of even a moment of God’s time. Guess what? So am I. We all are. And if we were discredited for salvation based on our status as lost children of God, none of us would ever become saved. And yet Jesus looked past that the same way He does with each of us and saw the sheep He was sent to save.
I am thankful that the Lord doesn’t listen to those that we have wronged in our past when they complain that we are unworthy of His love or His blessing. None of us deserve a single one of God’s gifts of forgiveness or grace. And like the brother of the prodigal son (Luke 15), many people will take umbrage when the Father lavishly blesses His fallen children. My eternal destiny is based on the unwarranted and unearned grace and love of God, so I have no right to resent the gifts that others may receive… even if I feel that they received them more “freely” than I did. We are blessed to have just one more breath, one more heartbeat, and one more day of life from the Lord. Not everyone received those gifts today.
In a world where “pay to win” is becoming more of the rule than the exception, it is important that we never forget that we have been living off of “borrowed” time and money from the Lord this entire time. So if you want to buy your way to actually having the complete version of WWE2K Battlegrounds, I won’t be one of those hating on you, even if you already have Shawn Michaels unlocked and I am still playing with the Big Show… your funding made it possible for both of us to see this interactive media form grow and continue into the future and insure my children and grandchildren get to enjoy a hopefully much more playable WWE game with characters that they actually WANT to play with. So, DON’T pull Zacchaeus out of that tree. He may be evil and selfish right now, and you can’t see any good possibly coming from him. But one day God may use him to be the one who blesses you and others in ways that you never would have imagined.
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